Monday, February 14, 2011

Temples, Rocks & a Little Monkey Business

February 12th, 2011

I caught up on some sleep after my previous night’s barnyard animal party (hmm, maybe that doesn’t sound quite right) so I got a bit of a late start on the day. I had lunch at a restaurant by the river and as I waited for my meal a young boy came up to me attempting to flog some postcards. I initially declined but then gave him a chance to do his pitch. Hanuman (named after the monkey god I guess) was quite the little salesman. I ended up purchasing 70 rupees worth of cards which made him extremely happy. I hadn’t seen many postcards in shops either so I saved me the hassle of trying to hunt them down. I asked Hanuman whether he was still attending school and was pleased to hear that he was. Today was Saturday so there was no school and after the sale, he ran off to play some cricket with some other boys down by the river...good man, he’s got a balance between education, business and pleasure already at such a young age!

Just one of those great random scenes you see in India:

Me and the budding salesman Hanuman:

I crossed the river in the busy little ferry boat and walked up to the tallest temple, Virupaksha, which stands 50 meters tall and was constructed in 1442 with a nearby smaller, similar temple added in 1510. There was an inner temple courtyard between the two towers that cost a whole 2 rupees to enter (5 cents) and another 50 rupees to take photographs although I don’t know how they kept track of that as my photography ticket was chucked in a bin as soon as I entered.

Virupaksha Temple:

There were many Indian school kids running around in the courtyard and all of them, including me, were first drawn to the elephant that stood off to the left under a covered walkway with his trainer. The temple elephant, Lakshmi, sported some decorative paint on her forehead and after watching for a few minutes I saw how she earned her keep. People would hold out a coin which Lakshmi would grab with her trunk, pass to her keeper, and then swing her trunk back and pat the person, and sometimes others around them, on the head. Not a bad money maker.

Lakshmi earning her keep:

Inside the temple courtyard:

The entrance to the temple:

As I wondered around the temple I was accosted, in a friendly way, by many of the school children. They would ask me where I’m from, what’s my name and would also want to shake my hand. When they saw my camera then it was definitely time for a photo. They would shriek with joy upon seeing the pictures I had just taken of was hard not to love their enthusiasm.

The excited and friendly school kids:

Shiva I believe (still boning up on my Indian gods):

Insert random cow in temple here:

After the temple I began to walk up nearby Hemakuta Hill which has a scattering of early ruins including a monolithic sculpture of Ganesh, the elephant god, which stands 4.5 meters high. The hill itself is like a massive rock face with next to no vegetation on it, just these huge rocks the size of houses and then ancient temples here and there.

Knuffle Bunny is finally back on the road:

Now my turn:

Hemakuta Hill:

Big probably can't see it but there's a human right in the middle:

Maybe you can make out the scale on this one:

The monolithic Ganesh (he's the one on the left):

My next and final stop of the day was to hike up a hill near the Achyutaraya Temple (that I visited yesterday). The hill looked about 100-120 meters high and I figured that there would be a great panoramic view from the top. Rock steps wound their way almost to the top and the view was fantastic. I was sitting on a plateau, soaking up the view when I heard the sound of an empty water bottle bouncing off of the rocks above me. As the container reached me I caught it to prevent it from going over the edge. I looked up and it was an older security guard wearing a toque (who needs a toque in this weather?!?) and he said something to the effect of “Don’t worry about it, let it go.” I think he had thrown it down on purpose. It seemed a bit odd to me, aren’t you supposed to be protecting this historic site dude? And here you are littering. I have to admit that the amount of littering that occurs in this country is a bit disturbing...people just don’t seem to care. Granted that there isn’t a very good sanitation infrastructure but still, a little effort could go a long way.

Up on the hill:

Looking down at Achyutaraya Temple:

The security guard walked past me as I put his empty bottle in my backpack. He was walking down a different way than I had come up so I thought I’d head that way too. I then heard someone else coming down from above but in fact it was a large, black faced monkey. He continued down the path so I decided to follow him. The monkey would stop in the middle of the trail when he got within 10 feet of the guard and I would also stop behind the monkey. He would pull branches of certain bushes down to his mouth and gobble up some of the tastier leaves while I tried to snap some pics. We became like a small convoy heading down the hill. The monkey didn’t seem terribly bothered by me and allowed me to get quite close. In a narrow, steeper section, the monkey almost caught up to the guard and I was right behind him. The animal turned back towards me and walked up the steps to me. I just stood there, figuring he would just pass by but as he reached me he turned and put his arms on the sides of my left leg. “Okay buddy, this might be a little friendlier than I wish to get with you!” The guard told me not to give him anything to eat and even if I had any food on me, I wouldn’t have. I backed away a bit and the monkey climbed down a couple of steps...whew, that was close.

