We journeyed on the overnight train to the edge of the earth – or, at least, to Hampi, which with its bizarre, barren landscape, feels similar. The city of gold and jewels, Vijaynagara, was sacked 450 years ago and now lies in deserted ruins in a landscape of enormous boulders. So complete is its destruction that what remains looks far older and less intact than many ruins in Europe from ancient civilizations.
It is eerily beautiful. Dusty paths in the rocks squirm beneath vast boulders and around hillocks and temples, sometimes obscured by fallen rocks or reduced to clamber points, so that we had to carry our heavy iron hire-bikes up and over – more pushing than riding. There is little greenery among the rusty dust, but this was a city that loved frangipani, and they are everywhere here, flowering in sweet-scented pearls among the harsh hot rocks.
We stayed in a gloriously positioned guesthouse overlooking paddies to the river beyond. The hostile, unfriendly owner with his offensively rude staff did their best to spoil our stay, but nothing doing: we had been blessed by Lakshmi, the temple elephant. We lounged unconcerned among cushions by the sprawl of young Europeans, in identical alternative outfits, and drank their conversations. Much preening and grooming of dreads and tying of anklets and bracelets and hoops and rings and nose and lip and ear fastenings. They were too self-absorbed even to flirt with each other, and after a time we grew old and bored with it all and left them to it.