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Published: February 9th 2010
Indian Trains. We love them. In our time here we have taken short hops in A/C chair class, slept (on the whole very well) on the sleepers and squeezed and shoved our way in to stand in the general seating
section. We had yet another different experience on the Margao-Hospet train. On the morning of departure we had no ticket,and so queuing for a standard seat was the only option. Evidently one of the most popular routes in India there were already people hanging out the doors when the train pulled in. So when the empty luggage carriage stopped in front of us we hopped in. It was very spacious, if a little hard on the old posterior.
We waved goodbye to a bemused Durks, and 8 long hours later we arrived in Hampi.
It was an incredible sight; rusty red boulders the size of small cars formed mountainous heaps all around, lush emerald rice fields and coconut palms sprawled across the plains, and scattered amongst all this the remains of numerous ancient temples from the Vijaynagar era. As if to add yet another texture to this rich tapestry, a rock strewn river cut it's course through the settlement.
the sunken baths at temple complex
It was on the opposite bank that we hoped to find a place to lay our heads, so we (along with 20 others and a motorbike) made the short ferry crossing over the river.
Our minds were still trying to absorb the other worldly sights we were seeing, had we stepped onto a film set of The Flintstones somehow?
We had to put this out of our heads though, as finding somewhere to stay was proving difficult. We were starting to feel like Mary and Joseph there really was no room at the Inn. Eventually after walking the length of the road we came to Mowgli's. They had expensive thatched beach hut bungalows with en suite but also some tiny cheap single rooms of which we took the last one! 100 rs, you can't complain.
Behind the 800rs a night bungalows a stunning westerly view looked over newly planted rice terraces to the river and it's sandy shoreline. There was a fantastic sunset that evening, the sun a flaming ball of fire dropping gracefully into the water turning everything a dusky pink, beautiful.
Our stomachs were rumbling and with the nearby guesthouses all offering identical
and my finger -whoops!
western menus we went in search of more authentic cuisine. Just past a crumbling viaduct we spotted a row of lights, a local
village, and there we found a young woman, her mother-in-law and 2 small children. They welcomed us in and presented us with Sambar and Rice, it was delicious. We were busily tucking in when the man of the
house returned and introduced himself as Venki. His cheeky 2yr old son Raja (meaning king) then proceeded to bowl a coconut at our food and I got a lap full of Sambar. No harm done as my shorts were filthy from the days travelling anyway. This place was to become our regular over the coming days, the atmosphere, food, and price were spot on.
We couldn't wait to get exploring this crazy new environment, so the next day we went wandering around the ancient capital. At the Main temple Laxmi the rehabilitated temple elephant gave blessings by
softly placing her trunk on top of your head, it was an amazing feeling. All day she devoured bunches and bunches of bananas, and seemed very happy.
Heading out of town we followed a trail of temples, some perfectly preserved
down to the intricate gods carved into stone pillars, others in various states of disrepair. We sat spellbound at Pushkarina, a sunken baths, where only frogs swim now and later watched avidly as the monkey residents at one building so socially groomed and cleaned each other. A David Attenborough moment. Further on in the faintly lit underground chamber of an imposing temple we stood in almost meditative silence captivated by the spiritual, cool, calming atmosphere that affected us there.
Back on our side of the river the inhabitants were all travellers like ourselves, much less of the 2 week vacationers we'd seen in Goa. There was a friendly social feeling, and we went to watch a showing of
''Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" at a neighbouring guesthouse. Crazy film.
Having covered such distance on foot yesterday we were keen to upgrade our transport, a trusty moped sufficed. This enabled us to go much further afield, breakie Dosa at Venki's then off to the Hanuman Temple. Set atop a boulderous mountain, it took 570 steps and a lot of puff to get to the summit, Nepal flashbacks! The panoramic views were totally worth the effort, 360 degrees of
wild unreal landscape as far as the eye could see.
