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Published: March 26th 2006
After some very interesting religious encounters indeed, I decided it was time to visit some of the more usual destinations frequented by travellers. One of the stops was at Hampi, which was the original site of the old city of Vijayanagar that was founded in 1336, and thrived as a political capital until it was ransacked in 1565. It is quite a strange place, for the boulders strewn across the hills looked as if the whole landscape was in the process of crumbling to the point of collapse, a situation reflected in the numerous ruins. The famous stone chariot of the Vittala Temple and the expansive Royal Temple Complex lay in wait - the latter complete with stone stables for elephants - and all this lay within a scene of rustic serenity where slim fishermen laid their nets from their circular boats called coracles, women engaged in back-breaking work within the rice-paddies, and oxen carted various goods along the narrow rural roads. I was joined by a fellow solo traveller - Jac from Canada - and we both braved the very warm and sunny conditions to visit some most unusual sites - including a Naga temple hidden within a banana plantation.
In order to visit, we first had to pass a temple with the brightest Kali statue I've ever seen (where several women folk were engaging in a most vociferous dispute) before needing to walk barefoot through ankle-deep squelching mud that oozed around our feet as was cautiously plodded towards our destination. It may not have been the most beautiful temple I have ever seen, but it certainly was the most challenging to reach. There are temples everywhere in India, and surely one lifetime would not be sufficient to visit them all.
Two days of walking under a blazing sun saw my skin looking darker than some of the locals - and with that healthy glow of travel radiating from my face - the evening saw us visit a superb restaurant that lay atop a field of rice paddies and beneath a massive mango tree (complete with swing). We sampled several delectable dishes, including an interesting garlic curry - made of sliced garlic gloves in a tomato gravy - and I hoped that consuming this meal would deter any beggars from approaching too close - but was sadly mistaken. After a meal that left me most satisfied and bloated I
remarked that "If I couldn't travel, why would I bother working!" - for nothing enflames my passion for life more than travel.
Prior to this was a visit to Bangalore and Mysore, where I partook in a visit to the gold-encrusted temple of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) otherwise known as the Hare Krishnas. After completing 108 "Hare Krishna, hare rama..." chants, which were undertaken by reciting this once on each of the 108 red marble steps that ascended to the temple's entrance - I walked into the temple proper and was amazed at its incredible wealth and wondered where the funding for such an opulent temple originated from. Shortly after my questions were answered when I espied the first of many, many areas filled with vast volumes of products on sale that the friendly Iskcon staff wished to me to purchase. Unfortunately, I too succumbed to these temptations by purchasing a watch of a young Krishna playing a flute - nicely set against a fetching purple background.
In Mysore, I visited the astonishing Mysore Palace and was awed at its beauty and splendour - plus the palace enable me to sight my first camel of
these holidays - o joy of joys! The temple was a combination of Indian and European styles and gave the visitor an indication of the wealth enjoyed by the Indian royalty until quite recently. However, the undoubted highlight came in the evening, when, being a Sunday night, 97,000 lights (not the smaller 'fairy lights' mind you, but standard full sized electric globes) festooned across the palace's main facade and the numerous buildings, temples and gates were illuminated in the evening. The anticipatory crowd gathered and the atmosphere was akin to a carnival - street vendors selling all manners of trinkets and foods whilst families waited for the moment. At five minutes past seven, the darkened environs of the palace's grounds were transformed as the lights came to life - thousands of people gasped in unison as the scene was truly breathtaking. Certainly the Mysore Palace would be a clear winner if it were ever to enter the annual Christmas Lights competition in my home city of Brisbane. One hour later the mesmerising lights were extinguished and again, the crowd sighed as one, but this time in disapproval, before trudging home.
Also near Mysore was a supreme form of Hoysala
Architecture - the Keshava Temple in Somnathpur, which was built in 1298. I was once again amazed at yet another beautiful monument in India - as the finery and intricacy of the carving matched even those of Khajuraho. Beautifully rendered depictions of deities, humans and beasts adorned every part of the structure. However, reaching and returning from the temple saw me use a complex series of bus connections, and necessitated me hitching a ride (for the first time ever) in order to catch the final bus to Mysore. A friendly truck driver, who was quite keen to practice his English was most obliging in ensuring I reached the relevant bus in time. Whilst on the bus, I sighted a parade along the country roads - and in a palanquin held aloft by four men was a man dressed in religious apparel and forehead markings - he must be important I thought. "Is he famous", I asked my Bangalore based friend. "No, he's dead" came the reply. Supposedly, they tie the deceased in his seat so as to make him appear sitting, and then the cortège winds it way through the rural streets prior to the cremation. There is nowhere in
the world quite like India.
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