Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The holy city of Hampi!

Oct 25th. Up way too early today.. 4:15am to catch my train to Hampi via Margau. Just my luck (or as the man in the station told me, this is India) the train was late! Very late.. nearly 2 hours late. Got to Margau and of course managed to make my connection 'cos that train was running late too! Yah! But really, getting around India really is so easy, can't believe I was a bit nervous about it before I came. And everyone speaks English (just about!) and is so kind and helpful. Really enjoying my time here so far. But again I digress! Started chatting to this fab German couple, Sabine and Berndt, while waiting for the train and as you do, we struck up a wee how this happens!

Sat in the carriage with them chatting away, when a group of students sat down next to us. We came to find out they were geology students doing their Masters and off on a field trip. We had such a great time with them; Addi, Jennifer and Pankaj. So sweet and respectful the way they spoke to us, but really good fun too! We talked about absolutely everything with them, from the caste system (they were all Brahmins; who knew that even in that caste,there are many different levels!), religion, relationships (love vs. arranged marriages) name it, we discussed it.
Very interesting to get their point of view. They had definite opinions on certain things e.g. that only seeing your girlfriend once a month or so helped strengthen the love between you, that they wanted to marry for love but realised that they had to please their parents too, that most young Indians (at least those in the cities..) dont really believe in the caste system anymore and so in 50-70 yrs they think it will be irrelevant (although they agree that it will always remain strong in the countryside). They were all so earnest and I have to say this was such a brilliant experience; not just the fact they were so open and wanted to talk to us about these things, but just that they were so lovely and charming and sweet. I know these descriptors sound so old-fashioned and its hard to explain, but Indian people (at least those I have met so far) are just so...innocent is probably the wrong word too....but they have no qualms about sitting down and talking away, no awkwardness, no self consciousness at all! It's just so different than if you were sitting on public transport at home; Boston or Scotland. People don't just chat to complete strangers; everyone is in their own little bubble (myself included) and we isolate ourselves from these types of experiences. I know part of it is 'cos I'm traveling so I'm more open to chatting away but still, it is very very different to my "normal life".

Finally got to Hospet (next town over from Hampi) and had some tussles with quite aggressive rickshaw guys desperate for a fare. Met Anna, another German girl Berndt and Sabine had met the day before so we all set off for town together. After checking into Rocky's Guest House (love that name!) we all went for a walk around town, met this lovely old man (hmmn think I'm going to like this place) then lunch at Gopi 's. Met another new pal, Merijn from Holland (just back from 7 months in Africa! He had brilliant stories from that trip!).

And so a little on the famous holy city of Hampi. Also called Vijayanagar, "the City of Victory", this "village" spills over from the river Tungabhadra, littered among a bizarre and somewhat surreal landscape of red boulders and leafy banana fields. Some of these "balancing rocks" are said (in Hindu folklore) to have been flung down by armies in a show of strength to potential invaders to this land.

Oct 26th. Up for breakfast at Gopi again (think this will become a habit as the food is good and the people are just lovely). I had to sort out my tickets to get to my next destination (the beautiful backwaters of Kerala) as I'd heard its pretty tough to get trains and buses at this time of year. Then I met up with my fab new pals and we headed off to visit the Virupaksha temple in the centre of town next to Hampi Bazaar. The temple dominates the town, and has a steady flow of pilgrims from all over southern India visiting. Organized our "sunrise" trek for tomorrow and then headed out to visit Hemakuta Hill, dotted with tons of temples dating back to the ninth and eleventh centuries. The landscape and views here are just is quite incredible, as far as the eye can see, giant, red boulders and beautiful, ancient ruins. Just fab! And the photos really don't do it justice.

We walked for ever, and it is hot, hot, hot here in Hampi. Visited tons of different ruins and temples, including the small Hanuman temple, dedicated to the monkey god of the same name. We found this wee boy who explained his family have some connection way back to this god (hmmn, think this is what he was explaining to us!)...or he is just very entrepreneurial, dressing up as Hanuman and guiding us through and then providing a fab song and dance to the gods for us! He was such a cutie... we spent ages with him. He was saving up to help pay for his wee sisters new school uniform. Lovely boy.

Later we began to realise, even tho' many many tourists visit Hampi, so too do many pilgrims from other parts of India where tourists are less known. Hence began the "photo taking" phase of the day. Everywhere we went, people wanted to either take our picture with their cameras, or ask us to take a picture with our cameras of them! Hilarious. This ranged from the men and women working on the roads, to a group of four massive families, all visiting Hampi in a giant truck. What was even sweeter - they all come and shake your hand afterwards with a "thank you very much, lovely to meet you, your country is??" dialogue. We even had the local bus slow down and people in cars and tuktuks stopping and getting out to have their photo taken with us! Crazy stuff! I had heard this happened but until you actually experience it for yourself, you can't understand how daft and yet lovely it makes you feel! Everyone is so smiley, which is then so contagious you spend the whole day smiling and laughing yourself. Have I said I love India yet...well, I do! It is an amazing, eclectic, enigmatic place. Definitely makes you think about things in a different way, so much is so very different, much of it very sad, like the poverty you see most days, but much of it so uplifting and inspiring, like the warmth of the people and the beauty of the places I have visited so far! Wow!

Late afternoon we were pooped, so headed back to town for a late, late lunch of masala dhosa, my new favourite food. Imagine a giant spicy crepe folded in a giant triangle shape, with a potato and onion filling! Yum! Pottered around town some more, really lovely feel to Hampi I have to say! Later that evening, we all met up for dinner at Garden Paradise, and paradise it was. Fab food yet again - have I mentioned that Indian food IN India is so incredible; I can't believe how good it is, really! Funny thing about Hampi being "holy", no alcohol or meat is allowed in this city, but some of the restaurants sneak a mean "teapot" or "juice" for us bad tourists who are desperate for some of the hard stuff. So of course, we imbibed.. just a fruit cocktail thingy, adding to an already fab time!

Oct 27th. Up early this morning at 5am for our sunrise trek to the top of Matanga Hill. Quick glass of chai on the street corner then we were off! Climbed to the top and watched as the beautiful sun came up! And wow! Only from this hill can you have a 360 degree panoramic view of the valley and Hampi itself. So amazing, definitely worth the effort! (mind you made me realise yet again my couch potato tendancies are in full i puffed and panted my way up - phew!). After the sunrise, we walked to yet another bazaar and temple (oops, bit confused as to which one it was, we saw so many!) then walked down to the river, where we all sat and had chai, and met this older lady. After our imbibing, we took a coracle boat down river, after chatting to the local people who were hanging out there and again, curious about us and wanted us to take their pics! Checked out the famous Vitthala temple, and talked a bit more about the Hindu religion. Did you know there are over 2 and half million Hindu gods of one sort or another.

I mean come on, that is wayyyyyyyy too many for anyone to even begin to remember, and most people we spoke to don't even try! Speaking of gods and holy folks, we visited some meditation caves and met this lovely priest who lives there and prays most days.

Phew at this point we were all a wee bitty tired. Had been up since 5am and it was now 10:30am! Back to guest house, checked out as I was leaving on an overnight bus to Bangalore as I was heading down to Kerala later on. Spent my last day in Hampi just hanging out with the gang, as we were all a wee bitty temple'd out at this point. Had a great time here and yet again, met fab people who helped make a gorgeous place even better fun, with their company! Really beautiful and quiet and calm. Loved it and so glad I managed to fit it into my ridiculously tight schedule hahahah!


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