The alarm went off at 6 am. Even in my sleepy state, I managed to calculate that I had slept for only 4 and a half hours. I wanted to sleep some more, but then I remembered that I was in Hampi. I also realized with a touch of sadness that this was my last day in Hampi. Eager to make the most of my remaining time, I dragged myself out of my bed, put on a light jacket, floaters and grabbed the travel book I was reading, before closing the door softly behind me to avoid waking up my two friends with whom I was sharing a room.
I climbed the narrow iron steps to the terrace of the home stay we were staying in. I could see the main gopuram of Virupaksha temple in the soft light of dawn right it front of me. It was a beautiful sight, to say the least. I stood there for some time absorbing the sight of the temples and the rocks all around me. This was my 4th trip to Hampi, and I was still in awe of the place, like I had been when I had first set foot here in August, 2003. Each time I come back feeling the need revisit and explore more. And it never ends...
Keen to see more of Hampi at daybreak, I climbed down from the terrace and made my way to the main Bazaar, which was just a few steps away from my home stay. The shopkeepers were in the process of opening their shops, some were already in a state of readiness to serve the early morning customers. Being in the Bazaar opposite the temple meant that business always started early for them. Today was a little different though, it was 1st January, so they had an additional task. Each of them were busy making Rangolis in front of their shops, wishing everyone Happy New Year. What a pleasant way to greet the new year !!! These Rangolis were big ones covering the entire breadth of their shop entrance and would have taken them considerable amount of time to make these, even with the entire family working as a team. The Rangolis were filled with bright colors and made a beautiful sight. I had never seen so many big Rangolis, one after the other, and as I walked past them, each of them seemed to be better than the earlier one I saw. I was specially struck by this unique fusion of Eastern and Western cultures. People in Hampi, in a Bazaar opposite Virupaksha temple, welcoming the Christian calendar New Year, by drawing Rangolis...how strange and how nice. I cannot really describe the feeling.
I needed to buy some water. Gingerly avoiding stamping on the Rangolis, I walked into one of the shops. The shopkeeper beamed at me and wished me new year before handing me the bottle. When I paid him, he smiled even more and said I was his first customer in the new year and that he was sure the year will be lucky for his shop. I smiled back and echoed his wishes.
The Bazaar had a lot more people now, a few headed towards the temple and some walking towards the river. I skirted the temple and walked towards the river, following a group of Sabarimala devotees, who I assumed were headed for a bath in the river before going to the Murugan temple near the river. There were a few tea stalls near the temple. The owners called out to me asking me if I wanted tea or coffee (I am sure I made a very sleepy sight with loose cotton bottoms and my tousled hair). I simply smiled back at them and made my way to the river, finding a nice spot under a tree on one of the steps which led down to the banks.
There was quite a varied crowd gathered there and it was quite interesting to watch their activites. First, there was a group of young boys, maybe 10-11 year old, in their briefs, circling a Nandi statue on a high rock in the middle of the river. I do not know if they did this as some ritual or simply for fun. After a few rounds, they all sat down near the edge of the rock with their legs dangling down. I half expected them to jump together in the water, though I knew the water is not so deep and the river bed rocky. After some time, one by one they stepped down from the rock (I realized then that there was a rocky pavilion on the other side of this rock, which was how they had managed to climb onto the rock). Once they had descended, they started swimming and splashing around the water in the usual boisterous manner, so typical of a group of boys. There was also a group of young girls fully taking a bath. It was the difference in their demeanour compared to the boys which was very striking. The girls were almost the same age as the boys, but fully dressed, even though they were in the river for a bath. They were standing huddled close to each other, laughing and joking with each other. Most of them had long hair and were washing their hair and obviously enjoying it. Even in their restricted movements, there was fun and warmth in the group. I looked at them and thought of the lives they would lead when they grow up. There would be marriage, husband, in-laws, children, and hopefully some education in between for them. I also wondered why I only thought of the hardhips the girls would have to face. The boys I saw circling the Nandi would face hardships too. Is there a hidden feminist in me, who I need to acknowledge? Hmm...food for thought for me.
There was increasing activity on the other side of the river. The first boat was beginning to fill up, there was a guy astride the motorcycle on the boat as well. Another group was beginning to form at this end of the river waiting for the boat to arrive.
A huge family arrived next to me. From their exclamations, it was obviously their first day in Hampi and their first sight of the river. There were excited discussions on what to visit and how, where to stay, what to eat etc. The younger kids smiled at me, the older ones looked at me suspiciously, thinking why someone should be sitting near the river clutching a bottle of water and book in hand.
I looked at my watch and realized it was time for me to go back to my room. Today was the last day in Hampi and a lot needed to be done. Though I had not seen anything "new" or "exciting" in the last one hour, I had seen the "living" Hampi, something which connected me even more to the place.
I walked back to my room thinking I could not have wished a better place or hour to start my new year with.
Happy New Year everyone :)