Glimpses of the Ramayana: Anegundi
In hindsight, the night bus journey seems like the perfect plan. We boarded from Pune, and woke up afresh to the green and rocky vistas of Anegundi. It was a spectacular change in perspective. The 10 of us stood around, walked a bit, and stood back again, taking in the sheer beauty of Anegundi. This place is a fantastic mix of the majestic and the earthy. A sliver of the Tungabhadra will separate you from the town when you arrive. After you have let the cameras take 100 shots of the mountains of boulders, a short boat ride will ensue, and then a short walk up to the town. And what a town in it is in the real sense – it is small, there are these accessible rows of homes and shops, there is barely any traffic on the roads, and the best of all, there is a mighty chariot bang in the middle of the square. Here you can stand and stare at its beauty, while nibbling at spiced amla pieces bought from kindly street-sellers.
And then, we entered the home-stay run by the ever-smiling, soft-spoken Anju. This is the dream house of every simple soul who loves some colour on the walls, and barefoot walks. All of us soaked in the warm vibes of the rooms, finally ending up at the backyard, adorned with simple tiles, and a view of paddy fields beyond. None of us could deny instant dreams of holding a cup of tea/coffee in one hand and a book in another, while a cool breeze teased our hair. Sigh!
We were all here for a 5-day trip, imagined in collaboration with Pune-based Open Space, under whose ‘Kiski Kahani’ project, we were to participate in a stop-motion animation workshop. The broad aim of the project was to document the many different strands of the story of the Ramayana. Through the workshop, we wanted to capture the Ramayana connections of Anegundi, which is historically considered the birthplace of Lord Hanuman. The stop-motion animation videos were to capture select episodes from the epic, with Anegundi as the backdrop. With us to teach the tricks of the trade was Mumbai-based film-maker and photographer, Smriti Wadhwa, an amazing little bundle of energy, always ready with sunny smiles and work tips.
But before we got to work, we had to explore the charms of Anegundi and Hampi. The most amazing thing about being in these towns is that one can just grab one’s camera, notebook, what have you, and head out for a stroll. The lanes are not long, and they meander along housing clusters, and mostly end up at some edge of the Tungabhadra. We explored the beautiful Chintamani Temple along the waters. This complex is a silent oasis; in a cave here is where Lord Rama is believed to have met Sugreeva, and his footprints have been etched at the spot from which he shot his arrow for Vaali. One night, we brought in tins-full of food, and had dinner on the banks here; soaking our feet in the cool waters and staring at the moon periodically.
This temple, however, is only one glimpse into the Ramayana vibe of Anegundi.
Small and big temples dedicated to Lord Hanuman are everywhere, and there are believed to be over 600 of them scattered across the landscape. In the undulating swathe of the brownness of the boulders and the relics, and the lush greenness of the fields, one can spot many mantapas, traditional performance enclaves that surely have been witness to many glorious eras of dance and music.
Walking, undoubtedly, is the best way of exploring the treasures of Anegundi. It will get hot, and many stories of water scarcity will be heard, but fear not, carry the requisite lotions, and caps, and bottles, and off you must go. Because there is a special thrill about gingerly walking through fields and unformed paths, and in discovering lonely ramparts all around. There is also great pleasure in staring at the boulders and letting their formidability sink in, slowly.
But of course those of us who would rather just relax, or can’t for some reason walk for long, there are the rickshaws. These shared vehicles here are the best when it comes to traversing a few kilometres off the main town, or into Hampi. They aren’t really fast-movers, so the passing views of the lovely fields will still be guaranteed!
So we dedicated our days to exploring the places around, while settling into the evenings with story-swapping. For some, it was the first tryst with the epic’s many stories, and we spent a good deal of time breaking down the inspirations of the characters, and what their choices meant. Slowly, two scripts were taking shape. Smriti sat us down and tutored us on how to get the most effective photos, and what software to use to get the most effective video pacing. Two teams were formed, and both selected one episode each from the epic. One team decided to use actors, while the other chose to create paper drawings for a more animated feature. It was on!
One of the most remarkable things you will do while at Anegundi is visit the prehistoric site of Onake Kindi. Here prehistoric paintings still exist, and though some may force you to bend, recline and roll across some boulders, it is a fantastic experience nonetheless. Our gang, decided to lie around the rocks, quite like the washed clothes near Chintamani, and rest. It is possible some even stole naps!
If Anegundi is unassuming and homely, Hampi is across the river, and relatively flamboyant. It has an image, a decadent air to it, and one can sense the change in vibe immediately. But the glory of the UNICEF World Heritage site is spell-binding still. One may have seen 100 photos of the chariot at the Vitthala Temple, but the real thing still is awe-inspiring. The sprawling temple complex is split into many mini complexes, and is supported by beautiful columns that are etched with scenes from the Ramayana. The gopuram of the Virupaksha Temple is a tall study in intricacy, and the memory of its visage will stay with you forever.
But the highlight of being at Hampi was a trip to Gaddi. Here we walked through unreally green fields to reach a small corner of Hampi where eateries and cheap cottages abound. We all sat around a big table and ate continental at one of the restaurants, and this blasphemous break from south Indian food was mighty worth it.
Oh yes, the food. Staying with Anju doesn’t just guarantee good sleep, good views, warm baths, and great stories. It also assures access to simply awesome home-cooked food. We were a pack of hungry vultures who gobbled idlis, podi, rice, flavoured rice, sambar, puffed rice pohe, poppadum, et al, with aplomb. For good filter kaapi, we located a small stall across the road, and struck up random conversations using English words and sign language.
The other days were dedicated to visiting the Pampa Sarovar, climbing up the Anjanadri Hill, and indulging in a chance meeting with the erudite, Shri Ram Deva Raya, scion of the erstwhile ruling clan. The climb up the hill is best done at dawn, because once you have endured the test of 500-something steps, you will come to a place of spectacular bird’s eye-view of the whole of Anegundi.
As the daily travels rolled one, the films too started to take shape. The paper drawings and cuttings were beautiful, and required much work. On the penultimate day, we got to shooting the clips, and it was one of the most hilarious, fun, frustrating, and tiring day of all. But we survived, and thus came out two remarkable videos made by absolute rookies. We all patted each other’s backs to good effect.
What made this trip so special was the group of people – Anju, Ramu and our trusted guide, Kumar. And of course there was the gang; we all got along famously, swapping stories and music, and constantly pulling jokes. But of it all, Anegundi/Hampi deserve the last bow. Because these two places made us realise what it means to be mesmerised.
– Black Swan Journeys