A blister of colour in the distance, a puff of pink, explosions of ochre and a wave of vermillion. Clusters of people emerge from the cloud, invigorated by this heady concoction. The beat of the drum, a tribal vocal crescendo en mass. In this Holiest of cities, urban rhythms reverberate against the chipped structures of ancient India.
Throughout the madding crowd, young boys climb atop the shoulders of their future selves, feet clenched as they release liquid cannons of vivid pigment in tangible excitement. The beat of the drum intensifies. Louder still. More drums! The streets are sullied by the carnival and a trail of destruction traces its steps. What was, is now gone. The mantra of the drum has cleansed the air. The dusty paths are the tilled soil. Only after destruction can there be creation. Spring has arrived – now we rejoice.
Hampi is a place that grows on you, inevitably filling your heart. Quickly passing through, it would seem like yet another travellers’ haunt with the usual hippy-rag hawkers and cheeky tuk-tuk drivers on every corner, jacking up the prices just because they know they can. But Hampi is there to be explored and once you get under the skin of the land, it becomes far more than just any tourism enterprise.
A ritual climb of 600 steep steps carved into the side of a mountain is utterly worth the aching thighs and wobbly knees for the view of a sunset from the birthplace of Hanuman with company from his monkey troop. Beyond every temple is another less visited. Clamber through giant, extraordinarily placed granite boulders to find monuments from a lost empire. If you listen carefully you can almost hear the songs of old, in the wind between the palm leaves, in the babbling of a stream, in the stillness of the midday sun.
Nobody tells you just how difficult it is to scrub Holi paint from the skin and so after the frenzy of the morning, we need a place to wash off. A friend who heard from a fellow traveller who got told by their neighbour who was shown by their cousin leads us to a secret oasis named King’s beach. Someone has to negotiate with the anxious gate keeper who looks after this territory for the lineage to the Hampi dynasty. Once we assure him that this portal will be revealed to no one else, we enter another world. Squelching down lush rice paddies and scorching the soles of our feet on burning rock, it is a welcome relief to splash into the gushing stream.
We strip off our clothes only to discover that the paint has soaked through, illuminating our physical frame. There could be eight or nine of us relative strangers. We look alien, super-human, surreal and just plain dirty but none of that really matters. There is no talk of who does what job in the outside world, no care for age, no identity. We are just people, half-naked in the searing heat, quenching our bodies with this magical landscape.
A RECIPE FOR GULAAB JAMUN
Gulaab Jamun is probably the most indulgent of all traditional Indian sweets. Milky balls of deep-fried pancake batter act as a sponge, sucking up an abundance of cardamom infused syrop. One is enough, but it is never easy to stop at just that so make sure there is plenty for everybody to have seconds.
Makes roughly 12 balls
- 250g sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 drops rose water
- 1/2 tsp cardamom powder
Dissolve the sugar in the water and warm on a medium flame. It should be ready within 15 minutes, add the cardamom powder and the rosewater and take off the heat.
- 250g milk powder
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp semolina
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- Sunflower oil for deep frying
- 1/2 cup fresh cream
- 1 tbsp ghee
Heat up the sunflower oil on the lowest setting while you make your syrup.
Mix the flour, semolina and milk powder together. Add the ghee and blend in, then gradually add the cream. Roll into little balls about 3cm in diameter and gently deep fry. They need to cook very slowly so that the inside cooks. Turn off the heat if you need to. They will begin to float in the oil and when they are golden brown on all sides, that’s when they are ready.
Place the balls in the warm syrup, turn the heat off and let sit for half an hour.
Thanks to Tim Kidd who was brave enough to take his iPhone into the chaos with us for that first Holi shot.