We ended up staying in Hampi for a couple of days longer than we had originally thought to do – one of the advantages of traveling without an itinerary. We had nowhere to be, and the atmosphere was so peaceful and rejuvenating that we thought we would explore the ruins and the surrounding landscape a little more.
Along the river banks we noticed some odd circular, woven boats, which I recognized from an old Jackie Chan movie. Some tourists were taking a trip down the river in them, but we had other plans. We crossed the river by ferry, and on the opposite bank we found a place that rented bicycles, and so we set out to explore on dry land instead. We heard there was a “monkey temple” not too far away, and we pedalled off in the general direction.
The landscapes around Hampi are truly captivating, so much so that as we cycled along, it started to become quite dreamlike. I was taking it easy, lost in thought, and in a kind of trance, I was beginning to suspect that all knowledge and all understanding, all possible thoughts that ever been thought or ever will be thought, already exist somewhere in the great mandala of the universe. So many times I have “invented” a concept, in one of those wonderful “wow” moments of illumination, only to find the exact same concept already written down a hundred years ago by someone else. It’s as if we’ve forgotten everything at birth, and we just remember things from time to time. Writers, poets and artists are not paid so much for original thought, as for putting down universal truths in an approachable, contemporary way. When I emerged from my musings, I realized we had already passed the entrance to the temple, and by now Nicci was far down the road. There was nothing for it, I had to try to catch up, and call her back. I put my head down and pedalled like I was chasing a yellow jersey.
Eventually I caught up. Nicci was in the same absent-minded mood, and hadn’t realized how far she had travelled. In high spirits we turned around and cycled back to the entrance. Waiting for us was a couple of thousand stairs to climb to the top of the hill, and the Hanuman Temple. Monkeys clambered about on the smooth rock faces, leaping and scrambling over seemingly impossible obstacles, totally oblivious to the dizzying heights and the threat of falling. They found handholds and toe-holds where none seemed to exist. To them it seemed like a game.
At the top we were able to enjoy incredible views over the weird topography around Hampi. We were invited to sit with a friendly temple Mahant, who showed us the prayers tied onto a special tree at the top of the hill. He offered us a cup of masala chai, infused with mint and cardamom, the likes of which we were not able to find again, even in the legendary Darjeeling.
We left mystical Hampi on the night of a near perfect “Super Perigree” Moon, the brightest full moon in almost 20 years. As our bus pulled out of town, heading for Hyderabad, the entrancing countryside was bathed in bright moonlight, and already the festivities of Holi, which were to begin the next day, were underway. It was an unforgettable experience.