In Hampi in India (for blogs about Hampi with pictures see here, here and here) we went to a chai stall on the temple side of the river; out of the main village, past the Rama temple. Twenty years ago my husband had visited this chai stall and met Hanuman and his wife and was surprised and pleased to find that they were still there!
We visited most days for chai and coconuts, we chatted with them, fussed their pregnant cat and watched the monkeys in the tree nearby.
Hanuman told us about an ‘Italian Baba’ who lived opposite, on the other side of the river. They said he had built an ashram there that had been going for forty years.
Hanuman explained how to get there and a couple of days later we set out to visit. We had to walk beyond Hanuman’s chai stall, we went wrong once and had to go back and be redirected, but we got to a place where there is a man who takes people across the river in a coracle.
We explained we were going to see Italian Baba. The coracle man told us that he had died the day before from heart problems; he had been taken to the government hospital but the doctors were unable to save him. He said it was still okay to go to the ashram and pay our respects.
The coracle was beautifully made, there was just the two of us and the man rowing us across. The water and the scenery surrounding it looked absolutely magical.
The man showed us where to go, and handed our money to the man on the other side, his boss. We paused at a little temple first, we hesitated, unsure if we were allowed in. An Indian family beckoned us, and showed us the way; we followed them down a stone corridor, at the end was a shrine with a very old Baba there. We followed the family, gave some money and had a blessing.
The man who had rowed us was still outside and pointed the way through scrub and old garden to the ashram. I had imagined lots of mourning devotees and was unsure if it was even appropriate to go, but there was no one about. The ashram looked as though it hadn’t been active for a few years.
We met an Italian woman who had come especially to see him, she was very moved to have arrived the day after he died, and we all had a hug. A caretaker was there, but no other residents. An Indian man who spoke good English showed us around. He showed us the Baba’s bed and a picture of him on the wall and we took photographs. He asked to take a photograph of all of us together in front of the Baba’s picture, ‘To remember this day.’
He explained that he had grown up knowing the Baba, who had come to India as a young man in the 1960s and stayed, at first he had lived in nearby caves. For the past four years the Baba had been living between Goa and Italy and hadn’t been to the ashram, as he was very old. He had decided to visit the ashram and look around and do some tidying in the garden.
He had travelled from Goa to Hampi, which is quite a journey along bumpy roads; he was staying in a guesthouse in Hampi not at the ashram as he needed somewhere more comfortable with a fan. When he arrived in Hampi he began to feel unwell. His wife and children were with him. He didn’t get to the ashram but he did get back to Hampi.
I asked the Italian woman if the Baba was famous in Italy. She said not exactly famous, but known because of a book that had been written about him by a fellow Italian. She said the title translates as ‘Barefoot on the Earth.’
After Hampi we left India and went to Cambodia. We spent a few days in Phnom Penh and then went to Otres Village near Sihanoukville. There we met a Spanish woman who speaks and reads Italian. She had borrowed a book off another guest to read… guess what it was?! Yes, the book about Baba Cesare the Italian Baba. We took a picture of the actual book, above. Below, the river and coracle and the ashram.
Thank you very much for reading
About the author
Sold house left job decluttered almost everything else. With husband went travelling for a year, mostly in India. Here are my India highlights. Just arrived back in the UK and now living on a narrowboat. Writing a book about everything…
For more photographs of the trip see Instagram travelswithanthony