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Published: February 18th 2013
Though it saddens me to begin this post on a negative note, I must say that the process of getting from Gokarna to Hampi was nothing less than a nightmare. After about a 45 minute ride, we arrived at the bus stop in Ankola around 8:00 p.m. via a public bus from Gokarna. Just to be on the safe side, we’d gotten there quite early (3 hours early, to be exact), so we had some time to kill. We read our books and eventually got some dinner, but as 11:00 p.m. rolled around, our bus was nowhere to be found. The staff working at the bus stop withheld whatever information they had about our bus’s whereabouts, but occasionally we overheard talk about either an accident or a breakdown… In any case, we waited for a total of 6 hours before a bus – which wasn’t even the bus we paid for – showed up at 2:00 a.m. Since everything else was full when we booked our tickets, we’d paid 2,000 rupees for an A/C sleeper, but we ended up having to cram into a seater bus with several other disgruntled travelers, one of whom snored loudly and had frequent night terrors.
We assumed we would get our money back, but when we contacted the company they said the most we could get back was 200 rupees, since supposedly the bus that was sent for us cost 900 rupees apiece (the fact that this was not the bus we paid for or that it was 3 hours late didn’t seem to factor into this wonderful customer service…). In the end, we decided to cut our losses, move on, and enjoy our time in Hampi.
We pulled into the ancient town around 8:00 a.m. and were immediately greeted by at least a dozen rickshaw drivers who were so eager to take us one place or another that they literally blocked the door to the bus, preventing us from exiting without being squished like sardines. When we finally broke down and told them where we were staying, we got one strangely low offer after another – one guy even said he would drive us for free. This is when we realized we were within about a two minute’s walking distance from our guesthouse, and these guys were just trying to get in our good graces so we would allow one of them to
act as our tour guide and drive us around all day for a pretty penny. After we wised up, we began walking and were astonished (and annoyed) to find the rickshaw drivers had not yet given up and were driving alongside us, still shouting out offers. It was rather stifling and overwhelming, especially after barely getting any sleep, but they eventually left us alone and we were able to find our guesthouse, where we immediately passed out for 3 hours.
When we woke up, we decided to explore some of Hampi’s ruins near our guesthouse to get a feel for the ancient city. A bit of info about Hampi: imagine a surreal landscape of giant boulders balanced delicately but sturdily atop one another for miles in every direction. This wondrous natural landscape was once home to Vijayanagar, the ancient “City of Victory” whose ruins surround the winding River Tungabhadra. This popular tourist destination for Indians and Westerners alike used to be a thriving Hindu kingdom, but was attacked and ultimately defeated by Muslim invaders in 1565, leaving only what are now the ruins of Hampi, which, due to weather and a lack of proper preservation, are in danger of
continuous erosion and destruction. For now, however, the ruins are a marvelous spectacle – definitely worth even the most horrible of bus rides to see.
Being in Hampi feels like being in another era or world. One can view ruins of impressive buildings and temples, as well as giant sculptures of Hindu gods, and there is even evidence of an ancient, sophisticated irrigation system, which is still used today to feed the city’s banana farms. On our second day there, we rented an old automatic motorcycle (whose condition was questionable) so that we could cover more ground. We began at the Archaeological Museum – not terribly interesting, but it did have a good model of all the ruins, helping to put our surroundings into perspective. We then continued to the remnants of the Royal Enclosure, where we wandered around for a long time. There, we were surrounded by school children on field trips who were fascinated by us, wanting to know our names, where we were from and if we’d take pictures of/with them. I’m pretty sure they were more interested in our digital camera than they were in us…but they were seriously adorable.
On our way out,
we passed a teenage boy selling postcards. As we got closer, I noticed that he had cerebral palsy or a similar condition, but I also noticed his wide, happy smile, bright eyes and mop of shaggy hair. I couldn’t help but go over and talk to him. As I browsed his merchandise, he answered our questions about Hampi, and we talked for a bit. He was happy to talk with us, asking us about America and giving us directions to the various ruins we wanted to see. I gave him 20 rupees, as well as (to his surprise and delight) our last, crumpled American dollar, and left with a postcard and a lasting impression caused by a kindhearted boy with a big, beautiful smile.
Our next stop was Vitthala Temple, where we ran into, by chance, our German cabin mate from our train ride to Arambol. That night, we went back to our guesthouse to shower and get ready for bed, but as soon as Scott went into the bathroom, he saw a rat on the windowsill! It seemed even more surprised to see us as we were to see it, and, in its attempt to run away, it
fell into the toilet and began flailing about. For a rat, it was actually quite cute (I think it was a baby), and I felt bad for the poor thing – I knew when we asked the owner to come remove it, it would end up as dinner for some lucky stray cat outside…which is precisely what happened. Sadness.
Our last day was spent checking out the nearby and impressive (and still in use) Virupaksha Temple, where we got to watch the temple elephant, Lakshmi, get “made up” for the day with colorful, chalky powder applied in religious Hindu designs. We were also surrounded by lots of loud, rambunctious monkeys, which was our cue to leave. Afterwards, we walked to some nearby ruins, got some lunch, and sat in a café reading until it was time to catch a local bus to Hospet where our sleeper bus would (hopefully) pick us up. We made it, bought some snacks, and hopped on our bus at 8:30 p.m. Aside from some brief motion sickness, a lack of bathroom stops (I had the lovely opportunity to relieve myself on the side of the road at 2:45 a.m. …), and my i-pod dying,
the ride was smooth and comfortable, and we arrived safely to Mysore, our next destination.
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