December 22, 2012

I Love Hampiiiii! Hampi, I Loooove Yooooou!

First - we need to clear something up. We're a bit behind on the blogging, but we're still presenting it in chronological order for the most part. Right now, we're in Jaipur, Rajasthan, and it's December 22, 2012. We were in Hampi in mid-November, 2012. So we're not there now. We're trying to catch up now on blogging and you'll probably read about where we are now in a few weeks time!

Get ready for a love fest, folks. We love Hampi. Big time. If they had a Nordstrom shoe department and good whiskey, I might spend the rest of my life there. But, alas, the shoe shopping options are limited and the bourbon is crap, so I find myself still searching for mecca.
This is us, loving Hampi

Hampi is often a topic of conversation among long-term travelers. It's a 7+ hour train ride from Goa, so it gets fewer tourists, but the people who go stay longer than they had planned and, inevitably urge everyone they meet to visit as well - usually with instructions to "Say hello to Sanjay at the tea stand from me," or "Call Ganesh for a rickshaw and tell him we sent you." And when we researched, we saw amazing photos and stories on the internet from other travelers. It's a rocky terrain made of huge sandstone boulders - unlike anywhere else we'd seen in India. Obviously, we knew we had to go.
Sandstone terrain of Hampi
What it lacks in fashion and libations, Hampi makes up for with some of the kindest, most genuine people I'ver ever met in my life. In India, it's easy to get burnt out from the constant calls of "Come look in my shop," "Hello friend/madame/sir, I give you good price," and "I've had no sales today, please come in," or even the physical efforts of shop owners pulling you into yet another booth selling Ali Baba pants (I've already bought 2 pair in India…and I'm ashamed of it.) We were feeling "over" this kind of constant attention when we arrived in Hampi. We arrived and immediately breathed a sigh of relief. Hampi has one main street, lined on one side by shops and on the other side by rice fields and grazing livestock. On a walk down this road on our first night, we were never offered a look into a shop. Instead, it was, "Hello! Good evening!" and "Hi Friend! How are you tonight?"

"Well Hampi, I'm doing fantastic now that I'm with you."

Ahhhhh….I love Hampi.

Our little hut in Hampi at Sunny Guest House
We took our longest train ride yet (at that point) from Margao in Goa - 8 hours to Hospet - a rickshaw to Hampi, and then a small ferry across a narrow river to get to "our" side of Hampi - the side that countless travelers had recommended to us. (It's called Hampi Island, but it's not an island at all.) We checked into Sunny Guest House ($10/night), which is a hot spot for Israeli tourists blowing off some steam after their 2-3 year compulsory military service (read: smoke hash from a chillum from breakfast to 3am). The restaurant at Sunny is called Shesh Besh, which is an Israeli version of backgammon so it appears the owner was seeking out Israeli tourists when he opened his business. Sunny was a great place to stay but, for us, it wasn't overly friendly. The Israelis tended to stick to themselves and, even when we found ourselves side-by-side with a fellow lodger and offered a greeting, were usually ignored or rebuffed. I don't say this as a negative comment against all Israelis - I just mean that most of the Israelis staying at Sunny were there in large groups, and we were the outsiders, so no one talked to us. For this reason alone, I think there are better options in Hampi. Now, if you're Israeli and are looking for a taste of home, you should definitely stay at Sunny. (If we went back, we would probably look into Nargila, which looked good and was well-liked by other travelers.)

Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage site (more on that later) and is located among the ruins of Vijayanagara, the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, dating back to 1 CE. (about 2012 years ago!) It's one of the oldest civilizations in India and, when it comes to history, has some incredible stories to offer. The ruins here are fantastic, and you can walk through the still-standing stone bazaars that lined the streets thousands of years ago. We had heard the ruins were impressive, but we weren't prepared for the massive scale of the site. We spent an entire day with our rickshaw driver, Ganesh, visiting site after site, and there were so many well-preserved buildings and temples that it was difficult to understand their physical relation to each other. We visited Virupaksha Temple, which was lousy with monkeys (which we really don't' like), then the Sule Bazaar (where we were when we found out Obama won the election! Huzzah!), then Vittala Temple and, finally, the Zenana Enclosure. All were amazing. Our final stop of the day was at the Archaeological Hampi Museum, which I wish we'd visited first, as there are several small-scale models of the ruins that really helped to give me an idea of what the civilization once looked like. (The other parts of the museum are less-than-impressive, but it's worth visiting just to see the models of the ancient city.)

