Day 88: The Highway to Hospet to Hampi
The ostensibly suicidal driver careens the bus into a parking lot that has nothing but a seedy restaurant to break the monotony of gravel clearing. We order chai and banana lassis from a skinny guy whose eyes are focussed in two different directions, neither of which are on us. We’re three hours behind schedule, the driver tells us as flecks of parantha parachute from his mouth into the air. When the bus gets rolling again, Marnie and I lay on our elevated bunk flipping through the accommodations part of the Hampi section of my guide book. It’s 7 a.m. and I can already feel the days first sweat-stream collecting in my butt crack as if it were spring equinox in an Alaskan fjord.
Finally reaching Hospet, we stumble off the bus like a couple of sleep deprived tumbleweeds. A block away is another terminal where we board a city bus bound for Hampi. Hampi–now a small temple town–dates back to 1343, when it was the largest city in the world. This reigning cosmopolis came crumbling down when the Deccan Muslim confederacy pillaged the city in 1565, leaving an astounding spread of monument ruins and historical rubble to be discovered two hundred years later.
I stretch my arms to the extent of their impressive wingspan and grasp the upper bus railing for stability as a pond of bobbing dark-haired heads float below my shoulders. After a few stops, a seat opens up. Sinking below the brunette surface, I am now vulnerable to deep-sea obstacles, such as the mans protruding gut that presses into my shoulder like a pufferfish massaging his cheek on a nub of coral. Halp, I need air!
Out the window, dusty roads and shanty houses morph into palm trees and banana plantations. Then through the green glow of a palm grove we glimpse the first dustings of Hampi magic–a pile of giant orange boulders stacked into an impossible mountain, their rusty glow contrasting the emerald jungle like a Very Flinstone Christmas soaked in absinthe. The road recoils around the monumental pebble piles as if it is dodging megalithic poop mounds; we delve further into the hazy Flinstone Fantasy. Ruins and temples rise up amongst the enigmatic boulder heaps and the remarkable beauty of the land makes our atoms shake at an intolerable frequency that causes our bodies to become subjective to the suggestion of gravity. In less dramatic words–we jump up and down.
Clouds of orange dust puff up around the wheels as the bus lurches into its final stop. We decided to check out accommodation on the ‘other side of the river’, which sounds less populated than this side. A massive, arresting temple with intricate carvings towers ahead of us as we tread down the path towards the water.
A young guy gestures at us to follow him to the right and down a vendor-lined walkway. Here, a ghat steps down to the river, where a group of men bathe in the water, wearing only loin cloths. The river is dotted with pink-hued boulder cairns stacked by the hand of some Deity who colours her nails with paint buckets.
We clamber onto a rickety little motorboat built from wood planks and scrap metal. A group of Indian tourists shove over to squeeze us in. Marnie and I proclaim that directly after we find a hostel to unload our stuff at, we’ll be returning to this river for a dip, pronto.
“You can’t swim here,” one of the guys informs us. “It’s dirty. And there are crocodiles in it.”
Our faces fall harder than a couple bowling balls through a glass floor.
His mouth twitches. Praise that unrelenting, scorching Sun God; the man thinks he’s some sorta comedian. It’s not funny, however, to joke about swimming restrictions when sporting a sweat-filled inlet for a butt crack.
On the other side of the riverbank we haul our bags up the dirt path in search of a room. There are plenty of little archways leading to this guesthouse and that. One trail snakes into a little jungle haven that the ol’ guidebook gave an honourable mention, and it’s clear that every young, hip foreigner sussed it out before you could say ‘Lonely Planet’. The grassy spaces and colourful lounge area is crawling with toned bodies and bright-eyed, good looking travelers. No vacancy.
The neighbouring guesthouse is less flashy and more accommodating. Vacancy! We claim a quaint little bungalow with a thatch roof and constructed entirely of dried cowpies–The Dungalow. It even has a bathroom. This is the best habitat we could ever ask for.
Wrapping all our far-too-filthy-for-far-too-long clothes in a big scarf and grabbing a bar of soap, we slide down the steep bank to the river, rustle through green reeds that reach above our heads and squelch through a slew of muck until reaching a rock large enough to land a helicopter on. And, balancing above it, more boulders. The Tungabhadra River is but a bounty of water-whetted geological sorcery. Marnie and I dive into the alchemic elixir, scrubbing the travel dust from our hair and cleaning the bus-fuzz from our belly buttons. It takes two hours in the blistering sun to wash our clothes, which churns the riverbed muck to the surface and replaces our garments’ salty sweat stains with magical muddy microbes. The boulders are patchworked with our entire wardrobes as they dry in the sun, but when our skin morphs from rosy-glow pink to raging-bull red, we stuff the semi-sundried laundry into the scarf bag and bushwhack back to the bungalow, hanging the damp pieces along the front like prayer flags that forgot about Sunday service.
The restaurant attached to our guesthouse is a tranquil open area overlooking the river. The low-rise walls run around three-quarters of the room, with white beams supporting the roof over it. Colourful cushions line the walls, and the floor is laden with squishy pillows to sit on; long, low tables stick out perpendicularly from the wall every few feet. We toss ourselves against some throw cushions and order salad and beer.
Later we rest in our bungalow, listening to our dear friend Deb spew her hilarious travel follies from Colombia until we’ve both nearly wet the bed. Then, donning freshly laundered dresses, Marnie and I head next door to the guesthouse that brags of only above-average looking patrons. Their restaurant is somewhat like ours–all squishy floor seating. We order butter chicken and brews. Some stupid movie is playing on the TV set and our interest plummets with the last bite of curried fowl, so the two of us wander half drunk down the dirt pathway sandwiched between a rice field and a row of shops. Every other establishment is a hostel or guesthouse, much like ours, each with an open lounge area and fraternal menus. Marnie and I banter and giggle like loons, the cocktail of sleepless overnight transit and beer and the rush of unexplored surroundings stoking our wacky conversation. We try not to openly ogle as gaggles of sexy foreigners catwalk past us. Who knew this was Hampi: the Hottie Hub? I’m sure we’ll adjust quickly.
By 9 p.m., exhaustion starts pawing for attention. We follow it back to the Dungalow, brush our teeth, scrub our faces and drift into a deep slumber beneath the trappings of a mosquito net and the fossilized excrement of one thousand cows.