Published: December 14th 2006November 23rd 2006
Happy Hampi Birthday
Another Indian rail journey begins at 4am on the 22nd of November, as usual the trusty mobile doubles as our travelling alarm; god only knows how many trains we would have missed without it. It seems that every trip we take is at least 7-8 hours in duration, if not longer. This one was a little different, only just… it was a daytime trip and only 8 and a bit hours long. There are so many things we take for granted back home, take travelling as an example… You can expect to travel close to 300kms in around 4 hour’s wether it be by train or car. Not here, you need to double the travel time and then add some. This journey pretty much followed the Indian rule of 40kms/hr. The only similarity between here and home is that wether it is train, car or bike, its still only 40 km/h.
So we left Goa in the trusting hands of our new taxi driver friend Raj, he was early, we were not. 4am is such an awkward hour of any day, still night, yet so close to morning, nevertheless we arose with enough time to make
the 30km journey to Madgaon, which is the major station for departures from Goa. Another extremely stop n go, bumpy, windy ride across shocking mountain roads with potholes that were large enough to swallow small dogs, let alone, allow for the safe passage of trucks, cars, buses, motorbikes and our taxi. Seriously if this was at home, the road would be closed for a major resurface. Over here that is nearly impossible, as the never ending cycle of monsoon, then dry, wreaks havoc on any surface, added to this, there are no bypasses or alternative routes, after all this is a national highway and to block traffic here would most surely cause no end of uproar. So we and all the others continue along a never-ending journey of speed up to slow down, sharp turns onto the side strip and even some of what I would call 4wd driving in order to save the already well worn suspension from bursting through the cabin, even though at times I’m sure something had come through.
We arrive at the train station safely and it is no surprise to see hundreds of people bustling, jostling, screaming and manoeuvring through any available space
to get to a platform that was still 20min away from receiving any train, yet they still continue. Maybe to get best spot on the platform, but for what I still can’t work out, is it’s the same when the train arrives, more jostling, more hustling and even more manoeuvring, bizarre as it’s not a free for all, all carriages are numbered and all tickets have specific seating, so its not like your going to get a better seat or anything, it makes me laugh now. When you’re in it, just like this whole country you just have to go with, it’s so much easier that way. So the to travellers that we are slip into our train mode, packs loaded back and front we find our carriage, get stuck in the doors, get pushed from behind, squeeze through, scramble down the narrow passage ways, look for our seats, through our bags on the top bunk take our seats and then, once all secured breathe a sigh of relief, well most times, not this time though. The shifty guys at the travel agent in Goa had booked our two seats at either ends of the carriage, we knew something was
amiss when we got our tickets numbered with seats A2 and A16, when we questioned them, they wobbled their heads and said no sir, of course you are sitting together, your just on opposite bunks on the top row. Yeah right. Luckily I know the drill, find the conductor and hope that there are seats together, there were, it’s just that the people we were now sharing the cabin with weren’t too impressed, nor did they want to give up the bottom bunks. In fact they were conveniently sleeping on them both. We were in no mood to upset the locals, so top bunks for us. A long journey across ever changing scenery, from the lush tropical hills of Goa, travelling through fields full of sunflowers, passing through rice paddy’s with dotted huts, across sturdy iron bridges with fast flowing rivers below then into the dry rocky state of Kanataka. So much variety and so much railway food in so few kms. It really is a picturesque country, the landscape is captivating, so much so I would spend much of my time wedged in between the open door just gazing into the distance, being transported away yet being still so
very much in the moment. You can’t smoke anywhere on Indian railway property, but this is India and every rule can be bent so myself, Mel and most of the other passengers most of whom smoke something, gravitated to the open doors to puff away at our leisure, even the conductor was seen to be having a puff, discretely of course.
Its mid afternoon, round 3 as our train pulls up into Hospet, very different from what we have experienced so far. It’s a dry, very hot, dusty township that looks like it should only support a few thousand people, not the tens of thousands that it actually does. It’s a mix between the Wild West, a Moroccan village, yet with a very Indian feel and population. This is a junction town, connecting many of the surrounding regional areas, so there is a great mix of people and a variety of product available to all. Packs on we trudge our way through the crowds passing the platform food hawkers, and onto the transport vultures - taxi/rickshaw drivers. We always get suckered here, no idea of how much transport costs, and we always end up paying double, this time it
only cost us $1.50 to get clued up. It’s the first ride that always stings. It’s not the $1.50, but more so that we are being taken for a ride in both ways, literally and through the pocket. Oh well good luck to Ahmed who was the fortunate little man who got another one over the tourist’s. It is always so far away when you ask how much, then it turns out to be just around the corner or in this case 10 minutes away, but its too late, we’d already agreed on a price…. Suckers. At least this hotel was fixed price, all of the Government run establishments are, it’s the private ones that you have to bargain with, there is definitely a local price and foreigner price, the latter, depending on what your after can be as much as 300% more, so it pays to shop around and bargain hard. We are now quite proficient at both. A well deserved rest and onto Hampi for Mel’s real birthday.
