A Hampi Christmas

Just a tad hung over today, but I best get on with catching up….

The ride from Goa to Hampi was a little bit too long to be much fun in one day. So we decided to break it up and pop by the Dudhsagar Waterfalls. Our guide book promised a rocky, muddy path through the forest with lots of river crossings up to an amazing waterfall, which only 4x4s could navigate. Should be loads of fun on the bikes 🙂

The way to Collem (where said path starts) was short and mostly on less busy roads, so we took it easy, stopping to take pictures and for coconuts. I’d never had one before so I thought I’d try…. Eeew! Definitely not impressed, but Aidan likes them.

Collem is a tiny village full of Jeeps that can take you to the waterfall. The only hotel we could find was the strange Elephant Village where you could book a full on Jungle Book Experience. It’s a giant garden crammed full of plants with little grey stone huts arranged down paths around little green spaces. They grow and sell all sorts of herbs, spices, fruit and nuts here. And there is a resident elephant! I’m in! It was a bit pricy but being neighbours with an elephant for a night is kinda cool.

The restaurant has a pricy but yummie all you can eat buffet with real nice dishes you don’t get at the roadside dhabas. There were unusually tomatoey chicken and veg curries, masala potatoes and flavoured rice, local cabbage and kohlrabi salads and masala tea to wash it down with. The dining hall was like a giant green house with pots of plants sitting on the tables and hanging from the ceiling and trees. The entire place had a surreal stage set kind of feel.

After lunch and moving in we found out that it was forbidden to go to the waterfall with your own vehicle and you would be stopped by the forest department. Government had got worried about the negative effects of the increasing tourism. If we’d been here two years ago….

We were super disappointed! The whole point of coming here had been the challenging off-road ride to the awesome waterfalls. Now what? We didn’t fancy paying 500 rupees each to be carted up there and take three pictures with lots of other tourists in the way. Still in the mood for a ride, we decided to explore a bit anyways. The waterfall road reached its first river crossing straight away. It’s possible to cross with the bikes and normally we wouldn’t have hesitated, but it wasn’t worth risking dropping and drowning them if we would be turned around straight away.

The other road out of the village led through quiet farm land, forests and past temples and tiny villages, all doused in the evening sun. Riding with an unladen bike and just in light cotton pants, a T-shirt and helmet felt so awesomely free.

On the way back Aidan picked up a hitchhiker. A strange old guy, who just hung out next to us smiling, after we’d dropped him off by the road works he’d wanted to go to.

The next day’s ride wasn’t too far and we stopped for lunch at a dhaba. We ordered rice and dal, but soon learned that here in the south, people eat a huge mountain of rice, spiced in some way or other, or even egg fried rice, mixed with a tiny bowl of curry like sauce of some description. Very yummily flavoursome and bloating. As we were munching, the pony convoy we had overtaken earlier, came past. Later someone told me they are called cowboys here (don’t ask me why) and they travel the land and live on the road. See if you can spot the sheep in the sack on the pony that the dog is riding.

Back on the road we came across an elephant in the next town.

Then the sand coloured boulder mountains came into view. A misty view as always in India!

Hampi is a tiny village on the Tungabhatra River. It is full of guest houses for tourists and if you cross the river, there are more places to stay on what they call Hampi Island, though a road connects it to the mainland. Way back when this was the important city of Vijaynagar. A couple of Indian brothers, captured by the Muslim leader of Delhi and turned Muslim themselves, were sent down there to quell a rebellion. When they were done, they converted back to Hinduism and built a huge Hindu empire around Hampi. The area is of great spiritual importance for Hindus and so they built lots and lots of temples.

What remains is a stunning dreamy bouldery riverside landscape with lots and lots of ruins dotted around everywhere, many kilometres in every direction. Some temples have been restored, others are just crumbling and you are free to roam and climb about them as you please. There are hundreds of school kids and tourists from around the country every day. Strapped for time, they usually just stick to the main sights, leaving loads of peacefully quiet places for the backpackers staying in Hampi to explore.

In the past few years tourist business was booming, hotels spreading everywhere. But since this is a UNESCO and holy site, government has put a stop to that, tearing down lots of guest houses and shops, forbidding new ones to be built. There are lots of tourist orientated shops and restaurants of course, but they remain small and pleasantly colourful. So Hampi has retained a cosy village feel. Cows, cats, goats and dogs roam about and traditionally dressed children play on the hardened mud roads.

