Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
59Trip End Jul 11, 2012
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Where I stayed
Aum Guest House
For the ten-hour bus ride from Mysore to Hampi, I was swathed in Mysore silk—I had finally acquired a churidar, a tunic and trouser set with a scarf. From the moment I put it on, I was an instant convert to the concept: it was definitely the most comfortable outfit I had worn for the heat, and I felt appropriately dressed for the first time in India (In Sri Lanka, women wore skirts and jeans as well as traditional clothes, but in India only in TV and newspaper advertisements of cosmopolitan life have I seen women in clothes other than saris and churidars). In addition to the benefit of greater comfort, I noticed that Indian people seemed more friendly to me now that I was properly dressed (even though I couldn't bring myself to wear the scarf for the heat).
So I was cool as the proverbial cucumber on the journey that Dan later said was the most frightening road trip he’d ever been on—and this is saying a lot, given his frequent traverses in winter conditions between Fort MacMurray and Vancouver
In general in Karnataka state, we saw a less regulated approach to travel. We saw fewer motorcycle helmets. We also saw serious overcrowding in vehicles. One open truck was carrying about 120 people—seven people linked arms across the back, and the passengers were about 18 deep. The people in the middle did not look comfortable
In the afternoon an 18-year-old boy with his mother and female friend got on the bus and sat opposite us. He was an irrepressible examiner of my every feature and commented continuously in their language, Kannada, which caused a little confusion in our conversation when I said I was from Canada. He provided English words for my appearance: my eye colour (blue), my hair (white), my toe-nails (red); he also bared his teeth, in an indication that he’d like to inspect mine (his were amazingly white). His friend wanted to know what jewellery I had, in particular what gold (she looked disappointed and puzzled when I didn’t have any).
From an entirely Indian world, we arrived in Hampi, a tourist ghetto on two sides of the Tungabhadra River. Hampi is yet another World Heritage site, ancient kingdoms and sacred structures set amidst boulders piled up on each other all across the plain
We stayed first in a basic room that lacked a view but was situated a few steps from the ruins, and even fewer steps from the “Primery” School. As school let out one afternoon, the tiny students in their blue shorts or skirts and white blouses recited something in unison—I wish I knew what, but I can report that it was done with great enthusiasm. Then they walked away with their big backpacks, chatting and laughing in involved exchanges, two girls consoling a sobbing boy—no parents in sight to pick them up in SUVs. This tiny lane also contained a number of homes, and at 6 a.m., we could hear the ritual sound of sweeping outside our window. Indians seem to spend a lot of time sweeping, but early in the morning those short whisk brooms are most in use. From my vantage point in bed, I imagined it this way: housewife on one side of the lane bends over and sweeps—swish, swish—the dust away from her doorway; then the housewife on the other side sweeps—swish, swish—the same dirt back again. Then they both scatter water over the area to keep the dust down and they make their koalam designs on their hearths with white powder.
Just after the sweeping one morning we set out to explore Vittala Temple, about 2 km away through ruins and rocks
After our epic trek in the heat, I was much in want of a foot massage, and I had a place in mind where they would do a thirty-minute massage for 200 rupees (~$4)
Our second guesthouse was on the far side of the river from Hampi Bazaar and overlooked a vibrant green rice paddy and the river. Dozens of cafes and guesthouses lined the river, and they provided a respite from travel. They had mattresses with cushion backrests laid out beside tables so that as soon as you’d finished eating, you could go right into the nap phase of your day. Lanterns covered with Rajasthani embroidery and glass hung over each table, and in the evening this made a pretty sight. The cafes were full of non-Indian tourists, many of them the twenty-somethings we’d been wondering the whereabouts of in Sri Lanka. Dreadlocks were more common than in the general population, as were tattoos and voluminous cotton trousers with the crotch around the ankles
Our last day in Hampi was March 8, Holi, festival of colours. I got up early, rented a bicycle, and pedalled a few kilometres down the road among rice paddies and big rocks to Anegundi, another village among ancient ruins. On the way back, I stopped for a tea-stall chai, and then climbed the steps to Hanuman Temple. Many white-garbed pilgrims were on their way down, and they greeted me with “Sri Ram,” “Sita Ram,” and “Namaste,” full of good cheer on this Holi day. At the top, an elderly man with pink hair called to me—I had almost walked onto the sacred rock with my shoes on. I had of course, to take them off, only to walk around in monkey shit—it’s a monkey temple, after all, and there were lots of monkeys up there, well fed on bananas brought them by the pilgrims. The views were stupendous—piles of rocks everywhere with the bright green of young rice between. From there I could see the temple on the top of Matanga Hill, on the other side of the river, which Dan and I had climbed at sunset a couple of days before.
On my way back down the stairs, pilgrims on their way up were as friendly as the ones on the way down. I decided that although I enjoyed relaxing and hanging out at in the riverfront tourist cafes, my favourite memories of this stop will be the ones of the “real India.”