Nine hundred rupees to get from Goa to Hampi! Typical racket feeding off the New Year exodus from Goa. Whilst the destination may not have catered for getting back into real India the opportunity to do some local transport hopping certainly did. After much dilly dallying (how I love that phrase ever since it was used by an announcer pleading for calm at the Pushkar Camel Fair) I persuaded Ian as the merits of the planned route. The deal sealer was the sign that read ‘India road safety month’ as we entered the bus station. It started on that very day. How fortunate were we? Although I still think a month is a tad optimistic.
And so it was after one taxi, three buses, one rickshaw and a boat that we arrived at our accommodation. It came to a quarter of the price of a private bus and despite the numerous modes of transport it turned out to be relatively painless.
We stayed on Hampi Island, a small enclave of backpacker guest houses. Our hut came with a complimentary hammock and the food there was superb especially the lamb xacuti. The one downside was that it was full of boulderers. The opportunity to do some bouldering had initially appealed but it’s amazing how quickly enthusiasm wains when all anyone talks about is bouldering. I can fully understand the passion of rock climbing but bouldering for months on end passed me by a little.
However you just had to get used to the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles impersonators because Hampi is one of the bouldering capitals of the world. Quite simply boulders stretch as far as the eye can see. Some are even bigger than a two story house. Others sit precariously just itching to crash down on unsuspecting tourists. Coupled with the hills, paddy fields, flowing rivers and palm trees, Hampi is at the heart of a unique and captivating landscape.
The views alone would make Hampi a highlight but it’s also a world heritage sight. Home to the 14th century empire of Vijayanagar, its ruins are spread far and wide. Some such as the Vithala Temple are clearly marked, whilst others such as gigantic stone Ganesh, monolithic bulls, crumbling temples and pillars are hidden treat waiting to be discovered as you clamber over the boulders and through the dense palm trees. On one day we walked for seven hours with no food and no stops, in unbearable heat, just in awe at all the random sights that we tripped over. Each one in its own right could demand a hefty admission price but there are so many that all but two you have to pay for. You could spend months just exploring and you still wouldn’t see everything. Despite being very popular with tourists we found that almost every place we visited had at the very most no more than a handful of people. It made the stay even more pleasurable.
We saw so many incredible buildings and statues amongst the breathtaking scenary but two main sights stick in the mind. The first would be the climb up nearly 600 steps to the monkey temple. Clambering over yet more boulders we sat with many others in silence admiring the sunset over the boulder clad hills. No one spoke, everyone appreciating the beauty in their own way. The other event was at the Virupaksha Temple where I received the strangest of religious blessings to date. I had to pay two rupees for the privilege but this I did not begrudge and would happily have paid many more times over if I had had more change. Laxmi, the temples elephant is very well trained. You deposit coins or notes (but not one rupee, Laxmi does not accept that) into her trunk and then she passes it back to her owner before swinging her trunk and bringing it down upon your head. Outside of a good laugh, albeit sore head, I was skeptical as to its merits. However later on that day after losing my admission ticket I was given another by a random passer by. I then noticed it was illegible when passing it to the security guard but he did not notice. Laxmi was there with me, I was convinced.
Hampi was a superb stop. A real must see not just in terms of India but I am sure in terms of the world as well. It is to be seen to be believed. All it was missing was Fred Flintstone and various dinosaurs and we would have believed that we had been teleported back to prehistoric times.