Hampi is what happens when you take a bunch of aesthetically pleasing stuff and chuck it all together in a manner that makes it really hard to keep your jaw from scraping on the floor in an undignified manner. I shit you not, your eyeholes won’t cope. It’s not just the boulders and the ruins it’s famous for, it’s the palm trees and the banana plantations and the whole bastard place reflecting in the rice fields. It’s so many different kinds of stunning.
So we rolled in at some god awful hour in the morning on a Paulo Travels sleeper bus, and I use the term “sleeper” loosely. To be fair, only a fool or someone with enough Valium to floor a one-horned rhino on speed would expect any manner of transportation in India with the word “sleeper” in the description to entitle them to an actual night’s sleep, you’re generally permitted broken periods of unconsciousness punctuated with people boarding, people trying to sell you something, or someone who thinks it’s totally okay to play Indian pop music at full volume on their mobile phone at 3am. But I think this is probably the worst bus I’ve caught so far. I swear there are international laws that forbid livestock to be transported in spaces this tiny. Plus there wasn’t much to stop you or your luggage from rolling out and crashing onto whoever was sleeping in the aisle below every time the bus cornered at suicide speeds. By the time we got to what passes as a terminal here I was ready to disembowel the next tuk tuk driver to try and offer me a “free map” with the fucking gear stick.
Anyway, we shuffled down to the river with our new mate, Michael, and a hoard of other bleary eyed backpackers to catch the ferry to other side where we’d booked a room at The Goan Corner on account of the fact you don’t drag your mrs halfway across the world to stay in a dorm room, no matter how cheap it is. So before 9am you have a choice; You can either wait for the boat to start running or you can cram into a coracle as it sinks dangerously lower with every foreigner that piles in. Yeeaaahhh, we decided to wait for the ferry. Maybe I left my sense of adventure in Palolem or some shit, but I had literally all of my belongings in the two bags at my feet and I would like them to stay sufficiently above the surface of the Tungabhadra River thankyouverymuch. And here’s a handy hint; There’s no point in cramming to the edge of the river in an effort to get on the first boat of the day. Hang out up the steps a bit. Usually, during the day, you get on the boat and buy your ticket there but it seems that first thing in the morning they have a tiny stand selling boat tickets so whilst everyone at the water’s edge has to rush up to pay their fare, you can casually saunter down, ticket in hand, and board the ferry flicking your hair as you go. At least I imagine that’s what you’ll do. We were one of the lot that had to dash back up to obtain our little bits of paper that’d allow us safe and relatively dry passage across the river.
Once you’ve over the river and settled in it’s time to explore. It’s not compulsory to wander up to the boulders for sunset but I don’t know why you wouldn’t, the view is astounding. Gorgeousness occurs up on them there boulders. There’s a flat bit where people gather and hippies play drums and guitars as hippies are wont to do as the sun goes down, or the more adventurous jump onto the higher rocks for a better view and kids hop around, trying to sell ridiculously expensive chai. I’m about as sure footed as a drunk badger so me and Tarrant clambered as high as I dared without panicking and freezing to the spot and demanding a rescue helicopter to come and fetch me, we watched the fiery sky ball sinkage then headed back down for a thali and a chilled night in.
There are a few ways to get around Hampi to gawp at the ruins it’s famous for. You could walk. It’d take you the rest of your life but you could do it. You could rent a bike, as in one with an engine. Mostly they’re these little chicken chaser things, like a hairdryer on steroids, but last time we rented a motorised vehicle on two wheels I nearly drove us into a shop and I think a small quantity of my shattered nerves are still strewn out along the north Goan coastline. You could get a tuk tuk driver to take you around but even this far into my trip I still haven’t got the hang of haggling and would still rather walk several kilometres in the searing heat than have to deal with it. Orrrr you could rent a bicycle. Here’s the thing about me and bicycles though. I don’t cycle. I simply don’t. I fucking hate it. I’ve cycled twice in my adult life; once was in Australia when I was coerced into it by a Dutch chick I was seeing, the other was the Death Road in Bolivia because it’s the done thing init. Apart from that, the grass is green, the sky is blue, there is death and there are taxes and Claire doesn’t fucking cycle. But it was still the most attractive option as far as I was concerned so I pitched it to the others with the idea that you can rent a motorbike anywhere in India but there are very few places you can rent a bicycle and not die. Not because I was shit scared of renting a scooter. Nope. Definitely for the novelty of it.
