UKC

The Shadows of Vijayanagar - Hampi bouldering

© Dave Pickford

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Planet Fear
The following feature is a guest article from Dave Pickford, editor-in-chief of planetFear. It has previously featured on planetfear.com.

PlanetFear have just kicked off a new article series called Great Climbs, which detail first-hand adventures on some of Britain's most famous routes.

See PlanetFear to read more of Dave's work.


You can read another article by Dave Pickford on UKC: Who's There? in which Dave explores the myths and tales surrounding supernatural phenomena seen in the mountains and wild places of the Earth.

“...lo! A mighty arch appeared, rising above the Lyskamm high into the sky. Pale, colourless, and noiseless... this unearthly apparition seemed like a vision from another world..."

UKC Article: Who's There?


The Shadows of Vijayanagar

- a photographic essay on Hampi bouldering -


One of the first things that will strike you on arriving in Hampi, a small market town in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, is the sheer quantity of granite that surrounds the place. The complex and extensive ruins of the Vijayanagar capital, sacked and deserted in the early sixteenth century, lie scattered around Hampi. They have been explored by travellers for several decades now, since the first intrepid hippies followed the lead of adventurous Victorian historians here in the 1960's. Despite the increasing influence of tourism, Hampi remains an extraordinary place: it is difficult not to find the ruins impressive, remembering that less than five hundred years ago they were the foundations of a city of 300,000 people, and the centre of the most powerful Hindu empire in early modern Indian history.

More recently, the boulders that surround Hampi bazaar and the island created by the Tungabahdra river - the same rocks that provided the raw material for the Vijayanagars' temples and palaces - have become the central focus of the international bouldering scene in Asia. Following the release of Chris Sharma's successful 2003 film 'The Pilgrimage', some of the harder problems here have achieved a cult status comparable to that of the classics of Fontainebleau. Despite a big influx of climbers immediately after the release of Sharma's film, Hampi's popularity among the global bouldering community has now swung back to a more sustainable level.

Hampi is the kind of place where the very notion of a 'classic' problem takes on a colourful assortment of definitions. This is partly due to the fact that the problems here have been established by climbers of dozens of nationalities, creating a remarkable collision of international rock climbing styles on these boulders. The results range from highly aesthetic and undergraded problems courtesy of French visitors, to desperate American masterpieces, to outrageously high and serious so-called 'problems' from British devotees (which would clock some big E-grades were they on gritstone!), and to unrepeated, unfathomable, and often ungraded (!) problems by Russian, Czech, and Slovenian climbers.

Note: grades given in the following captions are Fontainebleau bouldering grades (fb).

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© Dave Pickford

Sarah Garnett warming up on the plateau boulders at Hampi Island in perfect conditions on a late winter's afternoon. Don't think duvets though - even in mid-January, the temperature hardly ever falls below 20 degrees.

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© Dave Pickford

Dave Pickford on a classic highball (fb6c) on the Sunrise Boulder at Hampi Island. This boulder is hit by the early morning sun as soon as it rises above the rice fields over the Tungabhadra river. Climbing here in the early morning is not to be missed.

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© Dave Pickford

A frequent companion to bouldering at Hampi, the gecko has a habit of appearing in the most unlikely of places - like the back system of your rucksack. The ubiquity of these lizards belies the presence of other, more sinister reptiles at Hampi. The boulders here are home to the king cobra and the dreaded banded krait - the latter being one of the world's two or three deadliest snakes, its poison is purportedly 7 to 14 times more potent than cobra venom. Fortunately these creatures are extremely shy and actively avoid encounters with humans.

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© Dave Pickford

Chai, the inevitable and ubiquitous source of refreshment when travelling in the Indian subcontinent. Here a local man in Hampi Bazaar cooks up a brew in the traditional style, in a wok-like pan where hot milk is mixed with various spices to give the tea a unique, aromatic flavour. The style of 'masala–chai' varies widely between regions in India, from the mildly spicy to the 'blow-your-head-off' variety!

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© Dave Pickford

Dave Pickford mid-crux on 'Cosmic Crimp' (fb6b+), one of the most sought-after problems at Hampi, which lurks high among the jumble of huge boulders known as Cosmic Cave above the plateau on Hampi Island.

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© Dave Pickford

The walk-in to most of the bouldering at Hampi leads through rice fields along the traditional raised dykes constructed by local farmers. Be careful not to stray off these paths when walking back at dusk, as the rice fields hereabouts are a favourite haunt of king cobras! (Note: it is well worth striking a long stick on the trail in front of you at such times, to scare off snakes). Most local people here have an interesting cobra-story or two...

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© Dave Pickford

French climbers on the famous 'Long Reach' (fb7a) on the big boulder that dominates the centre of the Hampi Island plateau.

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© Dave Pickford

On the other side of the plateau, Sarah Garnett gets to grips with the problematic top-out of 'Ganesh' (fb6a) on the Elephant Boulder.

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© Dave Pickford

Dave Pickford on a rarely-climbed highball (fb6b or E5 6a) on the westernmost edge of the Hampi Island plateau.

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© Dave Pickford

Unknown climber making the most of the early morning coolness on the powerful sitting start to 'Psychobloc' (fb6b+) in the heart of the plateau.

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© Dave Pickford

Dave Pickford catching the last light of a winter's day on the superb 'Krishna' (fb6c+), Rishimun Plateau boulders

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© Dave Pickford

An almost-full moon rises above the solitary papaya tree in the rice fields below Hampi Island. The granite-strewn hills lie a stone's throw beyond.

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21 Jan, 2009
lovely. Looks like someone smashed J Tree and Bishop together
21 Jan, 2009
"bandit krite"?! Surely Dave means the "Banded Krait"?
23 Jan, 2009
Awesome. Bit dissapointed as i've seen most of those photos before on the planetfear article. James
23 Jan, 2009
D
26 Jan, 2009
Never!!! :) James
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