A Postcard from Hampi
[An update to a friend I have not spoken to in a while, but don’t have the courage, or don’t know how, to ask them how they are doing]
Hello! It’s been quite some time. I’m not in Castro Valley right now, nor am I in Seattle. Did you know Seattle is having the snowiest February in 70 years? And I am missing all of it. I’m bittersweet about it. Right now, I’m in Hampi, India. I’m on a weekend trip with sixteen other classmates who are also studying abroad with me. They are a dynamic group, and are constantly surprising me with how intelligent, spirited, and determined they are. There are people in this group I’d never thought I’d get to be friends with. Their good energy is infectious (and their sicknesses).
About Hampi though: this place is wildly beautiful. I have never seen anything like it. I quickly decided that the rear-facing seats on auto-rickshaws are the best seats to gaze at Hampi with. Each sight looks like a different landscape, and it’s mesmerizing. I remember my legs dangling off the bumpy auto as I watched the leafy canopied banana farms and the bright rice paddy fields, the elaborate and ancient temples, and the strong boulders and orange rocks that stacked upon in layers in the distance. I’m in awe of this small town.
One afternoon before sunset, our group went to the Hazara Rama Temple. Because this place was unpopulated before nightfall, it felt like we were adventurers in an ancient society that hasn’t been found yet. There was so much to explore, ground to cover, and old architectural structures to be humbled by. We perched upon this tall watchtower as we watched the sun set over the mini city of stone walls, just like the sun has been doing for the last 600 years. When evening came, we started our walk back to our accommodation. We let our eyes adjust to the growing blanket of darkness, and then we started to notice the stars. Ugh. The night was shining with stars. Walking slowly with my head up to the sky, I existentially reconfirmed to myself, “I am in Hampi.”
I’ve been feeling a little guilt on this trip. How can someone be a good visitor to a place they don’t belong to? And I know visiting new places isn’t a bad thing, because it is so important to perceive closely the diversity of cultures that exist in this world. But it seems like visitors only take; what really can they give besides money to local businesses or restaurants? And how can a visitor be curious, but respectful? I can ensure to take only photos and leave only footprints. But knowing where to step or where we can step is something I need to think about more.
What makes me feel less guilty is talking with the local people here and listening to their stories. I guess visitors can offer time. Time to learn about the history of the place, and contemporary issues with a quick Google search. Time to think and pause, to act sensibly and respectfully. Time to learn the local language. Time to be present and authentic with someone new. I’m actively trying to be as genuine as I can be as a visitor, but I know I’m not doing enough. Even if I’m giving my time, when I leave, is my presence going to last, either in in impact or a memory? Perhaps the answer to these questions is a “No,” but I’m okay with that because I like the idea of the butterfly effect. By valuing compassion, asking
good questions, offering our perspective, and being good to each other and other strangers, these small impacts can maybe change and influence our surroundings someday to reflect a vision of a better and less chaotic world.
And humor makes things all a little lighter. I miss our conjoined sense of humor. Until we meet again.