Day 90: Hampi
I swat the mosquito net out of my face and tumble from the bed, pad across the cow-dung floor and out onto the porch. It’s 8 a.m. The sun is strong, the morning bells clamour, and locals bathe in the river on the opposite ghat. Marnie and I scramble breakfast–hummus and eggs and lassis–with our travel projects. Me, with my writing, and Marnie, with her acting. We swathe ourselves in sunscreen and stroll the shop-lined street, trying on long, printed dresses that give us that coveted ‘fun mom’ image. As if on cue, a sign halts our forward motion as abruptly as if we’d walked into it. ICED COFFEE. We bolt into the shop like a couple caffeine withdrawal victims coming off a tea bender (not to say that isn’t um, entirely accurate . . . ). This is the first notion of iced coffee either of us has come across in India, and, like all notions, deserves attention. We take a seat at a table with the shop owner while a guy at the counter frappes the ice and espresso into a caffeinated Cloud Nine.
“You are going to the lake today?” the owner asks.
“We went yesterday.”
“Oh, you went on a Sunday. You must have gotten to meet some of the Indian guys who go there on the weekends to see white girls in bikinis. What a nice experience for you.” He laughs.
We tell him about the guys who followed us on their motorcycles when we left the lake and didn’t leave until I lost my temper and threatened to smash their phone if they didn’t stop taking pictures of us.
“The best thing to do when an Indian guy is bothering you,” he says, “is take off your shoe and hold it up. If he doesn’t stop, smack him once with it. It doesn’t matter what the guy did, any other Indian man around will come over and beat him up. And then they will turn to you and say, ‘I’m so sorry ma’am. What happened?'”
I stow that tip in my metaphorical pocket. He tells us where the best spot to swim in the river is. With icy coffee circulating in our bloodstreams, we wave goodbye–“namaste!”–and head back to our bungalow for bathing suits and beer. Then, following the coffee mans instructions, we go down the road, left at the sign, past the trash pile and through the jungle. Down the bank, through the reeds and brambles, over the rocks. Here, a haven.
A massive, flat stone bakes in the sun, come-hithering to our vitamin D-deficient bodies. Half exposed in the river are a couple boulders with angled cutouts, like waterlogged stone chairs, the bottom portion dipped below the surface for cooling purposes and the upright portion perfect for keeping the torso in the tanning zone. We sit on these aquatic thrones, chatting, then swim up the current as vainly as an escaped convict on a treadmill. paddling uselessly against the flowing water, I look over at Marnie, who dips her head into the water so her mouth is half above the surface and, catching me off guard, does such an incredible impression of Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush when she has reached her ‘breaking point’ that my head jolts back and a shriek of laughter that could belong to a heartbroken banshee escapes my body, paralyzing every limb under water with convulsions of hilarity. The giggle waves incapacitate my muscles and I struggle to keep my nose above the water’s surface while coaxing my useless limbs to fight the current. Ultimate irony would have my own sense of humour betray me–deem my limbs useless and float me downriver until I drown and die from my own laughter. Marnie is now laughing nearly as hard as I am, and we do our best not to let the joke sink with us to the bottom of the Tungabhadra River. With irony-clad will, we compose ourselves enough to splash sideways out of the current and to the rocks, drag our exhausted bodies onto the hot surface and collapse in the sun. I bring out a bottle of black nail polish and we paint our toenails to match our tarnishing humour. Now, we have somewhere to be.
We snake back through the bush, over rocks, down the path, past the sign and to our bungalow. We switch into dry clothes and gather water. On the main road we hang a Reginald (that’s a right), and to the place discovered during yesterday’s adventures. Reaching the base of one of the hundreds of rust-coloured boulder heaps piled into small mountains, we begin our ascent. The base is a sheer, flat surface, steadily gaining incline, dotted with teetering pebbles ballooned to the size of cars. Massive bushes of spidery, neon-green cacti burst from the smooth orange surface of granite, appearing like fluorescent, spiked coral amongst a fiery ocean floor.
The sheer surface cracks into a mass jumble of boulders, piled and clustered upon each other, assembled so precariously and each cromlech so contingent on the other that I’m bound to believe in magic, or Brahma, or at least Ben Grimm (a family reunion, mayhaps?). The bottomless, canyon-esque crevices created between some of these bedrocks release a shot of cortisol into my bloodstream and my legs jiggle in response. As the sun sinks lower, the crowd gathering at the top flourishes.
Indian kids the size of my thumb rock hop, jumping treacherous crevices while carrying huge thermoses of chai and big bottles of lemon drink.
Their selling tactic is perseverance. These are the Boulder Badgers, the Sunset Salesmen, the Potable Pesterers. And it is the teeniest of the bunch who swoons us into a sunset chai.
Perched atop this rock kingdom, an omnipresent notion settles about us. Behind, smouldering into oblivion, is Bedrock itself. A galaxy of red stars coaxed into the heavy pull of gravity. A meteor showers parking lot.
Before us, on the other side of the mountain, stretch emerald rice fields, flooded with water so still that the universe is aquatically cloned, then, rows of palm trees blooming from the ground like kale crops, and, further still, ancient thirty-storey temples popping up between the rock rubble in uniform tones.
The sun moves faster the lower it gets, as though it really did break through the ozone and find itself trapped in the clutches of gravity. Its tangerine glow deepens into a roaring scarlet, morphing from canteloupe muse to a burst of scarlet fury, an angry tangerine, a tequila sunrise spilt on a red brick road. I’m certain the sun is nearest our planet than in all of history, braving our earthly realm, courage brought to you by El Jimador. It is incredible.
It melts into the Earth’s crust, leaving behind a puddle of pink and gold that bleed into the baby blue sky. Marnie and I hop over crevices and down past the boulders with the rest of the audience.
“There’s a cave over there,” a young local points to a place off the path. Marnie and I walk around to find the opening, and soon we’re on the other side of the mountain, climbing up and into the mouth of a cave that squeaks with bat cries. They creep up the walls like two legged spiders. Outside, the darkening landscape stretches out forever. Can we just live here, on this Martian prehistoric planet, this Bedrock Bonanza?
“Let’s have a fire here! Tomorrow!”
Googly eyes are painted on the rocks, and they gaze unblinking at us as we cross to the opposite side of the mountain, past groups of people bouldering, equipped with crash pads and team spirit. We reach a dirt road and walk it in the dark towards home.
Back at the guesthouse, we shower and put on fresh clothes and find a balcony restaurant with floor cushions. Dinner is delicious; shakshuka and spicy chicken curry. The conversation is melancholy.
We take creepy pictures in the candlelight.
We move back to our hostel for a nightcap, then to the bungalow to surrender to the unconscious realm.