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Published: December 7th 2015
Hampi; described as one of the most bewitching and spell-bounding landscapes with sandy temples and ruins dotted across some of the most spectacular scenery. Now a world heritage site, but in its prime it is believed Hampi was once one of the richest and largest kingdoms in the world. Take that you other built up ugly capital cities. In other words Hampi is generally described as a place not to be missed on a trip to southern India.
Furthermore it was off the tourist trail of Rajasthan. Saying all of this, before we arrived we could not get ourselves excited for Hampi as we enjoyed our few days of relaxation in Goa and had seen enough palaces and temples to last a lifetime by now. Did we really want to see another one, two or even more? We just didn’t have the energy for any.
However we were right to visit. Hampi was truly magical. As soon as we set eyes on this place we were struck by the beauty of it. It was like nothing we had laid eyes on before in India or anywhere else. Once again I would say pictures and even words do not do
this place justice. Either way let us try to explain.
One of the first things that caught our eye in Hampi was the unusual landscape. Piles of mountains were made up of circular round boulders, like very large pebbles. Some small, others giant sized, all laid on top of each other as if they were purposefully placed. These boulders looked dusty in texture and sandy in colour. They sat in contrast to the sharp blue skies and sparkling blue river that snaked its path through this heritage site. Then there were the bright greens from the rice terraces. It all looked like the perfect natural and calming environment, very quiet in places and far removed from the cities we had previously visited.
Plus there was more to this place than meets the eye. On second glance, located across the sandy boulder terrain were temples that blended so effortlessly into their surrounds. After all they were made using the boulders that surround them. Once you spotted one, your eyes began to train themselves and you could see one more, two more, and then many more revealing themselves.
Unlike the other grand marble and mosaic filled palaces we were
used to seeing in Rajasthan, these were far smaller in scale. However you have to bear in mind that they are not a true reflection of what they once were (as after all this whole site is now in ruins). What remains is many smallish square structures with columns bringing the builds (very open in design) together. In some ways it reminded us of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Bagan in Myanmar but yet still so different. Although the temples may be more impressive in the latter two sites the scenery here tops them both. It was stunning and came without the hordes of tourists you see at Angkor Wat.
Plus we were about to have another first on this trip as we were to experience an ancient method of travelling across water…
After arriving we decided last minute to base ourselves on the ‘hippie’ side of town. Across from the river away from the main clustered Hampi Bazaar with the maze like narrow streets sitting beside Virupaksha Temple. We were located in more natural surrounds - plus we had with a perfect view of the temple and the boulders
that dotted the terrain across the river. We certainly wanted calm and tranquil by this point. Guesthouses here were small and quaint all located down one dirt-path backed by many rice terraces and rocky hills.
After crossing the river by the small overcrowded motor boat (30 second ride) we initially settled at Nargilla home stay but after a few hours of no power we decided to move to Sunny Guesthouse that had 24hrs electricity thanks to a backup generator.
Sunny Guesthouse was initially on our list. However as it had a lonely planet status we tried to avoid it. Sometimes LP's suggestions take their LP status as all they need to increase prices and lower standards. Sunny guesthouse was surprisingly rather pleasant with circular huts. Either wooden or cement based and were quaint and clean with fans. All for 400 rupees. It actually surprised us how much room we had inside one of the circular huts (bathroom included). They can be deceiving from the outside.
The locals here were friendly and not too pushy, and the ones that could speak English made an effort to remember our names. One old villager with
limited English asked Chris if he was from Japan. Haha not quite.
After getting ready, and waiting at the boat dock a group of children made a beeline for P and her camera all asking for their pictures to be taken. It was quite nice at first but then annoying to see some of the kids become far too aggressive towards one another so that they could have their picture continually taken. We did manage to take some adorable pictures though.
