Packed with scenery, ruins, temples, boulders, mystic energy and the occasional thrill there’s something in Hampi for almost any traveller. It could be argued that Hampi either benefits or suffers from what may or may not be ‘benign neglect.’ The lack of preservation, absence of rules and the complete lack of the type of watchful staff that polices important cultural treasures elsewhere, lend Hampi a free and easy innocence, a wild-west for hippies if you will or alternatively an archeological/religious site where one can easily pretend to be an Indiana Jones style adventurer.
Jeremy Denning is mesmerised by the innocent beauty of this ancient kingdom and decides to feed his inner adrenalin junkie by trying the cliff or boulder dive that seems to have gained much popularity among tourists here.
“The last guy who jumped from up there burst his nut sack open and had to be rushed to the hospital – 107 stitches!”
“No, I don’t think there’s any crocodiles anymore, well not lately, but there was that one Swiss girl that was eaten a couple of years ago and there was a German guy the year before…”
Heck! How did I get myself in to this? The words of the local crew of cigarette and candy salesmen loop through my head, almost as clear as my pounding heart and my ringing, blood flooded ears as I try to sort truth from jest and accurately assess my odds of serious injury or death if I decide to jump from this stack of boulders, precariously perched on a tall rock ledge high above a reservoir that feeds the rice paddies and fruit orchards of the beautiful ancient landscape below.
What looked like a little bit of harmless curiosity and a mild bouldering problem begging to be solved has turned into a peer-pressure and self-induced coward-shaming hostage stand-off. My fear versus thrill/glory dilemma is further compounded by a classic cat-up-a-tree climbing problem of “can I get down?” Or perhaps I should say; “can I get down without falling to my death in front of these blood-thirsty voyeurs who may get to witness my death either way?”
Hampi is a beautiful, ancient and mystical place: a national treasure status, off-the-radar, backwater UNESCO gem known mostly to young Israeli backpackers and devout Hindu temple enthusiasts. Hampi and its surrounding areas truly do seem like a land that time has forgotten. Outside of the missing 5,00,000 people that fled and never returned when the ancient city of Vijayanagara was razed repeatedly 500 years ago, life here seems to be much like I imagine life 500 years ago. The landscape of boulders flanked by lush green palms and rice paddies looks like the Flintstones animated television series of my American youth has collided with a history textbook illustration depicting one of the original river-valley civilizations. The pace is languid and rice is still farmed by hand by hard-working, noble women in impossibly bright saris. The Virupaksha Temple and the jaw-dropping, panoramic hilltop Hanuman Temple where monkey kings still rule are can’t-miss attractions for both Hindu pilgrims and foreign tourists alike.
Of course no one can say scientifically if it’s real, but there’s no denying the mystical power of Hampi. It could be the gorgeous landscapes, the temple ruins, the massive boulders, or the quality of the light reflecting off of the pink sandstone coloured rocks. It could be Ley lines or energy vortexes, but whatever it is there is no denying Hampi feels magical. There is a palpable energy that vibrates through the air in Hampi, like a power line humming in the wind. Hampi is a place where humans of all stripes will find it easy to relax and recharge their spiritual batteries regardless of their beliefs.
One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, Oh god! Why am I still falling?! Oh no, please stop accelerating! Four-one thousand!
Where: Hippie Island, Hampi, Karnataka
(The writer is a professional airline pilot and travel junkie. Ex-New Yorker turned devout Angleno. Wave chaser, mountain lover, maker of spicy foods, husband, Boxer walker, photo-enthusiast and much more)