The annual Hampi Utsav (festival) starts from today and I am not going. I have been to Hampi many times before and it remains my all time favourite destination. I discovered Hampi in 1995 during a college trip . The Utsav was going on and the ancient Vijaynagar capital on the banks of the river Tungabhadra was completely colourful. The melange of tourists – foreign and domestic, the junkies and the folk artistes make this place special.The ruins, the temples , the rocks and the pillars have left an indelible mark in my mind.

Hampi is ageless. It even dates back to the days of Ramayana . This post is not about the story of Hampi, but about my tryst with this place. One of my favourite trips to Hampi was in 1999-2000 when I went there to cover the Hampi festival for a TV channel. It was a time when not many knew it was in the tourist map of India. The trip was very interesting for various reasons , one of them happens to be a man I met called Ceasar Baba .

He had come from Italy and he lived in Hampi for more than a decade. He spoke chaste Hindi and did not know much English. He took us to his little cave in the mountains , the entrance was a rock painted with a huge Shiva . He showed us his papers and passport and said he is not an illegal immigrant..although he shared with us stories of many ..including one “Meera” whom I will come to later.

Ceasar Baba willingly posed for our TV camera and allowed us to shoot him doing his usual routine. He gave us buttermilk and showed us around his humble abode which included a kitchen, a puja room, a small balcony/verandah and a bedroom with a makeshift toilet. All this on the rocks above a hillock . He had a roommate..a Scot who refused to speak to us. When we finished our shoot, we left Ceasar Baba and his Scot in a state of trance outside the puja room ringing the bell..

“Meera” according to Ceasar Baba was an illegal immigrant from Europe who came here as a tourist and then went on to be a travel agent.She befriended an Indian “swamy “and then lived in his ” hermitage” after his death. When the Indian authorities went to chase her away, she chased them with her pets – a couple of dogs and snakes.

We went to meet Meera, and I really had to shake my fear of dogs to get there.. A small creaky gate opened as the dogs barked away and there was a woman with long matted hair wrapped in a towel. And she had a couple of fangs as well..she laughed saying that was to scare people away . Unlike Ceasar Baba, Meera refused to talk on camera or allow us to shoot her or even take a picture..But she didnt chase us away with snakes and dogs ..

The most interesting people I met were Susie Lumsden and her brother , Paul who had come down from London and had made Goa their home. It was Susie’s 20th visit to Hampi as she knew every single nook and corner of the ruined town and every vendor as well. She was a familar face. They are bike enthusiasts and are ace riders. For a living, she brings foreign tourists to Hampi from Goa and they bike the entire route.

Needless to say, Susie became the “anchor” for one of my stories as it was through her eyes that I first discovered Hampi’s little secrets . I went there again and every time I go, the place becomes magical. The stories from the Ramayana, the rise and fall of the Vijaynagar Empire echo from these rocks.

My husband went there last year with his colleagues and some of the pictures here are from his collection. I have lost the footage and the pictures, and just a couple of scanned pictures remain to tell the story. I hope to be going there before this year ends .

28 comments

  1. alok 3 November, 2008 at 09:51 Reply

    you seems to have a wonderful collection of pictures of Hampi.

    amazing place! a perfect weekend trip for me when I was there last year 🙂

  2. vishesh 3 November, 2008 at 17:16 Reply

    I missed it when i went to Shravanabalgola,belur etc…but wanted to visit 🙂

    really interesting stories..wow!Italian babas! next American dhabas?

  3. ~vagabond~ 3 November, 2008 at 21:58 Reply

    I am unbelievably envious of you right now! lol. Hampi sounds just like my kind of a place…beautiful ruins and architecture…and sounds like you’ve met some really interesting people during your travels. Keep posting…your blog makes very interesting reading. 🙂

  4. Zeba 4 November, 2008 at 00:01 Reply

    Hey are you a travel journalist?
    These write-ups are very interesting, all of them. I’m an aspiring travel writer….and a beginner to writing a travel blog as well….would love to get some tips from you about travel writing/blogging. 🙂

  5. GMG 4 November, 2008 at 02:46 Reply

    Hi Lakshmi! Wonderful post. Some months ago I read a book of Regis Airauly «Les Fous de l’Inde» [Crazy about India](Délires d’Occidentaux et sentiment océanique). It helps to understand what happens to some western people going to India…
    Lovely sunset!
    For the time being Blogtrotter is departing Armenia. It leaves you however with a view that Tsar Nicholas didn’t see… ;))
    Have a great week!

