Getting from Bengaluru to Hampi, the fabled capital of the Vijayanagara Empire that was overthrown in the middle of the sixteenth century, is no trivial undertaking. At one time there was a direct flight, but it was reportedly canceled due to the lack of passengers, so now you have to either use the rather irregular and heavily booked train service or a make a ten hour drive there.
We took the latter option, foolishly setting out at ten o’clock in the morning just in time to catch the Bangalore traffic at its height. Two hours later, we had battled our way through the city limits, but just as we were starting to pick up speed on the open road, we came to a screaming halt at a crossroads and were instructed by a harried cop to take a fifty kilometer diversion away from the highway.
Wending our way through the narrow country roads was quite pleasant at first, but it really slowed us down and it was a relief to get back at last on the open road. Much of the countryside along the highway was rather flat and featureless, but was broken up from time to time by smallish hills and large granite boulders sticking out of the brown colored earth. We drove through quite a number of villages and small towns along the way, but the area wasn’t as heavily populated as I’d expected – certainly nowhere near as much as in Northern India.
Further down the highway we passed a long line of wind turbines that had been implanted along a chain of small hills. To combat the country’s massive nation-wide energy shortages, the Indian government is actively promoting alternative power sources such as wind and solar; and while the wind farms may not look too pretty they must be the most efficient and cleanest way of meeting the energy needs of the towns and villages in the area.
We made pretty good time on the almost deserted highway but as we neared Hampi the road became narrower and more crowded and our progress was further delayed when our driver made a halt at a truck stop to make sure that he was going in the right direction.
This was hardly reassuring, as we had been under the impression that our driver knew where we were going, but then again judging by this encouraging piece of advice given on the HampiOnline website, he was right to check his bearings:
“Thanks to booming tourism and active interest from the Government, Hampi can be located on a map. If you get lost or if you think you are lost, do not panic. Stop the car by the road near a tea-stall and ask the first person you see there. They will be more than happy to guide you.”
Evening was beginning to set in when we started off again, and I found myself becoming increasingly alarmed as we found ourselves snaking down ever narrower and darker country lanes in search of our seemingly elusive destination.
Although he repeatedly reassured us that there was “no problem”, always an ominous sign in India, the driver kept stopping to ask the way and calling the hotel every few minutes until he came to yet another halt just after we had passed through a small village.
“It’s OK,” he told us, as we got out the car to smoke a cigarette in pitch-back darkness. “The hotel will send someone to show us the way. They told us not to stop in the village because there are bad people there.”
Well, at least someone was coming to collect us, I thought, though I was intrigued and quite worried that up to now I hadn’t even seen one single sign on the road pointing to or advertising the hotel. Just what had we let ourselves in for?
After we had smoked a couple of cigarettes, a motorcycle finally appeared from the pitch black maw and led us down a bumpy winding track until we finally reached our destination.
We were met at the reception by the manager, who told us that our rooms weren’t ready yet because he hadn’t known we were coming until a couple of hours before.
“That’s strange,” I told him, as I showed him our booking form which had been confirmed three days before. But we were too tired to argue with him, and in any case more than happy to enjoy a couple of Kingfishers and the buffet that was laid out in the open-air verandah.
“The room is ready,” the manager triumphantly announced upon his return, surrounded by a gaggle of grinning assistants.
“The room?” I asked, pointing to my reservation slip. “We booked two rooms.”
“Oh,” he replied, an irritated expression coming onto his face. “Well, we can’t give you two rooms next to each other, so you’ll have to wait another twenty minutes.”
We just shrugged in agreement and returned to our beers, too tired to argue any further and in any case enjoying the calm and silence of the night.
At last, after another bottle of Kingfisher had been downed, the manager returned and announced that our rooms were ready, and after grabbing hold of my backpack, a young boy led me torch in hand stumbling through the semidarkness to my little cottage.
I followed him inside the room and watched as he hacked around with the air conditioner for a few minutes before he was able to turn it on. Then, as the blessed cool air started to fill the room, I tipped the boy and collapsed onto my bed, vaguely wondering why I had ever wanted to come to this place before I was blessedly overcome by sleep.