Most locals were friendly, however we did encounter a very annoying rickshaw driver. Once we had crossed the river he practically attached himself to us. We decided to go for something to eat hoping he would get the hint and so we could gain some clarity on our plan for the day. Sadly this did not stop the rickshaw driver from waiting for us. Slightly annoyed by this we told him where we intended to walk around today and would not be getting a rickshaw. After finishing our food and leaving, this rickshaw driver continually offered us day tours. We were as clear as possible when we told him we did not need his service
and wished to be left alone. Nevertheless this guy thought it would be useful for his rickshaw business to them inform us he would be very angry with us if we proceeded to go with someone else. This really annoyed us but at least this would be the last of him we thought. Nope he was still following us. We stopped again to ask him what he wanted only to receive the response that he intended to follow us to ensure we did not get another rickshaw driver.
This guy was very rude and insistent. Despite being very frustrated by this point we decided to continue with our day and ignore this guy. We decided to go to the tourist office. Rickshaw driver nevertheless in tow walking behind us. When we entered the temple he stayed at the gate. In the tourism office (located in Virupaksha Temple) we found out they were offering bicycle tours around the ruins as the distant between them was not very far (despite what many rickshaw drivers tell people) plus we would be given a guide providing information on the history. What a delightful way to explore the ruins we thought to ourselves. We
signed up for the following day.
After exiting the temple, you’ll never guess who was waiting for us. That annoying rude rickshaw driver. We told him we had signed up for a tour and he began shouting and screaming in our faces. He then proceeded to call the tourism guide out of the tourism office for stealing his customers. We were quite shocked by it all and wanted to get as far away from this idiot as possible. As we walked off, a fellow guide told us we should report him to the police as it is not the first time he had done this to tourists and he should not get away with it as along with his threatening demeanour he was also shouting profanities to us (not in English) and the tourism office man.
As we walked away he did not follow physically but kept his eye on us. What a creepy experience, we were both shaken by it. Luckily we did not see him again apart from at the boat dock the following day but apart from asking how our bike tour was in an overly jovial manner he ignored us as he
accepted there was no custom here.
Anyway less about this guy and more about this majestic place of Hampi. We decided that we would spend the rest of the day exploring the temples located beside the river on foot. As we followed the beautiful trail that snaked beside the river we came across some completely abandoned sites. We were mesmerised by Hampi. It was such a beautiful place. Thank god we took this trail on possible on foot too instead of the rickshaw as we would have missed the delightful walk beside the river. No rickshaws can travel this route.
Our surrounding was mesmerising and it was very tranquil. As we stopped at some of the many ruins along the way although we knew very little about the history of these abandoned stone buildings we were mesmerised by the whole setting of it. Not too many tourists at all and instead many Indian families walking this trail or sat down for a Indian style picnic bringing more colour to this amazing site with their colourful saris. Added to this was the odd monkey which did not seem to be too distracted by us at all.
Just looking at the giant round rock boulders that were all precariously standing upon one another looking as if any minute they may topple. We asked ourselves how they came to be and later found out that there are 2 theories to explain this unusual rock formation.
The first theory many Hindu people adopt relates to a rock fight between two gods, leaving behind these circular shaped boulders. The second theory relates to natural erosion from the strong winds blowing sand across the rocks creating a sandpaper effect and rounding many of the boulders off. We’ll leave it to you to decide.
After lots of picture taking and as much sun exposure that we could manage we walked back towards the boat jetty. On our way we got speaking to the most delightful children, many siblings and cousins on vacation with their families. They were between the ages of 4 and 13 and could speak very good English. They asked us many questions about us and our trip and also told us lots about where they were from in Calcutta and Mumbai. Chris also proved to be one of the little girl’s hero when he spotted
a monkey behind her ready to snatch the corn on the cob she had in her hand, scaring it away. This was a lovely past time here, as apart from that unfriendly rickshaw driver many others were very friendly.
On the morning of our bicycle tour we got talking to the rest of our group, a British guy living in the states, a mixed couple; German guy and Ecuadorian girl and 3 guys from India on vacation here. All very friendly.
The tour started in Virupaksha temple and we were given a brief history of Hampi here. Our guide explained that the Hampi site was built in the 14th
century as a Hindu kingdom. Its main purpose however was the trade of precious stones and gems. This kingdom was very successful with many visitors from Europe coming across and trading for some of these precious stones. He described a scene of the main road (outside this temple) bustling with elephants, camels, horses and the traders that rode them. We couldn’t quite picture this tranquil place in such away and were taken by surprise by a painting illustrating a scene that once was. It looked like a
bustling area just like any other in India (far from what it is today) but with a very grand feel to it as all the buyers for the precious gems rode their highly decorated Camels and Elephants.
