Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Hampi

I just arrived back home from what I can safely say was one of the best weekends of my life. Four of us- Amy, Nurit, Alex, and I took a night bus Friday evening and arrived in Hampi around 5:30am the next morning. We took a non-A/C bus which although caused some panic in the beginning, was quite comfortable. We drove the whole way with the front door open and a nice breeze flowing throughout the cabin. We arrived in Hampi really early the next morning to be immediately approached by a couple of auto-rickshaw drivers looking for our business. We were trying to feel out the situation to get a good deal but Nurit (the Israeli) was quickly won over by the auto driver who shouted at us “Boker Tov,” or good morning in Hebrew. As I learned later, Hampi, and India in general, is a huge tourist destination for Israeli travelers. The driver took us around to some of the local guest houses near the popular touristy spots and we settled on Archana guest house—a small cement building painted bright pink and green with (my personal favorite) a rooftop view. It became a little more obvious later on that the guest house owner and the rickshaw driver might have had some sort of deal worked out between them. Nonetheless, we took a long nap, showered, met up with Alex’s friend from Brazil, Tatu, and were fresh for the long day of touring ahead. We stopped at a popular bakery/restaurant called the Shanti restaurant for some breakfast where it turned out Nurit’s old friend from her backpacking days, owned and managed. After three years without seeing each other they had a warm reunion, and so the restaurant became somewhat of our home base for the weekend.

We did some shopping along the main market, lost the boys (unintentionally), and explored the ruins surrounding the city. Hampi is known for the ancient Hindu kingdom ruins that now speckle the city center and its’ outskirts. While I don't know anything about the ruins-- like from  what time period they come from or from what kingdom-- it doesn’t really matter in order to appreciate their beauty. They are stunning on their own. 

 Amy, Nurit, and I climbed some smooth red rocks next to the market to discover old stone temples on top that seemed forgotten if it were not for the underage teenage boys drinking beer. The temples offer a breathtaking view of the small city and the surrounding rocks and forest. After some lunch we took a little dinky boat across the river to the other side of the city, a place I am going to dub “Little Israel.” The other side felt like a completely different world from the bustling city center. It has a relaxed resort like atmosphere with palm trees and dirt roads, and every restaurant or guesthouse has a completely open layout with no doors or windows. About the Israelis-- there are signs in Hebrew, every restaurant offers Israeli food, and there is even a Chabad house (basically a place where Orthodox Jews try to get Jewish tourists to celebrate Shabbat or what not—it’s all a little strange to me). Everyone on that side just seemed to spend their days wondering the landscape by foot or motorcycle. After being there for a few minutes and taking in the air and the attitude, I could certainly understand why. 

We took a rickshaw to a place called Monkey Temple and began the 500 step trek to the top to see the views. The land is so green and lush and the juxtaposition of the rocks, stone ruins, palm trees, and green farmland is like nothing I’ve seen before. We didn’t actually make it to the top to see the monkey temple though, for fear of monkey attack. Along the way up the trail you are surrounded by monkeys, EVERYWHERE.  One would appear out of a bush on your right and then suddenly another would land on the railing inches from your left. They were completely desensitized to humans and it was a little terrifying. I mean, we all saw how that movie Congo ended.

 After watching the sunset from my roof that evening we went to a restaurant overlooking the river called The Mango Tree. I demand anyone who travels to Hampi in the future must go there and order the Mango Tree Curry. It was sweet and savory and creamy all at once. Absolute perfection.

Virupaksha Temple and Hampi Bazaar below
The view on the way towards Monkey Temple, notice that little guy on the left...

The next morning we were forced to an early start because the guest house owner abruptly insisted we check out 24 hours from when we checked in. Don’t worry though, we bargained her down to 8:30am versus 6am. I split off from the girls and went with Tatu and Alex in search of a lake they had heard about. We stopped for breakfast at a guest house with a view overlooking a rice field and surrounding red rocks. We got our day started off right with a few beers and were off (beer in hand) to find the lake. We didn’t know how to get there but stopping a local and asking “lake?” seemed to work just fine. After a ride in the backseat of a van with some locals and through a dusty little village we came to big cement wall. It wasn’t until we walked a little closer and peered over that we found the town's vast reservoir, and for our purposes, a prime swimming spot.. Once there a young guy asked us if we wanted to jump. Feeling a little uneasy about it, we insisted he do it first. He led us straight to the top a giant rock, about an 8 meter drop to the sparkling water below, and jumped right over. Now I didn’t have my bathing suit with me and I was scared out of my mind, but I figured, how many chances will I have to go cliff jumping in India again?

After sun bathing on the rock and swimming below we had to get going to make it back to the mainland in time before the last boat of the day. We had a long walk back so when offered the chance, we jumped on the back of the Indian version of a pickup truck for the ride home.  I found myself standing in the back of a truck, hair wind-blown, snaking through the most beautiful country I have ever seen, and holding on for dear life. It was hard to restrain a scream of excitement. The tour was so nice in fact that we completely missed our turn. We were dropped off on the side of the road, a long hike from where we needed to be. Nonetheless, we walked through a quiet little village, played with some children, asked a few people for Hampi, and were pointed down a path towards another river. We were crossing the right river but in a more secluded spot. The boats this time looked like giant but shallow coconuts split in half and made to float on water. They were made of wicker but surprisingly sturdy—they carried two motorcycles plus a handful of passengers over to the other side. We stood in the middle of the coconuts with two men paddling up front as our motor.  Perhaps not the most efficient way of traveling, but definitely one of the more entertaining.
The view from our jump

On the road again
Just to get an idea of the coconut boats

In our roundabout way home we ended up stumbling upon some of the well-known ruins—a big temple and a long row of crumbling columns smack in the middle of rolling green fields. With mango popsicles in hand we crisscrossed our way overtop giant smooth stones, around ancient temples and through dirt paths, passing wild horses and dogs and cows, to eventually find ourselves back in the middle of town again.

That night, after a last goodbye to Shanti restaurant, we hopped on the night bus again to make it back just in time for work the next morning. Despite the exhaustion and fatigue I think Hampi awoke my travel bug- I’m ready to go somewhere next weekend!

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