How often do you come across an Indian girl/woman who is comfortable travelling solo within India? Not many right?
I had this three-day weekend looming up with no plans!! I usually travel with friends or drag my mum. Since the Monday was Ganesh Chaturthi, it meant many had plans of their own. I researched the net for various short break options from my city and wasn’t particularly happy. Reason either there was way too much travel or the destination meant me shelling more than I would want to for a quick break. More net surfing and talking to my fellow travel enthusiastic friends, I zeroed in on Hampi.
Decision made, booked tickets on a sleeper bus, surfed a popular hotel booking site and booked a “not-so-budget” friendly hotel. This hotel – I had heard great reviews of – so when most of my friends who had been to Hampi paid anything from INR 400 for a double bed-room, I was paying double thinking it better be worth it.
Finally Saturday dawns and I sleep through most part of it. Waking by mid-noon (I work night shift so couldn’t leave on Friday night) I realize I haven’t gathered my stuff that I will need and I frantically check the items in my mind. 30 mins later am all ready. Not wanting to be early at the bus terminal, I mentally calculate the time it will take me to travel the distance since I lived at the opposite side of the city.
Wanting to now save on my funds (since I was lavish in booking a sleeper and the guesthouse) I catch a bus – wrong move. A journey of 45 minutes took me close to 120 minutes. I still had to catch an auto to take me to the bus terminal. That meant another 15-20 minutes. As luck would have it, my auto driver bumped into his friends along the way and he had a quick chat with each of them – eating into my precious time. Finally I sighted the bus terminal and heaved a sigh of relief as I had about 25 minutes to spare.
I located the bus bay and kept a watch for my bus. Two trips to the enquiry country yielded the same response – the bus is stuck in traffic, it will be here in another 5-10 minutes. Finally at 11:15 the bus arrived and I got it in. Next morning we arrived at Hosepet bus terminal. I hopped of the bus and without even stopping to grab anything to eat or drink, I started asking where would I get the bus to take me to Hampi. I realized people here are used to seeing solo travelers. A 20 minute journey and I reached Hampi.
As I neared Hampi, I could see a few of the architectural marvels that the city is known for. I got off at the last stop – close to the famous Virupaksha Temple. Even before I could land my foot off the bus, auto drivers ran towards me so I could book them at what they called a bargain price to tour Hampi. It took me a while to shake them off and I wondered, is that how celebrities feel when fans crowd around them?
A quick visit to the temple (most temples in Hampi do not have worshipping deities) and a quick enquiry later, I was on my way to the river bank. A couple of left and right turns that was like a maze took me to the river bank. It was then I realized how hungry I was. There were roadside eateries serving the usual breakfast of idlis and pooris. A quick breakfast of idli and I was off to catch my boat.
On the other side of the river, I followed a group of boys up the narrow path where I was accosted once again – to hire a bike. Brushing everyone aside I was looking for the guesthouse’s signs. I walked for probably a kilometer and realized the distance on map wasn’t really helping me. Gulping a mosambi juice I again asked for directions. I realized I had to travel another 6 kilometers and had no choice but to catch an auto. Since the rate the drivers quoted me was close to what I paid for the sleeper, I contemplated if I should walk the remaining distance while enjoying the landscape. I started walking thinking one of the drivers might come and take me at a lower cost since he had to make money too. No such luck. After I had walked for about 10 minutes, one of them came on his bike and said he would drop me and we settled on half the price that he had quoted for the auto.
The route was simply awesome. We crossed a reservoir and a forest area. The guesthouse owner was waiting for me. He asked me to wait in the restaurant – it was a sit-down, deewan style and had a beautiful view of the paddy fields. I was shown my room shortly and I crashed for an hour. I had a bad bout of cough and hadn’t slept well in the bus. This short nap followed by a shower made me feel fresh and I set out to explore the city. Since most of the two-wheelers on hire are tvs-xl (for some reason I am not too comfortable riding them), I had little or no choice but to hire an auto. The guesthouse had arrangements with a local driver. He was ready to show me 5 sights at my pace. He did not quote a price but let me decide how much I should pay him. I was in a fix – what if I paid too little or what if I paid too much. We spoke about it and decided on an amount.
As we travelled, he started telling me what he knew of the place (which was a lot considering he grew up there) and folklore. Whenever we stopped at a temple or site, he would give me a brief history of the place. As we came to the last spot, he told me that he had to pick up a guest who stayed in the same guest house from near the river bank. We decided that he would drop her at the guesthouse and we would continue to the last spot – the reservoir as I wanted to see the sunset there. The other guest and I had a polite conversation in the auto little realizing that we would have so much to talk about over the next couple of hours.
Once I got back to the guesthouse I realized I was hungry for I had skipped my lunch. As I relaxed at the restaurant and order some finger food, she came in and sat on the next deewan after checking if I was okay to have some company. Our conversation began with mundane questions and before we knew it, we had some things in common and she had some interesting tales. She let me know that she was from Wales. I told her that I had been to Cardiff and loved the place. I shared some of my memories and she let me know that nothing changed since I had been there almost a decade ago. I had seen many women solo travelers in my journeys across India and didn’t find it unusual that she was a solo traveler. Her quest to Hampi was offbeat – nothing that I had heard before on why one should visit Hampi. She told me more than 30 years ago, her brother who had been to India fell in love with a Toda Tribal girl and married her. He used to visit Hampi often and loved the place. Last year when he died, per his wises, his Indian family had visited Hampi to immerse the ashes in river. My stranger friend, now an acquaintance, had come to thank the priest who performed her brother’s rites as she was not able to come the previous year.
After swapping many more stories, we both called it a day early than most tourist at about 10 p.m. The next morning after a heavy breakfast I called my auto driver to take me to the river as it was now time to explore that part of the city. He pointed out to his home and told me about his family. It was refreshing to know that in a city that can make (fleece) money off tourists, this man was humbleness personified.
Once I crossed the bank, I hired an auto to take me for the day’s sight seeing. This driver too was knowledgeable and gave me the history of the monuments and places besides letting me know how many minutes I would spend at each spot! At the Vitthala temple complex, one has to travel in the battery operated buggy. It is a three-seater and a young couple sat next me. Since it was not a long seat, I moved and politely asked if they had sat comfortably. When I turned to talk, I noticed the girl had streaked her hair in two beautiful hues of blue. I had this desire to color my hair but never attempted it. When I let her know that I liked the color, she beamed at me & said I should let “him” know. We got talking and I could tell she was surprised that I was solo-travelling. As with my Welsh friend, we exchanged names and our profession and why Hampi over the weekend. It was a nice short conversation as we saw the stone chariot and the musical pillars. Since I didn’t want to intrude in their privacy, I made an excuse and got away.
Post a relaxed lunch to another “must-go-to” restaurant with a remarkable view (unfortunately for me the restaurant moved from the river-view side), I made my way to the bus-stop. Back at Hosepet, I now asked for buses that would take me to the famous Tungabhadra dam. By now I was used to solo-travelling in and around Hampi where no one gives you a second look. At the park, I was stalked by a monkey!! A few screams caught the attention of the patrolling police who tried to shoo the monkey away from me – I didn’t have any eatables but I think the monkey took fancy to my purple colored water bottle! Since the monkey kept following me, the police requested I leave that area and explore other parts of the park/dam.
Post sunset I headed back to Hosepet bus terminal to catch my return bus. When the bus arrived and I showed my ticket, the bus conductor took one look at me and his smile half froze – for he recognized me as the one that coughed through the night! Settling in my sleeper seat, I went through the photos I clicked and snippets of conversations I had with the friendly strangers at Hampi kept me company until I reached my destination.