No more than 13 years old, the boy smiles as he paddles his circular vessel -which appears to be nothing more than a large wicker bowl – to and fro across the Tungabhadra river. Catching me raise my camera, he looks over, blows a kiss and laughs.
This boy is the private river taxi, the gondolier as it were of Hampi, and just as when in Venice together we weren’t allowed to go in a gondola (as Father deemed it a rip off), here we stuck to the Vaparetto equivalent too. The Vaparetto equivalent – an old boat filled to the absolute brim with tourists and that looked as if it wouldn’t be too long until it was also filled to the absolute brim with water.
We’re both able swimmers. We got in.
It rises in one smooth motion, hovers and then taps the crown of my head. I briefly feel the bristles touch my scalp. I shut my eyes.
We’re in Virpaksha Temple, Hampi and I’ve just been blessed by the live-in holy Elephant.
Flecked with Orange spots, the symbolic Ohms imprinted on its ears and a bronze bell tinkling around its thick neck, the religious giant stood looking – well, actually rather bored. It’s keeper – a thin, gangly man, stood both by the Elephant and a large hat filled with coins and notes. Yes, in true religious fashion – you had to pay to get blessed.
The man barked ‘ten rupees’ at me, but I slipped five into the Elephant’s quick moving trunk. The surrounding Indians seemed to be getting blessed for free -a typical tourist pays scenario. It turned out to be a good job too, as I only had ten rupees in coins and father missed the first photo opportunity.
This was the second:
Market stalls line either side of the street, chickens squawk, cows exhale heavily and children run forwards and backwards dodging tuk-tuks.
My eyes strain against the last of the sun as we meander through Hampi’s chaotic yet somehow calm centre. My hands grip my wilting Lonely Planet – whose pages keep trying to escape with the Easterly breeze.
I glance back over my shoulder at a vast Temple which I later find out to be the Virupaksha and then we continue onwards to The Mango Tree.
“Hey, hey you,” an excited voice sounds behind me, “Hey I know you.”
I’d dealt with my fair share of shop assistant ploys, but this one was new. Father sighed as I turned back to investigate.
“Wait a second, I know you too.”
It was the guy from Manali who’d had the amazing gold necklace I had wanted to buy. His shop was next door to the music shop – to Jonnie’s shop! Out of a population of 1,241,491,960 I’d managed to bump into one individual twice – I really had been in India for a long time.
We went in.
It was the second day at the top of Monkey Temple that I realised that Hampi was the most beautiful place that I had ever been. It was as if bits of the world had collided together: the dry, huge boulders of the northern plains of Kenya, the palm trees of the Maldives, the banana trees of St Lucia and the river straight from the foothills of the Himalaya in Nepal. The terrain looked both haphazard yet perfectly planned, a testament to the great artist, to Mother Nature herself.