Hampi, in the state of Kanataka, just below Goa, is a world heritage listed archaeological site. In the midst of a granite desert this place is surreal. It’s dry,
hot and contains ruins from three different Indian dynasties dating back to the 13th century. It wasn’t on our list of to do places, but we are both so blown away by what we have seen we are forever grateful for indecision and free flowing world of unlimited possibilities. As soon as we entered through the old gates of the city we both knew that this was the start of a day that we would never forget and would always be etched in our memories. This place is a lifetime away form everything, if it weren’t for the other people around, one could easily imagine being apart of a civilisation that time and the rest of the world had forgotten. Hampi was first photographed by an English archaeologist some 100 years ago, since then the Indian government has painstakingly and meticulously unearthed and recreated the structures throughout this site, most of which have been buried for the best part of the last century. The whole place is an unravelling story of kings, their wives, their enemies and all of their lives. There have been many rulers, many battles and many conquests, each leaving their own scars and majestic structures set
amidst a backdrop of enormous granite boulders and cliffs in the close surrounds. Most of which you will see in the accompanying photos, have had the stones quarried from the surrounding areas and a lot of the structures have been carved from single stone.
It’s an awe inspiring place; every building has a story, every temple a legend and every site its own unique history. What makes Hampi so very special is that there are many different cities from varying ages all within walking distance form each other. Some have been built upon existing sites; others have expanded on the cities from the past and others which have been built from the ground up. What is clear as you walk through all is that this was a very civilised, opulent organised society and much planning and fore though had gone into the building and expansion of these cities. So many stories, all of which we were very fortunate to have translated by our new guide Rajnu, the 20 year old multilingual artist who now spends his day in the ruins canvassing tourists for cash. More about him later. It takes us close to two days to see the better
part of the ruins of Hampi, although one could wander around here for eight hours a day for a week and still not see everything, these were very large cities in their day and the detail in every building is amazing. Their whole life has been captured by carvings inlaid into the pillars and walls that make up the ruins, each detailing every battle, every triumph, and every visit from a foreign land, inclusive of all the significant events that these civilisations had seen.
There are so many things that stopped us in our tracks and so much that we just could not comprehend in one day, this was a very well thought out society, all areas of life had been accounted for and were accessible to all. To give you an insight on how well planned this city was, there were designated kitchens, eating halls, courts, army barracks, amphitheatres, temples, underground chambers with secret meeting rooms and some of the most impressive modern indo-islamic architecture the world had seen in it’s day. I think the one marvel that stands out, apart form the intricacy of the carvings, is the music halls in the old palace, built around mid
15th century. The pillars which held up the stone roof had all been carved from one piece of solid stone, each of which is larger than a good sized tree trunk, large enough that I couldn’t get my arms around them. It’s not how they got here or how they structurally made this building that has left a lasting impression, although I still marvel at this alone, it was the fact that each of these stone pillars, some 24 could be and were used as musical instruments. Each pillar was hand carved and contained smaller pillars within them, each of these smaller pillars had different diameters at the tops and bottom and each of the smaller pillars when struck would sound a different musical note, all of which were in key. Let me paint you a picture of what this would have been like…. If I can…. So there’s a central chamber or hall, the King would sit at the far end, exotic dancers of times gone by would fill the central chamber, military and dignitaries would line its sides and the solid granite roof of the chamber is supported by these pillars, around each of the pillars there would
be musicians, up to 4/pillar, they would then strike the smaller stone pillars with sandalwood sticks to create music. In rhythm and in unison this recital could be heard for miles around. I think I now know where the term “rock concert” comes from. Sorry but I couldn’t resist, it was just there, I had to call it.
I know that these words will never be able to give life to this amazing spot, nor will the pictures, it left us in total amazement, not because of the ingenuity or the architectural achievement alone, but combined this civilization would rival any on the planet today in terms of culture and town planning alone, let alone wealth and opulence. This is one of the great well preserved cultural sites of the world and two days here have left us with a sense of bewilderment, amazement and immense respect for a culture of the past. I hope that through these photos some of you will be inspired to walk along the now dusty paths and heights of the city walls of this once foreboding civilization.
