The Hampi Goat Herders

A friend told me I should visit Hampi, a town of goat herders located smack dab in the middle of India, about 125km inland from Goa. The narrow roads leading the way there were winding and the landscape was like none I had ever seen before; big boulders shot up out of the earth in strange formations, this place looked like a real life version of the Flintstones. Old Hindu temples look out over the Tungabhadra River and sounds of chanting and drums fill the air. Rock climbers frequent the place for its world class bouldering, I went there for the goat herders.

There is a man who spends his day shuttling tourists across the river and into Hampi on a small boat. When I reached the other side, I immediately felt at home. Hampi is dry and warm and amongst the rocks and the rice paddies I found a small guesthouse called Goan Corner. A cool breeze worked its way through the palm leaves and empty hammocks on the front porches of scattered bungalows. Groups of boys played cricket in small vacant lots. I heard stories about a night bazaar that used to live on the other side of the river but is now survived only by the buildings’ ruins. I was told the government tore down the bazaar so that Hampi became known as a pilgrimage sight for Hindus. Hampi is a dry town, which means in order to get your hands on some liquor, you have to go to the edge of town and ask for a man who sells India’s take on moonshine. It the does the trick but might make you deathly ill or blind.

The shepherds of Hampi passed through town everyday and quickly caught my attention. Sometimes it was a lone shepherd with his goat, sometimes it was families with their herds. I wondered about where they were coming from, where they were going and why, though no one around me could speak English so I never got to the bottom of it. One day, they started building a makeshift shack, in the middle of a field, on a boiling hot day – I couldn’t work out why. Five hours later, there was a torrential downpour that came clean out of nowhere but the shepherds already had a fire roaring. I watched in admiration and awe as they tended the fire with their stash of dry wood, and ate their dinner, dry and warm in their makeshift shack as the goats happily grazed nearby.

It’s humbling to think about the shepherds sleeping in the rain. They live in the fields despite the elements and I could see this same scene unfolding thousands of years before. Men and women spending their days guiding their animals to food and water. Tending their herd and providing for their families. The shepherds’ lives appeared simple but fulfilling.