  6. Anu 4 November, 2008 at 03:18 Reply

    The ruins and the history is really beautiful.. Im envious that you are able to go to such a lovely place often..and the best part is the interesting stories,Im sure I would have just been a tourist, but you really make me want to be a traveller

  7. Kamini 4 November, 2008 at 23:47 Reply

    Wow, what a fascinating story – truth, as they say, is so often stranger than fiction. I have never been to Hampi, but it is high up on my list of must-see places. Your post has only enhanced my desire to go there.
    Kamini.

  8. Jeevan 6 November, 2008 at 14:29 Reply

    Wow its very interesting stories about the people more than the place. Ceasar baba and meera really wonders me what make them stable forever there!

  9. shooting star 7 November, 2008 at 22:29 Reply

    what an interesting experience you have had..!!
    i wish to visit hampi..its o my list of must visit places!!….
    and if i do visit it someday..i will also look for caesar baba

  10. Lakshmi 10 November, 2008 at 19:19 Reply

    GG – Been wanting to say this story for a while…but was postponing it..somehow I havent had a trip like this for years

    Alok – This is one place I can go again and again..pics are fm my husbands trip

    Jyamamo – Welcome to backpacker..Im sure you would enjoy your visit to India..do drop in here for a virtual tour 🙂

    UK – Great idea..let me know if u need any info

    Indrani – 🙂 Im sure u will be fascinated by Hampi

    Vishesh – 🙂 that was a good one

    Harekrishnaji – I think so too..u will definitely enjoy the trip

    Mark – Thanks for both the lovely comments..I guess it speaks abt my passion for Hampi

    Ravi – I dont know..I tried last time and I couldnt find them

    Vagabond – Yup..Its your kinda place for sure..u will like it..do visit it before it gets too touristy

    Zeba – welcome to backpacker..I guess u can call me that..do let me know if u need anything

    Gil – Let me try and get hold of the book..Im reading

    Anu – sometimes the traveller inside us takes over the tourist

    Mridula – 🙂 and the best part is that it is real

    Desh – Yes, it is..do go there next time u are here..u will like it

    Celine – Thanks..Glad u liked them

    Kamini – I do hope u get to go there..people we meet in real life sometimes are far more interesting than those we read abt .

    Mitr – Thanks..glad u enjoyed reading it

    PN Subramanian – Thanks so much for the appreciation and welcome to backpacker..yes, it is a world heritage site

    Stephanie – My past was more colourful than my present…but Im living it now

    jeevan – people are more fascinating than the places

    Shrinidhi – Sometimes people add a new dimension to a place..a place without interesting people is like a beautiful post card..

    Eunice – Believe a couple of Jackie Chan movies have been shot here

    SS – Haha..u would probably find more babas

    A-kay – welcome to backpacker..glad you liked my blog..look forward to seeing u again

  11. Lakshmi 10 November, 2008 at 19:29 Reply

    GG – Been wanting to say this story for a while…but was postponing it..somehow I havent had a trip like this for years

    Alok – This is one place I can go again and again..pics are fm my husbands trip

    Jyamamo – Welcome to backpacker..Im sure you would enjoy your visit to India..do drop in here for a virtual tour 🙂

    UK – Great idea..let me know if u need any info

    Indrani – 🙂 Im sure u will be fascinated by Hampi

    Vishesh – 🙂 that was a good one

    Harekrishnaji – I think so too..u will definitely enjoy the trip

    Mark – Thanks for both the lovely comments..I guess it speaks abt my passion for Hampi

    Ravi – I dont know..I tried last time and I couldnt find them

    Vagabond – Yup..Its your kinda place for sure..u will like it..do visit it before it gets too touristy

    Zeba – welcome to backpacker..I guess u can call me that..do let me know if u need anything

    Gil – Let me try and get hold of the book..Im reading William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain and there is fascinating info abt Armenia and Armenians as well

    Anu – sometimes the traveller inside us takes over the tourist

    Mridula – 🙂 and the best part is that it is real

    Desh – Yes, it is..do go there next time u are here..u will like it

    Celine – Thanks..Glad u liked them

    Kamini – I do hope u get to go there..people we meet in real life sometimes are far more interesting than those we read abt .

    Mitr – Thanks..glad u enjoyed reading it

    PN Subramanian – Thanks so much for the appreciation and welcome to backpacker..yes, it is a world heritage site

    Stephanie – My past was more colourful than my present…but Im living it now

    jeevan – people are more fascinating than the places

    Shrinidhi – Sometimes people add a new dimension to a place..a place without interesting people is like a beautiful post card..

    Eunice – Believe a couple of Jackie Chan movies have been shot here

    SS – Haha..u would probably find more babas

    A-kay – welcome to backpacker..glad you liked my blog..look forward to seeing u again

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