Sule Bazaar
Vittala Temple
Vittala Temple (Sweating like crazy)
Part of the Zenana Enclosure
Elephant stables at the Zenana Enclosure
Hampi also has tons of more current, in-use temples, including the Hanuman Temple at the top of 572 stairs, which is where Hindus believe that Hanuman, the monkey god, was born. We visited one sunny afternoon and were easily wrapped up in the joyful trek of pilgrims (some very old) climbing the steps to visit the temple. We reached the summit in time to see some local performers in full costume and face paint, giving a symbolic music and dance performance to honor Hanuman.

You know what else Hampi has? A temple elephant named Lakshmi that got a daily bath in the river in front of our guest house. (Click here to see a short video I took of her getting scrubbed down. )
Lakshmi, getting her scrub on
Hampi also has rock climbing. When we arrived in Hampi, we noticed Fontaine Bleu Climbing Shop and became fast friends with the proprietors there, Tom and Jerry. Tom and Jerry (the names they chose to use for business) are each 18 years old, are best friends, and are the nicest boys. As we walked through the village each evening, Jerry would invite us into their home/shop for tea, or (Indian) Tom would offer to give me a ride home on his motor bike. In the mornings, they'd greet us and give us tips on what to do and where to go.

Tom and Jerry also had the most adorable puppy, who they named Lucky and decorated with bells around his collar. Lucky was, indeed, the luckiest dog I've seen in India. Tom and Jerry bought fresh goat milk for him each day and Lucky slept on the climbing crash pads between Tom and Jerry each night. When they had to be gone during the days to lead climbing trips, they found a nearby shopkeeper to watch over Lucky. Hampi felt more like a community than anywhere else we'd been - the people there looked after each other, laughed with each other, shared meals together and recommended each other's businesses to tourists. This was especially true of the support shown to Tom and Jerry. It wasn't uncommon to see the owner of a cafe carrying chai to the boys in the morning, waking them up to start the day, or Tom or Jerry breezing past on a motor bike and shouting favors at their neighbors, who always replied with a smile and in the affirmative. The entire village had adopted Tom and Jerry, and you could feel how much they wanted these young, smart boys to succeed. It was such a nice thing to see. Anyway - we spent some time bouldering with Jerry as our guide (they have shoes, crash pads, and chalk for rent) and had a lot of fun. As a favor to the boys, I used some of the videos and pictures I took and put together a quick video about them.

The roads in Hampi are quiet so we rented a motorbike (about $2.50/day) and road around the extremely calm countryside roads with the wind in our hair, passing goat herding nomads, fruit farmers, ancient temples and shockingly green fields. In 30 minutes, we passed about 3 cars and 2 oxcarts...that was it.

Wind in our hair!
We also met some great travelers in Hampi. We shared meals with Chris and Harriet from South Africa, American Will, English Will, English Chris, Johnny from Australia, and Buddy from Tasmania. Over and over, we heard the same story, "I was only planning on spending a few days in Hampi, but I'm still here!" This became our story, too. And, while we didn't have a lot of positive experiences with our fellow boarders at Sunny, we laughed and laughed one day when, as one guy was preparing to leave Hampi, he wailed a hilarious lament, "I love Hampieeeee!!!! Hampi, I looooove yoooooou!" It was funny, but we knew our time there was drawing to a close also, so his lamentation became our's as well. When we left after 6 nights, we were sad to go.

You may also remember Hampi as the site of the Hampi Frog Project. You can read about it here, and the video is below.

It was really an idyllic week for us. We lounged about. We rode a motor bike. We rock climbed. We visited temples and ruins. We lazed the days away watching oxen graze the perimeter of rice fields.

Oh Hampi - get yourself a few shoe stores and a distillery and we could live in bliss for the foreseeable future.

Check out all of our pics from Hampi here. A few of our favorites are below:

Vittala Temple
Walking towards The Mango Tree restaurant

Very friendly family we met at Hanuman Temple

Can you see Tom way out there?

Nomadic herding children (If you look closely, you'll see their holding a baby goat up to nurse from the ox.)

Zenana Enclosure
Virupaksha Temple
Hampi's Main Street can include run ins with tourist busses and herds of oxen

Typical view for lunch

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