The name of a self-styled wedding, in the village of Hanumanahalli, in Hampi, in Karnataka, That Wedding There is the reason for the Hampi visit; two days celebrating a wedding and two days of exploration.
Getting to Hampi is either air + road or rail + road and the Hampi Express from Bangalore is an overnight journey, a slow jerk-amble-stop ride. Alight at a small station called Munirabad and the traveller has precisely one minute to jump off before the Hampi Express trundles off again. Which makes for much wedding excitement and nervous anticipation as various members of the ‘wedding party’ prepare to leap off with their luggage in quick succession, a neat maneuvering accomplished with perfect amity and goodwill.
It is a motley crew; film makers, photographers, bicycle enthusiasts, winsome youngsters (with to-die-for bodies and unruffled attitudes), someone working with children, someone else rescuing and providing veterinary services for snakes hurt in the wild, someone deep into archeological surveys, another with the UNDP in Iran, musicians, producers, ad folk, visitors from overseas.
It is a village experience, this rural eco-wedding. Our hotel is a half hour car ride over bumpy roads, through a landscape – at first glance – of ancient boulders in magnificent, staggering configurations atop mountains, in paddy fields, or precariously poised on ridges or slopes, alternating with green swathes of tilled land and abounding with Gray or Hanuman langurs (monkeys). Our cottage is on top of a hill and one has to negotiate beaten mud paths, boulders and families of rhesus monkeys to open the door. There is no telephone or internet connection, there are no coat hangers or an iron, nada, so it is the ‘crushed’ silk look and it works very well – because there is nothing you can do and therein lies liberation.
You cannot communicate with anyone unless you walk to reception. The hotel is situated in the midst of paddy fields which means, come dark, there is no light, no perceivable road and definitely no people. You may – as we did – spend many long minutes standing – seemingly – at the edge of nowhere, hoping for the car that is supposed to be there and is not, waiting for your ride to the wedding celebrations another thirty or so kilometres away, in Hanumanahalli.
However, there is another ‘stay’ option, just 10 minutes from That Wedding There. It is basic but functional. Rooms are cottages that are toadstools; round, with red-spotted roofs. You may open your door to one or two old white horses grazing outside your door. Rubbish bins are rabbits artfully dotting swathes of green grass which slope to a stream where one can ‘crab’. There is hot water for just an hour in the morning, but the very obliging staff will bring you a jug of lukewarm/warm/steaming hot water on request. Monkeys everywhere, outside your door, on the roof, hanging from branches of the trees lining the path to your door, strolling along pathways. By day two, though, you could be sitting side by side with monkeys, drinking coffee from a paper cup as they breakfast on fruit, companionably, on the steps of your cottage.
The Teutonic groom must be six feet five, the bride seems barely five feet tall, a wisp. He talks English with perfect Indian cadence, nodding enthusiastically for emphasis. He wears a gold nose stud and dresses in dhotis and lungis. He plays the French horn and the German contingent seem to be – all – classically trained musicians, singing a capella, quoting Goethe at the ceremony, violins in hand, music accompanying them everywhere. ‘Our’ side has commercial, professional Bollywood singers and musicians who entertain and the distances echo the contemporary melodies. There are young girls with electric lights in their hair, there are leopards beyond the gardens boundaries, and sloth bears, we are told, and when I glance at the lily/lotus blossoms in the garden pond, there is a snake basking on the lily pad. And of course, monkeys everywhere.
On the terrace of the ‘bridal’ home, village women sell their craft while Germans sing and enact a very funny play and the groom assures us he is Happy. Very Happy. Positively.
The bridal party seem to be comfortably attired in cottons and linens, some guests in silks, uncomfortably. For the ‘baraat’, the groom and his family are piled into a cart pulled by two beautifully dressed-up bulls, village style, intricately adorned and embellished. Leading them to the wedding, from the paddy fields, is a young German playing a classical piece on his violin, serenading them to the ceremony which will shortly take place under the full moon. On arrival, they are greeted by the village theatre troupe dressed up as Hanuman and other simians from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and there are two little girls running around dressed up as Halloween ghosts. (Apparently whatever the occasion, they will only dress as ghosts).
The garden is beautifully done up with leaves and lights and flowers, streams float little boats of light, gossamer sparkles amidst branches and fronds sway in evening zephyrs. There is a BBQ station on one side, and the-best-bar-ever-this-side-of-the-world in another, food somewhere else, music playing and the couple write their own marriage, invoking the elements of fire, water, earth, air and space … and everybody blesses the rings solemnly, one by one. And then it is over and it is party time.
We stay on for a couple of days after to explore Hampi. Historically, it goes back millennia (our guide has the precise number of years to the millionth millionth) and as far back as the early 14th century, Hampi attracted not just traders, but also artists, who were drawn by its power, wealth and the reputation of its rulers as patrons of the arts. The rulers of Vijayanagara, as Hampi was known then, favoured all things creative—prose, poetry, painting, sculpture, music, craft, architecture, dance and theatre. They themselves were followers of an even more ancient tradition that stretches back to the 6th century. At that time, the Western Chalukya dynasty lorded over large swathes of land between Madhya Pradesh in the north, Tamil Nadu in the south and all the lands in the middle, coast to coast. About 150km from Hampi, in Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Chalukyas have left behind amazing temples and other monuments, some carved out of wind-buffed sandstone cliffs. (More )
The rocks and geography are awesome, spellbinding and perhaps a little forbidding ; there is no lightness of the spirit. The temples and scattered ruins date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. The ethos is Goa / Bali / Phuket – loads of Caucasians of the 60’s flower child era, dreadlocks, weed, barefoot, anklets and beads, wispy clothing, unbathed. There are huge numbers of Israelis (fresh from completing their National Service in the army) and many signposts in Hebrew.
We tramp and climb and sweat in the sun.
We drink beer and fine wine, refuse the ‘grass’ offered to us surreptitiously by an old man, meet a yogi and discuss matters of philosophy, briefly, discover chauffeurs sleeping under mango trees after hours of searching, trade stories with fellow travellers over single malt, repair malfunctioning bathrooms, explore craft shops and the odd chariot seemingly abandoned in the middle of a village, photograph children, play with a puppy and a kitten, retrace history and execute a nimble return journey by train, leaping onto it in the one minute it pauses by the station.
Back in Bangalore we spend a couple of days with our friends in their new home set in a gated property, 150 acres in size, mostly in its natural state. Snakes, birds and hard vegetation. It is blissfully tranquil, despite the dozen or so squeaking baby field mice that fall out of a handbag in the cupboard; our host relates an encounter with a cobra on his doorstep.
Fine wine and snacks by candlelight at the bottom of the garden usher in the evening, fine food and drink fuel robust dinner conversation on cultural differences.
And the gorgeous pie dog, Metcalfe, lies on the verandah in the moonlight, nonchalant, yet alert and protective.
Photographs by Anita & Premod Thomas