Friday, November 11, 2011

Hampi, day 1; the land where mountains come to die...

I'd never heard of Hampi until it was mentioned to us in Goa.

It was close enough that it made sense as a next destination after Palolem beach. During the long bus ride over, I'd read in the Lonely Planet that it was the site of the 15th-century city,Vijayanagar, a major center at the time, until it was destroyed in the course of an extended Muslim invasion. But long, long before that, it was the Monkey Kingdom and and the birth place of Hanuman, the Monkey King, who, along with his monkey army, played an important role in the epic Ramayana. Another entry that caught me eye was that from the top of a small mountain, you could witness what LP described as one of the world's most amazing sunrises. My excitement was dampened, though, when later it warned that tourists have often been mugged and had their cameras stone between sunset and sunrise on the trail to the same hill.

We arrived just outside of Hampi and had to choose a jeep from the lineup of drivers. Before the bus even came to a stop, they were already chasing us through the window, calling dibs on which tourist they wanted so, as it turned out, it wasn't exactly us who did the choosing... It wasn't just the fare to the guesthouse they were after, either, but also the potential of driving tourists around while they stayed in Hampi. Once a driver knew where you were staying, they'd stalk you until you agreed to have them drive you, not only in Hampi but most places.

We decided to go to the top recommended place in LP, Gopi Guesthouse, which was full, but they told us if we waited a room would soon be vacant. We were hungry anyway, so we went to the rooftop restaurant and spoke with Kiran, the owners son who managed the place. He had some strong words for the driver, who'd followed us up, babbling a list of places he could drive us, which worked as he left back down the stairs. Apparently, Hampi has a problem with a sort of taxi-mafia causing headaches for local business, but Kiran didn't get into it much. Instead, he told us that after we eat we must go down to the police station and register our camera's make and model along with our passport number, so that if our cameras were stolen it would be easier to recover them. Since this was an especially bothersome topic to me, I asked about the man who'd been stealing cameras. I think it was about the most comical conversation I had during my time in India.

I asked, "What ever happened to the thief?"

Kiran replied, "Oh, the police shot him in the leg when they found him"

"So, he was running away, right?"

"No, no, he was sitting under a tree. The cops just shot him in the knee, so now he can't run."


"Yes, and when he was released from jail, the police put 2kg of marijuana in his bag so that they could put him back in jail."

At this point, Shelley added, "Where I come from, we call this corruption."

Her answer was, "No not really, just keeping streets safe for people and tourists."

As terrible as it sounded, somehow I came out of it with a sense of relief...

From the rooftop, we had a perfect view of Virupaksha Temple, the best preserved temple in the collection of ruins, but what really caught my attention was the landscape. As far as you could see in all directions were

mountains of boulders, piled like worn down blocks. The only description that came to mind, and one that still stays with me is that this is the land where mountains come to die.

After eating and dealing with the police, we climbed past the small bazar and monkeys rummaging through the trash pile, up the hill behind the temple and watched among the ruins and boulders the land faded with the sunset from yellow to deepening shades of orange.

As the sun dipped behind the skeleton of a mountain, we came down the hill and entered through the main gate. I had to pay extra to bring in my camera and they gave me a big receipt to show the security guards inside proof that I'd officially been scammed.

The place was lively with people and we followed the flow into the dark halls of the temple to a room where people were lined up waiting to great the brahmin who would murmur something before pouring a small ladle full of water into their extended palm from a brass picher. I observed as they would sip a portion of the water and splash the rest on their foreheads. When it was our turn, I thought I would pretend to sip the water then splash it on my head but next thing I know, I hear a huge "slurp" coming from my own lips and when my wide-eyes looked down, there was hardly anything left to wet my head with.

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