On a lazy Wednesday, over a steaming cup of coffee in a Juhu cafe, my friend and I concluded that we needed a break from Mumbai – its traffic, deadlines and fast-paced life. A Google search revealed that Hampi was one of the top 10 safest places for women travellers. It was definitely a sign from the universe.
Fast forward the week, we landed in Bangalore around noon and booked a cab to Hampi. Eight hours later, we arrived in Hampi, as our driver parked the car on the banks of the Tungabhadra. When we askedfor directions to our guesthouse, locals told us it was on the other side of the river — three minutes by boat and well, 40 km by car.
Our driver turned to us, ‘No problem, madam. We go?’ We nodded in tired silence. We were suddenly placed in a no-network area without streetlights and limited petrol and a 120-minute detour. Around 1 am, we stumbled into our guesthouse, took our room keys and called it a night. The Hampi adventure had begun.
Day two: The best thing about waking up in a village is the chirping of birds, the smell of the trees and grass. Instead of making a dash to explore the monuments and ruins, we decided to leave sightseeing for the next day. We rented bicycles and set out to explore our neighbourhood, which was lined with pretty guesthouses, cafes and eateries, as it mostly had foreign tourists. Warning: do not cycle in the afternoon, as we barely lasted 40 minutes. But, we did discover a grove of trees, where we clicked pictures, sat and stared into space and waved to passersby. We spent the evening in a quaint cafeteria that overlooked the rice paddy fields. Hampi didn’t need an itinerary. Interestingly, many guesthouses screen an English movie every evening. So for those who don’t want to go completely rural, you will get your pasta, hookah, beer and television — rest assured.
Day three: After an entire day of nothing, we were ready to conquer the ruins. For Rs 500, a rickshaw guide offered to show us the ancient Vijayanagara capital. A five feet tall monolith Ganesh, a vegetable market place in ruins, Krishna and Rama temples, the queen’s enclosure, elephant’s stables, the famous Virupapaksha and Vithal temples and pillars scattered around the area took us down history’s magical lane. Inside the underground Shiva temple, one had to wade through moss green waters.
Being a UNESCO World Heritage site, last month the illegal shops that comprised the Hampi bazaars have been razed, including the famous Mango Tree restaurant by the river side. But eat at Mango Tree we did, as it has been relocated in a narrow alley just that day! A scrumptious meal of stuffed capsicum, aubergine masala with chapatti left us with a food high. We wobbled out, our muscle begging for rest after a long day’s walking in the sun.
Sloths and more
Day four: Temperatures dipped as we drove into the jungle to reach Sloth Bear Resort, a property of Karnataka tourism. After simple living, it was luxury time for us. After a quick shower, we walked into the resort’s restaurant where a spread of home-cooked food waited for our starving tummies. By 3 pm, we got into the jeep, accompanied by Mahesh the guide and drove to Daroji Bear Sanctuary to spot sloth bears. The government has stopped allowing visitors to go closer to view the ant-eating bears so as to secure their natural habitat, Mahesh explained as we walked up the cobbled 100 steps to the visitors enclosure.
The bears usually come down the boulders once the sun begins to set, and meanwhile we spotted peacocks and peahens and a few water birds through binoculars. Around 5.30 pm, a black spot seemed to move downfrom one of the boulders. It was a female sloth bear with a little one clinging on to her back. As we zoomed the binoculars, the long protruding mouth was tough to spot amid the long hairs. The little bear, barely four months old, was a sight. In another 15 minutes, two other year-old male cubs descended and we passed the binoculars between delightful squeals. The fully-grown male sloths prefer to come out on their own. Talk about being attached to bachelorhood!
We turned to go back to the resort, where bhajia and chilled nimboo pani awaited us. “Tomorrow morning, 6.30 am we will go for birding by the canal, madam,” Mahesh announced, adding that at least 250 to 260 bird species are spotted round the year.
While many volunteered for it, the next morning it was just another guest and I who turned up for it. “Less noise. More birds,” our guide for the day admitted with a smile. As we set off towards the canal, the sun had begun to rise, and the air still had a damp coolness of the night. Our first spotting was an Indian Kingfisher, and amid the brown terrain, its bright blue body was a beautiful sight. On a nearby branch sat a White-breasted Kingfisher too. Driving on, we spotted pond herons, egrets and barbets.
We stopped the car as our guide pointed towards a group of birds. They were a group of black storks. Our guide taught me how to click pictures simply by placing the camera’s lens on one of the eyes of the binoculars. We also spotted Red-wattled Lapwings, Sunbirds, Magpie Robbins and owlets.
But one bird took my breath away – a female Asian Flycatcher. Blue head and a white body, extending into a gracefully long tail, the bird is a rare spotting. By now the sun had risen, and we got into our jeep to turn back. On our way we saw monkeys and langurs.
Suddenly, the driver stopped, signaling us to keep quiet. We got off, trying to figure out what he had spotted as we turned our gaze to where his finger pointed. At first, we could only see boulders, and dried branches. And then we saw it. The nest of a Eurasian Eagle Owl and its two babies sleeping with their eyes wide open. Then it dawned on us: it was indeed bedtime for the nocturnal species.
Even on the last day, Hampi continued to surprise me. And as the jeep drove away, I spotted the kingfisher that had started our birding expedition. I smiled, sank into my seat, content with the morning, and happy to have discovered a new hobby.
Things to Know
Summer: March to May, offers warm climate with a temperature reaches a maximum of 40°C
Winter : November to February are pleasant very pleasant. Day temperature is less than 34°C and night temperature as low as 12°C
For the history buffs
Hampi, the medieval capital city of Vijayanagara, existed from 1343 to 1565. The Sangama brothers, Harihara and Bukka conquered it from the Delhi Sultan Muhammad-bin-Tughluq, who ruled it for 10 years. Then in 1565, combined armies of Bijapur, Golconda and Ahmednagar defeated it. Hampi, they say, was the mythical Kishkindha-kshetra from the Ramayana, where Lord Rama fought alongside the monkey-kind Sugriva against Vali.