10 March 2016

Magical Hampi, or the Flintstones in temple ruins among rice paddies

The next stop after Gokarna was Hampi. The bubbling joy of being "on the road again" like me and my ex used to say, welled up in me and made my heart sing as I rode a local bus to Ankola to catch the overnight bus to Hampi that left, self-evidently, from a hotel in the middle of nowhere.

We intercept the story for a quick lesson about Indian hotels: a "hotel" apparently means a place where you can get something to eat. So often when you're looking for a place to stay, you might be out of luck. If you don't fancy sleeping at the back of the shop with the proprietor, that is. End of lesson. But in this occasion the place actually was a "real" hotel. But there was also food: I had a couple of okish samosas while waiting and an interesting conversation with a UPS delivery guy from Kerala who proudly presented me with his family photos and invited me and all other foreigners to his house. Thanks, man!

The night bus was a sleeper bus, which meant everyone had a bed of their own to pretend to sleep in. Actual sleep wasn't really an option, since the roads were so windy, cars and lorries so honky and India just too India. But the bed was softer than the thin mattress on a wood frame I'd had in Gokarna, so I was quite happy to lay there for the 6-7 hours the trip took. I did drift on an off from sleep, so I might have got altogether maybe 2 hours of shuteye, which was better than nothing.

The bus (Island travels) dropped us off on the "other side" of Hampi, meaning the Virupapur Gaddi or less temple-y side. For those of you who've never heard of Hampi: it's a Unesco heritage site with countless (or at least nearly) tempel ruins. I could give you a history lesson but everyone interested can Wikipedia away freely. Me, I was there mainly for the visuals. And boy, did Hampi deliver. Of course it was pitch black as it was 5.30 when we arrived, so none of the grandeur was to be seen just yet... I'll get to it later on.

When we stumbled out of the bus to the shouts of "Hampi Hampi last stop", a swarm of rickshaw drivers descended upon the bleary-eyed tourists, trying to offer to take us to the Hanuman temple to see the sunrise. I'd heard of this tactics and didn't fancy climbing the 500+ steps after a virtually sleepless night and leaving my bags in the rickshaw while doing that sounded like an even worse idea. So I shared a ride with a couple of girls to Goan corner, a guesthouse my Hampi travel companion-to-be, HP, had heard good things about. We got lucky, as the guest house restaurant proprietor woke up to make us chai and let us stay in the restaurant until 7.30 when we could see the rooms. After the chai and some snacking on nuts and mushy bananas I dropped off my stuff in a 550 rupee hut which came with a shared front porch and a hammock. Not bad. It was directly next to the main walkway of the guesthouse, which was annoying, but ok for a couple of nights.

First view of the surroundings. Not bad.

The biggest bonus of Goan corner was a FULL BODY MIRROR just at the entrance. After only seeing my face from tiny mirrors here and there, to actually see my whole body for a change was a very interesting thing. I still have hands and feet, hooray! Small things that we take for granted back home gain a whole new kind of value when travelling. (Don't even let me get started on hand soap. Or hand towels! I've kind of ceased to believe in these mythical creatures.)

The Goan corner was a big establishment and I found it to be too noisy and busy, so after a couple of days me and HP relocated to the neighboring Bobby's One love guesthouse. Rastaplace, man! So much nicer, with an amazing Shangrila garden at the back and the best restaurant I tried in Hampi. If you go, get the mixed veggie sizzler: it comes with a veggie patty so good I wanted to cry. Also the aubergine curry was excellent and palak paneer tasted of actual spinach, something that isn't often the case. And one night I caved in and had a Nutella pancake. I still drool a bit when thinking back on it. Oh hey, I'm talking about food again! Whaddayaknow. No one saw that one coming, right? ;)

Ok, back to Hampi business. It is gorgeous there, book your tickets, like, now. The temple ruins are everywhere, and even without them, the sheer magnitude of the colossal stone formations combined with the lush green of the riverside and the rice fields on "our" side of the river left me breathless. I don't think I've ever been anyway quite as spectacularly beautiful as this place was. Just, wow.

One morning we climbed the dreaded steps to the Hanuman temple to see the sunrise and as we sat on the rocks, admiring the amazing view, I was swept away by awe and gratitude: What an unbelievably lucky girl I am, that my life has led me to this amazing place! Sitting on top of the cliffs, watching chipmunks (or squirrels of some kind, I wouldn't know the difference) dashing around, listening to the aarti mantras from the temple, enjoying the company of my lovely Hampi-companion... What could be better? Thank you, thank you, Universe <3

Hanuman temple. Well worth the steps.

