Temples at Hampi
16.01.2013 - 19.01.2013
At the end of the last blog we were about to board a night(mare) bus to Hampi... obviously we survived, but believe us, it was touch and go! The Indian traffic is everything you've heard and more. We boarded the bus, pleasantly surprised at the plush velveteen double 'beds', but with more than a little trepidation having already experienced the buses and also having noticed the lack of street lights at night. The driver tore round corners at speeds which slammed us in to the side of the bus, hit the brake so hard we repeatedly smashed our heads and took speed bumps at a pace which made our bodies leave the floor. If you came across this kind of driving in the UK you wouldn't be cross, you'd be asking the driver if he wanted a cuppa and a chat. It was the first time in the trip when we both genuinely feared for our lives, which wasn't exactly conducive to a good night's sleep. The fear combined with the white-knuckle experience kept us clinging to the mattress and staring at the roof until the early hours. Least said the better, but we won’t be doing it again, it was terrifying!
Anyway, we didn't die (yay!) and emerged from the bus, battered and bruised but with a renewed appreciation for life, to the most amazing landscape we've ever seen.
Hampi is an ancient market town built amidst volcanic rock boulders, paddy fields, palm trees, rivers and, most significantly, the ruins of Hindu temples. The cloudless blue skies and vividly green fields contrast against the red rocks to make dramatic and unique scenery. We were staying in a place called Virupapur Gaddi, just a one minute river crossing from Hampi.
Justifiably, our first day was spent sleeping off the nightmare journey, so it wasn't until the day after that we paid our ten rupees and squeezed ourselves among the bicycles, motorbikes, backpacks and people to take the short boat ride to Hampi Bazaar.
The star attraction of Hampi Bazaar is the imposing Virupaksha Temple (you can’t miss it!) and its central location made it a good place to start our day. The Hindu temple is one of the city’s oldest structures, dating back to 1442 and is still used today. As we entered we came across Lakshmi, the temple elephant, being painted with various colorful spots on her trunk. It was a very compelling scene and only added to the feeling that we had left the resorts behind (disclaimer – Louise in no way condones this picture being on the blog and would like people to know she was watching the WILD monkeys instead ;-))
The temple had some lovely carvings, some fully painted priests doing blessings for Hindu's and of course the ever present monkeys. It set the tone for the next few days.
Once we’d done the temple, Louise found herself needing to brave the 'pay and use' public toilets. After negotiating her way through a maze of Indian women washing themselves and their clothes, removing a drying sari from the cubicle door in order to shut it and squatting with the best of them, there came the task of washing her hands. The crowd of young Indian girls stopped their morning ablutions to watch as she attempted to turn the tap on, but completely removed the stopper in her attempts, thus drenching herself and everyone nearby. Once they'd stopped howling with laughter, the girls crowded closer to help shut off the water, clapped and cheered when it was managed and by the time Lu left, they were apparently firm friends. This is the India we've come to know; every interaction makes you feel part of a big family.
We walked west to a big statue of Nandi (Nandi is a bull and Shiva's preferred mode of transport) and admired the views of the Bazaar and the Virupaksha Temple this elevated position allowed.
The statue marked the start of a trail in to the rocky wilderness, it started with a hill and when we reached the peak and gazed around, the full scale of the undulating landscape was revealed.
Continuing over the hill we spotted our next stop off, the Achyutarata Temple and Sule Bazaar. Sat in the middle of the surreal terrain, with
no-one around us for what seemed like miles, we really could have been transported back in time. It felt like we were walking in to a painting.
When we reached the Achyutarata Temple, there was no-one else around and all we could hear was the sound of the squirrels squeaking to each other across the landscape.
We wandered around the ancient courtyard and took in our surroundings.
According to Lonely Planet, the undisputed highlight of the Hampi area is the Vittala temple. It was packed with tourists as well as about six
school trips and was very similar to the previous temples, so we decided to sit on some stone steps and take a break from the midday sun. We’ll always remember the temple for our meet and greet session with some school kids. Two of them had walked passed and we had waved and said hello, so, feeling brave, they walked over and gave us the traditional Indian ice-breaker we've become so familiar with, "which country?" We hadn't even had time to answer before the rest of the class descended on us and we were completely surrounded, each girl competing with the others to ask us questions.
We lazily walked back to the Bazaar, stopping at a lake for a cool drink (not from the lake, we had a bottle of water ;-) ) and at the request of some Indian kids ("please to sing a song?"), sang 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'. The lake itself was a great photo spot for ornithologists and animal lovers alike and here's our best attempts at capturing the wildlife.
Our feet breathed a sigh of relief when we concluded the first day. Turns out India’s a bit of a dust bowl ;-)
Day two was more temples, but with the added bonus of rented bicycles. We say bonus…
This was the second puncture Chris had gotten in the same wheel (also note the dodgy stand, which had a mind of its own) and we ended up spending 4x the bike rental cost on getting them repaired. Still, once we found a village and its resident puncture man, we had some fun chai-fuelled conversations in Hinglish with whoever was passing the bike repair shop and have noticed there seems to be a pattern to the questions we’re being asked. It usually starts with ‘which country are you from?’ and it’s no surprise for the questioning to go as far as ‘what is your salary?’ or ‘does your husband have a good family?’! It’s not meant to offend, but it is strange to reveal so many personal details to someone you’ve never met and are unlikely to meet again.
In total we did a 20k ride round increasingly surreal terrain. Here are some pictures, as they describe it better than we can…
So, feeling a little sore-bummed, the second day finished with a steep climb up to visit the ‘Durga Temple’. It was a tough ramble up hundreds of stairs, but once we were there, we were rewarded with panoramic views of the area. It was truly beautiful and worth draining the energy reserves for. We made it just in time for sunset and relaxed on some boulders to take in the view.
Whilst up there, the ever present monkeys made off with a ladies purse; shouts of “does anyone have any fruit?” echoed round the rocks in a bid to try and lure the monkey back. The lady didn’t hang around and left, explaining the purse was only a gift, but this can’t have translated in to Hindi as a couple of agile Indian guys leapt over sheer drops in hot pursuit of the monkey, only to gaze disappointingly at the empty contents when their mission was complete!
Day three was spent relaxing in the Bazaar (we say relaxing, what we actually mean is fending off more monkeys who were attempting to climb through the restaurant window to steal our dinner!) waiting for the night train to Kerala, including a nine hour stop in Bangalore, to take an overnight houseboat tour of the backwaters...