Hampi island - Demolition

 Hampi Island, Virupapuragaddi, Karnataka, India.

 May (off season) 2016

 It's not a normal day. The road to 'Hampi island' is now blocked by so many police some of them dressed in (Indian style) riot gear. The way is only open for JCB bulldozers and the powers that be. Virupapuragadi village itself will now be destroyed while the women and kids watch and cry. The big guest houses like Golden beach, Mowgli or Shanti will be magically untouched while this tiny little village is smashed. Why did they only pick the smallest poorest people to demolish their houses?
 What did they do wrong? They will tell them this is forest reserve land and in the UNESCO core zone. When they settled here four generations ago did anybody tell them such things? There was no 'Heritage site' or 'core zone' then. There are a hundred houses and they are doing no harm whatsoever to anybody at all. Why should anybody even care that they are living there never mind actually destroy their village?
 The most ironic thing about this is that these houses being smashed were actually here way BEFORE the big guest houses! It's the oldest and most 'real' bit of Hampi island. When I first came in the early 90's this was a lovely little village. There was no Mowgli, no Goan corner, No Lakshmi Golden beach, no anything touristy except Umashakar restaurant. One restaurant five minutes along the road from the boat, that's it. These were normal peoples family houses. Sure since then they had made two or three small homestay style places with no more than four rooms to rent to visitors but all the rest of it, just normal houses.

So now the whole village including small kids are made to watch while jcb's smash their homes. They have never known anything else, no wonder they are crying! 

 For some of us the question looming on this grim day is why these people have to lose everything now while the big purpose built guest houses a short way down the road remain untouched. The answer, money of course. The big guest house owners had enough money to pay huge lawyer fees plus extra 'fees' to judges then obtained a temporary 'stay order' until the highest supreme court gives the final verdict. This is truly horrible and a sad outcome and now just leaves people 'in limbo' waiting for their resorts to be demolished. It also puts people in a 'make as much as we can now' mindset making them seem more greedy than they actually are.

 Actually the places they demolished were some of the best and most authentic places to stay on Hampi island and still run by local families. The bigger restaurants and cafes get leased out for the season mostly to super fast and efficient Nepali teams. They know how to quickly make pizza, yankee burgers, falafal and Isreali pie. They can also make excellent North Indian food. It might sound strange but most visitors will stay the entire time in Hampi without ever tasting 'local food' or even 'South Indian' food. Now if you want to stay in these type of  homestay places and eat anything like local food you will have to go further afield or maybe in Hampi itself. Not much on Hampi island. It looks like a microcosm of globalization. 

Survival of the biggest. 

 Some of the big guest house owners and people involved in the business think it's inevitable that everything in the official core zone (7 km radius) of Hampi be demolished soon enough but there are also people who now think that they WILL be allowed to continue running after paying SO much money. After all where there is so much money being made they can always pay more if need be and keep the whole thing going. Otherwise some very complex questions will arise. Where will the traveller tourists that have filled all these rooms and restaurants for the last twenty years go if everything is demolished? Maybe they will simply stop coming to stay in Hampi and stay in Hospet. Think so?

There are certainly people in Hospet town 12km away from Hampi itself who would love to see this happen as they have big expensive luxury hotels already built in the last few years and sitting empty most of the time. These places are not ideal for backpackers, climbers or travellers as they are just too nice and expensive. Hospet itself is actually quite nice for such a big town but it just hasn't got the beautiful scenery and atmosphere of Hampi and the island. It's just for the top few percent who need luxury and comfort above everything else who will stay there. These are the people who would actually go 12 km on buses and take guided tours of the ruins or rocks to take photos then go back to the hotel and luxury room every evening.   

Not for you! 

All the rest of you who want to stay and enjoy the peace and the nature, the rocks and bouldering, the layed back vibes and friendly atmosphere created by the locals, well you can all get lost it seems. They don't want you there. Go to a far away village and stay in a family house or go to big hotel in Hospet or just go back to Goa (for travellers) or Badami (for the climbers).
That's what they want and that's what they are planning, The people with the big hotels in Hospet in partnership with the 'powers that be' that is the Forest department, ASI (Archeological survey of India) and UNESCO. 

