Our childhood is spent in the pursuit of fun. As we grow up, we become more logical – understanding the don’ts and whys behind these don’ts. We break bones, experience pain, lose friends and slowly understand that everything comes at a cost. We stop leaping.
I grew up too fast. I lost the gift of feeling immortal, the one we’re all bestowed with by Nature only to have Nurture beat the shit out of it. As we grow up and witness or experience failures, we grow more weary. That weariness, if we let it, replaces our sense of adventure.
Fear is a dangerous thing. It’s the easiest to reinforce and toughest to eradicate – that’s just how we’re built.
Hampi, a fantasy land, is where I re-discovered a past. A past civilization, and a past self.
A small town in South India, a UNESCO heritage site often described (by me) as a better version of Goa.
It’s the town for backpackers and families alike, with the promise of pool time, fields, sand and sun. Make your way to Hospet, take a rickshaw or a bus to Hampi, cross the river, find a guesthouse, rent a two-wheeler and you’re set.
It was the last part that worried me. I love walking. I’m notoriously fond of exploring towns by foot. It’s the best way to get a sense of the place, and most ecological too. But here, it was non-negotiable.
The distances are too large to walk and I wasn’t ready to spend half my month’s savings on rickshaws. Trying to find a third option, I walked up to the first travel agent I saw and asked him if there was any other way that hadn’t been mentioned on the maps shoved into my face the minute I had stepped into Hampi. His eyes lit up. A solo girl traveller who knew nothing about bikes had been delivered to his doorstep, right from the heavens.
I wouldn’t say he’s a great salesman, but it just took one thing to hit a nerve. “Ma’am, riding a bike is really easy!” That set off a whirlpool of thoughts.
I remember feeling afraid. What if I fail? What if I crash it? What if I ran into a boulder (the most likely scenario in Hampi)?
But… What if I survived? What if I found people to help me out of the stickiest of situations? What if I got to experience Hampi the way it’s meant to be? What if I had just stumbled across the freedom I travel to seek in the first place?
And so I took off. Through dirt paths and rocky rivers. Open fields and smooth roads. Muddy climbs and non-roads.
My first time riding a motorbike (it was a simple moped, actually – but it counts) was when I had no familiar face to fall back on – literally. It was the most exhilarating experience I’ve had.
It was obvious I wasn’t a biker. The villagers knew it and so did the cows. The village women stared because they rarely see an Indian girl travelling solo. The stall owners laughed because I left my bike in the sun and had to wait with them awhile for the scorching leather seat to cool down. But most of all, they helped. Without judgement, without condescension. I felt no shame in asking, and they did not hesitate to offer.
Sure, I fell. I smugly tried to speed up a muddy hill that most bikers had surpassed, got stuck and fell with the bike landing on top of me. I laughed so hard, it caught the ears of the only farmer up there on the hill. He helped me with my bag, carried the bike down to the road, shook my hand and off he went.
What is it about the harsh sun and open expanse of land that gets to you about Hampi? There’s no sky-reflecting lake, no snow-capped mountain range – the things I’ve known to impact me most profoundly in my past travels (read: Ladakh).
There’s something about the endlessness of Hampi’s landscape that stirs up a sense of adventure. I witnessed it all around me. Sitting on a rock sipping coconut water under the beaming sun, I can see local boys jumping off of cliffs, with nothing but sheer joy in their eyes. Mothers washing clothes nearby yelling at them to stop, with no real hope of them listening.
You don’t need a map here. Rent a bike or any vehicle, and take off. Stop along the way and chat with the families selling coconut water. Don’t haggle, just talk to them.
Make your way to the last rocks at Hanuman Mandir, perch under the parching sun and strike up a conversation with someone. Or simply try and count the boulders below.
Hampi’s meals ‘with a view’ are ideal for making friends. Over breakfast, a Gurgaon-born-Bangalore-based lawyer-turned-writer and his Slovenian friend told me about a night walk they took through the paddy fields down the dirt path to the river behind our hotel to see the sunrise. The friend tells me he’s only ever ventured into Goa and Gokarna and regrets every minute he spent away from Hampi.
Join the careless, easy stride of the horde making its way to Sunset Rock, climb over brambles and rocks no matter how much they hurt, settle down in a cosy spot and listen. Soon, the air will be filled with musical instruments. Join them with your untuned voices and make music together overlooking the paddy expanse below… that’s what we travel for, don’t we?
Don’t be afraid to get lost. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. Just laugh along.