I saw a shirt that says this across its front, and I have never seen a shirt that explains the reality of a place quite like those words describe Hampi. Hampi itself is an incredible site, home to a 12th through 16th century Indian Kingdom of 1.5 million souls. Now it is nothing but a small village which exploded with tourism much beyond its capacity when it was excavated in the early 1980s. There is only one real road in this town, the rest is alleyways, so every day you have to walk down this main street at least 5 or 6 times to do anything. THe street is of course linned with shops selling, of course, the usual selection of tourist necesseties. Being a white person here is like being a bright light in the middle of a pitch black desert. Just as fluttery creaters flock to these lights, touts of all shapes, ages and sized flock to you
. They have no shame about bugging you in the morning, then 30 minutes later comming right back to you to try to sell you the exact same thing they tried to sell you 30 minutes prior, of course repeating this same verbal exchange all day long. The result is that in any 10 meter distance, you are forced to recite "no rickshaw, no clothes, no guidebook, and no one rupee" to the drivers, clothes sellers, children and beggers. It is so constant and you repeat this so much that it is commical, truly hilarious in some sad way. It is normal for a young girl of 5 or 6 to walk the length of the street with you, or at least 2 or 3 minutes repeating "one rupee, one rupee, one rupee, one rupee, one rupee" indefinately until the end of time. If that fails, which it almost always does, she might switch to "one school pen, one school pen, one school pen"
In all honesty, this town is dealing with something in the last 20 years that is incredibly hard to deal with. Tens of thousands of westernes began to visit the place almost all of a sudden. You often have to remind yourself of this and try to go with the flow a little bit.
So aside from this, Hampi is certainly one of the more amazing places we have seen so far. This was the capitol of the entire southern Indian Kingdom, a dynasty of some 3-400 years beginning in the 12th century
. The site is set among lush green fields, along the banks of the Thumunga-something river, palm trees, other crazy trees line these river banks. An overnight train ride from Bangalore brought us here where we began our 4 full days here. The major sightseeing day was hiring a guide for the day for the two of us for 900 rupees (about 18 bucks). Most of the buildings in Hampi are temples and markets spread over an area of about 20 sq. kilometers. The guide took us to the major points of interest to some of the most intricately carved temples and buildings. These are certainly a far cry from any western temples and any of the Islamic religious sites we saw in Turky. Most temples are built on an elevated rock plane about 2 meters off the ground. Sandstone and marble steps take you into an open air room with columns every 2 meters of so. These columns are all carved, usually with 3 to 6 images of an incarnation stage of Vishnu or Ganesh. A temple might have 40 of such columns. As you move closer to the center of the temple you get to the place of worship. This is usually a stone carved depiction of one of the Hindu gods or a simple lingus (falic symbol). In their prime, these small rooms would be billowing clouds of incense and covered in flowers. So, the day was walking do view these temples while we got some brief history from our guide about what the carvings were and which Kings and queens frequented these places. One incredibly cool place is the Vitalla temple, northeast of the Hampi bazaar center
. This temple was used to play music which allegedly could be heard from 1 kilometer away. Eacj column in this temple is a different musical instrument. The columns are carved in a way to give a distinct musical note when it is "played" by a musician. When it was being used, the musicians would have tied large leather bands around the carved columns so resonate the sound loudly over long distances. You have to immagine 30 or so musicians, each manning one of these columns to play a tune. Each column was intentionally carved to create a sound relating to something specific. There was a column which plays a dripping water sound, one plays the sound of iron on iron, one plays the sound of stone.
We had heard about an asian black bear sanctuary near hampi, so we thought we would give it a shot and try to find the place. What we had at our disposal was a hastily drawn map, the knowlege that it is 30 kilometers from hampi, scooter rental places galore, and of course, any willing Indian man, woman, or child to give us directions. Can you guess what we did. We rented a scooter for the day (neither of us had ever ridden anything with two wheels and motorized) and set off with our crappy map. Chaos of course ensued shortly thereafter. We were lost within 20 minutes and it was up to us, the map and helpful Indians to get us there. Even though we never did find the bear sanctuary, it was a pleasant day searching for it
. We drove through several small villages, saw amazing countryside, and had some interesting conversations with people young and old. We had to stop every 20 minutes or so to ask directions. As we previously mentioned, outside of many tourist destinations or cities, it is only regional dialects. We dont speak any Kanada, and nobody spoke any English. Many of these villages dont really leave their village, so they often have no Idea where the roads go. The happily pointed us in various directions though, and without fail, ever stop we had the usual gathering to see what the white people were doing. You musn't get me wrong here, no disrespect is meant by any of this. It is a cheerful exchange between both parties, and we were happy to see a lot of rural southern India.
Today we went all out, hired a rickshaw driver for the day who knew exactly how to get to this place, and he took us the 30 kilometers there, waited and took us back. This leads to another funny truth about Hampi. Since this is our 4th day in this small town, most people know us by now, and we have built small relationships with many of the people and vendors in Hampi. We bought many pairs of pants from a small vendor who makes pants out of his home. His wife sewed a pair of fisherman pants to fit kristina. Making pants to fit is about a 3 hour process and the whole shebang, pants and tailoring costs about 3 US dollars
. Pretty neat, we bought a lot of stuff from them. The funny thing though is after being here long enough, the locals, the rickshaw drivers, the restauranteurs, the tour guides, they seem to know where in the village you are at all times. Again, this is not a joke. Last night we were at a shop after dark, Kristina was trying on some dresses. The non shopper that John is, he was outside talking with the shop owner about life as Muslim in India. As the conversation wrapped up, another young Indian man approached and began talking to the shop owner, then set his attention to me. He asked how my time in India has been, and if I had seen a lot of things near Hampi, but outside the ruin areas. With excitement, I told of how we had tried to find the bear sanctuary ourselved but were unable to. Well, by our luck (yea right) this particular rickshaw driver knew exactly where it was, in fact, he goes there with tourists about 5 times a month. After some bargaining and some time planning, we hired this man to take us to see the bears. So what realy happened is incredible use of the grapevine in a small village such as this. He later told us that he knew we wanted to go to see the bears, he knew we hired a scooter to try to get there, and he knew that we were unable to find it. He was able to get this information from the various travel agents and bike hire places that we had visited, even days before. Word spreads fast here. To top that off, the driver had to come find us that night to change the plans just a bit, and he knew exactly where to find us
. He knew what restaurant we were eating at!! Think google is good, think modern CIA serveylance is good, try the elaborate grapevine that opperates here to keep intricate tabs on all the tourists whereabouts, its pretty impresive. Its alright though, we also got a trip to the train station 20 kilometers away included in the price of hiring him for the day. It cost us about 18 bucks for all this.
Now we move on to Hyderabad, where tomorrow our 10 day silent meditation begins. So, we'll be silent until the 26th and wont be able to write or communicate with any of you. Wish us luck, we'll need it and all the best to all of you.
No rickshaw, no clothes, no jewelry, no bicycle, and no one rupee.