Ok…we like India again…
Hyderabad healed the wounds…Hampi fixed it all. We arrived at 8:30 after an 11 hour overnight train ride and were met with a tuk tuk driver welcoming us to Hospet and asking if we were headed to Hampi. When asked how much he quoted the local going rate which happens also to be the recommended rate in the 2009 guide (which is about half of everywhere else in India). We found that the hotel had actually sent a driver for us free of charge. We walked outside to the usual onslaught by other drivers… But this time nobody was trying to rip us off…everyone was offering the accepted rate…and everyone was friendly and welcoming. We got into the hotel arranged tuk tuk and immediately came to the realisation that Hampi The is set amongst some spectacular natural beauty.
Hampi is a UNESCO listed heritage site and is stunning. The area was the site of the former Vijayanagara Empire which existed between the 13th and 17th centuries. It has buried temples, palaces and the town infrastructure that goes with having an entire civilisation. So far they have only uncovered about 50% of it and there are those that believe that it will rival Angkor Wat in Cambodia in both size and significance. Hampi however is a tiny town of about 16,000 and is spotless. The entire town is in some way employed by the tourist trade and they respect this and work together to ensure that the revenue stream stays strong. Very civilised. No shonks, no rip off merchants, in fact you must check in at the police station on arrival. There are big signs out the front with free call numbers if you feel you have been ripped off or badly done by.
The town is in the midst of a boulder desert and is surrounded by temples, palaces and some pretty spectacular natural scenery. Sadly it is also vego and alcohol free (but the town 3 km away is not). Our tuk tuk driver from the train station offered us his services for the remainder of the day to see all of the sites. His rate was excellent, as was his English, as was (as we later found out) his knowledge of the local area history. We took him up on this and after checking in at the hotel and the police station we were off.
We headed to the Vittala temple, Achyutaraya temple, elephant stables, lotus mahal, hanuman temple, queens bath, Virupaksha temple, underground shiva temple, zenana enclosure and the sule bazaar. All of these temples and the natural beauty of the area meant that we had a big photo day again.
A good night’s sleep and we were off exploring on the other side of the River. Our morning started by watching the local elephant have a bath and a frolic down by the River…a very pleasant way to start he day. We hid through the heat of the day and went for a sunset walk through the Virupaksha temple which was about a kilometre away. Then we headed across the River on the ferry to eat non veg food and drink beers. Alas the last ferry goes at 6pm and we landed at 5:45. We knew this and by negotiation, and for an extra fee, the ferry dude will wait and take you back. Rather than the motorised ferry that got you there, you go back in an upside down fruit basket covered in a tarpaulin. We had our meals and beers and headed back at the prearranged time only to find an empty and pitch black riverbank.
We rang the dudes phone number, we yelled his name, we whistled we searched by the glow of our phones…crickets…10 minutes later and just as we decided to forge the River there was the subtle splash of an oar in the water. It was our dude…I have no idea why he did not answer to our yells etc…but he didn’t. We hopped in our upturned (leaky) fruit basket and off home we went. We arrived mildly moist but considerably dryer than we would have been had we waded.
An all day bicycle hire here is 50 rupees (about 95 cents) and the scooter or motorbike hire is 200 rupees from when you wake up until 6pm. We settled on the scooters and motorbikes for the next day…until we found out all of the add on costs…petrol, safe bikes, brakes, mileage, maps…we took a tuk tuk and away we went to see the 4 temples and the lake on the other side of the River (monkey temple, anjanadri hill, Durga temple, and the ranganatha temple).
The lake has apparently been the site of many alcohol related deaths over the years, as drunks go swimming and are unable to climb up the mossy rocks on the banks and therefore drown. The obvious Indian solution to this is to paint big signs on the rocks saying that there are crocodiles in the lake. For those reading the blog this place is a must see for both India and generally. It is fantastic.