“Last stop, Hampi, Last stop!” This called signaled the end of my overnight bus journey from Bengaluru to the ancient ruins in Hampi. As I sat up in the bed on our sleeper bus I grabbed my phone and quickly checked on Google maps to see exactly where in Hampi they were dropping me. The mapped shown the next town as Hospete, Hampi was still some distance away. I hopped down from the top bunk on the bus and asked the conductor if this stop was Hospete or Hampi. His reply was simply: “Last stop, Hampi.” Did that mean that the bus continues through to Hampi? Is this the last stop for the bus? How do I get to Hampi if I get off here? “Last stop Hampi.” came the reply to each of these questions. It appeared that was the total of his English vocabulary. The driver spoke even less English. Crisis, it was 3 am, and the bus just pulled up to the side of the road, stopping under one of the few streetlights that were operational. “Hampi, last stop.” I took out my ticket and showed it to the conductor, he looked at it shook he head in a wobble which could have meant, Yes, No, I have no idea what you talking about, or maybe he was listening to music and I did not notice his earphones. “Hampi.” He flashed a smile and hopped off the bus, I got off and the next minute he had unloaded my bag from the back of the bus put it on the sidewalk and got back on the bus. The last thing I felt like doing was spending the next few hours waiting for sunrise on the side of the road in some strange town.
Then it hit me, I am in a completely strange country, let alone a strange town. There are 22 official languages in this country, so why would I expect everyone to speak English. What now, this was not in the plan, well I actually did not have a plan, all I had was a bus ticket to Hampi, the rest would unfold as I went along. This is what I was here for anyway, I was seeking adventure, looking for something that I had lost many years ago. Something inside me that had been buried by the weeks, months and years of living a routine life chasing after the elusive dream, which I was not even sure was my own dream anymore.
“You go to Hampi my friend?” I snapped back to reality. 3 am, who is around at this time of the morning? I looked around, the owner of the voice appeared to be alone. My first thought was that I could probably take him on, he was shorter and more slightly built than me. I could not run with my backpack and I was not about to get robbed again in a foreign country. When I landed in Australia on my first trip abroad, it only took 2 days before someone stole everything I had whilst I was in the shower. Not this time.
“I take you to Hampi, 600 rupees.”
I relaxed, this was not a mugging, this was not South Africa or Australia for that matter. He picked up my backpack which was still lying on the sidewalk where the bus conductor had left it.
“I am Hanuman, I take you to Hampi.”
I was so relieved, I did not have to wait until sunrise and I had also found a way to get to Hampi. Hanuman loaded my bag into the back of his tuk-tuk, ready to go. I hesitated, 600 rupees for a 15 km ride. I had paid that for a 6 ½ hr bus ride of 340 km. This was very expensive.
“No, no, Hanuman.” I protested “600 too much.”
“Jump in, we discuss on the way. Hampi long way, we must go now. Jump in.” said Hanuman as he fired up the tuk-tuk engine.
What the hell I thought, if I have to pay 600 so be it, I was tired from the bus ride and in no mood to sit under a street light waiting for daybreak. I hopped in and we were off, soon the town of Hospete was behind us and we were on a narrow road. The tiny headlight of the tuk-tuk only shone a few meters ahead of us, but Hamuman apparently didn’t need lights or need to keep his eyes on the road. With the throttle twisted as far back as possible, Hanuman, sitting sideways in the front seat was looking backwards at me wanting to know everything about me. Where did I come from, why was I in India? Did I know that he was named after one of the Gods and that there was a temple in Hampi dedicated to this God? I sat watching what little of the road was visible in the headlight on Hanumans behalf. Apparently, work was scarce and there were not many tourists for him to ferry around in his tuk-tuk.
“COW, HANUMAN COW!” I shouted as I saw the beast right appear in the headlights a few feet from the front of our tuk-tuk.
“No worry Sir, lots of cows on this road, no problem.”
How we missed the cow is a mystery. Hanuman was not interested in slowing down or keeping his eyes on the road. It seemed that dying as a result of colliding with a cow did not phase this young man. What was I so scared of? It wasn’t that I was scared, more self-preservation, I told myself. Besides, I had lots to live for and my India trip was only just beginning. The last thing I wanted was to cut it short. I thought back to where I was in my life only a few months earlier. Back then, I was suicidal, and now I am afraid to die. I really was ill, how could I have even considered suicide? Yet at the time I did and can recall those thoughts and how it seemed like the perfectly logical option. I recall how easy it was to think like that, right up to ensuring that I get all my ducks in a row beforehand. Who was that person, capable of thinking like that? It surely was not the real me.
