We left Goa after spending nearly two months exploring the beaches, spice & rubber plantations, and nature reserves on our little scooter. It was time to see the rest of India.
Our next stop was across the Western Ghats and through the plains. We were headed for Hampi.
The train took us through the rainforest-covered mountains and across a bridge over India’s second largest waterfall: Dudhsagar(603m). It was amazing! The doors of the train were open and I sat with my legs hanging outside, gazing down the steep cliffs to the thick canopy below. I had never seen such a lush forest in my life.
A few hours later we were leaving the foothills of the Western Ghats and entering the plains of Karnataka. Fields of bright red chilies and white cotton whizzed by us. We admired how beautiful the women looked as they harvested everything by hand in their colourful saris.
The landscape began to change as we approached train station at Hubli. The horizon was dotted with enormous granite boulders. Soon there were mountains of piled up boulders, some bigger than most homes I have seen. Between these mountains of boulders were lush patches of trees, glistening rice paddies, and bushy plantations of sugarcane. Hubli is located on the banks of the Tungabhadra reservoir, which feeds a river of the same name that flows towards our destination: the ancient city of Hampi. This reservoir fills up every year during the monsoon and is a lifeline for agriculture and local flora and fauna throughout the dry season.
When we finally arrived in Hampi, we were blown away. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was the home of the ancient city of Vijayanagar, which thrived over 600 years ago for more than 200 years. The ruins of this city are scattered, nestled in between the Tungabhadra river and the mountains of boulders. Beautiful temples covered in intricate sculptures, ancient bazaars, massive statues, old crumbling buildings, sentry towers on top of the mountains, and a water tank dug deep into the earth at the centre of the city. We explored the area on foot for several days, awestruck by the size and intricacy of the temple complexes.
After several days, we decided to rent a moped to explore the backcountry. We motored our way through small agricultural hub towns, stopping to buy fruit and water where we could. After a good hour and a half on the road, we ended up in a very busy town where we stumbled upon a chaotic vegetable market. It was placed on a major intersection where 5 roads met, one of them leading to a busy bus station, and another to a sacred temple. We bought a few things for supper that night and packed everything onto the bike. We started back into the mess of traffic when we were spotted by a couple of policemen on foot. They blew their whistles at us and began to chase us! Not knowing if we were allowed to be driving around on this moped, and bearing in mind the warnings we had heard about corrupt policemen extorting money from scared tourists, I made sure my wife was holding tight and began weaving my way out of the market. I was dodging hundreds of pedestrians, other mopeds and scooters, huge trucks and buses, hand carts, stray dogs, herds of water buffalo and cows, random goats, potholes, piles of spices and big rocks in the road, all while trying to keep up the pace to get away from the cops. They were used to the chaotic mess and easily kept up with us on foot, but we finally made our way to the motorway and laid on the gas, clear of most of the confusion. It was a good thing I had so much practice driving in Goa, or we would not have made it out! We laughed off the adrenaline as we cruised down the paved motorway back towards our hut in Hampi.
The sun was setting as we neared home, and we could see a temple on the horizon. It was sitting atop a monolithic boulder, a veritable mountain of granite, all by itself. The road sign pointing in that direction said: Anegundi.
That night we met some friends from the U.S., and they were talking about the Anegundi market, organized by a group of local women every full moon in order for them to sell off their creative wares to tourists. They had a rickshaw coming to pick them up, and we decided to tag along.
We rode the few kilometres to Anegundi on the back bench of the rickshaw, our feet dangling in the thin veil of dust kicked up behind it. The moon was out in full force and lit up the landscape in a way that can only be described as magical. The boulders glowed in the moonlight, and the erratic patchwork of still water in the paddies reflected the starry sky like a mosaic of mirrors. I wish my camera had survived the trip so that I could share a glimpse of this beauty with you.
We soon found ourselves at the old ruins of a stone building where people had set up a market. There was food, banana leaf clothing, books, art, soap and beauty products, and much more. It was here that we heard about Hanuman’s temple.
The next morning we awoke before dawn, mounted a pair of bicycles we had rented the night before, and pedaled our way North towards Anegundi. The massive rock grew larger and larger as we slowly made our approach. The Sun was still far beyond the horizon when we arrived at the base of the rock. We locked our bikes to a tree and followed a small wooden sign, passing a chai shop on our way to the staircase. The stairs were carved directly out of the stone and winded up beyond our vision towards the temple.
We climbed the countless stairs as the colours on the horizon foretold the Sun’s arrival. Families of Bonnet Macaques climbed the stone faces around us, watching us make the journey upwards. The higher we got, the more monkeys surrounded us. As we neared the peak, we could hear music spilling over the edge of the rock. The stairs brought us to a very flat plateau at the top of the boulder. On the most Eastern edge of the mountain was the temple. It was not a large temple, nor was it complex. It was a simple white building with an old frangipani tree outside of it. A loudspeaker on a pole broadcast the music being played inside the temple by the Hindu holy men. Beautiful melodies, chanting mantras, and intoxicating percussion serenaded us on our way over towards it. There was a healthy dog keeping the monkeys away from us, chasing them back towards the rounded edge of the rock. We sat on a bench carved out of the stone and faced the Eastern horizon. The men of the temple brought us hot chai in small metal cups as the Sun orchestrated a symphony of colour on the horizon. We watched as the landscape around us awoke in the morning light. Flocks of white Egrets took to the sky beneath us, slowly making their way towards undiscovered paddies. Circling clouds of vultures took to the sky in anticipation of the coming thermals. The Sun bestowed its light to us and revealed the extent of the bouldery landscape that surrounded us. I still get shivers thinking back to that moment.
I had subconsciously finished my chai and had set down the cup beside me. A young macaque with his eyes on the dog, who was busy chasing other monkeys, snuck his way towards me and snatched away my cup before I could even blink! He shoved his face in it and licked up the last drops. With a disappointed look thrown my way, he threw the cup over his shoulder down the side of the mountainous rock. I laughed, but the holy men didn’t look too happy. We roamed around on top of the giant boulder finding pools of water, small pockets of lush plants, and monkeys of all ages. Mothers with their newborns, males fighting for dominance, young monkeys playing games with each other. It is amazing how human they look.
After soaking it all in, we made our way down the long stairway. Pilgrims were only now showing up, and as we neared the bottom, a smiley old lady in a beautiful sari who was struggling up the stairs, stopped as we walked by. She smiled at my wife, took her hand and gave it a squeeze before continuing her journey upwards. My wife was overwhelmed with emotion and cried tears of joy as we descended the last few steps to the bottom.
This is the birthplace of Hanuman, the monkey god. Here people come to pay homage, to say thank you to Hanuman for his heroic role in the epic Hindu legend: the Mahabharata. Hanuman and his simian army saved Lord Rama’s wife from the clutches of an evil demon and brought him to justice. Now, despite their indecencies, the monkeys are tolerated and even worshiped here.
I can see how being born in such a place would inspire greatness. Here’s to Hanuman.