We often dont realise how much our life, our day to day existence is affected by strangers. The autowallah, the neighbourhood shopkeeper whom you know only by face and havent ever bothered to even ask his name, the friendly biker who signals that your lights are on, the guy at the petrol pump, the list is quite long. The familiarity of the place and those of the people you know tend to mask all these strangers. We are too occupied thinking about and being with the people we know; friends, family, to even think about how wonderfully these strangers in some way define our existence. It's only when we leave the comfort and predictability of our daily life and venture out to other places, that we begin to feel how much an impact strangers have and can have on our lives.
The last time I went out with my family was almost eight years ago. It was a trip to the Andamans. I remember how during my schooldays every year or two we used to go out to visit some place. My father's enthusiasm meant that I ended up visiting quite a few places in India, hill stations, sea shores and historical sites. The trip to Hampi, Badami, Aihole & Pattadakal (refresh your history!) was quite unlike any of those. I wont try to describe any of the places but to say that all those epithets and adjectives that are used generously in tourist books fall short of the portraying the experience I had over the last four days. 'Where every stone speaks', 'Forgotten Empire', 'The Cradle of Temple Architecture'. It turned out to be all that and more.
It was a simple message with a email id posted on some forum on tourism in Karnataka which led me to send a mail to the person inquring about Hampi and details of travel and lodging. What I got in return was the most sound advice you could get on travelling around the place, a room booked in a hotel, a few phone numbers to contact travel agents and someone to call up anytime in case I needed anything. And no, there was no catch. The guy wasnt even a travel agent or anything of the sort. He was an engineer living in Bellary who did all this just for the sake of helping. My trip got going thanks to a stranger I hadn't even seen.
It was Umesh in Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, Eshwar in Ajanta, Ellora and Pasha in Hampi and Badami. Taxi drivers who took us around the place and waited patiently as we got down at every turn and took photographs. Yes it's their job but I just felt like mentioning. It was a quiet lazy afternoon as our car pulled out of NH 13 towards the village leading to Aihole. As it sped through the village, you could see the occasional kid playing with an empty plastic bottle looking with eager eyes as our car approached him, the elder village folk resting in the shade of a tree, or the sugarcane laden bullock cart ambling through. It was such an unhurried atmosphere. Everything was still and quiet and the look at the faces of the villagers was that of contentment. Every now and then a temple would rear up its head as if to annonce that we were approaching a historical site. In Aihole we had to climb up a series of steps to a temple called Meghuti atop a small hill. As fate would have it, we were joined by about five little boys, not older than ten or twelve years. In the heart of Karnataka how these village kids managed to communicate to us that the temple was built by Jains and overlooked the rivers Ghataprabha and Malaprabha and showed us inscriptions dedicated to a particular sage has to be experienced to be believed. They even told us their names which I have happily forgotten. The only memory would be that of the picture I took of all of them along with my father. It was a strange land and a very old one at that and but for those little kids, we might have never known what the temple was built for.
Then there were the managers in the KSTDC hotels in Badami and Hospet who doubled up as waiters in the restaurant, running the hotel with meager resources and a smile on their faces. They provided us with all they could to make our stay enjoyable and comfortable. From the morning tea to arranging for the auto to getting tourism brochures. Somehow it was a very humbling and satisfying feeling.
There were so many others. The guide at Hampi who spent the whole day with us, as did the Norweigian couple who found a second guide in my father as he took to explaining Hindu mythology to them. The Swiss lady who had come to visit her friend in a Tibetan Monastery nearby where he had been teaching for the last one year and her candid acknowledgement that Karnataka was so much larger, in more than one sense of the word, than Switzerland.
It was nice to be on the road, to see the landscape changing, see the people, their attires. I felt so happy and relaxed. Travel does that to me and I havent been doing enough of that of late.
On a slightly different note, anybody who has the means, should visit Hampi. I didnt know how boulders and stones strewn around could be so beautiful. Its unlike anything that I had ever seen, it's a tribute to the perseverance and dedication of the people who turned stone to something which lives. You feel astonished not only because of the artistry but more so because of the audacity. The audacity to carve out something like this in such a barren land. You feel sad because such glory can never be replicated. One visit to Hampi and you would want to know everything about it. There you realise how religion wasnt just a way of life for those people, it was the way to live. It was a time when people spent lives carving an idol out of stone, when everything from the daily bazaar to song and dance, every source of livelihood would ulitimately revolve round the temples and the Gods who resided in them. And the irony is that it was religion which proved to be its demise. The temples at Aihole and Pattadakal are awe inspiring because of their intricacies and advanced architecture, the Badami caves take your breath away by their sheer natural beauty and impossibility of the creations. The ruins of Hampi with their vastness and desolation, with the Tungabhadra running in between as the mute observer to its rise and fall, are something out of this world.