02.25.2013 - 02.26.2013
I had heard nothing but good things about this place- people described the big rocks and boulders scattered all around, the remains of what used to be a thriving empire. even after seeing pictures, i still didn't know what to expect of a place considered magical and enchanting. i arrived early in the morning after taking a night bus, from which i got to see the sun rise over a landscape that was a curious mix of arid desert and tropical greens. at only 7am or so, the bus station was already buzzing with activity- people asking if i was looking for a room, for a tour guide, for a rickshaw. there are two parts to Hampi- the Bazaar, which was busier and closer to the ruins, and then Virupapur Gaddi, a (really) quick ferry ride across a river. since i'd planned on staying only one night, i stayed in the Bazaar.
upon arrival in the bazaar, i got the sense that everything there was in ruin- chunks of concrete covered the small roads and the sound of construction or destruction (i assumed it was the former) filled the air. i tried a few guesthouses from the guidebook but all were booked. i ran into a guy on the road who was also looking for a place and we wandered around together. we found a place i remember from the Lonely Planet and asked if they had any rooms. they had one, and it was a little pricey. so, being the seasoned traveler i am, i asked what they had there- internet? hot showers? rooftop restaurant, as most have? at this last one he scoffed, rolled hi eyes, and said no, it's closed. it seemed quite rude so we said we'd come back after looking around some more. Richard and i decided we may as well share a room, save some money, and we found a simple family-run place. it was time for breakfast, so we found a place with a rooftop restaurant- oh, so good. seating on the floor, banana and chocolate pancakes, open air, greens, birds, and good people. it was there we met Gus, a south african who was nearing 60 and had had a cancer scare several years ago, which prompted him to do what he'd been gearing up to do for years: sell everything and travel the world. i don't need to tell you how cool he was.
Gus told us a bit about what was going on in the town. something Hampi was known for amongst tourists was its rooftop restaurants- amazing views of the ruins, sunsets, etc. the problem was, these restaurants were technically not legal, as the owners did not have permits for them. well, not 2 days before i arrived, the government had decided to act on this and knock down all of them. it was the first step towards destroying the entire town. the government has grand plans to kick the locals out and make the entire region a World Heritage site, only allowing tourists to stay at 5-star hotels on either side of the site and building an airport nearby. essentially, ruining the lives of those who have lived there for generations and eliminating the backpacker tourists. what we were witnessing was the initial destruction of the livelihood of the locals. apparently, this happens every 4 years or so, then the government loses steam and gives up. some believe that this time is different. we'll see. but this explained the sense of hopelessness on the faces of people there- they were losing everything.
it was getting so so hot, but we bought some water, applied the sun screen, and headed out to explore the sprawling ruins. some told us the best way to do it was to get a rickshaw to take us to the major places, others suggested renting bicycles for the day. all told us the afternoon got blazing hot and that it was too ambitious to explore between 12 and 4pm. we just decided to walk and see as much as we could. we were sure to run into a rickshaw to take us back if need be. i don't know how much area the whole site measured, but some told us it covered over 40 square kilometers. the guidebook said that we could expect to cover at least 9km to see the major sites. we liked the second guesstimate.
it was so beautiful. it was as if the giant boulders were chess pieces on a massive chessboard, and a Zues-like god decided one day to throw the board and accompanying pieces into the air, and they all landed this way and that, some splitting down the middle, some landing on their sides. but somehow there still seemed to be method to the madness. it was hot, yes, and magical and enchanting, just as people said. it was so strange, though. i couldn't get a sense of what it all used to be- was it a kingdom, and the random temples and run-down buildings we saw were royal or holy? or was what we were seeing part of a city, where locals used to worship? i'm sure hiring a guide would have been well worth the money, but we assumed we'd be able to get the answers to these questions with my guidebook or signs. we didn't- we had to guess what most things were using the ambiguous and not at all drawn-to-scale maps posted here and there. any signs there were stated identical warnings about touching, destroying, taking part of, or vandalizing the structures (it is a World Heritage site). other than that, there was a disappointing lack of information. but we decided to just enjoy the aesthetics of it all instead of worrying about what they were, or what they were supposed to be, or what they used to be used for.
Richard was great company- it was fun to talk about travels, life, perspective, yoga, health. and he was great company despite the fact that he encouraged us to climb a barbed-wire fence in an effort to save time, which got us temporarily lost. conversation became sparse, chuckles were forced, and we both were silently wondering how many wild animals lived there, what the chances were of our water running out, and whether or not people would come if we screamed for help. for about an hour or so, it looked pretty bleak, as roads seemed to be farther and farther out of reach and horizons brought us no closer to figuring out where we were. finally, we reached a road and asked a rickshaw driver where we were. in typical Indian fashion, he said we were about 7km from the temple we wanted to go to. we reached it in about 30 minutes.
we explored yet another temple, walked back along the river, and decided to round up our day's worth of walking to about 50km. we went back to the rooftop restaurant and each had about 5 drinks in 5 minutes, we were so thirsty. we heard about a festival to celebrate the full moon at the temple and invited Mike, another fun British guy, to join us later that night.
as the sun set behind the boulders and the main temple of the town, we climbed to the massive rocks that towered over the temple to get a good view. it was so beautiful- the red and orange and purples of the sunset on one side, with the blues and silvers of the full moon on the other. the best of both worlds. turns out the festival was nothing more than Lakshmi, the temple elephant, being paraded around the temple with a few drummers and only a few onlookers. it was surprisingly anticlimactic, but still worth a look.
the next morning, richard and i met mike by the river to watch Lakshmi's ritual morning bath. it was really something to watch. the weather was sunny and warm, and it's always great to be near water. Lakshmi, a beautiful, powerful elephant, was a site to behold. she was obedient and graceful, which was a strange combination that elicited a mix of emotions- sadness, that she was in captivity at all; happiness, that she wasn't chained up during this as most elephants might be; awe, that this massive creature could still move with such grace and control. we got to watch the caretakers bathe her and scrub her, and then we had a chance to do the same. it was such a curious feeling- her skin was so smooth but made rough with the ridges in it, and her hair was so coarse and long. i'd never felt anything like it. it was funny to see her nose have its own personality through it all, playing with whomever was closest to her at the moment. it was a really peaceful thing to watch, and really relaxing to be able to participate in it.
Mike, Richard, and i rented bikes and went to the other side of the river to go to a lake and a monkey temple. we first went to the lake, and on the way we saw more signs of the town going to modern ruin- bulldozers carelessly drove right into people's homes and shops and guesthouses. owners and neighbors sobbed and begged officials to give them more time, another chance. the officers gave them neither.
without really processing the weight of what was going on, we rode to the lake. the water was ice cold at first and quickly felt aMAZing, cooling us off after riding in the blazing heat. after swimming around a bit, we eyed the big boulder that overlooked the water. it took us about 45 minutes, no joke, to jump off of it, each of us taking turns being brave then refusing the jump at the last second. countdowns didn't work, jumping up and down didn't help, cheering each other on didn't help. finally, knowing that it wasn't going to happen if i announced it, i took two running steps and jumped. it felt so good. but it was really funny to think about why it was so hard to jump- other people there had done it and it wasn't even that high up. still, the more we thought about it, the harder it was. hmmm..
i had to leave early to change, pack up, and get to the train station to take a night train to Goa. i was bummed to leave, because i could see why people spent days and even weeks there, and i really enjoyed the company of richard and mike. alas, the ticket had been bought and i Yann was expecting me at the beach.
so funny that so much can happen in two days..