Following the monkey and the guard:

A little monkey business:

Even the monkey was enjoying the views:

Another happy day in Hampi.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Humpin’ It Around Hampi

February 11th, 2011

Well unfortunately Manju’s guesthouse didn’t turn out to be too quiet after all. It wasn’t human commotion, but farm animals. A young dog barked away numerous times during the night interspersed with a couple of roosters who seemed to be a bit early for sunrise and one of them sounded half broken...add in a rambunctious swan and it does not make for easy sleeping especially considering I wasn’t feeling 100% with a very slight fever. In the morning I decided I must change accommodation. I felt a little bit bad for Manju as he seemed like a really nice guy and all of these animals actually lived next door at one of his competitor’s places but you have to look out for number one first. I packed up my small bag and headed back to one of the places I had seen yesterday which was 100 rupees more per night (300 versus 200) but had solid walls and the big bonus of an attached bathroom!

My new accommodation:

After settling in I crossed the river on the little ferry boat and began to explore the bazaar on foot. I headed down the main thoroughfare that was lined with covered stone walkways on either side. Reaching the end I began climbing the stairs built into the rock. The first few buildings had some impressively decorated pillars and in one sat a massive bull who had obviously had his belly and snout rubbed by many worshippers over the years. Next I encountered an old lady who acted as guardian over the monkey god that was colourfully painted. She didn’t look like she was “official” so I was fully prepared that she would be asking for some money from me for the bit of red paint that she smeared on my forehead. I obliged her with 10 rupees but she asked for 10 more which I ignored as I continued walking up some more stairs where I was greeted by a nice view down at the Achyutaraya temple at the foot of Matanga Hill. Achyutaraya was the third ruler of the Tulu Dynasty and he died in 1543.

The main thoroughfare:

Fancy pillars in a covered walkway:

Yes, the rocks are quite big:

I guess it's a bull:

Looking back towards Virupaksha Temple:

The monkey god Hanuman:

There was hardly another soul around as I walked aimlessly around the temple area but then a security guard carrying a bamboo stick appeared and I said hi to him (actually I said “Namaste”). He became a personal tour guide for me for the next 5-10 minutes. He pointed out various figures in the sculptures but after a while they just became names to me. He rapped his knuckle on a few sides of some of the thin rock pillars and a different tone was produced on one side versus the other. I thanked him for his time and began to walk down a long and wide thoroughfare which was at one time the Sule Bazaar, one of ancient Hampi’s principle centres of commerce. I checked out a few more buildings and an hour or two later I was templed out for the day.

Looking down at Achyutaraya Temple:

Inside the courtyard:

Awesome ray of sunlight coming through:

More of the temple:

A somewhat still covered walkway:

A watering pool for the temple:

Rocks galore:

After a mid-afternoon lunch by the river I moseyed back to the river crossing and headed back to my guesthouse...I didn’t want to overdo it on my first full day.

I love these round boats:

The always packed ferry boat:

Next to my hut a family seems to have been hired to whack some rocks out so they can put in a garden. Tough to see here but the kid looks about 11 or 12 years old..veritable child least it's Saturday and perhaps the kid still goes to school...

Heading to Hampi

February 9-10th, 2011

I needed a little break from the good life on Arambol Beach so I decided to head to a popular traveller’s spot called Hampi, about 350 kilometres to the east. Many backpackers opt to take an overnight sleeper bus but I wanted to see some of the countryside so I booked a day time train ticket. The train departs Goa only from a city called Madgaon (pronounced: mar-gow...yes, a bit strange, many of the cities are spelt one way and pronounced another) situated in the south of the state. I left my paraglider in Arambol in order to travel light which allowed me to easily take the three local buses required to get south. For a total of 54 rupees (about $1.20) I rode about 60 kilometres! At the bus station in Madgaon, I hopped into a tuktuk taxi who took me to the nearby beach called Colva where I had a leisurely walk along the beach as I looked for a place to stay. There were many Indian tourists, some parasailing while others were swimming. I had a nice dinner, ironically called Papillon, ironic as that’s the book I’m reading right now, and then headed off for an early night’s sleep.

