The sizable Israeli population that resides in Hampi has ensured that kids like Raghu have become cunning linguists, jumping tongues from their native Telugu, to Kannada, to Hebrew and finally accented English, like the Israelis. They're everywhere, communing with friends and family, flower children with their children, nature starved corporates, youngsters just done with their compulsory army duty, all drawn by the call of a land free from laws, a land free from societal norms, a veritable Valhalla a foreign land called India where they treat everyone with qualm.
That isn't to say that the local folk are ravenous foreigner-chasing wolves. They reserve a special place in their resorts and hearts for anyone who will smile and address them in respectful Kannada or English. In terms of acco, across the river, Shanti in particular offers a primo view of paddy and the dare I say it, mighty Tungabhadra. There have been rumours of croc visitation and even nesting but I haven't seen one, through several daylight and stumbling nighttime jaunts to the riverside. Among the rest (save a few who will try and con/wiggle/beg/semi-demand money from you) there are people who will smile at you, their white teeth shining at you from two hundred meters away, as you whiz on by on some speedy Gonzalves TVS Luna, people who will wave you down and politely offer a seat at their son's modest wedding table, people who will reach out and shake your hand, tiny tykes screaming 'hello, hello' with glee. People who will make you smile, chuckle and laugh.
Then you have the monuments, some crumbling, some recently refurbished, some showing strains of their many moons under the baking Hampi sun. The Vithala Temple Complex and the Queen's Bath in particular are worth their walks in gold. The alluringly named Concubine Bazaar leads up to the slightly spicker and spanner Achyuta Temple Complex and is a desolate walk. The constantly bustling Bazaar street with the imposing Virupaksha Temple complex towering over one end, is a source of cheese, history and food and the occasional procession. The ruins aren't particularly ancient in comparison to even Delhi but have a good 700 years on me.
If all this excitement hasn't got you scrambling to call your travel agent (we wish), then let me introduce you to the bounding, gravity defying, stupefying array of boulders, some eerily forming the shape of Hanuman's head (Monkey Hill). The temple topped peak is an easy climb even if your last bout of guilty exercise was back during the Cold War. The view from up top is tear jerking. The rhesus monkeys are best ignored. The venerable Baba of the temple will bring out the chi if he's in the mood.
Deliciously tarred roads snaking through endless green paddy fields connecting the Anegondi (Hampi’s old capital) road to the humungous many-laked reservoir. Here, pray that you run into a resourceful teenager called Raghu/Salman Khan (he likes to keep changing his name) as he will willy nilly procure for you chips, beer, biscuits and huge rubber tubes that you can float on in the vast reservoir. It's also good for a swim, if you have the suit and the confidence. The reservoir is trippy as hell, on a full moon night but be warned that on a sweltering day, there is little shade hereabouts to give you welcome respite.
There is also an aspect of Hampi that brings out the closet ornithologist in me, screaming out bird names like a frothing maniac while my companions look disinterestedly at me, politely nodding at my more frantic appeals. Yes, kind patrons, Hampi is also for the birds.
And beasts, and semi-humans, and simians, and humans, and hippies and everyone with a mind for seeking magic. It took me 23 years to get here, it’s going to be a while before I can say goodbye.