Sunday, 23 June 2013

something interesting is always happening

After yet another overnight train trip we finally arrived in Hampi, a dusty, little village surrounded by huge boulders, temples, banana plantations and coconut trees and bordered on one side by a river. This area is a world heritage site and, as we found out from an English girl we met there, the houses and businesses in the area are slowly being demolished and the people ordered to move away. It's a little controversial as there has been no compensation for these people yet and this began happening 3 years ago. I think the ultimate plan is to make accommodation only available in the town 1/2 an hour away and charge astronomical (by Indian standards) entry prices to the temples. Right now you only have to pay for one ticket but there are plenty of free temples to visit, and you can stay within walking distance of lots of them. So it's a lovely place right now; the time to visit would be now!

It's a very relaxed little area. We were there in the off season so it was quiet and there wasn't much open but we just wandered among the temples and rocks and felt as if we were on the set of an Indiana Jones movie. We spent a lot of time watching monkeys do hilarious things and climbed a big, rocky hill for views of banana fields, rocky crops and the big temple that dominated Hampi town. One day we rented bikes and rode out to other temples and old stone builidings, carvings and statues. It is all very impressive and the work that must have gone into each building would be astronomical; they are so detailed and intricate. Complete devotion to a higher being (or orders from a higher and very un-merciful mortal) are the only ways I can see these structures coming into being. No way would anybody be sitting down one day thinking, 'hmmm, you know what I feel like doing? Carving tiny, extremely detailed figures into rock. Should only take a few decades to finish...'

There were a lot of fake Sadhus in Hampi, waiting to catch unsuspecting tourists and charge them for photographs. Real sadhus are holy men who wander around India smoking, begging and creating huge piles of dreadlocks on their heads. The ones in Varanasi also smeared themselves with the ash of corpses. These men were just dressed in orange with peacock feathers in the hair and bangles on. They did manage to catch a few westerners who obviously thought they needed to rid themselves of some money though.

This was also a domestic tourist destination so we could not sit still, admire a temple or even stand anywhere for more than a few minutes before someone would be upon us asking for 'just one snap'. This became more and more irritating- imagine just wanting to sit and watch the river flow by and all of a sudden you are surrounded by an ever growing group of Indians who all want separate photos with you- so that the last picture I was in I graced with an enormous frown. Suckers!

We met a few other westerners in Hampi; it was a small place so easy to run into to people and get chatting. One of the days we passed some people and they stopped us and asked if we had been in Kalpetta recently. Turns out they had seen us opening the bakery there (dressed in traditional Indian clothing) and remembered us. So that was both embarrassing and extremely unlikely!

After templing ourselves out, eating chicken on the other side of the river- Hampi is super religious so no alcohol or meat, and Will having a dip in the river to try and escape the ridiculous heat, we were about ready to leave. Back to the train station and onward to a town that wasn't so much fun at all but which Will liked because there was always something happening.

I can't remember the name of the place, it's really long and starts with T, but it is kind of in between Bangalore and Pondicherry, which was to be our next destination. This town boasted a 10 hectare temple complex and a big hill to climb so we thought it was worthy of a night or two. Our time there didn't start well though; it was impossible to get decent accommodation at the right price and we ended up staying at the worst place we have yet been, paying way too much and being yelled at 3 times by management (not because we did anything wrong, just because they were big, fat jerks). They also had the audacity to ask for a tip when we checked out. I laughed at that one.

I was also quite sick and this town was really condensed so all the noise, smells and humanity was very tightly packed in and seemed very exaggerated. I was on the verge of tears whenever someone honked their car/bus/tuktuk horn.

But in our short time there we saw some memorable things...we visited the big temple and Will got blessed by an elephant- they are really smart creatures. They have been trained by their owners to recieve both money and food from people but they only give a blessing (a tap on the head with their trunk) if they have been given money. Seriously! We also had a conversation with an Indian man who a) spoke enough English to carry on an interesting chat, b) didn't ask for a photo at any point and c) didn't try to sell us anything. A temple miracle! We saw what seemed to be a funeral procession in the streets. Men were banging drums in front of a huge vehicle carrying the body and bedecked with thousands of flowers while more people followed, littering the streets with flowers and letting of entire boxes of fireworks at once.

While I was incapacitated in bed, Will climbed the big hill and saw just how crowded the town really was. And he could apparently still hear all the noise from the streets even from the top. He also ventured out one night, lured by fireworks, and chanced upon what he thought was a wedding- apparently it was similar to the funeral, with the flowers and fireworks and people on vehicles. Except there was a bride and a groom. Obviously.

So I don't have great memories of that town, Will has better ones. We left after two nights and caught an agonising bus to Pondicherry, a town of French colonial times where we can eat cheese, steak and crepes. Hello paradise! No but Indian food is delicious, you just begin to miss the small things like dairy that isn't yoghurt or chai. And meat that isn't chicken (or un-identified). Anyway, we are in Pondicherry for the next few days to pig out and then go swimming at the (admittedly not very nice) beach- we don't care though, I reckon it pushes 40 degrees here during the day.

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