The sights at Hampi

Trip Start Sep 28, 2005
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Trip End Feb 21, 2006


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Thursday, February 2, 2006

A brief Hampi epitaph: 1336-1565, capital of the Vijayanagara empire. What I would add is that the scale here is almost unfathomable, at both ends of the spectrum. In other words, Hampi is massive. I walked for three full days and saw only the highlights - even that could fill volumes of coffee table books. (I'm working on a National Geographic proposal to produce an Imax film here.) Hampi is also minutely detailed, to a mind-boggling degree. For me the place has a noticable energy; everything seems to hum with its own intensity.

The weather has been the same every day: sunny, cloudless, dry, hot. Because Shanti has shared bathrooms, I've seen many red-necked tourists coming and going from the shower. I'm loving the lack of humidity - very soon I'll be in Atlanta spring, when the humidity kicks in til late in the year. The landscape is fairly lush, plenty of banana trees and rice fields. The river is not very big, but has a decent current and looks far from parched.

The landscape also appears very hilly; the hills are without exception massive piles of massive rocks. Granite granite granite. No surprise that Hampi is a climber's paradise. Sadly I won't have any firsthand knowledge of it, due to my ankle (apologies to Chelsea, to whom I said I've give a bouldering report). My poor climbing shoes have been squished in my backpack for four months for the purpose of visiting Hampi. Om shanti. Hampi could also be a mountain biker paradise - many places here rent very basic mountain bikes, although more for transportation than recreation purposes.

The ruins and the rocks are inseparable here, strewn amongst each other wherever you go. You walk around, in, about, over rocks to reach the ruins. Hardly anywhere has restricted access, and only the two sites charge admission. One paved road meanders close to most of the concentrated areas of ruins - cars, tourist buses, rickshaws, scooters, bicycles, even tractors pulling flatbed trucks of tourists travel on it. Once off the main road, however, the dirt tracks diminish to footpaths. I chose to walk for nearly all of my sightseeing, but I think the ideal transport is bicycle.

My third day of wandering included the epic journey of Vittahla temple and the Zanana Enclosure, the main attractions here - both areas have several structures in excellent condition. The admission ticket is Rs 5 for Indians, Rs 250 for foreigners, and valid for both places only in the same day. Unfortunately for my ankle, the two areas are 2km from Hampi Bazaar in opposite directions - the most efficient path between them is backtracking.

Both places are well worth all the walking, understandably famous. The Vitthala Temple complex is the home of a dance hall with musical pillars. For once I appreciated the guide who imposed himself upon me, the solo female traveller, to show me the details and play the pillars for me. The dance hall had 56 pillars, used as instruments in dance performances. Each pillar (really a section) has several smaller columns of different tones.

After fueling up on food in Hampi Bazaar, I made the second leg of sightseeing to the Royal Center, where the Zanana Enlosure is located. Many ruins there have Islamic-style architecture. Although they lack the detailed carvings of the Hindu ruins, I find Islamic architecture amazing - probably from living in southern Spain, where nearly everything has arched doorways, windows, and ceilings. The Royal Center had most of my favorite places, all Islamic-influenced. The Lotus Mahal and Queen's Bath reminded me that Islamic architecture predated Georgia O'Keeffe by millenia. One area even had ruins of a mosque, and several walled sections had Islamic-style watchtowers.

After walking at least 11km on Tuesday, I hired a rickshaw to see the few remaining places I still wanted to visit. The driver looked very young and introduced himself as Mr. Paul. He had business cards with his photo; the business card image was reprinted on the back of the rickshaw. Eventually I asked his age; to both our surprise we are the same age (26). When I asked him how old he thought I was, he said 30. (He is the only person in recent history to guess that I am over 21.) I laughed and he said, "Young face, but...sometimes young face on people, 30, 40."

For once I'll cut myself off and let the photos suffice. Narrowing the field to around 30 was a tremendous effort! I'll have many more in person if you want to see more.
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