Bicycles it was then. The woman who runs the hostel, Sharmilla, is a fucking legend, an awesome woman. She took time out from her busy morning and her breakfast to draw us a map and to list the must-see attractions in the area that we could reach easily by non-geared, single speed bicycle and off we fucked. Me, Tarrant and Michael, for a little adventure. After we’d left town, Sharmilla’s map took us down this little unsealed road. It. Was. Stunning. We cycled past small ruins and shrines, banana plantations and rice fields, and some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever put in my eyeholes. I didn’t take too many photos of this ride because fuck clinging onto the handlebars with one hand and brandishing a magic picture box in the other when all of my concentration was required to keep me upright and not crying, and I still hadn’t quite gotten the hang of the whole stopping and starting thing which meant it was way more difficult than the actual cycling part so I kept it to a minimum. Eventually we ended up at Vittala Temple, dedicated to a manifestation of Vishnu, which is the only attraction you have to pay to put in your eyeholes and it’s only ₹250 which isn’t exactly gonna have your bank account fleeing for the nearest dark corner in tears.
It’s worth it too. Sharmilla recommended we enlist the services of a guide for this ruin (but only this ruin) to get the most out of it so once we’d finished marvelling at the fact they were a) filming a Bollywood movie there and b) it took them about 15 minutes to set up a 20 second shot where a woman ran across the square, we employed the tried and tested method of loitering whilst looking lost to lure in a man who was willing to impart all of his knowledge for a small fee. We didn’t have to wait long.
So apparently there’s the marriage hall, the prayer hall and there’s also a dancing hall which is the main focus on account of the musical pillars. It is said that the king’s wife loved to dance so they’d hang cotton sheets from stone rings, which are still visible today, to hide her from view and instead of instruments the musicians would use sandalwood sticks to strike the pillars, each one producing a different musical note. Like, do-re-mi, he told us. But tourists had started hitting the pillars with all manner of things and damaging them so they’ve shut the hall off completely. There are similar pillars in another hall and our guide demonstrated how to use them to make music before we had a go and yeah. I won’t be queuing up for that audition for Britain’s Got Talent just yet.
Our guide lead us into the main temple and told us that it didn’t matter so much here as it’s not a working temple, but generally you should never step on the threshold or it’ll bring you bad luck. You’re meant to step over it. You’re also always meant to circumambulate an inner sanctum clockwise so he lead us underground to the left, around the back and out again through the right hand door. This little place is fucking dark. Back in the day it would have been lit with light reflecting off the water which would have run around the whole thing in troughs but these days it’s so dark that Tarrant managed to walk straight into a post. It was probably a suitably ornately carved post because a lot of them are. As in, beautiful. Some of the carvings are “three in one”, or “five in one.” If you cover up part of it you see, for example, a monkey. You cover up a different part and you see an elephant. Move you hands again and it’s a horse. It’s pretty awesome and it’s not just the columns, it’s the plinths the buildings stand on, covered in detailed friezes.
And another drawcard is the chariot which contains an eagle, Vishnu’s vehicle. The wheels used to move but they don’t any more, I think it used to be used for ceremonies but I’m not 100% sure on that. I failed to write shit down which means I’ve forgotten a lot of what we were told. If you look closely at the front though you’ll see a couple of horse arses which is all that remains of the stone horses that used to stand in front of the chariot. They’ve replaced them with elephants now.
