A climber’s heaven on Earth
The bus came to a stop at Hospet at 7:30 am Sunday morning. I slept fitfully for the previous eight hours, to say the least, having sat up-right while the bus rumbled over less than adequate roads at greater than appropriate speeds. No matter, removed from air conditioned taxis, hotels, and offices, I feel I was finally experiencing India.
From Hospet, I engaged the first auto rickshaw that caught my attention, negotiated a price, and set off for Hampi. The rickshaw driver took me to the Suresh Guest House, a hotel/restaurant owned by his uncle B. Nagesh, neatly placed half way between the market and the river. Quiet, safe, inexpensive, and with good food, it was a pleasant stay.
Hampi is a climber’s paradise. A small tourist town of 2,500. Hot, relatively dry, interwoven with a network of rivers and streams and granite boulders for miles and miles and miles, literally from horizon to horizon. I never imagined anything like this could exist. Ten lifetimes of climbing.
I have met so many incredible people on this journey, in Japan, and now in India. But only when I slow down and make time to talk do I engage and get beyond handshakes and smiles. I have enjoyed conversations with hotel employees, guest house owners, travel agents, and some travelers like myself. The locals in Hampi are very personable, beyond the interaction of sales. They seem truly interested in those who pass through their shops, hostels, and homes. They learn your name and do not forget. They wave on the streets. They smile, if you smile first.
In particular, I have spent a lot of time with a rickshaw driver Veerish. My first day in Hampi he helped me find an elderly, toothless man who rents crash pads for climbers. I learned that his son, a climber, had died a few years ago, the gear he rents formerly that of his son. Initially I engaged Veerish as my guide, but we quickly became friends. Having never guided climbers before, we had a great deal of fun looking for climbing problems together, using a dismally poor map. Afternoons were spent swimming at the local reservoir. He taught me about the local area and I helped him with improve his swimming technique.
Veerish has diabetes. He must spend 170 rupees ($4.25) each day for insulin. When I mention him to the locals, they know of his situation. They shook their heads, saying he will never marry because he is diseased and has difficulty making a good living. But he is in fact getting married in just twelve days. Veerish is the son of a farmer and while not impoverished, is quite poor by Indian standards. If he misses his shots for just one day, his skin boils and becomes infected. A travel agent’s brother used to store Veerish’s medicine in the soda fountain fridge. I offered that if he is ever without insulin due to lack of money, to contact me. I know there are millions like this in India, and the government helps where it can, but they do not always come through.
The owner of my guest house was upset with me this morning as last night I did not return. He said he had looked everywhere for me, and called my mobile several times. My phone did not work, reception switching from an emergency network to a valid connection every other dozen meters, depending upon my elevation and line-of-site to the horizon.
I had crossed the river with the last ferry at 6:30 pm, showed photos of the American Southwest to Veerish, and then stayed at his home across the river. I got up at 5:30 am to climb before the heat, then came back around noon. I did not know there is a penalty if I am hurt while under his care. But this was more personal, for he was truly concerned for my safety. A cultural lesson learned.
I enjoy watching people bathe in the river, morning to night. A time for men, women, and children to play as much as they do wash. Elephants too, their human companions small in comparison and yet masters of their movement. The monkeys are a bit aggressive, likely encouraged by careless tourists. But monkeys really do go ape-shit over bananas, swiping them from your hostel room, unattended hand bags, even directly from your hands if you are not careful, barking their discontent if you do not contribute on demand.
Tonight I must return to the chaos of Bangalore where 40,000,000 manage to live in relative harmony. I yet struggle to comprehend the numbers, my engineering mind racing to visualize the water, sewage, electrical, and phone systems required to support this many humans. I am flying to Chennai again Thursday morning. This weekend or Monday to Delhi. Next Friday or Saturday to Singapore to meet with IBM, Xilinx, and a university animation lab. Wednesday the 23rd to the Philippines to meet with education administrators. The 26th, finally, to Kenya, the same week I was originally to have come home.