Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Hampi – When does a town become a ruin?

So far, India has been like no other place we traveled in the world. Despite the fact that I’ve had strep throat, almost got ran over by a motorbike, and fainted, I am absolutely loving it. There’s just something about the colorful saris, the incredibly spicy food, the thousands of aimless cows, the relentless honking, and Indian and Hindu cultural in your face 24 hours a day. It makes me wish we could stay longer, and Hampi was one of those places where I didn’t want to leave.

After an overnight sleeper bus on horrible bumpy roads and a 30 minute auto-rickshaw ride, we finally made it one of the most incredible places I’ve been. The first thing we noticed when entering Hampi were the thousands of large stone hills scattered throughout the city. The gravity defying stone boulders created by volcanoes looked like they should have rolled to the bottom ages ago. It’s hard to believe that one of the local Indian men I talked to had never seen one fall to the ground. Also, the 500-1300 year ruins scattered around are pretty hard not to notice as well. Hampi is an important cultural center for the Indian people and is a World Heritage site.
Now is the time to see Hampi because at the moment all the guesthouses and restaurants are among the ruins where anyone can roam freely throughout and there is hardly anyone around. However, several organizations are currently trying to kick all the local people, guesthouses, and merchants out of Hampi in order to preserve all the ruins. While I understand the desire to do this, I don’t want this to happen. In the next several years it will be just like another Angkor Wat.
Our guesthouse was located right next to a 7th century Hindu temple and was owned by a very nice local family. The first day saw us roam around several ruins and of course, continue as the new Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of India. I now know what it’s like to have people constantly want a picture with you and it is horrible. Since there were so many Indian tourists in Hampi, it seemed like they had all the time in the world to take pictures. Groups of men were probably the worst to deal with as all of them had cell phones and all of them wanted to be in the picture with us. Sometimes we would stand there for15 minutes as they took turns taking pictures. We need to be better at just flat out saying NO, but apparently, we are way to nice.
The first night in Hampi just happened to be an annual spiritual celebration in the temple where the Hindus celebrated the engagement between Pampa and an incarnation Shiva. Pampa was worshipped before Hinduism swept through Hampi. The Pampa-based religion was absorbed by Hinduism and Pampa entered the Brahmanism Pantheon with this wedding. In other words, this is when the local religion (Pampa)and Shiva (Hinduism) merged together. Hinduism is more likely to absorb new ideas into their religion than outright reject them. Both Buddha and Jesus play a role in modern Hinduism.
The celebration started with marching and drums to the temple where thousands of oil candles were lit in the temple and it was absolutely stunning. Of course, hundreds of Indians among us meant there would be more pictures of us and the shaking of our hands. I don’t quite understand why they all want to shake our hands, but that is another thing we deal with on a daily basis in India. My favorite moment had to be when a 17 year old girl approached me and asked all the usual questions before pointing across the temple to her mom, dad, brother, sister, grandma, grandpa, and cousin while telling me their names as if I would remember the incredible difficult pronunciations of the names of people I actually never officially met. She was incredibly sweet though and it was fun, but after an hour, Bryan and I were utterly exhausted. Side note, I’m pretty sure we’re in some travel show or documentary because there was a guy with a very big camera who was interviewing other people and filming part of the celebration, so don’t feel embarrassed if you see me not wanting to eat the handful of rice snacks some random guy was handing out with his bare hand to hundreds of people.
Bryan was recovering from a bit of a cold, so the next day we relaxed in our room for most of the morning and early afternoon before making our way to some more ruins. This was one of my favorite traveling days mostly because we were literally the only ones walking around the ruins that were only a 10 minutes walk from our guesthouse. It was a bit of a surreal moment as we are used to hundreds of people (in Europe) gathered around old ruins such as these. Simply amazing. Monkeys, goats, and cows joined us for a bit of the tour and then we needed to decide what to do for New Years Eve.
Many people in India are very spiritual and religious. In many of the restaurants in India you will not find any meat as the majority of people here are vegetarians. It can also be difficult to find alcohol, especially in the holy cities such as Hampi and Varanasi. Alcohol is actually illegal in Hampi, and as a result, there weren’t a lot of places to hang out at night on New Years Eve. Bryan was still feeling a a bit under the weather anyway, so we went back to the room and watched a movie. It was epic.
I had a bit of a rough start the following morning mostly because I fainted. It was a bit of an embarrassing moment but what the heck, you’ve read this far, so you deserve to know. I was putting the mosquito net up above the bed it didn’t even cross my mind there was a fan in the way and it was on. To my credit, this didn’t cross Bryan’s mind either as he was standing right there watching. I will blame this on morning drowsiness. Well, as you can imagine, the fan hit my right hand as hard as it possibly could. It mostly hit my knuckles on my middle finger and ring finger, and I started bleeding. I rushed to the bathroom to wash it. I don’t know if it was the combination of shock, blood, and the fact that my insides felt like they were vibrating, but I fainted. I don’t remember anything that happened other than telling Bryan in the bathroom “I feel like I’m going to faint,” and then I woke up on the bed with Bryan saying, “I’m going to get a doctor.” Such a weird feeling, and apparently my eyes were open the entire time. I almost fainted again at breakfast but Bryan talked me through it the moment everything turned white and I couldn’t see a thing. He said something like “stay with me,” and I did. I didn’t need a doctor, I just needed Bryan. Fortunately, I am now part of the “I have fainted” group which made this whole experience worth it.
The rest of the day was spent exploring and Bryan getting his sandal fixed by a random cobbler situated in middle of the colorful Hampi bazaar. Those sandals would have lasted maybe another month or two, but he was pretty ready to jettison his favorite sandals; a pair of Reef’s he got when visiting the Boehm’s in Idaho on the way to put Grandpa Wokich’s remains in Great Falls, Montana. As he was walking by the guy noticed they needed to be fixed. Two minutes and 60 cents later, an expensive pair of sandals had been repaired..
The next day saw us making our way over to the other side of the river where we heard it was a bit more quiet. It was another backpackers district sort of like Don Det, Laos with bungalows looking over rice patties, movies and music nights, unpaved roads, hammocks, and people from all over the world. It would have been a relaxing place to stay for a few days other than the last boat across was at 5:30pm and there was no bridge. We would have missed a lot of the main ruins, temple celebrations, and sunset views if we had stayed over there, but it was a nice day trip. Plus, our side had all the Indian tourists, so it was a much better cultural experience.
Later, we went back across to the main part of Hampi in order to climb up a big stone hill known as Matanga Hill for one of the best sunset views in Hampi and it was stunning. We met a couple British dudes and then all made our way down before it got too dark. Fortunately, no one fell off the rather slippery stone rocks going down. This experience was another example of something one would never find in the US because it would be defined as too dangerous, like the sleeper buses.
The next day we decided to hire a rickshaw guide to take us around to various ruins further away from our guesthouse. The highlight of this day had to be when we came across a group of mostly Indian women, and they invited us over to chat for a bit. Most of them couldn’t speak a lot of English, so it was mostly non-verbal communication, broken English, and a lot of laughs. They were so cute and sweet. Overall, it was a great day, although towards the end we were pretty much done with temples. Fortunately, our desire to not want to visit another ruin happened right as we were about to leave Hampi.
Although, I was sad to leave beautiful Hampi, I was excited to finally see North India and head to one of our most anticipated cities. Next stop, Varanasi. Here are a few teasers to help you also anticipate….Dalai Lama, cremated bodies, and bicycle rickshaws. Varanasi is by far the most interesting place I have ever been to.
Yes, India is incredible.

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