The Derelict Hampi Bazaar - Ghost Museum

 In 2011 the JCB's arrived and completely cleared out Hampi bazaar of all the people, guest houses, restaurants and shops. At first it was said to be with the permission of UNESCO who are supposed to be protecting the site. However it seems the aims of the two authorities might be slightly different.  The actual idea to 'sanitise' Hampi bazaar came from the ASI which is a completely Indian organization. However it receives huge amounts of money to protect these heritage sites from UNESCO which is an international body. UNESCO was not in total agreement thinking it should remain a 'living heritage' as an important tourist destination. It maintains that it had NOT requested the eviction of the residents. So it doesn't take much to work out that corruption was at the heart of the decision to sanitise. So just who paid off the officials and judges to give the go ahead. 
The same people who are trying to push forward the demolitions on the other side of the river? 
The same people who will profit from the complete lack of any tourist infrastructure anywhere near Hampi?
The same people involved in the biggest illegal mining boom in India?
 Consider the decade before the demolitions began. 2000-2010.

 Hospet mining boom

 In 1999 the goverment of India opened it's immense iron ore reserves to private exploitation. China would buy as much as India could supply it seemed and the Bellary district is full of quality iron ore very near to Hospet. In a few short years the industry became huge. 

 The following paragraph is taken from a June 2006 Frontline article and shows us just how big it became in those 7 years since 99. Nobody seemed to mind that 90 percent of the mines were illegal.

Unscrupulous trade

Windfall profits have transformed Hospet's economy. According to V.G. Khanolkar, Assistant General Manager of the State Bank of India's Hospet branch, the tiny branch has seen a staggering 2,000 per cent increase in withdrawals since the boom started, from Rs.3 crores every six months to nearly Rs.40 crores a week. Real estate prices have gone up by 400 per cent in the past three years. The region's wealthy have developed a reputation for being the first in India to purchase the latest luxury cars. According to local press reports, Bellary will soon have Asia's highest per capita concentration of private helicopters. 

 During that decade new luxury hotels popped up around Hospet and almost everyone was in on the boom somehow from drivers to traders. It was plain to see (and hear) what was going on from our little vantage point in Hampi but all we could do was watch and listen to the destruction. In 2010 it was becoming obvious that some type of government corruption clamp down was under way so all the illegal mining was going to end soon and end it did. The change was unbelievable around Hospet with the roads that were normally jammed to a standstill with overloaded iron ore trucks out towards Hullgi and Hampi island with just a normal amount of traffic again.

 At that time Hampi and the Island was still intact, the demolitions had not started. After all why would the 'big people' of Hospet and Bellary be jealous of a few guest houses when they were getting so rich on mining. The cleansing of Hampi started the very next year. Was there any connection between these events? Let's face it most major decisions are made by the business leaders who can simply pay the politicians and law authorities as much as they need to do what they want. If they could pay their way through a decade of illegal tax free iron ore mining then getting a few restaurants torn down in Hampi would have been no problem. On 29th of July 2011 after being warned only the night before the demolition took place. DEMOLITION info

 Outside people are divided on the issue and some seem to think it's good to shift them all out for the sake of 'preservation' and 'heritage'. The locals are not divided on the issue and many of us who have stayed a long time agree with them. You could say we are biased because they have become our friends but the fact is that a lot of people loved Hampi so much not just because of the Vijaynagar ruins but because of what the first people to resettle the place had turned it into. They transformed it from an overgrown ruin into a beautiful little village, a 'living heritage' which was so nice to stay in that it became famous.

