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Published: June 20th 2008
The banality of the human condition is bizarre and it catches up with you at the wrong moments. I remember standing in front of the Taj Mahal for the first time and thinking, of course, that it was beautiful/ glowing/ surprising despite the hype, yet another part of me was thinking simply: I'm hungry. Likewise, in the World Heritage site of Hampi, on approaching the Vittala Temple - an architectural wonder, hundreds of years old, with elaborate carvings, musical pillars, a stone chariot and a gopuram alive with monkeys - i was distracted by mangoes. Now let's be fair, mangoes are pretty special. But still, you'd think i'd have more discipline. I bought three from a little old lady sat under a tree, and whilst the walk around the temple compound afterwards was lovely, the thought of the mangoes was at the front of my mind. Stomach wins over intellectual stimulation. Not cool. My excuse for not paying full attention to Hampi's 16th century ruins could be that i've seen it all before, two years ago, so this time i can be lazy. This time, whilst Seth is seeing these wonders for the first time, I'm enjoying the subtleties; the sound
of the river, the bouldered landscape, the red and blue lizards climbing on the rocks and the green bee-eaters perched on the telegraph wires... (the mangoes...) I love the watchtowers, too, where you can sit and take the whole place in. We also visited one of the fairly remote temples, which was deserted apart from monkeys. There was a wall of palm trees on one side, the huge Matanga hill on another, and the empty old Achyutaraya bazaar in front of it. Most memorable, though, were the explicit carvings. I haven't seen any like this since the famously erotic carvings at Khajuraho. It's disturbing to see what mythical lions get up to. (See photos.) (That i am allowed to giggle at the dirty carvings instead of taking it all very seriously is another second visit right...)
Back at the hotel, i attacked the mangoes with my penknife and cut them into big sloppy, sticky slices. They tasted like, i don't know, sugar rain, an orange waterfall down your throat, like summer and happiness. They tasted great. We then moved on to Chitradurga today. This is another place that isn't guidebook material, even though it's only a few hours from
Hampi and has a massive hill fort strewn with boulders. The fort was great but my most vivid memory of this little town is being pounced on by two young women in burkhas who kissed me on each cheek and squeezed my face, announcing me 'soooo schweeeet!' I have said in a previous blog that I'm not sure if India has the capacity to surprise me any more - i take it back. Colour me amazed.
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