All my worries about coming to the hotel were instantly dispelled the following morning when I stepped out of the verandah of my cottage and was greeted by the sight of a fisherman putting his nets into the river from a small, fragile-looking coracle in a time-honored ritual that must date back hundreds if not thousands of years.
I’d learned about coracles in Wales in my history classes at primary school, but I’d had no idea until that moment that they were used anywhere else – and certainly not as an actual fishing boat.
Entranced by the scene, I sat down and for a few glorious minutes drank in the sight of the fisherman languidly but methodically paddle his ancient craft up and down the river and stop every now and again to check his nets to check whether he had made his daily catch. This was truly a sublime moment, probably the most wonderful one I’ve ever experienced in all the times I’ve come to India.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, after a few minutes my blogging muscles started to twitch and I had to rush inside to grab my cameras so that I could capture images and videos of the scene even though it is now firmly – probably indelibly – stamped in my brain.
Moments later, another small coracle appeared further down the river with a man and small boy sat inside it, and as I followed their progress I was able to gradually take in the full beauty of the strange almost lunar landscape with its huge ancient granite boulders interspersed between rivers and streams and thickets of green. With the silence broken only by the sound of early morning bird song, this was a magical scene that enveloped me in an unfamiliar feeling of tranquil calm.
As he had promised the evening before, the boy appeared at six-thirty with a pot of early-morning coffee, and after drinking that I made my way from the cottage up to the dining hall over a winding boulder-strewn path passing through patches of lush green vegetation.
So far, I had seen no other guest cottages along the way, but as I looked up I couldn’t help but notice a small medieval castle looming above me on the top of the hill. This place is getting stranger by the minute, I thought to myself, wondering what other surprises it had in store for me. And I hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet.
“Who lives in the castle?” I asked him.
“The owner does,” he replied. “He’s a businessman in Hyderabad, but his wife’s family is from the local area. He comes here quite often and has set it up as a nature reserve for endangered sloth bears that live around here. There are also leopards in the area as well, though you don’t see them around the hotel too often.”
“A good thing,” I replied, slightly alarmed but also fascinated by the story. “And how many guests does the hotel hold? There don’t seem to be many staying here.”
“A maximum of 30, but generally only around 24,” he said. “The owner doesn’t want the hotel to have an impact on the environment so he deliberately keeps the number very small.”
Now, everything was beginning to make sense to me: the remote location with no sign posts, the lack of other guests, the simplicity of the room I was staying in with no TV and – gasp! – no Internet, and the glorious unspoilt scenery. This was a hidden eco-tourism gem that I had just stumbled on through a chance booking by my travel agent. What a wonderful adventure this trip was turning out to be!
After showing me a few photographs of the reserve that were hanging on the wall, the manager pointedly looked at his watch. “It’s seven o’clock,” he said. “Time to go to Hampi. Your driver is waiting, and you have a very long day ahead of you.”