* DECEMBER 22, 2017: As I go to print with this entry, I’ve just learned that all of the guest houses across the river in Hampi (where we stayed) have been razed. This is due to the fact that they were illegal structures close to a UNESCO world heritage site and built on government land without permission. The journal below tells the story of our experience two weeks before the destruction of the neighborhood we stayed in, so it should be read with this in mind. We’ve been unable to find any articles in the press about it, but it has been confirmed both by other travelers and our travel agent.
* DECEMBER 24, 2017 (UPDATE): Being that the situation in Hampi is a developing story and information isn’t widely available , we’ve just learned that the area that was destroyed was the one next to the temple ruins (near the bazaar) and not the one across the river where we stayed. However, courts will determine the future of that part of town in January 2018, as they are also illegal and under investigation.
Note to self: never take overnight buses in India again. That’s what I kept telling myself as I begged the driver to stop for the toilet. Little did I know, buses only stop twice on a 12-hour ride. It wasn’t fun.
“That’s why I’m wearing an adult diaper” a girl traveling on the same bus said.
“Seriously?” In my mind I tried not to be judgmental. The more I thought about it, however, the more I understood why someone would do such a thing. This made me angry – a person has a right to go to the bathroom when they need to. But again, this is India and what we would consider “obvious” doesn’t always apply.
The drive was long and frustrating.
At 6:00am we arrived in Hospet. The minute we stepped out of the bus, a bunch of men approached us.
“Rickshaw, madam? Hotel? Breakfast? Temple tour?” There were non-stop offerings from a big group trying to get its first business of the day.
We settled with one of them – the one that was persistent but friendly. He drove us to Hampi, 30 minutes away.
The sleep depravation went away as Hampi revealed itself. We could see numerous temple ruins surrounded by plantations. It made me think of Tulum in Mexico and the first time I went there. I remember being fascinated by the fact that I could be swimming in the ocean while looking at Mayan pyramids. Hampi invoked a similar feeling as we drove through what was once the richest city in India (circa 1500s), while passing through banana fields.
There is a unique energy in Hampi. When it was at its prime, even called “The Rome of India,” it was almost completely destroyed in 1565 after Sultanates from the North captured and decapitated Rama Raya – Hampi’s leader. While some buildings still stand, it is for the most part a complex of ruins that tells the story of what this part of the world once was. To give an idea of how massive this empire used to be, there are around 3,700 monuments to explore. One can easily spend quite some time here going through all that’s left.
The rickshaw dropped us off at the entrance of Virupaksha temple. From there, we walked to the river that we needed to cross as our guest house was on the other side. The scene was peaceful as it was early in the morning.
Once we crossed, we walked up to the mountain where there was a small hippie-looking town. There was a main street next to rice fields where there were guest houses, restaurants, shops, motorcycle rentals and travel agencies offering rock climbing classes.
Our hotel was called “Mowgli’s” and it was located at the end of the main street.
We checked in and decided that the day was going to be all about relaxing, reading and enjoying the beautiful landscapes.
At 7:00pm, we walked to one of the hotels nearby. They were showing “Slumdog Millionaire” while serving dinner. We got us a nice table close to the TV, ordered some pasta and pizzas and enjoyed the show.
It was the perfect film to watch. A lot of the scenes were shot in Mumbai, the place we just left a day before, so it gave another layer of understanding. It also made me think about how lucky I am to have had a happy childhood. Seeing how tough the reality is for some kids here, and being reminded of it by the movie, I felt grateful that I have always had food to eat, clean clothes and loving parents. We shouldn’t take such things for granted. I once again am constantly reminded of this in India.
The next morning we walked to a Yoga studio that was 5 minutes away.
A charming guy in his 30s was excited to teach us some Hatha Yoga. The class was a fiasco. Though he was very flexible, all the postures were done out of sequence. He also was trying to make us do complicated things without any warmup while saying “Shanti Shanti, I believe in you. You can do it.” Matt and I kept looking at each other thinking “What did we sign up for?” An hour and a half later we got out of there, saying goodbye with a confused “Namaste” and knowing we were not coming back.
After breakfast and a shower, we crossed the river.
Another nice Indian guy offered to take us to all the temples in his rickshaw. After some negotiation for a better price, we accepted and hopped in.
Lotus Mahal was our first stop – one of the few sites not destroyed by the Sultanates. It was the queen’s recreational mansion – serene and spacious. The main structure had the shape of a lotus flower, therefore explaining its name.
In the distance, we could see the elephant stables – now empty structures but once the home of these adored animals.
Next up was Vittala Temple – the most iconic complex in the region.
The first thing you see when you cross the entrance arch is the Vishnu carriage. It was impressive. It is said that at one point, the wheels were even able to rotate, making it more magical.
The site was never completed, however, there are a good amount of temples and a good example of the Vijayanagar art.
To finish up the touring part of our day, Kishu – our driver – took us to the Hanuman temple, situated on top of a mountain where we could see some of the most stunning views of the city.
In the background, prayers could be heard coming out of a sound system. Kishu explained that there’s someone always praying there – 24 hours a day.
We headed back to our side of the river to have lunch at a place recommended by Lonely Planet called “Laughing Buddha.” The food wasn’t that good but the view of the temples and the river made it a special spot.
The next morning, Matt woke up early. He signed up for a bouldering class with a company called Tom & Jerry’s – Yes, exactly like the cartoon. While he was gone, I went to the hotel’s restaurant, ordered a coffee and caught up on the blog.
We crossed the river again, this time to walk around the market that was right outside the Virupaksha Temple. Locals were there shopping for all sorts of things: jewelry, cashews, coconuts, even cellphone cases! It was very entertaining to watch what was happening around us – all those developing stories. That’s my favorite part about India. The markets are so alive, rich and fascinating. One could spend hours just people watching.
We noticed that on the left side of the market there were some temples that looked interesting. A sign with an arrow read “Hemakuta Group of Temples.” It wasn’t recommended in the guide and we hadn’t read anything about them, but we went ahead and explored anyway. As we climbed up the mountain, more temples appeared. I couldn’t stop smiling, as the place was so photogenic and gorgeous! We felt like explorers discovering a part of the world no one knew about – like the guy who discovered Machu Picchu in Peru.
We went back to the guest house not wanting to leave Hampi. But it was time.
After checkout, we crossed the river one more time to go have our last meal at a popular place called The Mango Tree.
At 7:00pm, Kishu was outside waiting for us. He took us to the Hospet train station. We were about to take our last overnight train in India. Our destination: Mysore.