We stayed at the edge of the cute, colourful Hampi village in a simple and friendly guest house by the riverside. It is run by a nice family who sleep on the floor of the roof top restaurant at night. The open kitchen is up there too, so someone has to be around at all times to ward off any monkeys stealing the food and utensils. The people next door just live in a big shack made of wooden poles, plastic sheeting and palm leaves. And they have loads and loads of goats with the cutest little ones that love to nibble on my clothes 🙂

Every household draws flower patterns in front of their doors using the coloured powder they sell in the markets. Usually it’s just white and often rose and jasmine petals are sprinkled in the middle.

The sale of alcohol is illegal in Hampi and you have to cross the river to enjoy a cold beer in a cafe. Of course we got round that problem quite easily, riding into town to stock up. The bucket in the bathroom topped up with water, cooled by frozen bottles of water from the hostel restaurant served as quite an effective little fridge 🙂

There used to be a bridge across the river, but it’s tumbled down. The family running the boat service across is paying a lot of baksheesh to make sure there won’t be a new one any time soon. In the evening around sunset the ferry service finishes. The only way across then is by coracle, a little round bamboo basket rowed across by a guy who makes a fortune with it. Instead of 10Rs, it now costs around 100Rs per person, depending on his mood and your bargaining skills.

The only temple still in operation is the giant one just outside the village. Cows roam around in it and they love a good scratch of the neck. At night all the workers, sometimes including wives and children, who don’t actually live in the village, simply sleep on blankets in the temple courtyard.

The temple also has a resident elephant that is involved in ceremonies and spends the day earning a few rupees putting hats on tourists, having its picture taken and performing little tricks. In the evenings they take it down the ghats to the river so it can have a good deep drink and shower bathers for everyone’s entertainment.

Of course, as everywhere in India, there are lots of shrines people still go to and pray. There is even a holy tree with a little shrine underneath. People tie little rocks in cloth or plastic bags to it, making a wish (to pass exams or for a family member to get well and the like, a passer-by told us). All around Hampi there are little spots where people pile stones into little cairns too. I’m guessing it’s for a prayer or wish.

We spent the days roaming around the ruins, banana plantations and bouldery hills. The place is spectacular and it is impossible to do it justice in a description. You can spend weeks exploring it. It has a sleepy, spiritual feel and time just stands still here. We took hundreds of pictures so I have picked just a few to hopefully give you a little bit of an idea.

The masterpieces are the Lotus Pavilion and the Vitthala temple. You actually have to pay to see these ones and sadly it means they are tourist overrun, destroying the spiritual feel somewhat. We gave the pavilion a miss, scared away by hordes of screaming kids, but we did pop into the Vitthala temple. It is very different from the others in that it has much more delicate carvings and details. And of course it has the famous stone cart. All the local towns and villages have a wooden version of the cart, some even more elaborate, and they are part of a huge festival procession once a year.

A school class was drawing and painting parts of the temple. Brings me back to the days when I had to draw Chartres cathedral…

We’d heard about the monkey temple on top of a mountain on the other side of the river. People said to take the bikes there, but we liked a little walk. It took us through rice paddys and we got to watch as they sowed the rice and planted the young plants into bushels. First the rice is sown in a small paddy. When the young, bright green plants are about 20cm tall, they are uprooted, thrown on a trailer and driven to the bigger paddys. A guy fills them into a sack and another takes them to the field, dropping them in little mounds in the water every few metres. Then a brigade of women come along, planting them in little bushels, bums in the air. It’s hard work, but they are super efficient, planting several paddys in one afternoon.

Six hundred steps or so take you up the mountain to the monkey temple. Actually there are only a few monkeys at the bottom of the stairs, begging for biscuits and bananas, which people buy for them in the little shacks selling drinks and food. The small, white washed temple is dedicated to Hanuman, the monkey-god. We waited for the chanting crowds to file back out of the temple and then had a little nosey. The inner sanctum revealed a flower, incense and colour powder adorned rock painted bright orange that looks a little bit like a monkey.

Next to the temple are some huge boulders from which you get a 360 misty view of the ruin-spluttered area and the Vitthala temple across the river.

