Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hampi, day 6 (part 2); ruins, ruins, ruins, dinner at Ramesh's

After breakfast, joined by a German girl we met at Gopi's the day before, we piled into a car and made our way around Hampi, visiting the major sites.

The first place was Vitthala Temple, the most complex of the remaining temples in Hampi. We rove down a long, dusty road, lined with long stone pillars that gave the illusion of fence posts as we passed, until we pulled up in the parking lot by the main gate. An old man hobbled over to collect our entry fees and we passed through the wooden support beams framing the entrance to the temple. There are a couple of distinguishable features in the beautifully detailed complex.

Walking through the gate, the first one you see is stone replica of a traditional 'ratha', a chariot used for when temple idols are taken out on procession, carved from a single stone.

Another unique feature of the temple is one that you would most likely notice but not realize unless some on told you, the musical pillars. From the seven large pillars supporting the roof of the main temple, short, thin pillars are carved out, and when tapped produce a musical note, corresponding to seven different sorts of instruments. But nowadays, centuries of being rapped upon has left them in a state that requires them to be no longer rung. I did see a few video demonstrations on YouTube, though.

Leaving behind the portions of ourselves that had melted off and evaporated in the dry, hot air, we got back into the car, went back down the long, studded dirt road, turned off, and drove some more until we arrived at the Lotus Mahal. Not of much historical significance, it's more notable for its unique fusion of Hindu and Islāmic design, illustrating the close association between Hindu and Muslim cultures at this time.

From there, it was a short distance to the Elephant Stables, a row of eleven elaborate, domed stalls where the herd of royal elephants were kept. The condition of these structures is remarkable, considering nearly five centuries have past since their creation.

Another treasure of the Hampi ruins are the stepped tanks, used for holding water fed by aqueducts connected to the river. The complex design, which required markers etched into each stone, also creates an ornate pattern that amuses the eye to look at them.

The last stop of the long day was the Underground Shiva Temple, possibly the oldest temple in Hampi. Built rather deeply into the ground, most of the time the temple is flooded, limiting exploration, but my brow was getting a bit raw from having a camera pressed against it since 6am, anyway... We were relived to find someone selling drinks on the way back to the car, as we walked along the well-groomed lawn, back to the car.

For supper, Shelley and I were invited to Ramesh's house for dinner at his new house that he built and share's with his sister. Thinking back, that little sip of water in the temple my first night played a huge role in our Hampi visit. If I hadn't been in bed all day, Shelley probably wouldn't have spent the day bonding with Kiran which lead to the four of us spending a lot of time together over the week. Now, here we were on our last night, having our first experience in an Indian house. Shelley and I were both excited and honored to be their guests.

They prepared chicken curry, which we sat our the floor and ate together, Shelley and I getting a real crash course on eating with our hands. I'd observed Kiran eating many times, learning that enjoying the texture of the food with your fingers was just as important as in your mouth and that you should keep the food from going past the first knuckles from the tip. I couldn't quite manage to form the neat balls of food they were popping into their mouths, and ended up with food all over my fingers, but it wasn't bad for the first time. Another nice thing was that the food was actually spicy! Food prepared for foreigners is in India void of chilies, which is fine for most, but I enjoy a mild dose of heat. Kiran said a European customer at Gopi's was once served his curry and garlic nan when suddenly he let out a shriek. Kiran turned around in time to see the nan landing on a rooftop the next block over. When he asked what was the matter, the guy said, "Too spicy!" I'm guessing he wasn't Italian...

After a few years in Asia, it's interesting how North American culture still manages to find you. Ramesh was proud to show us his new stereo and as Shelley looked through his CD collection she found a copy of the new Justin Timberlake album that a girl had sent him after a trip to Hampi. Ramesh mentioned he hadn't heard it yet, and I thought to myself, I haven't even heard of it... Wasn't he the guy who married Brittany Spears, or something? Shelley quickly put on Sexy Back, and showed the room how girls dance in Canada. I had to admit, the song wasn't that bad, though I agree with Craig Ferguson when he asked when sexy had ever gone out of style?

Shelley & Ramesh

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