A picture of Hampi first, by way of an introduction -
Was there last weekend with Katrin. I always hated history and all history-related subjects in school. Going to Hampi made me realise my feelings haven't changed. Smriti says she's not interested in Hampi because there's nothing to hump in Hampi :P
We got there pretty early, it was still dark out and we took a rickshaw from Hospet, and it was complete wilderness, with just us two girls and our rickshaw driver. I was a little uneasy, but it started to get light while we were on our way to Hampi. And I was beginning to enjoy the sights and sounds when bam! our rickshaw's tire got a puncture! In the middle of nowhere.
Our valiant driver, Shiva, took us to a nearby temple on top of a hill, and further took us up on the top of this hill (?) (more like a dollop of boulders) near the temple so we could sit and watch the sun rise while he goes to fetch another rickshaw. We asked him several times while on our way there if there were monkeys around, because we are both terrified of them. And each time Shiva would say, 'No, no, ma'am! No monkey here, haha, no worry.' Assured, we sat down and lit cigarettes, ready to watch the phenomenal event of the sun coming up on the horizon.
Then I heard Katrin's voice, sounding Katrin-like but with a new, exciting tremor to it. 'Jerusha!' it whispered. 'Jerusha! Oh god! There are monkeys here!' I, whose eyes had been fixed firmly on the distant horizon, turned and looked, and saw she had not lied or was joking as I wished she had been. There were two little monkeys, just sitting there and staring at us. And what was worse, there were more coming out from behind a big rock, in a single file, who came out and sat down around us, staring at us like we were the famous little green men from Mars.
Katrin froze and blabbered something about how she can't let 'anything' happen here (I assumed she meant 'death' by 'anything'), not here in the middle of nowhere, not here in Hampi, not here in India, separated from her loving parents' arms by endless miles of the yawning ocean. I think I would have bolted and ran if I had been with someone who was braver. I watched those little buggers, more of them coming out and placing themselves in a circle round us, like we were sacrificial lambs, and all I wanted to do was hurl myself down the boulders with not a thought of broken bones, and even possibly, 'anything'.
'Don't panic, get up slowly, grab your bags and walk. Walk, don't run' I said, but all I wanted to do was run myself. Somehow we did as the voice coming out of my mouth told us to. And we easily scrambled down rocks which we had climbed up with so much difficulty. At one point, I turned back and didn't see a single monkey. I thought they'd stopped following us, relieved, I even relaxed enough to take this picture - our distant beacon of hope, the temple.Tree branches above us swished again. We scrambled down further. They followed us till the temple and stopped. We hovered somewhere around the temple's entrance, too scared to go back up and too scared to venture further down the road where wild, stray dogs and buffaloes roamed - both of which we are both again terrified of.
We sat there near the temple and waited for Shiva to come back with the life-saving rickshaw. It was like Psychology class all over again. The devil and the deep blue sea. The monkeys on one side, and the buffaloes on the other. And the temple had several towers, all of which had fearsome demon-like statues. It was not a very pleasant thing, sitting there with these statues glowering down at us. I, however, meekly got my camera out and zoomed in on one of the statues and hoped he wouldn't mind if I took one picture of him. The hyperthyroidic statues with the protruding eyeballs. No I didn't like them at all.
It was getting later, there were priests on the temple who must've just gotten up and were walking down towards us. It seemed the monkeys had destroyed our trust in our own fellow creatures because K asked me if they were going to attack us :-). I said I didn't know for sure but most likely not. They didn't.
When Shiva came back, the first thing he heard from us was 'Shiva, there ARE monkeys on that hill!!' Reproach loud on our voices. And what did he say? 'Of course ma'am, here monkeys everywhere. Is okay. They don harm.' Blithely. As blithe and as cheerful as a lark. He had no idea we had been treading on the very edge of death just a few minutes before. Thoughts of being bitten by a mad monkey, not to instant death but the bite sealing me to an eternal doom of leading a rabid life had also ran rampant in my mind. But yes, Shiva was hale and hearty and blithe and gay.
On a more serious note, the crumbling ruins made me angry that these people, who were once this powerful and ruled in such glorious magnificence, didn't have anything better to do than built elaborate stables for elephants and more temples than one could pray in in a lifetime. That's all well and good but look at us now, maybe there were things they could've done differently.
All that glory, power, learnings, skills and we, heirs of all that glory, are now third world citizens, forever stricken with poverty, where people come to play missionary and social worker and good samaritan and cleanse their conscience and dirty their feet. 'Developing' all the time, and I'm sick of the present-continuous-ness of this term. I wonder what the old Maharajahs of yore would feel if they can see us now.
Eagerly awaiting the day we, the once-developed and civilized, that by some ill-luck regressed to a developing state, can kick the 'ing' out and turn that gerund into a regular adjective once again.
Other than that, I think there were too many temples that looked alike, too much sun, too many monkeys and our driver, too enthusiastic - which was tiring for us, who were not interested and refused to step out of the rick in most of the sites, and also disappointing for him, who was obviously used to people ooh-ing and aah-ing away.
Aside from all these, I liked Hampi and the surrounding countryside, it's really charming, with bullock-drawn carts and sugarcane fields, and mobile phones that don't work :). Also easy to feel kind of detached from the world and a little lost. But I really did like the place.
And there were lots of colorful, friendly gypsies!
But if i were to go back, there's only one place that I think is really worth going back for - the Mango Tree restaurant. Under the shade of giant mango trees, nestled close to the river Tungabhadra, quiet and peaceful and close to nature, you sit on mats on the floor and eat. They serve only vegetarian food, and it's REALLY cheap. I did not see a single dish that cost more than Rs 100. They also make very good tea, which is very important in my book. I had plain rice, dal fry and aloo jeera - served on banana leaf! It was probably the best meal I've had in a very long time. I don't remember ever enjoying dal and aloo so much. That meal was better than any I've ever had in all the fancy restaurants I've ever been to. That's Shiva, happy and full from his Thali dinner. You can see the river in the background. We ate dinner there, with the lantern and on the mats and fireflies overhead. It was just lovely!
Men with Coracles on the river. K asked me if they got those from turtles :)
Went walking further down the river and found this lone fisherman -
His catch so far -
The people are very friendly. The fisherman asked me 'What is your name?', the kids on the street asked me my name, everyone asks you for your name. I almost had to pay the foreigner price of Rs 250 entry fees, but I speak enough Hindi to save myself. I don't speak a lot but I can speak the little that I do know like I know a lot :P They kept on telling me I spoke 'excellent' Hindi. (That's a feather on your cap for you, Mr Kutty)
And oh, if you're ever there, you have to beware of kids that just jump in when you take pictures. Gypsy kids with wild hair and tattooed chins and foreheads and colorful clothing and beautiful eyes, they grab you and smile for your camera, and they all want to look at the pictures before going back to tending cattle or collecting firewood. And they look at their pictures, and give you a thumbs-up and say 'Super!'
Despite the harrowing encounter with the monkeys, the trip was super. I hope to make it back there again soon.