Hanging out in hippy Hampi for Holi
Trip Start Mar 03, 2008
10Trip End Mar 31, 2008
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I managed to get a seat in one of the sleeper compartments which converts to a daytime set up during the day (the middle sleeper folds down and everyone sits on the bottom berths). The guy opposite me was going all the way to Calcutta and in true Indian style he had no reading matter to pass the time, he just stared out of the window and at me and chatted with other passengers. Indians have a great ability to just while away time doing nothing at all! The inspector came round and said I could stay in my seat as no-one had reserved it until after I would leave the train 8 hours later.
The journey was really lovely as we were cutting across Goa through the Western Ghats and valleys and verdant green hills, giving way to cotton fields and rice paddies as we crossed back into Karnataka. I got chatting to two english girls on a six month round the world trip before going to university. I was old enough to be their mother! It was funny listening to their plans and their expectations of the trip and apprehension of being inexperienced travellers.
At Hospet, we were accosted on the platform by hordes of rickshaw drivers and I negotiated for two rickshaws for four of us to get to Hampi. At Hampi we stopped two travellers we met on arrival and asked them for a recommendation for one of the many guesthouses set up to accommodate the thousands of travellers who hang out in Hampi. The rickshaw drivers were pissed off as they missed out on commission but we were very pleased with our choice at Shanthi Guesthouse, very near the river. It was set in a courtyard, with clean, bright rooms with soft comfy beds. The rooms were however stifling hot even with a fan as Hampi is baking at this time of year. We finished off the day with dinner in a rooftop restaurant surrounded by heaps of other travellers/tourists.
After an impossibly hot night in Shanthi and a very noisy fan, I spent the day chilling, reading and listening to music
Hampi is famous for its barren, rocky backdrop where the 15th century city of Vijayanagar was based. In the Hindu legends of the Ramayana, this area was the realm of the monkey gods. The area, which is now a World Heritage site, became the centre of one of the largest Hindu empires in Indian history and was heavily fortified attracting international commerce to its busy bazaars trading in precious stones. The city was ransacked by a confederation of Deccan sultans in the middle of the 16th century and went into decline. There are 500 or so monuments in the area set amongst an extraordinary landscape of giant granite boulders, lush paddies and banana plantations.
I hooked up with a Scottish girl Morag and a German girl, Jenny. Morag was at the end of an 18 month world trip. We wandered around some of the closest temples and boulders. The next day we started out very early at 5.45am to go and watch the sunrise from the top of a hill strewn with boulders. I found it a hard and precarious climb. The hill had a little temple on top
We spent the rest of the day travelling around the main sites with a rickshaw driver, including the Royal Enclosure, various temples and the Vitthala Temple dedicated to Vishnu which was more intricately carved than other temples int he area. In the courtyard of this temple was a superb carved granite chariot. Sunset didn't really turn out to be so good as the clouds were amassing, which didn't bode well with the rain moving up from the south. There was another power cut and dinner was consumed by candlelight.
I spent yet another day doing nothing much! I went down to the boulder-strewn river to watch the morning washing rituals of the town. Some were bathing in the river (keeping their clothes on!) and some were washing clothes or dishes. Drinking water is available in taps around the town which locals take to their simple homes in containers. A life that millions and millions (maybe two thirds of India's billion people) do everyday
Another citizen of the town was having her wash... it was Lakshmi the temple elephant. This huge beast happily lay down in the muddy water and allowed her attendant and his small son plus many of the tourists to scrub her down - every inch was scrubbed with brushes and stones. She seemed to love it and each side took a good half hour. At the end she trumpeted water over her head, spraying her back (see video below), before her attendant hauled himself and his son with her help onto her back and walked off up the steps of the ghats towards the temple. What a thrill to watch! The heavens opened soon after that and the dark thunder clouds released heavy sheets of rain for much of the day. This kind of spoilt the evening celebrations for Holi and the ritual of collecting the firewood for the evening fire and burning of an effigy of a demon god.
I'm enjoying hanging out in Hampi, it's rather indulgent and whilst it still feels very Indian, there is a calm atmosphere and the dirt is not as bad as other places and the people tend to leave us alone - although I still get asked 20 times I day 'Your country', 'your name' etc etc
The next day started out muddy after more downpours but it didn't deter the kids and the younger men and women and loads of travellers joining in the Holi celebrations. Holi is the festival of colour celebrating some conquest or other of a demon and the start of spring. It's mainly Hindu but many muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Christians get involved too. Men get a bit stoned and drunk (although Hampi is officially a 'dry' town as it's an important pilgrim place). Everyone throws powder or coloured water over each other. I wimped out as I've been here for Holi before and I knew it takes days for the colour to come off the skin especially white skin, as many travellers discovered and carried on their travels looking like rainbows! I elected to watch from a rooftop restaurant with a cute German guy who I spent the rest of the day chatting with as we dodged the rain downpours and craters of muddy water. We followed everyone down the river at midday as they went to scrub themselves clean.