Less than a decade ago, one read and heard proclamations of India’s tourism potential with a big dose of scepticism, if not derision. The plain truth was that beyond the front gates of 5-star hostelries, India was too chaotic and filthy, and if tourists ventured further into the hinterland, bad roads, unhygienic restaurants and dirty toilets not to speak of beggars and chisellers, were inevitable experiences of foreign and domestic tourists. Yet a brief sojourn to Hampi, the ancient capital of the forgotten Vijayanagar kingdom (1336-1565) in Karnataka, has changed your sceptical correspondent’s perspective.
In the backyard of Hampi, George Ramapuram, a low-profile Kerala-based ‘earthitect’-entrepreneur has constructed a Xanadu style pleasure dome built entirely out of local materials and designed to blend seamlessly with the topography of the powerful, prosperous and well-governed Hindu Vijayanagar kingdom which stood steadfast against repeated invasions and expeditions of the Delhi sultanate and the Mughal dynasty for 229 years. Moreover, the ruins of the ancient Vitthala and Virupaksha temples have been marvellously preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India and the state government has developed excellent roads complemented by smoothly functional taxi and public transport.
Yet perhaps the most surprising feature of the meticulously preserved Hampi ruins is the clean restaurants with well-maintained toilets, and the excellent service provided by educated and knowledgeable tourist guides who narrate fascinating histories in several languages, including English, for modest remuneration. And it’s worthy of note that Hampi is a live pilgrimage site for the devout, and that the majoirty of 6 lakh tourists who visit are Indians. A sharp contrast to the surly service and condescension visitors receive in over-hyped Europe. There is indeed a bright future for Indian tourism.