Hanuman and I discussed the fare for the journey and after some negotiation, we settled on a price that was agreeable to both of us. I sat back and tried to enjoy the rest of the trip, but a feeling of guilt started creeping up. This poor guy, desperate for work, staying up the entire night waiting for an unpredictable bus, to hopefully drop off a heap of tourists and all he got was me, who now just beat his price down. I felt guilty.
“Hanuman,” I said, “I will pay you the 600 rupees.”
“No Sir,” came the reply, “we agreed on a price, us people in India, we like to negotiate. I am happy with the price, otherwise, I would not accept, no need to pay 600, but if you need driver then you call Hanuman, I give you my number.”
That was that Hanuman became my inside man for Hampi. He advised me what prices to pay and how hard to negotiate. He offered to find me accommodation, for a really good price and told me what I should expect to pay and that I must negotiate the asking price as it would be inflated. Our 15km journey took us over an hour and in this time we became friends. We got into Hampi in the dark, and Hanuman took me straight to his friends “hotel”, he got a key from behind a pot plant and opened up a room for me and said you can stay here. I was too tired to argue. Hanuman promised to return at 9am and make arrangements with the owner for me to stay and assured me that I have nothing to worry about. Something about Hanuman made me trust him completely. I paid him our agreed price for the trip and gave him a generous tip which he gladly accepted. Tipping was different to a higher rate so his conscience was clear. I needed rest, I had a full day’s exploring ahead of me and I wanted to make the most of it.
At 9 am the little yellow tuk-tuk bounced along the dirt road and came to a stop outside the “hotel”, which was a single story square building with four rooms and a flat roof that one could sit on. By then I was sitting outside waiting to start the day. From where I sat I could see the main temple, Virupaksha. Standing at 50 meters tall and already bustling with worshipers I was eager to go explore it. Hanuman, on the other hand, had different plans. He has appointed himself as my official tour guide for the day, and the first point of order was to negotiate his fee as a tour guide and the fee for the tuk-tuk for the day. He knew of a great restaurant where we could have a cup of chai and negotiate the days undertaking. The restaurant that we went to just so happened to be owned by the same person who owned the accommodation I was staying at. After a brief chat between Hanuman and the owner in one of the 22 official languages, they exchanged smiles and handshakes and made there way over to my table to check me in for the duration of my stay. I had to smile at myself. The system was in full play and I was just a pawn in the game. Hanuman earned a commission for ever person that he brought to the rooms, as well as a commission for bringing people to the restaurant. The owner of the rooms and I quickly agreed on a price for the accommodation, which according to the owner was far lower than standard rates, but for his good friend Hanuman, he would let me stay at the low rates. I thanked him and called to Hanuman to get going. We can negotiate prices on the road whilst we driving, I wanted to go explore.
Hanuman, whose real name was Hanumesh, had grown up in the area, so I asked him to show me the places that he had found interesting. Our first stop was at the Kadalakalu temple, Hanuman would not get out the tuk-tuk though. Turns out that one needs to be an “official” guide if you take tourists around. So I was on my own to explore. Hanuman did, however, have an incredible knowledge of the temples and he knew many of the facts which upon further reading back home were all true. I got to explore area’s that the mainstream tourist does not get to see. Little paths leading to smaller ruins, caves that are hidden behind overgrown thickets, I was shown where I could walk across the main river that separated Old Hampi from the New Hampi, and that meant that I would not have to pay the inflated ferry price. We ate food at his friends’ roadside cart, stopped for refreshing cane and ginger juice at another friend. I was no longer a tourist, Hanuman had taken me on as his friend. I was not unique, befriending foreigners is very common for the local people. Yet this felt different. People would not accept money from me, Hanuman was their friend and any friend of his was a friend of theirs as well.
At the end of the day back in Hampi, Hanuman took me to a different restaurant and got ready to go home. We drank a Coke and reflected on our day, and made plans for a pick up to continue exploring the next day.
That night in bed I reflected on my day. Everything seemed to fall into place for me. I was reminded of the lessons I had been taught as a child. Faith can see you through. As it is written in Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. I stepped had out in faith, I was dropped off short of my destination, I had no transport, no accommodation and no plans for anything. I had simply trusted that everything would work out as I went along and that is exactly what happened. I met good people along the way and here I was at the end of an amazing day, safe and grateful for my life. Everything happens for a reason, and as I lay there drifting off to sleep I was reminded about the principle of Cause and Effect, the 6th Hermetic principle. Everything happens for a reason, what was the reason for my nervous breakdown and what was I been prepared for?
To be continued…..