When we weren’t climbing around the ruins, we sat in Funky Monkey, a cosy, multi coloured, cushions-on-the-floor cafe with WiFi and a Tavla board. It was good to catch up with friends and family via Skype. One day was dedicated to mechanics. Khiimori’s rear tire needed replacing. On the inside it is undamaged, but the tire wall is cracked on the outside and we really didn’t want to risk a massive blow out, especially when our friend Kerry would be riding pillion in a few weeks! A new tire was found easily  enough at a tire shop. But the puncture guys next door really struggled to pop the new tubeless tire back on the rim. Aidan got more and more stressed as the guys deformed it, blowing too much air in and resorted to hopping around on the rim. Sometimes it’s really best not to watch people fixing your bike in India!

Nila’s steering head bearings were on their way out, so I bought new ones at a parts shop and found a mechanic to fit them for me. It was a big operation, Aidan and I lending him a hand and it took a long while. We didn’t exchange many words due to language, but it felt like we got to know each other a bit as the hours passed. He bought us a super yum, freshly squeezed lime drink mixed there and then from a cart that the juice walla wheeled past. He took Nila for several test rides and kept making adjustments till he was satisfied. Well, sort of. He eventually had to give up. Despite his best efforts to adjust wheel alignment and tighten the bearings just right, Nila’s front end is wobbly as hell. I had basically ridden her to shit, hitting so many pot holes, the front wheel is bent and the handle bars are loose despite being tightened to the limit. And if you brake really hard, one of the yokes clicks forward a centimetre or two. It’s scary to ride at first, but after a while you just start believing it won’t fall apart quite yet. After the work the handling had improved a bit and I feel in control of my bike again. Private mechanics charge more than the measly 75Rs Bajaj charge for labour. But $7 for several hours work really won’t break the bank and I was super happy with the mechanic 🙂

Of course it was Christmas while we were in Hampi, though no one here celebrates it. There aren’t really any Christians in the area. So I got a lot of confused looks when I rode around with Nila all decorated like a Christmas tree. But most people smiled, waved and even cheered since the idea of decorating your vehicle in all the glitter you can find is nothing strange here. Some even wished happy Christmas and I got asked loads if I would give them the Santa mask, hands fumbling his nose and beard.

Being German I decreed that we exchange prezzies on Christmas Eve. Having failed epically to procure a Christmas tree we curled up in our room, lit a little candle and opened presents. I got some pretty silver bracelets, a beautiful stitched cloth bed cover thing I had declared that I liked (and which I had noticed earlier that day had gone missing from the shop around the corner) and a wickid little horn. I had always complained that scooters beep super loud as you walk down the street even though they had plenty of space to go around you. So now I would take my revenge and beep right back! Hopefully they won’t expect it and jump right out of their seat 🙂 It’s impossible to figure out what to give Aidan, as he never mentions any wishes. So I gave him my little throttle mate since I broke his a while back. It lets you stick  the throttle open so you free up your right hand to scratch your mozzie bites while riding or whatever. And a huge pile of books, all of which he luckily hadn’t read before and was keen on reading. Phew! A screw cap bottle of wine that Aidan absent mindedly decided to cork and a long conversation made for a cosy evening.

We stayed in Hampi so long, we actually got to know a few other travelers and hung out with them for dinner and some great little conversations. You meet some amazing people on the road! One guy I got chatting to has basically been traveling most his life, living for stretches of time in Thailand and the like till he settled for the simple life in a little hut in the woods with a little veg garden stretching down to the sea. Sounds idyllic! Now he is traveling with his daughter, showing her the world. We also hooked up with Frank, a German biker we’d found on facebook, who’s been traveling for eighteen years and is becoming more “german” by the minute. And, having bought some racquets in town, I played a few games of Badminton with the daughter of the hostel owner. We had lots of fun playing in the dark, the shuttlecock getting stuck in the tree branches above 🙂

On the last day we treated ourselves to a shisha and Old Monk rum cooled with ice water on a hill with a view over Aidan’s favourite temple. It was a quiet and peaceful spot. We whiled away the time writing our diaries and watching the sun set behind the temple topped hill opposite.

When Aidan got up to take a picture and promptly stepped on the shisha coals I had chucked on the rock behind us to cool down without causing a bush fire. The sole of his feet burst out into three huge blisters and he couldn’t get his foot onto the frozen water bottle fast enough. Ouch! So we limped back to the hostel. The next few days I’d have to help him hold the bike when he climbed on and off. But tomorrow we’d head off towards Mysore anyways. It was time to leave the touristy places and return to real India.



One response to “A Hampi Christmas

  1. Pingback: Bungle Bungle Rollercoaster Ride | followingtarmac·

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