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Written by blaze on February 15, 2017 Share on

The dark side of Hampi

Hampi, Karnataka.

A picturesque town that was once the centre of a bustling empire of ancient India. The landscape is a peaceful one; the majestic Virupaksha Temple looms over lush green paddy fields and the graceful river Tungabadra flows through the village. The waters of the river glisten in the late afternoon sun and huge boulders throw their shadows around. The perfect rustic setting of an Indian village. And then you see it, the shiny plastic covers that are thrown near the banks of the river. Selfie sticks and camera flashes surround you as the sunset turns perfect. Did we burst the bubble?!

Here’s the Hampi of today as seen from the eyes of a traveller. One who travels with the idea of understanding the place, its culture and people. Blaze Arizanov, our guest author examines the differences between a traveller and a tourist. 

 

The story starts on the banks of the River Tungabadra

It wasn’t like that before, he said. The boatman. Ten years ago, his fare used to be 2 Rupees. Today it is 10 Rupees. Earlier this place was all agriculture.Then suddenly it all changed. Tourists came.

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Image credit – wikipedia

Since when, I asked? Ever since the Amrikaans opened the place.

What about you, I asked.

I used to plough the fields as well he said. But there are no rains nowadays. I took over this job, selling munchies, nimbu pani to tourists along with my wife. I’ve been here in Hampi for years, on this spot.

The boatman’s story set me thinking..

As I walked towards my hut, countless foreign tourists, men and woman in shorts passed by me. This was my 7th day in Hampi. Tomorrow was New Year’s eve. And I was preparing my bag to leave.

How can you leave now, people kept asking? It’s is almost New Year. It is going to be awesome here.

Where are you going? To a pilgrim site 120 kilometers in Northern Karnataka where I will seize to exist, I thought.

Look at the place, I pondered. Look how filled it is with foreign tourists.

And look how indifferent they appear to the culture around them? They come with their trademark hippie pants and their dzembes. And then they drum and drum all night.

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Image credit – xplorience

The locals put up with that till 2 am. And the very next morning, it is the locals that have to wake up early morning to start earning their bread whilst the hippies who have come here to find the purpose of their live and get enlightened, will sleep till noon.

I couldn’t bring myself to be part of this charade. Not for a minute longer.

This brings me to examine who a true traveller is… 

People come here as Americans, Germans and Englishmen. They are touring and not travelling. This is pure tourism, what I call a pseudo event – An exaggerated image of something or someone which you only try to re-affirm the moment you attend that something or someone.

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Image credit – xplorience

Travelling wasn’t meant to be like that.

A true traveler is amazed by the local culture he encounters and he treats it as a leaf, as a gentle lotus, walking and treading carefully around it. Instead of imposing the fullness of his presence, he tries to be as unnoticeable as possible because every step he makes, every word he says will trigger erosion of that culture.

For the same reason I wear dhoti whenever I found myself out of Delhi into more rural areas of India. For that reason I sit in the darker corners of the temples for meditation in order not to be noticed. Because to the locals who visit the temple I too will be a pseudo event.

Hampi is the perfect example of the dangers of UNESCO branding 

This is going to be my first and last visit in Hampi.

Such precious legacy getting eroded like a river shore under the feet of imposing foreigners. Tourists who don’t come to experience the new but to do what they are already accustomed doing back at their homes.

Is this what happens when a location becomes a UNESCO heritage site?

True you may say, the monuments get protected. But such rare old cultures do not spring only from physical things. What about the people? What about the climate?

With every passing tourist, that is a person that acts like a tourist, the climate of Hampi changes irrevocably. More vehicles, more buses, more pollution.

The land becomes worse for fertilizing. Performance stages pop up, where once food used to grow. For people who just can’t get enough of entertainment and ‘experiences’.

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Image credit – tragicocomedia

The values of the locals change every time they see bare legged women with cleavage. The culture dies. Now we have a place with really old buildings and monuments but devoid of spirit.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

Why do we prefer to go to new places yet we remain so filled up with ourselves? Why don’t we just instead melt completely and observe? Why don’t we come as students? Why don’t we become Indians in India and Japanese in Japan?

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Image credit – ntpindiatourism

For, the most fascinating part about each indigenous culture is not the temples but the people that live there. Despite the damage and the erosion they still bear many of the old treasures.

If you look close enough without infringing you can see those wonders, in the way they speak, in the way they move their hands, the ingredients they use in the food, the way they pray. It is all knowledge waiting to be grasped. Why do we go to new places just to form islands around ourselves and fill them with well known experiences?

The Hampi experience, among others, only makes me think that the Unesco Heritage Site Program is just another subtle program to globalize the world under a single ideal rather than nurture the differences.  Is this how maybe a local from Hallstat village in Austria feels, when starry eyed tourists descend on them? Or maybe the Maoris in New Zealand too?

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Image credit – xplorience

Pause, take a look around. Think. How best can you witness their life without being being intrusive? Time you stopped touring and started travelling.

If you think this echoes your travel philosophy, drop us a note at stories@pickyourtrail.com. We’ll be happy to connect! Here’s where you could have a look at what we do.

About the Author 

Blaze Arizanov is the CMO at StayUncle. He is a creative writer and digital marketing extraordinaire.

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