Hampi – the most unique place in India

Do you want a boat? A crocodile? A tiger? No problem. Anything is possible in India

I have visited more than 40 countries so far, but the ancient Indian village of Hampi is the most unique place I have ever seen. You might think I am exaggerating,  but I assure you I’ve been to Hampi four times in the last five years and even brought my parents here.

Dozens of temples and the boulders scatter across the land make this ancient place unique  — Rachel Jones Hampi
Dozens of temples and the boulders scattered across the land make this place ancient and unique — Rachel Jones

What makes it so unique? Some say it’s because it looks like Jurassic Park. Others say it’s a scene from the Flintstones. I honestly think they are both right. There are giant boulders scattered across this barren land with dozens of temples dotted between them and palm trees swaying overhead.

The stories you hear here are from ancient times of Lord Rama and is said to be where he fought in the Ramayana. The legend goes that there were so many precious jewels here that people bought fruit and vegetables with emeralds and rubies. It’s a UNESCO heritage site, and if you come, you must have a guide take you around and tell you stories. The stories are incredible.

There is a saying: “Anything is possible in India.” The first time I came to Hampi, I had just met my now-boyfriend, Ben, of nearly five years. He is British and had been in India as an expat for some time. He had many local friends in Goa where he lived and trusted everyone. I, on the other hand, was a backpacker.

I had been getting ripped off for months on end and didn’t trust anyone by that time. So, I was sceptical of what was about to happen.

Taking a ride in the traditional round boat called coracle belongs to the best activities in the area — Shutterstock Hampi
Taking a ride in the traditional round boat called coracle belongs to the best activities in the area — Shutterstock

We headed to Hampi for a trip from Goa, which was about an 8-hour drive through the Western Ghats. Signs warned you not to get out to use the toilet on the side of the road in the case a tiger might snatch you up. So, we held it.

Neither of us had been to Hampi before and like everyone else, we were shocked by not just the beauty of the place but the absolute out of this world feeling. India, in general, is a magical and confusing place, so to come somewhere with views like this plus having the intense Indian culture is an experience I can only hope you’ll have too.

There are so many things to do in Hampi but taking a ride in a coracle is the one that you really must try. They are circular traditional fishing boats you see only in this state, Karnataka. These boats are made with bamboo and tar. The signs say: “Danger: crocodiles,” but everyone swims anyway. We hired a boat, driven by a kid who couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old.

We asked him if we could jump off the nearby cliff: “Is it safe, is it deep enough?” “Of course it is,” he assured us. He said if we wanted charas (hash), he could certainly get us some. We jokingly asked if he could find us a crocodile. He said: “Of course, anything is possible”.

“Oh really,” we said… Could he get us a tiger? (of course we were kidding). He said quite seriously: “Yes, we could get you a tiger. Anything is possible in India”. We assured him we did not want a tiger.

“Can we buy this boat?” Ben asked.

“Yes, you can, it’s yours,” he replied.

Nothing is a problem in India. Boatmakers are able to build a boat for a few days and send an eight years old child with it by bus  — Rachel Jones Hampi
Nothing is a problem in India. Boatmakers are able to build a boat in a few days and send an eight years old child with it by bus — Rachel Jones

I thought Ben was kidding (I mean, how on earth would we take it back to Goa? We were leaving the next day). But, he was quite serious. I guess I didn’t know him well enough yet! The kid said: “Come with me to the boat men.” So, we did. The boat men said, “Let us make you a fresh boat. That boat is old. Give us 7,000 rupees, and we will send it to you in Goa in a few days.”

So, we handed over the money to a child and hoped to see the boat one day. He knew our village in Goa and had our phone number, so we said goodbye and disappeared into a sea of India’s 1.3 billion people.

After my months of being ripped off, I looked at Ben like he was a fool to do this. I mean, hand over 130 dollars for a boat you will likely never see? Insane. India is known for its scams, after all, and I had seen plenty of them myself.

After three days in Goa, Ben started to think the boat wasn’t coming after all and we had made a rather large donation to the fisherman. Worse things have happened. But then the phone rang. It was a child. “Sir, I have your boat. I am in Mapusa, just off the bus. Come!”.

Mapusa is 8 hours away from Hampi. The travel requires a lot of bus changing — Shutterstock
Mapusa is eight hours away from Hampi. The travel requires a lot of bus changing — Shutterstock

Mapusa is the town ten minutes from our village. This kid had taken local buses for eight hours, switching every thirty minutes or so WITH A BOAT ON TOP OF THE BUS to bring it to us. We came to town and got the boat. He said: “Oh no, I forgot the paddle!” The oar wasn’t there. We could only say: “It’s okay, no problem”.

A few weeks later, a Karnatakan man showed up at our door. He had been passed along the oar on a local bus, from another man (who had it passed to him). Strangers had helped pass along this paddle to bring it to us. We gave him a big tip. Anything is possible in India.

We took the boat out on the closest river to us in Goa and locals looked at us like we were crazy. It’s not something you see in Goa. The boat leans against our house when it’s not in use, and occasionally we have to put more tar on it as the sun melts it off. We have gone back to Hampi three times since then, but I haven’t seen the little kid who showed us “anything is possible in India” again.