This cow seemed to love the ocean...I've never seen one before splashing in the waves:

Relaxing at sunset on Colva Beach:

The train left at 7:45 the next morning so I was back in a tuk tuk to take me to the station. The place was a hive of activity, an organized sort of chaos (as a lot of India seems to be). Their reservation system is fairly complex but I had boned up on the nuances thanks to a couple of good websites. I was okay in that I already had an assigned seat in an assigned class. I had chosen to travel in the “sleeper” class, in which most Indians travel. There are three air conditioned classes (1st, 2nd & 3rd) which cost more and then there is sometimes a lower class called unreserved second class where it’s just a free for all for standard bench seats. For an amazing deal of 175 rupees (under $4) I journeyed the 350 kilometres inland although it did take almost 7 hours.

The first challenge was to know where on the packed platform to stand. I knew that I was looking for car S4 (sleeper #4) but there were no indications as to where that would be. Even the platform’s number was in slight question as there wasn’t a clear sign for that either.

The train arrives:

The train pulled into the station pretty much on time and then sure enough, there were a lot of people walking quickly up and down the platform to get to their assigned car. I found mine fairly easily but it seemed to take forever for the handful of people ahead of me to get on; there seemed to be a bit of a traffic jam in the first berth. I had seen pictures of the berths in the sleeper class and they consist of a large section on one side with two bench seats facing each other with room for at least three people on each. An upper bunk was already in position above the benches and the back rest for the seats would prop up to become the middle bunk so that all six people could sleep and each seat number was assigned a specific bunk. On the other side of the corridor are two seats that face each other and a bunk above. Similarly, the backrests for the seats fold down to become the bed for one of the sitters. My English friend Jon had suggested that the best seat to get was one of the upper seat tickets as you could go to bed anytime; you didn’t have to wait for the others before your bed could be put in place. However since I was on a daytime journey, I decided to go for the upper seat on the small side, this would assure me the window seat. I think it might be the better choice on an overnighter too as you have the window and the aisle seat plus there is only one person below you.

Looking down the corridor:

A typical berth in sleeper class:

Unfortunately, as I reached the berth where my seat should be, there was a Caucasian couple splayed out on the side bottom sleeper. I double checked that I was seat 48 but it was a bit confusing as there were two sets of numbers, some in red paint and others right above then in black stencil. I just sat down on the bigger seat across from what I thought was my seat as there was room and figured that this was probably par for the course. About 45 minutes later a ticket inspector appeared and the couple explained that someone was in their seats when they boarded the train in the middle of the night. The lady figured the inspector should go and clear the others out but they had to do it themselves. I didn’t really mind although it would have only been a matter of time before someone showed up for the seat I was currently in. They moved and I got my window seat...yay!

Gotta love the bars on the windows ;)

It soon turned from the relatively flat, tropical forests to more hilly terrain. There was a fantastic waterfall cascading down one of the hills with the water running under a bridge. Well wouldn’t you know it, we chugged our way around and up the hill and soon crossed it. We stopped at about ten stations along the way as the terrain once again changed into plains that became more and more sparse of trees. While admiring the passing scenery I occasionally read my book and had the odd doze but those were sometimes interrupted by the myriad of food and drink vendors who marched up and down the corridor yelling out their product: “Chai, chai, chai”, “Samosa, samosas”. All in all it was a fine introduction to the Indian train system.

The waterfalls from a distance:

Just after the bridge over the falls:

The countryside gets flatter:

Good ol' Indian train toilet...yes, it still just goes right onto the track...

Even fewer trees:

Now it's starting to change:

The local laundromat:

The boulders begin:

The train does not travel all the way into Hampi but to Hospet, about 14 kilometres away. It seemed like every Caucasian person alighted at this point and there was a throng of tuk tuk drivers trying to earn our business. A guy approached me and wanted 200 rupees but I said I knew that it should be cheaper and we agreed on 150. I know, you may be thinking “Dave, why are you bartering this guy down for the sake of a dollar?” Well, it’s what makes the system work here, plus if you think that for just a bit more than the 150 I had just travelled 350 kilometres on the train, the guy’s still getting a good deal.

I was amazed at the massive boulders lining the hillsides as we approached Hampi. Feels like you’re in Fred Flintstone’s domain. I was dropped off by the tallest temple, Virupaksha, and walked down to the river. Many backpackers stay in guest houses across the river from the main bazaar and there’s a small boat that is constantly ferrying people to and fro for 15 rupees. I spent about an hour walking around and checking various guesthouses and after a few that were too expensive or full, I finally found a quiet place with huts run by a guy named Manju. I settled in, had dinner and then headed to bed.

They can really pack them in this little boat:

Glad I didn't bring my cowboy boots!

Remnants of an old bridge:

Looking across the rice paddies while looking for my guesthouse:

I’ll see what’s happenin’ in Hampi tomorrow.