“The Vijayanagara king built this market for pilgrims who came from various places,” said our guide at Hampi Village, and all I could think of was to lie down and shade myself under a tree from the scorching sunlight.
The village is protected by heat-trapping huge boulders, some of which are precariously perched on each other, and must have been a natural put-off to any invader who tried to get through the rock formation.
After Bangalore’s “English weather”, where the constant drizzle and sudden downpours in the evenings bring down the temperature to 24 degree Celsius, Hampi’s killer temperature of 33 degrees Celsius, dampened my spirit and the back of my shirt.
(I remembered going to Greece one summer, from the desert Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and chatting with two mild looking elderly British ladies on how Athens was cool. They immediately erupted, and said it was “HOT” ! )
Back to Hampi, and it was first photographed by Colonel Alexander Greenlaw, in 1856.
The Village today is an UNESCO heritage site of India and is protected. It is dotted with interesting ruins, such as the ‘Zenana’, the palace of the consorts, and temples on top of hills which require a strenuous hike. (UNESCO as you know is United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).
When I asked Mr. Parusaram, our guide, if we could climb to one temple later in the evening when it is a little cooler, he said, no, as leopards and bears roam the area during sunset.
I would not have had the energy anyway, as the temple can only be reached by climbing some 570 steps cut into the side of the mountain.
I asked the guide if the large and pointed horns on the cows are natural, he said they are sharpened by the villagers because of the roaming leopards in the area.
The guide lives in a village nearby which is surrounded by acres of banana and coconut trees and sugarcane plantations.
Every evening, near our quiet and calm resort, which incidentally, erupts into a crescendo of local drums, as entertainment for the guests, a plant some distance outside, lets out smoke while a woman churns sugarcane juice in a huge smoky cauldron, to make jaggery, the natural brown sugar.
The Vijayanagara Empire from Hampi in the south of India, stretched to the tip of TamilNadu and from the Bay of Bengal in the east to the Arabian Sea to the west.
It was a centre of pilgrimage and trade, and Arabs, Portuguese and Chinese came here and settled down adding their traditions to the local culture.
For instance, there is a sculpture of a dragon guarding the entrance to a Hindu temple and some of the ruins, such as the buildings which housed the ceremonial elephants, are of the Indo-Saracenic type of architecture, with its domes and arches.
Magically safeguarded from the pandemic
Hampi Village today is magically safeguarded from the pandemic, and as you enter the area, you will notice nobody, literally nobody, wears a mask.
These guys are not anti-vaxxers or anti-mask activists, but because not a single person in the area was infected by the dreaded and deadly Coronavirus.
“Even during the second wave, everyone here was safe”, said our guide.
But as the site was opened to tourists recently, local tourists come from various states, some wearing masks on their chins. Hopefully, this “second invasion” will not affect the locals much.
Besides walking the hot boulders and watching the interesting ruins of a once flourishing empire, we will brave the heat and go on a safari to see sloth bears, and also watch how jaggery is made.
There are 1154 World Heritage Sites in 167 countries today, and some of the other heritage sites in India are Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Ajanta Caves and Dholavira Harrapan city.
Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi