The route to the temple itself was pretty interesting. We motored down to the nearby Tungabhadra river which we then negotiated in a quaint little coracle to the other side, where various foreigners had set up a sort of commune. Local establishments had also grown there over a period of time to cater to their peculiar needs.
Hospet has a vibrant tourist presence on account of the magnificent ruins of the old city of Hampi, the medieval capital of the Hindu empire Vijayanagara (the City of Victory). Hampi, located in the State of Karnataka, India, is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
This area has a number of guesthouse type accommodations. Apart from the typical guesthouse type accommodations, one can even look for some kind of huts to stay. The rates are comparable with the guesthouses. Some of the huts are provided with attached bathrooms and command a small extra premium! Most of the accommodations are located adjacent to one another and practically you can walk from one end to the other to explore a bit before deciding on one. Generally the guesthouses & lodges here are on the edges of paddy fields, banana plantations or overlooking the boulder hills. Needless to say, with gullible foreigners the preferred target, the less said about the costs involved, the better.
What to do in Hampi? Visit the temples, learn how to meditate, rent a bicycle or a motorcycle, roam in the boulder fields, explore the shops at the bazar, contemplate the chaos of Hospet, travel to the beaches of Gokarna or Goa, go to the artificial lake, see the ancient farming still done in India.……there are quite a few things to do actually if one puts one’s mind to it!
But we digress from today’s planned expedition. An hour before sunrise and we were on the road to the temple side of Hampi. A short ride across the river and we were in the hippy commune area mentioned earlier. Since most of the tourists pefer cycles as an easy and inexpensive mode of transport in this area, we were able to hire some cycles here for the day.
The area is called Anegundi and is located in a village in Gangavathi taluk of Koppal district. It has a history which is almost 5,000 years old. Anegundi, in Kannada, means "Elephant Pit" and it said to have been the place where the elephants of the Vijayanagara kings were kept. It is also, believed to be the monkey kingdom of Kishkinda mentioned in the Hindu epic, Ramayana.
The sun still cast a benevolent gaze on us, since the hour was still early. It was some 10 odd kms to the foot of the hill where the Temple was located and we surprised ourselves with our own fitness levels! We rounded the last bend and there it was, high up on the hill, resplendent in its white coating, orange pennant fluttering merrily in the breeze.
The area is resplendent with greenery and has some of the rockiest landscapes I have ever seen. The place is literally littered with huge boulders of all shapes and sizes, as though a prehistoric convulsion of epic proportions had torn the place asunder. Coupled with the lush paddy fields and trees, it made for quite a magnificent spectacle.
We parked our bikes at the tender coconut vendors thatched hut and started for the main entrance. Steps, a few hundred in number, had been laid throughout the climb to the top, which made the long haul up relatively easy.
The place was infested with monkeys, with the majority belonging to the red faced, small made species of simians. Their familiarity with humans coupled with an innate opportunism made them a positive menace. If you were foolish enough to have any food items on your person, these intrepid petty thieves would not hesitate to put their hands in your pockets or bags and make off with they found. Any attempt to protest or thwart their aims could result in patent aggression with the attendant risk of being bitten or scratched. Otherwise they are quite harmless and co-exist with the human race relatively peacefully.
Then there were a few of the majestic black faced apes, commonly called ‘Langurs’ or “Hanuman’s’ in some parts of India. Their size and demeanour was more majestic and their attitude towards humans, for the most part, was one of indifference, unless provoked.
We turned the last corner and there lay the Temple, at long last. It was quite a small one, but the view from the top was quite breathtaking. Sitting on the edge of the sheer cliff, it was quite easy to imagine a long bygone era, when the great monkey warrior and God, Hanuman, sitting on these lofty heights, would have cast his own gaze across the ramparts of rock and paddy fields. It would have been possible to locate enemy movements days before they actually made their presence felt in the area.
The priest was taking a ritual bath, in preparation for the morning pooja, when we arrived. The temple was supposedly built by the great saint Ramdas and the interior is distinctly north Indian in style. The statue itself is a projection on the living rock face, painted over with the traditional vermillion coating. The priest himself was from the north and was more than pleased to receive so many visitors, even at that early hour. More visitors and a few foreigners started to trickle in.
The pooja started, slowly, with cymbals and the mechanical drum joining in. It picked up the tempo slowly, the drumming becoming more frenzied. The incense fumes and the rhythm were intoxicating. I began to understand how a trance state could be achieved under such conditions. My colleague, a Jain of all people, and another lady started chanting the Hanuman Chalisa. The vibrations in this small temple were amazing. Slowly, the pooja came to an end and the prasad was distributed. The priests assistant was then kind enough to make us some tea which really hit the spot on this cold winter morning.
We then took a tour of the place and found another enclosure dedicated to Aanjana, Hanuman’s mother. If the priest is to be believed, this is possibly the only place where she has been so deified.