Sunrise view <3

Temple resident picking flowers for the ceremonies

So, what did I get up to in Hampi, then? First day we were supposed to just stroll around a bit due to the sleep deprivation, but we ended up walking all the way to one of the most famous temple ruins, Vittala. I usually don't want to pay anything to see stuff like this, but I figured that one temple in Hampi one must see. Vittala was actually never completed or taken into use, but it is still amazing. The stone chariot that is the main attraction was very cool (the wheels actually used to turn, once upon a time!), but the highlight for me were the intricate stone carvings and a tree. I just love the contrast of the arid landscape and vegetation. This tree was just there, watching over the whole place, blooming away. I said a quick hello and he seemed grateful for the brief contact. Such a wonderful creature!

Stone chariot and the famous local tourist with no feet

One day we rented bikes (the actual ones that require pedalling!) and rode to the nearby village of Kamalapur (Finnish people, catch the pun) to get some cash and feed HP some idlis from a local eatery. I also couldn't resist sampling a couple of sweets from the sweets shop. So sugary, so caramelly, so yummy... Another day we rented a motorbike and went to Hospet to arrange our upcoming train trips, checked out the "lake" (a reservoir) where apparently dangerous crocodiles lurk to eat unwary tourists. Urban legend, I (and everyone else) thinks. The Karnatakas seem to have a weird relationship to swimming. Everywhere there is DANGER! I mean, in the sea I can understand that there might be whirlpools (of death!). But in the river where the water isn't moving anywhere? Hardly. Or crocodiles in the reservoir? Also doubtful. Or some other danger in the water pool at the "waterfall" (rapids in monsoon time, now a trickle of water)? Yes there were fish but the bigger ones remained lower and the smaller ones were mainly interested in giving me a fish spa treatment. But I digress...

Oh, on the bike day we also checked out the Queen's bath. Very cool, and bonus points for the cutest tractor of all time. And the road itself wasn't very unscenic, either. Such beauty all around <3

A bath fit for a Queen (or two)

Tractor in its Sunday finest
Take the scenic route! Oh wait, they're all like that
The day with the motorbike was wonderful as I love love love to be on two wheels. I wasn't driving myself this time (I'm only experienced with scooters), but even being a passenger is just so nice. So, we did the Hanuman temple for sunrise, Hospet after and then the "lake" to cool off a little in the boiling 37 degree heat. HP built us a lovely shady shelter where we whiled the day away, eating the fruit we'd taken with us, listening to reggae and me having disagreements with my new 10 rupee knife that refused to get clean.

Framed situation. Looks damn cool, though, eh?

Lake aka reservoir
Another day we checked out the above mentioned "waterfall" which indeed turned out to be a trickle of water among very very cool rock formations where the water has eroded holes in the rock, creating a dreamlike moonscape (not very photogenic, though, sadly). It was Sunday, which meant lots of locals frolicking away in the water, lots of answers to the question "which country" and lots of being stared at. We paid a guy 20 rupees to take us there since the way is quite tricky, so I recommend doing the same if you end up going. There are always people around, eager to get some small cash. We took the rickshaw there, but walked back, which was perfect, as the sun wasn't so boiling around 17 anymore, and we got to walk through the outskirts of Hampi and take cute photos of a little local girl.

HP, not giving a damn about the dangers of swimming

The traveller, living her own true self: doing something weird ;)

I can also pose like a normal person, If I try very hard

One must-do in Hampi is to climb on the cliffs to watch the sunset. Everyone was there and there was also no shortage of small kids selling chai, water and juice. ("You take! Why not?") I tried to present them with better business ideas of selling chocolate or ice cream, but got stonewalled. Oh well, maybe one day there will be a savvy one, who figures it out himself. The view is spectacular and if you're lucky, there are people playing the guitar, drums, hang, didgeridoo... 

Folks on the rocks

The 8 days I spent in Hampi were truly wonderful and relaxing. The perfect balance of seeing and doing plus doing nothing at all. It was also very cool to have a companion who shared the same idea of fun as me, which could sometimes mean being quiet for hours, laying on our backs, just enjoying life. I think the best things in Hampi were the chilling, the uncrowdedness, the motorcycle ride and marvelling at the bustle of rickshaws, motorbikes and bull carts and endless waving and happy "hellos" to the villagers. But everything must end, and so on 8.3 we said farewell and I hopped on the rickshaw to Hospet to begin my first true Indian train adventure to Mysore. But, once again, that is a story for the next time. 

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