Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Remains of the Day

The weekend was approaching and we awoke in yet another predawn to find our way 350 kms away from our current location. We had decided to explore an unknown world where the stones would tell us their dreams; and if dreams were made of stone, it would have to be Hampi; the ruins of the erstwhile Vijaynagar empire which reigned supreme from 1336 to 1565. Hampi, the capital of the empire in ruins; lies at the banks of the Tungabhadra river, and covers an area of 26 sq kms of stones; stones awaiting to whisper their secrets and bare their soul.

The four of us; Bala, Dhruv, AJ and moi; groggily positioned ourselves in the car. I took the shotgun position, only to realise later that I had placed myself on some pringles (chips), well protected by the cardboard cylindrical box, 15 inches in height and 3 inches in diameter, intended to rarely face such eventualities. After a little while I felt a bit uncomfortable and a thorough investigation of the area revealed that the cardboard box was not doing too well. The taunts dived in from all directions but I was brave enough to sit my ground, and munch on the remains of the squat.

We took a short detour enroute and explored the Chitradurga fort. At the entrance we decided to capture our very first conquest and in the bargain my camera tossed and turned in the hands of another, and flipped and flew; if it had wings it would fly but its hopes were pulled down to ground level by gravity and it landed on hard rock. It took a few hits below the synthetic belt but like a wounded soldier it decided to march on, gathering its bearings from the remains of the fall.

Up in the mountains, deep inside the fort, well protected by temples and a less trodden path, lined with thorny bushes, blades of grass, and dungeons and dragon(fly)s, lay the mud ruins of a palace. The reddish brown clay contrasted well against the greenish yellow grass, with the giant boulders that observed all from their peaks, ready to roll over and take on any intruder. The palace appeared to be taken over by ants, the walls showing signs of their inroads; an empire in organised motion. Nicely tucked into the mountains lay a small lake as green with algae as the sky was blue with pride.

Hampi is identified with the mythological Kishkindha, the monkey kingdom which finds mention in the Ramayana. On our way down from the fort we were treated to the monkey man. He told us that the monkey was his master as far as his style of climbing goes. He is a national level free climber (no equipment) and was practicing on the perpendicluar walls of the fort. I challenged him to a climb which we caught on video. And then Dhruv attempted the same and ended up scratching his goggles on the unforgiving hard rock; the remains of the climb.

We then moved ahead to Hampi which was reveling in festivities from Nov 3rd to Nov 5th this year. The festival manifested itself in already booked hotels, and sykrocketed prices for menial dwellings which we luckily stumbled upon. I carried my sleeping bag just incase we had to sleep in the car and moi in the open. We then headed towards the center of all the commotion and found ourselves walking amongst temples and stone carvings. Seated on the heights we could see the wrestling matches taking place far in the distance as sweat and muscle collided to produce an uproar of the spirit. As night took over we walked along the streets of Hampi desecrated with banners of politicians touting their good deeds. It was yet another opportunity to lure the people into false impressions. The only temple that still maintained its idols was overflowing with people and the entrance was marked by a man who stood on nails and had other piercings on various places on his body.

We decided to escape the human crowd at the Hampi Bazaar and headed towards the Vithala Temple that is undoubtly the most splendid monument of Hampi with its 56 musical pillars. Our path along the Tungabhadra river was lit up by the moon in all its glory, overjoyed to show us the way. Our moonlight trek was lined by giant boulders on surrounding hills that reflected the brilliance of the beauty of nature and shadows of stones and carvings. The Vithala temple was lit up to welcome us and the sound of the musical pillars resonated in the night. To the east of the hall is the famous Stone Chariot with stone wheels that actually revolve.

Our humble dwelling awaited our return. On closer inspection the fan didn't work, the TV didn't work, and the AC seemed to be missing some parts; it had given up its ghost. We did come to an agreement with the remaining equipment, but only after caressing he TV. Well caress is a gentle word but you get the picture, and we did too :-) The fan required a little coaxing with the help of a broom and we were off into neverland. The next morning after a rollcall of energy we started to freshen up. As I came out of the bath with wet feet the room relieved me of all its resistance as I slid and went for a royal toss that any WWF wrestler would be envious of. However instead of finding myself in a ring, I found myself competing with a table and as they say in Chinese," Ai Bang Mai Ni". We then bid adieu to our humble dwelling with the remains of my slide.

After breakfast we loaded the car with food and fruits and found that we were running short of comfortable space. We unanimously decided to unload unrequired luggage; lets make that unrequired inanimate luggage so that we can focus on the task at hand. While going through the heap the box of pringles opened and the remains of the chips were strewn all over. While we were deliberating to do away with the spilt remains I turned over from the shotgun seat and nibbled on some chips and then finally bit them adieu. Dhruv then took the crumbs and walked around a bit wondering where to throw them. He then came back to the car not knowing where to dispose of it, shrugged his shoulders and then dropped them just infront of his entrance to the car. He then had to manouveur himself over the crumbs so as not to bring them back in. But some did manage to do so :-)

Hampi is home to a lot of monuments; like the King's Balance where kings were weighed against food, gold or money which was then distributed to the poor. The Queen's Bath, a swimming pool with inlets of perfumed water. Lotus Mahal, in the shape of a lotus flower from top. Elephant Stables; Hindu-Muslim style of architecture housing the gaints that carried royalty. Pushkarini Tank, Mahanavami Dibba; a platform which looked like a miniature version of what the Aztecs built, from where royalty would look over the surroundings. This platform has beautiful carvings, and many many more such monuments.

On our way back we also visited the Tungabhadra dam. We covered the 350 kms return journey under 5 hours frantically checking and rechecking that our seatbelts work, touching a max of 130+ at some points, initiating our interest in the intricacies of seatbelts and the circuitry that made them stop only when the belt was pulled too fast from its casing. The locking mechanisms used by seatbelts are explained here. Dhruv who was now in the shotgun position was unconsciously trying to see if his head would hit the windscreen or the dashboard, if inertia ever beckoned his bearings. We reached home in one piece; mind, body and soul; the remains of the drive.

In retrospect, I revelled in the labyrinth of ruins as I caught them on camera. But the shot that caught my fancy was that of an old shepherd sitting along a large rectangular window; part of a wall that had once belonged to a home. His flock in the far distance, and the stone ruins in the background. He was lost in his thoughts as to how he had found himself sitting there; the stones whispered their dreams, carried along with the winds; that very ground was once witness to grandeur, splendor, and fabulous wealth and more so it was a cradle of talent and creativity only to be overwhelmed by the combined forces of the Mogul invaders and the destruction that followed; what lay in front of him were the remains of dreams, the remains of the day.


Dhruv said...

Hilarious and interesting... You not only caught the ruins, but also the mood and spirit of the trip in words ... Bravo!!

Reema Banerjee said...

studied this plc in final year...part of the syllabus...saw it on slides, films docus, never in reality. yet to go there. hampi...thousand shiv lingas, hey say.

Deccan Herald has this journalist who is doing a fellowship on Hampi for Unicef. Met him recently.

great write up...sob sob, it isnt a good idea to read this when one is in the middle of way too many 'important/urgent/both' things
hows the count. me on 16000 right now...too slow, i know. i am disgusted at myself.