Taking the train during the day from Goa to Hampi, we decided to ride sleeper class non A/C. Windows open, able to view the lush countryside, passing the water cascading out of the mountain top at DusagharFalls that we passed last year also.
Most of our train travel is overnight in 2nd class AC – quieter and more comfortable for sleeping, but for shorter day trips sleeper class is fun because there’s plenty of activity. Food vendors continually passing through, cripples on their hands and knees sweeping the floor beneath your feet looking for a hand out, transvestites begging, a woman with a beautiful voice, singing her way down the carriage, holding her baby. All this diversion helps to make the journey pass quicker.
And then, as though out of nowhere, a little old man with bright twinkling eyes behind thick lens spectacles appeared. Sitting down beside Gerard in our train compartment, he didn’t stop to ask where we were going before launching into his own expedition. He was traveling alone to a place of pilgrimage in Andhra Pradesh. Pulling out a map of India he described the possibility of two routes, one by train one by bus, not yet decided which to take. Hearing we were from USA he launched into the story of Vivekananda, the successor of Ramakrishna, traveling to Chicago for the World Congress of Religions in 1894. When he heard that we knew who Vivekananda was he grew more animated and louder (obviously suffering from hearing loss) and handed me a wallet sized picture of the holy man. Then he told us about his own Master, a simple uneducated disciple of Vivekananda’s teachings that he’d discovered living in a remote village in Goa. For the first 25 years of his life, this teacher practiced brahmcharya, in accordance with the ways of old, and for the second half he wandered throughout India in search of higher knowledge. “What is his name?” we asked, “Where does he live?” Oh, he died four years ago…If we were looking for a spiritual teacher, this would have been disappointing. Then nearing our destination, with folded hands, the old man said, “Take rest before reaching Hampi” – and disappeared. What this sweet old man said reminded us of a dear Friend, also departed from this world.
The ruined (city of victory) Vijayanagar, better known as Hampi, once a thriving Hindu capital was devastated by a Muslim siege in the 16th Century. Now only stone, brick and stucco structures survive – the 500 year old ruins look much older than they are due to damage done by the Muslim invaders. The monuments are spread over a 64 km area, though most are near the main temple and a small crowded bazaar, now mostly taken over by the tourist trade.
Arriving for the second time was a huge shock – the main street leading to the temple has been obliterated! Three years ago, shops and squatters occupied about half of the old arcade. Unlike in US where at the drop of the hat an old building is torn down and a concrete monstrosity is put up in its place – it was nice to see these old structures recycled. Now shops, restaurants, bookstore, bank no longer exist – everything is partially demolished leaving the old structure exposed. Below see the main street three years ago and today:
The local shopkeepers told us that they had 12 hours notice to evacuate before the demolition started. There was no previous warning. The jewelry store owner explained, “I was given notice in the evening. At nine am the next morning the destruction began. It was a nightmare – and then it began raining! I only had time to grab my stock leaving behind all the fixtures.” Now she has had to set up her shop in the front room of her nearby house. Others had no alternative except to move 4 km away.
We thought the government’s plan was to only move all commercial activity away from the main street. This in itself was disturbing, but at least the little bazaar where we are staying would remain. Then we woke up this morning to find our hole in the wall restaurant closed. The owner told us that his building and the two other adjoining were slated for destruction – that would eventually include the whole bazaar! The government wants to remove all business from Hampi and establish a small tourist area in a town 4 km away. All the buildings in the bazaar are on government-owned land so they have no recourse. Gerard overheard the operator of a cyber café say he was being compensated the equivalent of $100 to relocate. Big deal! But someone else said no one’s received the money and there is a scam going on to sell off the lots promised to people before they get them. It seems to be a mess.
Note squatters home before and after:
We had no idea when we arrived that we were going to witness the destruction of a community.
To distract ourselves we took a walk out along the river – a peaceful scene where gigantic golden brown granite boulders are piled on top each other in gravity defying configurations. Just how this landscape is created is a complete mystery. Banana plantations are scattered among the boulders and ruins of what was once a vital city and lush rice paddies border the river. This makes it one of India’s most exotic destinations.
But it was a big shock, to come back from the walk and find the riverside cafe that we liked so well and drank tea at just yesterday, (see left) a big pile of rubble. (below) Beside their destroyed home, mother, daughter and grandmother were sitting in a daze.
There’s a heavy vibe in town with most tourists wondering if their hotel will be left standing. Several are already in the process of having their third floor removed and most restaurants and internet cafes are closed. It’s depressing and sad to witness. The atmosphere is a bit like the morning-after an all night party when there are a few laggards still hanging on, wandering around not knowing what to do. And we still have three more days here…we’ll see what happens.
After successfully removing squatters, a new group moves in:
Anyone who wants to read more about what’s happened, and is now continuing to happen, to the 4,000 families in Hampi can access this link for a detailed report from Equitable Tourism http://www.equitabletourism.org/files/fileDocuments1235_uid18.pdf