 Now when you arrive in Hampi it's just the dusty chaos of the bus/car park area and the main bazaar looks sterile, artificial and lifeless. It was SO much better before. There were loads of good restaurants some catering to foreigners but mostly with actual authentic local food for breakfasts; idle wada, poori, dosa etc and good thalis through the day and evening with everything totally vegetarian (no meat allowed). Quite a lot of visitors preferred to stay over in Hampi rather than the island as it actually felt like a real village with local food unlike the so called 'Hippie Island' which just felt like it was purpose built only for tourists ie. no local food (meat allowed). By the way it's made for consumers not hippies, you are not even allowed to make youself a coffee or wash your own clothes. In high season you will be evicted from your room after 3 days because you didn't use the restaurant enough. If you want to see 'hippies' to to any local village like Sanapur or Basapur and watch how the locals live. 

 There were also shops on the bazaar selling useful items and pooja items if you were heading into the temple. There was even a post office, a bank and the famous old bookshop. There are still a few guest houses left in the streets behind the bazaar but it's no wonder that most people go to the Hippie island. Now even the 'I'm certainly not a backpacker' type of person with proper luggage on wheels crosses the river straight away to the island.

3 beers 3 bears

Hampi – Wild area


I'm awake really early and psyched for a project that I have to be careful with as it does have just one poor gritty crimp hold. One foot slips and in the locked position my fingers slide off leaving me with a nasty cut on the pad of my fingertip. I'm angry as I know I can't try it any more or any other climb really for a day or so anyway. What to do? I think ....... just go for a long walk, explore and burn off some energy without the possibility of anything going wrong. After the cut finger it now felt like a ‘going wrong day’ for some reason. But nothing can go wrong by going for a walk and exploring right?

The walk was brilliant, as usual I found loads of good problems and even tried to remember where some of them were in the complex hills. But I was so far away from my cave now and so hot, tired and very hungry having already finished any snacks. I was actually closer to the road down Basapur way so decided to get there instead of back to my cave then jump on a bus the few km to Senapur to get my shopping a day earlier than I'd planned. I would also go and kill a few hours of the hot time in my favourite dhaba the cheap local ‘Royal hotel’ which serves very good spicy village style food returning to my cave in the cooler time after 4 or so. 

 Eventually I arrived in Basapur and hang around the place until a lift comes to Sanapur but by now it’s really hot and I'm completely exhausted after walking all day. As the dhaba is across the street from the only wine shop in the whole area I decided to drink just one cold beer. After lots of spicy snacks I decide on one more beer and by now it was about 4-30 pm. That would have been exactly the right time to leave the dhaba go and get my shopping from the general store and press on the 1 and half hours it would take to walk to my cave before dark.

 Tourists or climbers very rarely come to this local dhaba and today is no different but just then a local Indian friend came into the garden of the dhaba and announced that HE was going to buy ME a beer. I just couldn't believe it! It's rare that someone buys me drinks in Sanapur village as its really expensive and they all drink cheap duplicate whisky. So I couldn't refuse and started into the fresh drinks ordering some more food as well. The guy who runs the dhabba does like he always does reminding me that it was time to go and gave me a pretend worried look....“karadi will get you this time” then laughing at me and wobbling his head from side to side.

 A karadi is the Indian sloth bear and nothing scares and excites the locals more than any stories or anything to do with this animal. That’s because there are so many grim facts about village people being attacked and mauled or killed by them.

 Image result for 3 beers kingfisher An extra strong K.F. is a beer which has (not less than) 8 % alcohol and anything to do with this item greatly excites the locals of Sanapur as to have one in your hand symbolises success, wealth and less liver/brain damage than 'normal whisky' which is not normal.
 After 3 of them when I finally got to the general store it was 6-30 and almost dark but I didn't think much about it as I knew that my superb and very modern headtorch was in my bag. When I finally collected all my provisions and vegetables and blasted up to the lake where I turn off the road it was the last minutes of any natural light. Then I tried my head torch but remembered a bad thing. I always charge the batteries with a small solar panel but today was the special charging day. But I had been so busy all day and then forgotten in Sanapur. Damn it! An impossibly tiny light was all that was available and I decided to leave it off for as long as possible using the last minutes of twilight to get as far as possible. Up the first very steep hill and onto the first flat plateau was okay but it became totally dark there was no moon and I put the torch on hoping for the best. It WAS just enough to see bits and pieces but I knew it was not going to last long at all so I started to go really fast along the flat section just bushes everywhere not too many boulders on that plateau. The wind was quite strong and combined with the intense crunching underfoot as I thrashed along I couldn’t hear much in the way of outside sounds.