Birthday lunch at Mango tree café, a little café which sits high upon a river
bank, some 15m above the waterways below, perched up underneath the shade of a massive mango tree, hence the name. The food here is exceptional and is a must on all travellers eating places in Hampi. There are no chairs, only a series of terrace stonewalls, each with cushions placed along them and a bamboo mat to sit on, with a stone table in front, yet so effective, as soon as you are seated the view and the peacefulness of your surrounds instantly brings calm to your whole being, top this off with amazingly tasty authentic cuisine and we were in heaven. It’s been so hard for Mel to find food without spice over here, the Mango tree was definitely a present to her from above, and she loved it. Looking down at the exposed boulders and river below it was hard to fathom that in monsoon time a part of this café would be submerged by the rampaging waters of the monsoon rains. We were so high up, yet the photo on the wall showed us just how much we as humans are at the mercy of the almighty Mother Nature, the very same table we were sitting at
The boat lake
This man made lake was used for boat trips and the temple in the middle of the lake was used for the weddings of royalty
was under at least 2 foot of water, and we were at least 15m above the river, which was at least 200m wide. It blew me away.
After a full day in Hampi, we needed to secure our onward passage, so off to the railway reservation counter in Hospet to secure our tickets to Bangalore. Stop right there if you are thinking orderly, maned ticket counters. We are so spoilt, when you book train tickets in Australia, in any major city you are confronted with many idle windows, each with their own ticket person just waiting for your business. Not here. Four counters, one with the words enquiry one manned by an Indian lady complete with sari and the other two empty. Think road transport office and you get the right atmosphere, a whole lot of staff, doing not much and only one person serving. The difference here is that we are in India, there is no order, no machine that spits out tickets with a number, only hoards of people all pushing their way to the front, shoving their hands with money or pieces of paper through the tiny little opening, screaming questions at the indian lady who
is already serving someone and speaking on the phone and then there is us, waiting patiently in a queue that just keeps getting longer before our eyes. Before we know it I am shoved from being the 3rd being served to close to last. I’d had about enough by this stage, so when in Rome, or if you can’t beat them, I guess you all know the rest, anyway, I brought some order and a little courtesy to the many that surrounded me, it’s not only the language that enables one to be understood, a carefully placed elbow and a rather large daypack strategically placed around the little opening worked well for me. Anyway whilst I was waiting in the queue which didn’t move Mel decided to take our guide and taxi driver on a search for cigarettes, what an adventure this turned out to be. I’m waiting in line, the heat and the impatience of the Indians around me starting to get under my collar, coupled with Ms Mel being gone for what seemed to be a rather long time started to see the better of me. No sooner had these thoughts entered my mind when along came Mel
holding up a piece of paper, declaring that she had received her first fine in India. What for…? I asked the same, the reply… for not having a platform pass, which cost 3rups, she received a 200rup fine. I was just about done. I got the driver to contend with the jostling locals, whilst I took Rajnu on a search for those that issued the fine. I found them and so ushered them all into the station master’s office, who, at which time, was having his photo taken by the local press, he wasn’t impressed. Much discussion latter, a trip to a rolling digital sign which was supposed to say that the purchase of platform tickets was compulsory, I stood there for 15m and didn’t see anything of the sort, although I was assured that if I stood there long enough it would appear… yeah right and a trip back to the station masters office only to be told that the fine would stand. I was furious, but what could you do. I went back to the queue by which time I was next, purchased my tickets only to be told 1 of which was confirmed and the other was
on waitlist…. No way, we’re not travelling on separate trains, “no it’s ok, come tomorrow at 4 and we can confirm your seats” said the sari wearing indian lady who by this time had finished her phone call and managed to serve a good 10 people. What else could I do, either pay a cancellation charge or wait for tomorrow, you get stung everywhere here, especially by the bureaucracy. I decided to go back and see the station master, this time with a little more smarts and calmness. I asked him to show me where on the ticket it said that the offence was for not having a platform pass, he couldn’t, I also asked him to ask the next person we met on the platform for their platform ticket, he did and they didn’t have one, I then asked him to fine him, he didn’t. I then asked him to show me the literature that stated that the fine for not having a platform ticket was in fact 200rups, he couldn’t. I asked him to show me the receipt book in which the fine had been written up in, to verify that others had paid the same fee, they
hadn’t. Well that was just about it, I proceeded to tell him that this was a travesty, picking on the foreigners and that this was no way to treat tourists in his country. I explained that had we been aware we needed a ticket we would have gladly paid, but had not been given the opportunity nor a warning. It was at this point in which I asked him to write down his full name and provide contact details so I could write a letter of complaint. I have never received money so quickly in all my life. We had our 200rups back and earned the respect of the station master with my unparalleled; watch me dig this guy a hole a crane couldn’t get him out of, line of questioning. What an experience, but worth the 2 hours, finally the tide was turning and we were at least breaking even for once.
There’s one more day in Hampi, and some great stories to come, this journey through this desert town is not over yet. Will upload that and some more pics in the coming days. In the meantime stay well, we are really loving this place and in
all its tiresome nonsense, there is so much to discover both within and around us, it has definitely started to change the way we look at the world.
Thank you sis for all your comments and to all of you have left us little reminders of our life back home, it’s great to hear from you and to know that you are enjoying our journey with us.
There are more photos below