Everyday we drove from our Hospet address, via Hampi Road into the countryside. Hospet town is always a joy to escape from, since it has an ugly bustling market crammed with leaf, flower, fruit , provisions and numerous other things, but no really memorable place that invites a visit. Nor do occupied pavements, testimonial to our poor urban planning skills, provide space for any kind of leisured saunter.
This time we were back on Hampi Road to view the main cluster of temple buildings, which are best described by that old cliche, poetry in stone. After a circumambulatory stroll we reached the Virupaksha Temple, which is still in use. It has its own elephant, a vivacious fellow in robust black who takes bananas from the hands of visitors and pats them on the head exercising great discretion. The temple is grand and peopled, intricately carved and pillared, with a central pavilion housing a handsome god and a ceiling painted with intricate murals. We waited in line to enter the sanctum sanctorum with its renovated flooring of shiny gray granite tiles.
Eventually, we walked out towards the right side of the temple to the river's edge, past the promenade to the wall with steps that led right down to the water. We watched this inspiring sight, blue water with many pavilions and cave like structures and large crags in the middle of the water, and people in regular boats and basket boats, and beside shady trees on the embankment and little wayside eateries serving snacks and tea and coconut water.
The steps from where one can watch the river communicate a sense of serenity. This is routine everyday activity, the rhythms of visitors thronging to the temple and then to the scenic river's edge for a glimpse into a bucolic world. Having had our fill, we head back to the temple, retrieve our footwear and head out of the main entrance to the market that flanks both sides of the road. There are sellers of fruit and brass and prayer accessories and odds and ends, possibly recently displaced from a series of demolished structures all along the road.
We stop at a colourful stall selling bric a brac, mostly cushions and spreads and bags and buy a few colourful embroidered and mirror embellished bags that recall the work of kutch craftswomen. The ebullient woman who sells them tells us she is a Lambadi, from one of India's extant gypsy tribes. The only lambadis I have met before have been all of us dressed in special costumes and beads rehearsing for a school dance. How little we know of this woman's life and even less of the Dhanajars whom we see as we drive past stretches of agricultural land in parts of northern Karnataka. Srinivas tells us when we ask him that the Dhanajars are keepers of goat and sheep and that when the harvest is done, they help in clearing the land by bringing their flock to feed on the fodder left in the fields. They can be found in small groups in fields where the harvest has been gathered. I saw some of them scouring out vessels beside a water source while yet another small group sat beside a cooking cauldron with pots and pans and blue tarpaulin tied on the backs of horses.
When one stops to think of it, this is a wonderful symbiosis of recycling and use, and one that sets the food chain in motion as it were perpetually. Of course, questions remain. Where do the Dhanajars go when the harvest is over? Do they store collected hay for the cold season? They possibly sleep under tarpaulins and keep their flock in barred enclosures. Fortunately Karnataka is not subject to the kind of biting cold that reigns supreme in the Northern plains. Our car slows down many times for the flock of sheep and goat to pass. One time we see mules carrying little cloth panniers on their back and from them recently-born baby goats peer out, making for a delightful picture. It is the most unusual mobile nursery I have seen and with a bunch of incredibly bright eyed (goat) kids.This is probably the safest way to move the babies in the group.
I wonder if there is a market in India for goats' milk and cheese. Our nation's first father consumed goat's milk. Apparently the milk is more easily digestible and the goat itself is a compact and easier to raise animal. Now that terrible truths about dairy cholesterol are being uncovered, will the quest for health foods direct the dhanajars towards a less nomadic life? Will they be able to use this as an effective bargaining point with resident farmers? Would that mean a better deal for them or a better life? It is wonderful to sleep under the stars and move to where the harvested fields lead you but to do this forever and a day seems a trifle daunting.What does this mean for the succeeding generations that tend to the flock? Do they get access to schooling and to other ways of living? Maybe all this is mere wishful thinking, induced by the view from a car window.
We return to Hospet and I sight yet again a young lad sitting on the pavement with some sort of gourd in front of him. This time I get out of the car to explore. The beautiful gourd like object is in fact a large root. Cut to about half its length , the outside looks rather like a brown leather drum with taut white skin on top. The name of this root is Poo Shakaragandi or kandamolai. It has the texture and flavour of raw banana stem, extendable to the taste of raw shakkargandi or sweet potato The young man cuts out thin slices for me that look rather like bits of gauda cheese. He offers to sprinkle sugar over the pieces which I decline.
This is yet another of the seasonal offerings that nature so generously sends our way, fast losing its foothold in our dusty towns and cities.