  Remember to remember

As always when I walk in the jungli areas after sunset I have one unlit juggling fire torch in my hand but for some reason this day I'd forgotten something quite important. Something to do with kerosene and the firetorch. 

Then quite suddenly I heard something just ahead nearby and to the right which completely stopped me in my tracks. Something I'd NEVER heard at close range before. It was a terrible high pitched whining interspaced with a fearful growling in between a kind of wimpering barking sound but it had registered in my brain very quickly. What the hell is it? I thought at first but then suddenly I realized what it was. It’s one of the bear cubs and sounds absolutely terrified and in distress! It’s really scared and it's all my fault. Just then I heard another sound but very different and from the opposite direction but quite far over to my left. That was a sound I recognized quickly as I've had meetings before with the bigger bear usually male but this was “mummy bear” grunting and growling. Intense fear set in very quickly and I started rummaging in my pockets for the lighter. Then I realized the important thing which I had forgotten. Not the lighter for that was now in my hand but the fire torch which was absolutely bone dry! It would never light! I knew very well! I tried anyway but couldn't even get a flame from the lighter such was the wind. Click, click, click, and no flame at all. These tiny clicks of light seemed to wake up but not scare the mummy bear who came to life with a huge roar and then there was just a tremendous thrashing and crunching as she started to move. With the clicks of the lighter I was of course just showing her the way directly to me. Then the growling roars increased in intensity and volume. I knew very well what was happening as it all got louder. She was running directly towards me! Any bushes between us would soon be flat. Just then I heard the sound of a babu again but from behind me somewhere then it was also getting closer. It was another one ,she had two cubs both in different places. I was in the middle of some kind of family event. They had been spread out all over the plateau.

Normally if I stay in Senapur too long or too late my friend in the dhaba reminds me to put a bit of kerosene on my firetorch wick as it’s good for my peace of mind to walk in the jungli at night but he had drunk many glasses of beer with us so had completely forgotten. I knew it was hopeless with the torch and it was too windy anyway but the beast was serious in its intentions and would be on me in a few seconds. Fear and adrenalin completely took over my brain. With nowhere to run I took as much air as possible into my lungs. Then I shouted. It was a sound unlike any other which I've ever made before. I surprised and scared even myself. It was almost louder and more gruesome than the beast. When I'd finished all the thrashing and growling from around me was changing direction and I just stood there with my mouth open waiting for the terrible thing to happen. On other occasions I have just ‘run for it’ when I met the beast and speed climbed up the nearest boulder but on this occasion I had no boulders nearby. I was trapped where I stood. The thrashing went around me and suddenly there was a moment when I recognized that mummy and babu was being re-united. They were all still thrashing around and growling but a few seconds later those sounds were becoming less loud. They were moving away from me! Then I could breath again and the fear started to subside. I was completely shaken but SO relieved. I felt like someone had injected some terribly strong stimulant into my blood stream and I walked back to my cave from there in about half the time as it usually takes shouting and singing the whole way. I felt like I’d been ‘born again’. That night back in the cave my mind was just buzzing and I couldn't get to sleep until just 2 hours before sunrise. I’d had such a huge amount of adrenalin from the fear caused by the attack.

For those more interested in the Indian sloth bear and its lifestyle habits here is a copy of an article from INTERNATIONAL BEAR NEWS  vol 15 no 4. by Naim Aktar, Wildlife institute of India. 

The sloth bear is assumed to be a cute and playful animal. However it is not what it seems. It is highly unpredictable and a dangerous animal. pic from bearnews, sloth bear.