We were informed that this kingdom was very successful at the time. That was until the sultans from further south stole the stones and destroyed most of the temples only leaving a few standing. We were both surprised by the trustworthiness back then which led to such a steal. It was quite normal for traders to cover their precious stones with blankets alone at the end of the day before they went home and this was when the ransacking took place. They were clearly not expecting such an attack.
Although the attack was initially an attack to gain more money and power as the sultans were initially after the precious stones, as they continued to demolish most of the temples here it soon turned into religious fight between Hindus & Muslims. The fight broke out into a war and left Hampi abandoned for many years.
For us, one sad thing about Hinduism is that once a temple
or statue of a god is destroyed you cannot carry on worshipping at that sight. Once damaged it is no longer a temple, it is believed the spiritual essence of the place disappears and does not ever return even if the broken temple/statute is repaired. It therefore becomes a monument. This site therefore has lost most of its religious significance.
One thing our guide shed light on that had otherwise puzzled us on this trip was the erotic carvings etched onto many of temples we had visited. Quite surprising to see especially when you take a closer look. Our guide explained that these images are meant to distract evil spirits away from something so beautiful i.e ‘the temple’. Okay that makes sense but I bet the artists had a lot of fun creating them though.
The same idea applies to the babies with black make up under their eyes and sometimes with a huge mole drawn onto their faces. We always asked ourselves why people could be so cruel to their babies smearing them with so much black makeup. Well all was revealed… the black make up is meant to protect the baby by confusing the
evil spirits that the beautiful baby is not in fact beautiful. We liked this idea, although we are not sure about how far we would go in adopting this ourselves.
Over the 5 hours of the tour we cycled from one site to another (with very little distance between them) and were given some information on their history. One commonality between them all was the destruction of the temples, shrines and even the palace. The palace was a huge complex and with all the building knocked down you could only get a feel for it from the foundation of squares that remained on the ground. Such a shame. Apart from being directly in the sunlight, we enjoyed the bike tour. It was very informative illustrating key features and designs of temples you may have otherwise missed. On one temple there was a 7 animal figure made up of an elephant, tiger, rabbit, crocodile and some other interesting creatures. We would have completely missed this without our guide.
Along with this tour another enjoyable past time during the day were the few rides we took on one of those unique river crossing vessels. These were in fact circular
conical boats which surprisingly have been around for a long time in many Middle Eastern countries. Interestingly there is a new theory around the famous story of Noah’s ark which is not only significant to the Bible, but the Quran and Torah (albeit with different names). It is argued with some pressing evidence that if such a thing existed it was certainly a round boat. Interesting hey.
Our evenings in Hampi on the other hand were relaxing (after climbing a rock formed hill) and admiring the sunset (a must while here) or enjoying a beer and delicious curry meal from one of the roof top restaurants, chatting away to both Indian and International travellers here.
Before finishing this blog we will share a story that stayed with us. One we found out about by talking with a local about his life. After talking for some time, he shared with us that both of his parents had sadly passed away to cancer when he was just a child leaving him and his siblings to fend for themselves. Although he has grown up and has now left his home town he continues to support his younger siblings in education.
What really surprised us when talking to him was that although he has managed to forge a way of life for himself and even his siblings, he will always be disadvantaged on one aspect of his life. Marriage. He is 25, the age many men and women start to really settle down here. His friends have already found wives.
However as it is common practice for parents to find suitable partners for you here in India, he is not deemed suitable by many potential women and their parents due to a lack of parental line. He is however on the look out though so hopefully he'll be able to overcome this hurdle in his life.
Children in orphanages face the same challenges although many orphanages do play a parental role when it comes to this to help their children and young adults move on. Really harrowing. Never even considered this possibility when thinking about arranged marriages.
Transport. Hospet to Bangalore to Mysore (2 trains)- 12hrs 1154 rupees, AC2 and ACchair
Accommodation: Sunny Guesthouse
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