Next stop on the L & H tour bike, Anegundi. A town older than Hampi with an equally vast array of temples. Lewi had to pull off some fast moves to avoid the hordes of cheeky children dangerously attempting to grab hold of the bike as we drove by. At lunchtime we happened to be heading back past Venki's in search of Sanapur Lake, so we dropped in for some freshly fried samosas. The reservoir was illusive and on our first attempt we overshot the mark by two villages. In doing so, we saw ahead of us crowds of well wishers bidding farewell to a garland draped van of Kerala bound pilgrims, a colourful scene and celebratory atmosphere to stumble upon.
Second time lucky we found the enormous expanse of fresh, flowing water. To be able to take a refreshing dip whilst in landlocked central India was an unexpected treat, and we made the most of it.
Our day of sensory delight finished with a third hearty meal at Venki's, we're almost part of the family!
After a day like that you sometimes have to sit back
and allow yourself to be overwhelmed by India; how incredible natural landscape can be, how rich the culture and history is, and how welcoming the people are.
At half 6 the following day I left Lewi sleeping while I walked down deserted streets to the river as the sun rose. It was a beautifully still morning, but down at the riverside activity had already begun.
The morning puja (prayer rituals) were taking place and herds of buffalo were being led to the water to drink. As I sipped my chai more people began to congregate and about 8 o clock Laxmi herself appeared at the top of the ghat. The sight of an elephant lumbering down a flight of stairs is surprisingly graceful.
Her mahouts, or handlers, led her to the water where she obeyed their every command in the process of taking a bath. Every inch of her was scrubbed even behind her ears, which she flapped forwards helpfully. Elephants are such wonderful gentle creatures, and watching Laxmi in these beautiful surroundings and to be in such close proximity to her was really special.
'Bouldering' is a growing sport here, we're not sure how the professionals do
it but we had fun doing it our way. Climbing, jumping and sliding up and over the rocks we made our way along the river's edge until a sheer cliff prevented us from going any further. We had hoped to take a trip across the river in a traditional oracle boat- a circular wooden craft- but for such a narrow crossing the non-negotiable price demanded was laughable. So we bouldered back again, it was great fun and good exercise too!
An afternoon stroll around the markets revealed something we didn't know we were looking for until we saw it...a didgeridoo. Made from plastic piping and detachable into 3 smaller parts the instrument, which made an excellent sound, was light practical and fun. After many to's and fro's over the price, a bargain was struck and we both left happy, Lewi didge in hand.
On the way back to the ferry a commotion caught our attention and we joined the crowd to see a man wrestling with a snake, it was over two meters long and struggling hard. They had quite a battle but the man won in the end, holding the snake victoriously over his head.
popular pastime amongst the traveller crowd here in Hampi is the enjoyment of a bang lassi. After our busy day we sampled the delights, resulting in a very happy evening. Sunset, beers, chocolate
On our last day we took time out from walking all over town, instead we chilled by the river beach and Lewi got down to the serious business of learning circular breathing on the didgeridoo. It is no easy feat, but true to his determined nature Lewi kept at it all day, scaring the locals with the foghorn-like noises he was producing. But unbelievably by the end of the day he had almost mastered it! Amazing skill to be able to inhale through your nose whilst exhaling into the instrument. We played a game or two of chess, ate thali for dinner and then it was time to catch the first of our two consecutive sleeper trains.
We spent a frustrating day in Bangalore, the irritation of tuk tuk drivers outweighing the highlights of Coffee Day and a great bookshop.
But there was no time to dwell on a tough day as the next sleeper train awaited. Hot and humid Trichy was
our last stop in India, and when the train pulled in at 4am the station was already buzzing with
railway business. This was in stark contrast to the airport which, when we arrived 3 hours before our flight was due to leave, was still closed!
As we boarded our Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur we reflected on our wonderful experiences in India and Nepal. They have been the most varied, beautiful and exciting places to experience, and we feel so
lucky to have done all we have...and we can't wait for all that's still to come!
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