10/2/15 - 12/2/15 31 °C
Tuesday 10th February
Arrrived in Hampi at 5.30 am after nine and half hours on sleeper bus being jolted remorselessly by the poor state of the roads. Did manage to get some sleep though but woke on arrival feeling groggy and tired. Jumped into an auto rickshaw and was taken to my guest house for the princely sum of 10 rupees. On arrival the driver phoned the hotel watchman who staggered from his bed and let me in. Even at that time though he asked if I wanted to make any travel bookings. Went straight to bed and slept till ten.
What a surreal place this is. Set in a landscape that is unlike anything I've seen before, Hampi Bazaar is a collection of guest houses, restaurants, shops selling tourist tat, travel booking offices and anything else the numerous tourists might need. However, the area is still a sacred site to Hindus and many pilgrims come to bathe in the river and worship at the Virupaksha Temple with its soaring gopurams and pillared halls and sanctums. Originally, the area was believed to be the birthplace of Hanuman, the monkey god, and it's not difficult to see why this belief took credence. From the 9th century Hampi became the capital of a Hindu kingdom of which reached a population of some 500,000 people before being raised to the ground by a rival kingdom in 1565. The temples, being sacred, were spared total destruction and the ruins that remain are remarkable. And all this is set in a landscape of huge boulders that are often balanced precariously on each other and a river that runs through rice paddies, palm trees and banana plantations.
Wednesday 11th February
If there are times when I wonder why I enjoy travelling so much, and especially in India, today answered all the questions. After breakfast I set out on a walk along the river bank, not really sure where I was going. The scenery was spectacular and there was plenty of wildlife - birds, monkeys, lizards etc. Ruined temples appeared every now and then and I was filled with a sense of awe and wonder of the miracle of evolution, at the richness and beauty of the natural world and the achievements of human beings over the centuries.
Eventually I came upon the ruins of a large temple, enclosed by high walls. There was a ticket office where they were asking for 250 ruppees for addmission. This was for foreigners - for Indians it was ten rupees. I thought this a bit steep for what was on initial impression not that interesting a site and so I approached the gate trying to see as much as I could without entering. The ticket collector asked me why I wasn't going in and I told him I thought it too expensive and moved away to read some information on the temple a few metres away.
"How much do you want to pay?" he asked.
"A hundred," I replied, immediately regretting that I had entered the bidding too high.
"OK, this way," he said, ushering me through the gate and around a corner out of sight of the ticket office where he trouserd my 100 rupee note.
I guess that to take part in corruption, no matter how petty, is to condone it and so I'm not proud of my actions. But when in Rome...
While this had been going on I couldn't help but notice the large number of Indians who where filing though the gate, most of them very colourfully dressed. On entering the temple courtyard I realised that they were making a film and these were the extras. The entertainment that followed was worth far, far more than 100 rupees. The scene was a riot of noise, colour and confusion as gofors tried to stamp order on the chaos, rushing from here to there trying to get the extras where they wanted them and keep the ever encroaching tourists, both Indian and foreign out of camera shot. Tempers frayed, voices were raised, but eventually everyone was where they were suposed to be and to screams of delight the star of the film - Ravi Teja, I later discovered, - appeared on the set. The actual filming was rather dull but the background scenery, the temle grounds and the colourful crowd made the whole thing a captivating spectacle.