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Published: August 30th 2009
I had just two weeks left in India and was torn between whether to stay north and see more of the forts and palaces of Rajasthan or head south - I'd met heaps of people who'd raved about the south and how different it was and I was keen to see it for myself. In the end what tipped it was probably visiting the fort at Kumbalgarh - I really didn't think anything would be able to top it. But then as it turned out I found I actually preferred the north!
I started in Goa, well Panjim really - I wasn't too bothered about the beaches (half a day at Calangute was more than enough to make me want to run back north - it was a case of spot the local amongst all the Europeans), rather what interested me was the history of Portuguese India. Panjim officially became administrative seat of Portuguese India in 1843 when it moved from Old Goa. All that's left of Old Goa now are the colonial buildings of the time, mostly churches - the Se Cathedral, the church of St Francis of Assisi, the church of S. Caetano..... The Se Cathedral is the
largest church in India and reputedly all of Asia - construction of the current building began in 1562 but wasn't completed until 1652. Panjim was an interesting town too, every building in the Latin Quarter where I stayed seemingly being brightly painted - red, yellow or maybe mauve.
On most trains I'd taken in India I'd been the only white person in the carriage - in this case I don't think there was a single Indian passenger in the carriage. It really was quite surreal. That said the scenery on the journey from Goa to Hampi was the prettiest I've seen - from the lush green palm tree filled flats of the coast, through deep steep sided valleys to the the rice fields and farmland of the interior.
Hampi itself is full of guest houses, restaurants selling every kind of foreign food and souvenir shops. But around and amongst all of that are the ruins of Vijayanagara, the former capital of the Vijayanagara empire. And at the centre of the town at the end of the main bazaar is the Virupaksha Temple complex, a Shiva temple with a 49 m high tower at its entrance. Unlike the other
At Vitthala temple
The wheels are raised off the ground so they could be rotated
temples here this one is still an active place of worship and always seemed to be busy with devotees coming to pray whilst monkeys watched on from ledges and windows on the tower.
Out at some of the other surrounding temples I was surprised by the number of local tourists who were also here. I quickly lost count of the number of families (it always seemed to be a family of 7 or 8 - parents, kids, aunts, uncles, nephews etc, never just one or two) who came over. Often they didn't speak English but sign language worked just fine because they invariably wanted to know if I was on my own, how many kids I had, how many siblings etc. And they nearly always wanted their photo taken. No one ever had an email address for me to send a copy to but they all seemed to get a real kick out of posing for a big family photo, barely giving me a chance to take the thing before they were all crowding round, jostling each other to get a good look. The most memorable though must be the school trip - as I was leaving one temple
I heard shouting and turned just in time to find myself about to be being mobbed by a group of 30 odd 8 year olds who were running downhill straight towards me. And of course they all wanted their photo taken..... we settled on one group shot.... whilst the guy I was travelling with just stood behind them killing himself laughing.
Apart from the temples Hampi is surrounded by a landscape full of huge boudlers. And they're everywhere. We hired bikes one day and cycled away from the town, passed paddy fields where women were bent over busy planting the new crop to a hill which we climbed to reach the temple at the top - and the views for 360 degrees were of a boulder covered landscape!
Next up Kerala - beaches, backwaters and back home
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