After we’d had a proper gawp at the temple we headed off via a few more small ruins, swung by the museum then headed for the Elephant Stables which were included in the ticket we’d bought for the temple. They’re pretty cool. We stopped off at the Queen’s Baths too and were accosted by loads of kids who wanted to say hello, shake our hands and ask our names. This amuses me. I’m not a huge fan of children but the looks on their faces when they clock the cheer amount of stabbings through my mush, it’s hilarious. One little boy stuck his hand out and got as far as “What is your…”, saw my face and recoiled like I was covered in spiders. When we were leaving Vittala, Michael was slightly ahead of us and ended up shaking hands with about thirty school kids. He felt like a rockstar.
So I have a bit of a thing for stepwells, known in Kannadan (the language of Karnataka) as a pushkarani, so I really wanted to see the one they have here but could we find it? Could we fuck as like. We cycled a short way. Then we cycled back again. Then we fucked off the whole idea of trying to find the official entrance, parked up the bikes and tried to find a way cross country using a reluctant Google Maps as a guide. We made our way across dirt, scrub and rubble until we finally came across this pretty impressive hole in the ground. Boom. Stepwells used to be used to store water back in the day when groundwater was higher. The steps are so you could get down to the water regardless of how low it was. They’re also generally freakishly photogenic. Apart from when they’re used as a rubbish dump, then they just kinda look a bit septic, but eyehole related ruins are Hampi’s big thing so they keep this one in pretty good nick.
Sharmilla’s map had taken us in a wide, beautifully planned circuit and as we got closer back to town, there were three more holy sites to check out, the first one being the Lakshmi Narasimha Temple, a massive, goggle eyed rendering of goddess Lakshmi. She looks fucking pissed off. she looks like she has PMT and some bastard stole the last chocolate mousse out of the fridge. She’s the last deity I’d want to piss off in this form.
Next to her is the Badavilinga Temple which is a monolithic Shiva Linga or Shivlingam, a phallic representation of Shiva. So basically it’s a god cock. A big, stone god cock. If there was ever a time for the men amongst us to start feeling inadequate, now would be it. They say it was commissioned by a peasant woman hence the name; “badva” means “poor” in the local language. And not too far from these two statues is the Sasivekalu Ganesha which means Mustard Seed Ganesha. I’ve no idea what mustard seeds have to do with anything though. (EDIT: I’ve since found out it refers to the shape of his stomach resembling a mustard seed.) Ganesh is the remover of obstacles, we bought a little statue in Goa because the guy told us he was for luck, but to be fair he’d have told us it fucking laid eggs if he thought it’d mean we’d buy it. He’s a chubby fucker too, totally justifies my own cake consumption. If a deity can have a belly on him then dammit, so can I. See the snake around his belly? According to Hindu mythology which I fucking love, Ganesh ate so many sweets one day that his stomach burst which is pretty much how I feel after one Quality Street too many an’ all. Anyway, he grabbed a snake and wrapped it around his waist to keep all the food in. Seriously, Ganesh is totally the god for any self respecting glutton such as myself.
Ferry fun fact time: When you strain an outboard motor way above capacity all day every day eventually it’s going to fuck out. We rocked up to the river with our bikes to cross back over and only the coracles were running and they won’t take bicycles. You. Are Shitting me! Eventually they fetched a new outboard but the banks were backed up with foreigners and Indians desperate to get across, it was an every man for himself type situation and because we had bikes, despite it being literally the only way we could cross because we weren’t allowed in the coracles, we ended up having to wait two hours until the last ferry finally let us on. But that didn’t ruin our day, not even a little bit. I spent the day cycling and I… I liked it. There. I said it. Even though I feel like I’ve been kicked in the cunt and sitting down can now be considered an extreme sport, I had a really awesome day.
Hampi, Karnataka, India
Stayed at: The Goan Corner