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 comments:

  1. Anonymous6 May 2017 at 13:27

    Hey mate,

    Great article, but so sad to read it so starkly put. Everything you wrote is true, thanks for sharing your knowledge and insight.
    A girl from Hamburg, who was in Hampi this winter, wrote to me asking for my views on the state of Hampi. I shall work out directly how to send her a link.
    Dhillan told me you were doing well up to the time you left India.
    Hope that you are still well.
    Nick R.

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  2. Reply

    Renuka12 May 2017 at 05:49

    Whoa! I didn't know about this. I believe the heritage of Hampi isn't just in the temples, but also in the village homes and the lives of local people. So, the state govt. should protect that and respect that.

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    Replies
    1. Most people feel like us but there are also people who will be happy when all the streets and roads are empty. We can hope that the state govt stops the final cleansing.

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