Wednesday March 4th
Squashed ourselves into a van full of backpackers, like ourselves, and headed to the airport. One kid, who looked a little green and carried a freshly cut suit, admitted he’d been up all night and we were glad we hadn’t. Obviously, Thai Airways experiences technical difficulties and we all have to get off the plane we’d been sitting on for an hour. We arrived in Bangalore late, and were hustled into a cab. Apparently, a new airport had been built in the last six months and it was miles away from anything. The air smelled noticeably and distinctively of cookies. The driver and his mate couldn’t find our hotel of choice for ages, and when we eventually found it (right where it was on the map) it was full. Instead, we were taken to the great white elephant Sophina, where we paid an extortionate amount for a basic room, grumbled, and went to sleep.
Thursday March 5th
Visited the train station to figure out our onward journey plans, and Katherine managed to finagle an emergency ticket from Bangalore to Hospet that night from the Ladies Only counter. Relieved we didn’t have to stay longer, we
stumbled into a beautiful buffet restaurant where we sampled a large variety of curries. We visited tourist information, and generally prepped for the rest of the journey. We asked where we should visit, and the man from the Incredible India office laughed and said, “everywhere is equally nice in India.” At nine, we loaded up a tuk-tuk and the driver took us to the wrong train station (but it was the closest…). After speeding to the other, the man demanded more money but we were late for our train and we hoofed it, fed up with being cheated.
We didn’t know what to expect from the train, but we all loaded in and the two of us broke out the cards. A large man, who was squeezed in next to George, figured out the gist of the game, oohing and tutting with every card turned. An hour later, we assembled the three rows of beds and slotted in. The configuration is reminiscent of Japanese cemeteries, all lined up with the smallest amount of space possible. George’s feet stuck WAY out, and people bumped them all night, but otherwise the train is comfortable to sleep on, as it rocks you
gently. On the other hand, Health & Safety would have a field day if they caught a glimpse (or whiff) of the bathroom.
March 6th 2009
We woke up very confused (this is a trend) and drank some chai. We arrived at Hospet, on time for Indian standards. Katherine had to seriously convince George that this was the stop, as he’d had some dream we were getting off at the wrong stop and wouldn’t budge. We lined up and got another ticket, and Ramu started to stalk us. Eventually we gave in once he told us where the ATM was, just around the corner (better information which the previous two people had given us, which was that we had to go into town). Ramu dropped us off at our guesthouse (reluctantly) and swore he’d be there when we needed him. We breakfasted, and agreed to allow Ramu to drive us around Hampi in his trusty tuk-tuk. The view from our hostel was surreal. Huge red boulders dot the landscape, and as far as the eye can see piles of rocks mark spots where massive temples and buildings once stood. Hampi was once the greatest city in the world,
but it was destroyed quite thoroughly by the Arabs. The main venue, Virupaksha Temple, is intricately carved and soars above the town. Everyone is elaborately dressed in traditional worshipping attire. A gang of young boys run past, chanting and chasing after the lead, a spindly boy of about ten who carries a stick holding a coconut husk in flames. A cow wanders down the back lane, apparently lost, sniffing the rocks.
George ‘converted’ his converter and we gave the cameras a quick charge. Ramu came to meet us and we drove up a steep dusty hill to the Mustered Ganesh, where an ancient lady resided. She guides you through the dark behind Ganesh’s wide girth and you can’t help but give her money because it is so refreshingly cool back there.
Ramu is in his early twenties, and is a tuk-tuk driver. On this day he was moonlighting as a guide, but he himself is so bored by Hampi that he couldn’t be bothered to get out of his tuk-tuk at any point, still we had a lot of fun exploring the sights, reading the big signs which outlined the histories and significance of each sight.
we drove to a Krishna temple built in the early 1500s, with pillars decorated with many tales from Krishnadevraya’s life. We stopped at two rocks the size of houses that leant precariously on each other, creating an open-air temple. We asked Ramu how the ancients made such a thing - he said no one knows. Come to think of it, though, he said that about a lot of things.
We trekked up to a viewpoint to properly take in our surroundings. Imagine the garbage heaps that define the landscape in Wall-E… not garbage, but giant boulders lay in heaps as far as we could see, evidence of a once glorious city. Remnants of apartments stacked high into the sky boggle the mind. There is not a single tree, so giant rocks provide the only shade. We hiked up to the Muslim quarters, to a watchtower, and hid from the sun in the many shadows.
At the Lotus Mahal and the ancient royal elephant stables, again inexplicably and complicatedly carved (did the elephants care?) we spotted a man with a hose, watering the dirt. We approached him, and he showered us with warm, clean water. It felt fantastic.
It was lunchtime, and Ramu took us to his favourite restaurant, where he ordered the most expensive thing on the menu. We bought him a beer and we tried to talk over lunch. Eventually, Ramu admitted that he was currently almost finishing his second beer ever, and that he wanted a nap. The next ride was decidedly drunken, going faster and not caring about the potholes whatsoever. He giggled a lot, and then fell asleep while we explored a temple with pillars that were built to sound different notes when struck by the fingernail. There was a stone car there - elephants in the old days really had their work cut out for them.
After waking Ramu from his power nap, he took us to the river to relax before sunset. The water was fast moving and relatively clear, and the bank was dotted with upturned, satellite-dish shaped wicker baskets that acted as boats. Due to political problems, we learned, the construction of a bridge has halted. The old one collapsed, killing twenty people. The circular boats really make for a bizarre form of transportation, literally going round in circles to reach your destination. A group of Indian girls
asked to have their photo taken, and then insisted Katherine joins them. They giggled, and she thought they might be laughing at the tarty white girl with her knees exposed.
We then drove 14kms to a place called Malyavantha Ragunatha (in case you want to go there sometime) to watch the sun set. On the way up the tuk-tuk ran out of power, George had to get out and give the thing the heave-ho. We entered the temple through a marvellous archway and walked past two worshippers, one playing various instruments and the other chanting hypnotically into a microphone. (Shall we go and enjoy the band?) Monkeys played raucously overhead, and later Ramu had to rearrange his mirrors because the monkeys had moved them out of whack.
Up a hill (remember, this is all pure rock with the very occasional dusty tree filled with menacing monkeys) to a stone hut that overlooks a cliff. We were motioned to go inside by two polio-ridden monks dressed in saffron robes. They hobbled to the end of their cave, which we quickly realized was their home, and lit three incense sticks from a family-sized value pack. They blessed us, and put
I see some shade!
red on our foreheads. We all meditated in that cave for a while, taking in the beauty of the idol (Ganesh). Leaving was a bit of a hassle, because they kept insisting on more money, listing their obvious plights. Once we felt we’d paid enough we ran away.
Not far though, and one of them caught up with us half an hour later, but he was in good spirits and had come to watch the sun set over the red rocks from this truly epic spot.
The sun was still high, so we convinced Ramu, against his will, to take us to Pushkarani, closer to town. The place was truly ancient but very well preserved, and we sat on the edge of a sacred pool carved in ever-smaller squares. As we were sitting there, deep in meditation, we were stirred and returned to the conscious world in the MIDDLE of the biggest group of Russian tourists you’ve ever seen. They completely ignored us while staring straight at us as we selfishly monopolized the best spot.
We climbed up a steep mount and watched the sun finally slip below the horizon. Ramu came to find us, now all grumpy
Where are the elephants? Its too hot.
(hung over) and claimed a monkey had stolen his shirt. It was a crappy shirt anyway, Ramu. Back to Hampi and we realized out white shirts had turned a dusty brown. We ate simply and then crawled into bed, made in the local fashion, out of rocks.
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