 Villagers in Chattisgarrh area of central India are very much aware of the potential threat posed by sloth bears when venturing into the forests to collect wood or other products, to graze their cattle or simply to walk to another village. To avoid sloth bear encounters and protect themselves from attack locals will move in groups, carry an axe, bamboo stick, or torch and talk or sing loudly. In spite of all this many human-sloth bear encounters still occur resulting in injury and/or death of humans. In many cases sloth bears are also killed in retaliation.
In one particularly terrible tragedy which occurred in the Chuabhara forest near the town of Marwahi five people, including two women were killed in a single day by a female bear. One pleasant morning in January, Ms.Susheela Bai was passing through the Chuabhara forest on the way to the village of Khurpa when she was suddenly attacked by an adult female bear. She was unable to fight off the attack and was killed. Shortly after her death, Mr. Ram Jiawan and Mr.Nan Sahay were passing through the forest when they were each attacked and killed by the same bear in separate incidents. In a two hour period three people had been killed while others in the village were unaware of the events taking place in the forest. Later that morning, Mr. Lamchand was grazing his cattle in the same forest, and, as he crossed the spot of the previous attacks, the bear attacked. Fortunately he was able to fight off the attack. Hearing Mr.Lamchands screams Ms Shiyam Kunwar also travelling through the forest moved towards the screams to investigate. The bear had already badly injured Mr.Lamchand, and, when she arrived at the site of the attack, the bear turned and attacked her, killing her instantly. Villagers finally hearing the screams, rushed to the site. Upon their arrival on the scene, the bear moved off, and the villagers were able to rescue Mr.Lamchand. He was rushed to a hospital in the village of Marwahi but due to the severity of his injuries was moved to a better equipped hospital in Bilaspur. Information of the bear attack had by then reached the forest department, and the local majistrate with some forest guards arrived the next day to deal with the bear. They despatched the bear before it could attack and kill again. It was very sad to see this animal killed, especially in its natural forest habitat. Although many debate who was at fault, the bear or humans, we must not forget that it is humans who have encroached on the forests. Sadly Mr.Lamchand's injuries were too severe, and he died while in hospital.
In another incident, cattle were grazing in the forests adjacent to the village of Barbasan. At approximately 11am a man named Rampal was watching over his cattle when one of his buffalo was suddenly attacked by a female bear. The bear knocked the buffalo over by hitting the body of the buffalo with its forelimbs and head. Once on the ground the bear ripped flesh from the body of the buffalo. Seeing the bear attacking his buffalo Mr.Rampal began to shout loudly. The bear continued its attack and Rampal rushed to the village for help. Once Rampal and the villagers returned they found the bear had killed and eaten a portion of the buffalo. They tried to drive the bear away but without success, so they notified the forest department. Forest department officials arrived but when they attempted to drive the bear off they were chased and nearly attacked themselves. They avoided injury by hiding behind their motorcycles. Police from the town of Gaurela were called but the bear had retreated into the cover of the forest before they reached the site. Due to its aggressive behavior the villagers were on high alert. Elders of the village and forest department officials planned to push the bear further into the forest in an attempt to avoid further problems. When villagers, police and Forest department officials entered the forest to chase the bear off, they discovered a dead adult female bear. Those on the scene deduced that the bear may have died as a result of consuming buffalo meat and the stress of human presence.
These incidents suggest that female sloth bears have very aggressive temperaments and get excited easily when disturbed. Bears moving into human areas in search of food is a very common phenomena, and people often chase them off to protect their crops. When a bear has been pursued by humans, even once, a sloth bear will retaliate in future encounters with often fatal consequences. This is a very serious issue as far as conservation of the sloth bear is concerned. The institute has recommended that the State Forest Department institute programs to educate villagers on bear biology, movement, food and behaviour. It is also necessary to restore degraded forest habitat by, for example planting fruit trees for the bears. Unfortunately the forest department has yet to take necessary actions to launch community education or habitat restoration programs. Subsequently, there is an urgent need to take concrete actions for the conservation of sloth bears in the unprotected forest areas of India. Otherwise it will be too late to act.


Check out the claws for digging termites nests

Man after bear attack