#FacesBehindPlaces is a special series that spotlights the guides and storytellers who bring our favourite destinations and experiences to life
Anja, Rickshaw driver
Anja can tell you which nationalities tend to visit Hampi by the season. ‘Israelis in October,” he says over the phone from Karnataka, which is currently under COVID-19 lockdown until mid-May. “In December, Europeans and Asians. In January, Britishers and Australians, lots of them. In March and April, the hippies at the end of their India visit, they’ve spent all their money and they come to celebrate Mahashivratri or play Holi before they leave. And in August, the French, Spanish and people from the Netherlands.”
Anja would know: he’s been ferrying travellers around Hampi for 12 years, showing them the temples, waterfalls and sunset-points—where he will patiently take any number of photos—alongside lesser-known spots like one with larger-than-life thalis carved into rock, as if for eating off a boulder.
“I’m sorry, i haven’t spoken to anyone in English for a year,” he says, though I assure him he sounds fine, “I’m really sad about my home and my job.” His mother still works at a temple and is the other earning member, but the lockdown dried up his source of income for his family of five, including his young son whose physical challenges need regular medical check-ups. He now works three jobs, in plumbing and delivering groceries.
As a tourist driver, his day starts at 5am when the busloads and passenger trains arrive, but many travellers find him via word of mouth—other visitors or even an online search as Anja’s name pops up on blogs and travel websites.
You can see Hampi in half a day, he says but you really need three days to absorb it all. He may not have the knowledge or training of a licensed guide, but he has a local’s feel for the land and passes on the history he’s learned and the stories he’s heard from his grandmother, who’s now 102 years old.
It’s a symbiotic relationship: “Anja like ganja” is how Pujari Anjaneya has learned to teach visitors to pronounce his nickname. In school until the eighth grade and most fluent in Kannada and Telugu, Anja learned on the job to converse in English and Tamil, and also picked up a smattering of Hindi, Spanish, Italian, German and Hebrew. You are as likely to hear a Tamil film song playing in his auto as English hip-hop or even opera—the bits and pieces of travellers who’ve passed through his life and left an impression, in much the same way that this cheerful, easygoing man and his temple town do.
You can contact Anja on 0-9535358364.