XII: Hampi Scamper

I finally managed to peel myself from the Goan beaches & all those peripheral, hedonistic representatives of the west. There’s only so many lazy hours with a book & a beer, hot semi-naked babes frolicking in the surf, & sunset games of beach volleyball a man can take before he’s straining for some proper culture. So, last Tuesday me, Charlie & Michelle hit the road. She’s the 19-year old LA art student who seems to have adopted us, & vice versa – we’re an odd bunch but got on very well actually. She generally has her head stuck in her journal, etching & doodling her diary from post-to-post, while giggling at mine & Charlie’s bickering. After a couple of busses through the flattish jungle-covered world of north Goa, we hit Panjim, the state capital. It has been fifty years since the Goans kicked the Portuguese out, but the place still retains a lazy, continental air. We stayed in a lovely old Portuguese house in an equally Portuguese area – it felt so much like Italy I began to tingle with poesis.

10K up the banks of the wide, glimmering Mondovi River we came to Old Goa – the former capital. Today it is just a few – admittedly stunning, -churches. The old houses have all been swept away & grass’d over like the terrac’d streets of Burnley. One of them contains the bones of Francis Xavier, which you can see through his glass coffin. Another, a cathedral to Francis of Assisi, is lovely in the crumbling kinda way – like the modern church itself in the face of wider growing agnosticism. Beside the church stood an incredible museum to Goa – the best ten rupees I’ve ever spent. I even paid Charlie inside, who was grumbling about its price. Seeing as the lad can’t sell ketamine or even get a job building, his current preoccupation is saving as much money as he possibly can. Anyway, we all had a lovely swally roond & two things stood out for me. One was this ceremony of tall portraits of every governor or viceroy the Portuguese ever sent to Goa. The second were these basalt stone workings, verticle triptychs that reminded me immensely of the stone workings of the Picts. There are two types – hero stones which tell of how a hero died in battle & ascent to the gods. The others are sati stones, which show a widow jumping into the fire after her husband had died, then joining him in heaven.

Yesterday we set off east on a goernment bus. We started out from the chaotic shouts of the conductors & the stop-start-shuffling of busses as they made their way out of the teeming Panjim station. Soon enough we were trundling through the plush jungles of Goa, rising steadily up to the eastern Ghats, affording us an incredible palm-laden vista that spread west through the hills of Goa as far as the eye can see. We then began to descend into Karnataka, which at first seemed like the undulating agricultural realms of England, before spanning out into a vast plain, something like the steppes of Russia. At one town we were just stretching our legs when we were hit on big time by curious beggar-kid. His upper body seemed to be shifted to the left & his rib cage jutting out of his back forming a hunch. Holding out his gnarly left hand touched the heart strings & even Charlie found a few spare ruppees. Then the sun began to set, a red=hot cannonball that seem’d to shoot into the eyes & nestle in the brain after only half a glance.

As we reached the outskirts of Hospet, the full moon rose a bloody red & we hit a crazy convoy of trucks that seemed to go on forever. To amuse myself I watched Bruce Lee clips on this Indian’s mobile phone, then a bit of the new Incredible Hulk. Then we reached dusty Hospet, & things suddenly got tense. As we pulled into the bus station we were set on by this pack of braying jackals – young rickshaw drivers all braying for our blood. Wherever we went they followed & soon I turned into the Hulk himself – ‘what part of shut the f**k up & leave us the f**k alone dont you understand,’ kinda thing. Then I resorted to are you stupid / deaf – but still they insisted on following us everywhere. In the end we just flagg’d down a passing rickshaw, who knocked one of our jackals flying, & got out of dodge with the drivers chasing us Benny Hill style waving imaginary machetes.

Arriving at night at Hampi bazaar isnt the most inspiring of things – a tourist friendly Wild West hick town of a place. But come morning & you suddenly find yourself at the heart of the great Hindoo Vijiyanagar empire. Lasting from about 1450–1600, it had controlled most of South India. The place has inspired one of my all-time favorite lines of composition nine years ago;

Pastel lustred sunsets muster’d oer Vijiyanagar

The ruins are reminscent of Rome, but instead of mad Italian traffic inbetween, there are banana plantations. The ruins blend into the bouldery hills that surround the place, & there is a wonderful river flowing through the area. I had a wander first thing this morning & came across the Saraswathi temple. I think I’m gonna make a wee piligrimage there each morning as I get busy writing. On the other side, I found a weird connection with Paradise Beach in Gokarna. First off, theres a few of the residents here at a hippiefied ‘rainbow camp’ – full of chess, guitars & even Nedved who I mentioned a few emails back. I was also sat down in this restaurant – the same place I used to stay at on my last visit here 9 years ago – & I thought I recognised the voice of Anila – my Nepalese mate from Paradise Beach. You dont know a guy called Anila – I asked this slightly older looking guy. He’s my brother – he replied, & the mystic karmic swirl settled on the scene.


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