The Mango Tree
Hampi, Bellary District
USP: Ruin-hoppers get to relax beside a river
It's all co-related. Visitors to the Rome of south India (indeed maybe of all the East), Hampi, know better than to rush through the many ruins and then, rush back to their cities. Those who come to Hampi stay for at least a few days.
And, even as they soak in the incredible history of the place, they soon realise that good food is a scarce commodity hereabouts. Then someone tells them about The Mango Tree, and all is well.
A small unpretentious eatery set amidst a small cluster of mango trees, with one large tree dominating the landscape and casting a wide umbrella of branches over diners, The Mango Tree's real USP is its location. It sits beside the gently flowing Tungabhadra river and diners sit on rush mats, facing the river.
During the day, egrets pose for them, boulders bake blacker in the sun but a gentle breeze wafts over the eatery. A Raggedy Ann doll (with a bindi on her forehead, no less) sits on her swing overhead, swinging lazily this way and that.
Red chillies dry on a rock. And at night, the river can be seen only by its little white frills here and there. Kerosene lanterns light up the trees and the occasional plaintive call of a night bird is accompaniment to the soft conversation amongst diners.
So, it's all about the location. The food is the kind you get wherever the menu has been drawn up with an eye on foreign palates: Nutella pancakes, banana dosas and the like.
Here, at The Mango Tree, there are special sections on the menu for Israeli, Italian, Chinese fare. And what's more, there are groups of Israelis, Germans, French, and Chinese tucking in most happily into the aforementioned fare. The fruit juices are a speciality, the iced teas are just delicious and the thaali is a perennial favourite, especially with Indian diners.
Krishnamaraju, the owner, tells us The Mango Tree's been around for a whopping 22 years now. A long spell of bleak days were followed by a boom that clearly, is still on. Lunch or dinner, droves of people stream in and out of the place, sit at the low wooden tables and take in the ambience before they tuck into the food. The Mango Tree seats 150 at a time.
Actually, it's a no-brainer. Here's a place where you feel the soft breeze off the Tungabhadra waters on your face. The somnolence of the place finds a resonance in you.
And you are most reluctant to leave. Only the thought that you can return to The Mango Tree tomorrow induces you to get to your feet and slowly troop back to the car through the banana grove that hedges the eatery.