Right, I decided that this place is just too amazing to leave it at such a small and pathetic little blog post, so I've hooked Aya's laptop up to an ethernet cable, I have good music, and we're ready to roll.
Hampi is like stepping back in time. The spirituality around here is just spell binding. Outside every shop and house every morning, you find women etching out symbols in the ground using chalk dust. They're symbols of good karma, welcoming you to their home/shop. We walked past a shop where the occupants were chanting to a statue of Ganesha. All very amazing.
I'd like to say the touts and the rickshaw drivers here are awesome. We arrived exhausted from the bus, and had a good 6 or so rickshaw drivers around us trying to ask us to come with them. We eventually ended up with a cheerful young guy named Dollar, after I admitted to the rest of them he had talked to me before any of them. The others nodded sadly in defeat, gave a congratulatory shake to Dollar, and left us in peace. WOW. Am I still in India!? One fantastic part of this was that the price was 10 rupees, they all fought against each other.
And then it happened again. Dollar dropped us in the center of the bazaar, letting us know his friend owned the place there, but that if we went to see a few it wasn't far. We eventually saw 12, all of the owners calling us into each one. I promised we would see them all, and then decide, which led to a very amusing 'You're number 6!' etc between the lot of us. In the end we went with Gouri guest house, which is a tiny home stay with two rooms in a small corner of the bazaar. All of them were between 250-400, most of them being 300-350. The owners would quietly turn to us and flash up their price on their fingers, to stop the others seeing. Still, when we finally picked our place, the others congratulated the owner and left cheerfully. WOW AGAIN. This was such a nice change from the endless commission/slagging off the owners we were used to!
And this place really feels like India. I woke up this morning, slipped on my trousers and a shirt, and walked out into the street. It was when I walked around a cow, three piles of dirt, a small child playing with a spinning top and a woman washing clothes in the stream by the side of the road that it really hit me. This is such an awesome place, and Goa feels so fake by comparison. Don't get me wrong, I love the beer/beach combo as much as the next guy, but it's not why I came out here.
Regarding getting here and around, we took a bicycle tour from a guy called Chandra. You're looking at spending around 30-50 rupees a day for a bike, but the brakes can be a bit iffy and there are no gears, so going uphill can be tough! It's the best way to see the temples though, unless there are two of you, in which case you may want to pool your money and rent a scooter for the day (remember they charge you an extra 70-90 rupees for fuel!) and buzz around the sites. Scooters are usually around 150, but I saw them as high as 250 at one place. Shop around, every man and his dog is renting one.
Chandra is government certified, so his price is fixed, a 300 rupees for the morning session (6km bike ride with a dozen ish temples with explanations) then 200 rupees for the evening session with the sunset. I highly recommend the splurge, as it's far nicer to hear information on the things you're seeing! I've learnt a ton about Hinduism, Indian history and new sex positions (Kama Sutra is everywhere). We took a boat along the river, 4 French people, an Israeli girl and then Aya and me, which was 150 per person. Very relaxing, and a lovely way to drift by the temples and statues.
The sunset just about killed me with happiness. I've added a few of my favorite pictures, the ones I'm most proud of, to Facebook, so everyone can see them. The internet connection is surprisingly good here though so I'm surreptitiously uploading some to Picasa. Uploading pictures isn't allowed here, due to the poor internet connectivity, but it's 4PM and not many people are around, so I'm doing it quietly.
Restaurants wise, there's plenty of choice. We've been eating breakfast at this tiny hole in the wall husband-wife joint right next to the main temple, which serves up some sort of crispy fried bread (name escapes me) with dhal and coconut chutney. It was wonderful, but the 'little spicy' chutney just about melted me.
In the temple itself, Lakshmi, the temple elephant, is SO CUTE. Just adorable, if you hold out a coin, she grabs it, passes it to her keeper, and then blesses you by touching you on the head with her trunk. If you give her bananas she eats them. It's gotta be a pretty good life being a temple elephant, she gets a 2 hour scrub every morning in the river, gets fed a boatload of bananas every day by doting tourists, fresh makeup applied to her head every day and all she needs to do is sunbathe and stroke a few heads. Gotta be nice. It was wonderful to see she wasn't chained up at all! Free standing, very respected by the Indians, it was a really nice thing to see. I went up and gave her bananas (Aya has this picture) and stood next to her, just looking at her in the eye. I have never felt so small in my life. Here was this magnificent living creature whose head was the size of me and then some.
Anyway, enough doting from me. We hit up the monkey temple today and saw some breathtaking views across Hampi and beyond, a 5 km bike ride on the other side of the river. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the bazaar (very quiet at night though!) then the other side of the river is a nice little hideaway with plenty of options to sleep. The boat charges foreigners and extra 5 rupees (so 15) to cross, and another extra 5 if you have your luggage. Maybe smiling sweetly will get you a discount, no luck for us.
So, I'll leave you today with the story of the endless pictures. We're walking up from the boat and we meet one of the girls who was on the us from Goa with us (her name was Lisa) and her friend, Alisa. Talk about easy to remember. Score for people like me. Anyway, as I was saying, we're talking for a bit, and some Indians come up and start taking our picture. I insisted this was unfair, and said I got to take pictures in return, which sufficiently freaked him out. So I took his picture, and then he asked to have a picture with me and Lisa. Sure, we said. After that they took it in turns to have pictures with the four of us, though I secretly think the girls were more popular than me... I wonder why.
Correction on the leaving, I'll leave you with the monkey temples steps. As we were climbing, people shook my hand, saying hello, and one person exchanged water with us for coconut (we provided the water). It was all very friendly though a little shocking! Aya had her head touched by a lot of them, and a lot of them wanted me to touch their heads (though I didn't catch on to this until an hour afterwards. I thought they were shaking my hand and then touching their heads... woops). I still haven't looked this up, but I want to know the significance behind this. Here's to hoping it's good!
Lots of love to all,