Monday, October 21, 2013

Celebrities in Huligi

Sept. 10th, 2013

Our tour guide Kumar had told us that there was a big festival in a small town 20 kilometres from Hampi and being templed out we decided to rent a bike and go check it out.  Supposedly many animals were going to be slaughtered for a big feast and that wasn’t what we (well really Naomi) wanted to see but we figured that there must be other activities going on.

It was a gorgeous ride through the countryside and the further away from Hampi we got, the warmer reception we received from the kids of small villages along the way.  So many hellos and Namastes from smiling little school children, seemingly delighted to see foreigners.  After asking for directions a couple of times, we rolled into the busy, dusty and dirty centre of Huligi.  We drove down a wide street lined with shops and dhaba with the main temple at the end of it.

As we parked our bike it was quite obvious the attention we were garnering being the only white people around.  Even a friendly policeman sitting at a checkpoint welcomed us and asked where we were from.  Our progress in and through the temple was hampered by the number of Indians wanting their photo with us.  We’ve experienced this before but usually the Indians have their own camera and snap a pic but this time they wanted us to take it with Naomi’s SLR camera and then look at it afterwards.  Some posed with big smiles while others donned a very serious look, even with some prodding they wouldn’t break out a grin.

Approaching the temple:

Ganesha standing on guard:

Almost all smiles:


Naomi with the ladies:

We removed our flip flops and wandered around the temple courtyard.  Many people were queuing up to go into some central building but we were unsure what was inside.  Then this group came around the corner with one man who would lie on the ground on his stomach with his arms outstretched in front of him, seemingly mutter a few prayers and then get up again, walk a few steps and repeat.  While this was happening, 3-4 followers carrying jugs would pour some water from the nearby river on the ground in front of the worshipper....odd.

The strange ritual:

Walking away from the temple and down to a fast running river we saw another lady doing the same religious parade.  There were hordes of people enjoying the river: picnicking, bathing, washing clothes.  Once again we were celebrities and picture after picture was taken.

Cute girls:

This girl reminded me of that famous National Geographic cover photo from 20 some years ago of an Afghan girl with piercing green eyes:

The Kool Gang:

Not sure if the shirtless guy was trying to look tough, or a little chilly:

Boys will be boys: 

I love the head rubbing:

We walked back towards the temple and took a path that seemed to skirt around the main area which we took as we hoped to have a relatively quick exit from the photo taking.  Well we paid the price for it with a lovely visual that was presented to us: a little boy was squatting down doing his business, which was bad enough but then a dog was consuming it!  Yikes!  Yuck!  Disgusting!  But talk about recycling in action...

A parting shot from Huligi:

We were only in Huligi about an hour but to be honest it was pretty draining...but a nice (apart from the poo) and truer Indian experience.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Templing Part Two & A Happy Elephant God

Sept. 8th, 2013

Naomi and I thought we’d have a relatively relaxed Sunday but we decided to cross the river and walk through Virupaksha Temple which dominates the centre of Hampi.  After some breakfast in the Mango Tree we wandered to the temple just 50 some metres away.  It began to rain so we hung out for a bit in the covering of the entrance and who would walk up but Kumar, our tour guide from the other day.  We asked if he’d give us a short walking tour of the temple and adjoining Hema Hill and the various structures on it.  He agreed but told us that the main temple was closing in 15 minutes for a couple of hours for the lunch period.  We decided to go for it, paid our 10 rupee entrance fee plus 50 for taking photos and scrambled in.  Before entering the inner area, you have to take off your shoes.  With the myriad of animals walking around inside: cows, monkeys, Laxmi the have to pay heed as to where you step and not think about it too much.

Three men and a dog watching life go by:

The entrance to Virupaksha:

Some others hiding from the rain in the entrance:

We did a quick round of the temple and I definitely learned more this time from Kumar than my last visit with no guide.  We began up the neighbouring hill, Hema Hill, which is a massive pieces of rock that is nicely rounded.  Here and there are some small temple buildings.  Kumar, with the help of a little strategic questioning from us, gave us more of a lesson on Hinduism than all of the specifics of the buildings and carvings.  I found the stories interesting but so fanciful and I help but feel a confirmation of my growing feeling of how strange and farcical the backgrounds of today’s religions are.  Sorry if I’m offending anyone, but we’re all entitled to our opinion.

A cow enjoying the temple:

And monkeys doing the same:

 Naomi receiving a blessing from Laxmi:

Worth the 50 rupees!

A structure (ancient phone booth?) on Hema Hill: 

Yay us!  Feeling a bit like the Flintstones.

Hello Ganesh

The busy boat ride back at the end of the day:

The next morning we met up with Kumar for our rickshaw tour of some outlying temples (after our mandatory Mango Tree breakfast).  We began with the furthest away temple and technically the star of today’s show, the Vittala Temple with its stone chariot which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The rickshaw was parked about a kilometre away and we hopped on a super long golf cart to be shuttled to the temple.  Along the straight gravel road were fallen down and leaning columns along with some nice horses owned by some nomads that were in the area.

Sadly I can't remember the name of this guy but he's like the third incarnation of Shiva or something...and he was my favourite statue:

Just as I had experienced at the Taj Mahal, another UNESCO site, foreigners have to fork out 500 rupees ($8-9) while Indians only pay 10 rupees to get in.  I’m totally okay with this and in fact think it’s a good idea.  It allows most Indians the ability to see the major attractions in their county and this is additionally important as very few Indians will be fortunate to have the opportunity to experience international travel.

There weren’t many people in the temple which was a large open courtyard with a stone wall perimeter and a number of small rock buildings with one in the centre and the others spaced around it.  The chariot was near the entrance but before we snapped pics with it, Kumar showed us probably the coolest aspect of the temple.  The stone columns holding up the roof of one structure have these smaller columns on the side of them and if you put your ear to one, the others could be played musically by tapping your finger on it.  Naomi and I listened in as Kumar hammered out some rhythm.

Kumar and me at the famed chariot:

An ancient tree near the centre temple:

Everyone looks better with sunglasses, flowers behind their ear and horses in the background:

Check out the centipede!

Next was the Queen’s Bath, back towards Hampi which was a massive structure some royal lady from some 500 years ago used to clean up and she could even work on her breaststroke as the bath was so big.  We visited another large ruin/temple site and then on to the Lotus Temple with its accompanying Royal Elephant Stables.  I think Naomi and I were getting “templed” out at this point and it worked out well that this lawyer couple from London, Jesse and Hannah, to whom we’d recommended Kumar to as a guide, showed up and basically we tagged out and they carried on.

The Queen's Bath:

It's a bit empty though:

Up on what seemed like a shaved off pyramid, with storm clouds looming:

We were slight celebrities:

Naomi capturing the Lotus Temple:

The Elephant Stables:

Don't ask...

Cool, another big bug!

Although tired, we decided to hike up Hemakuta Hill which we had skirted by the other day going to Achyutaraya Temple and is about a kilometre away from the big temple of Virupaksha.  It has a wonderful 360 degree view of the area and was worth the 10 minute hike up.  There were dark clouds and obvious rain falling in the distance but thankfully we were fine.

Looking down to Achyutaraya Temple:

Towards the water reservoir and the river:


Naomi contemplating life:

The main temple in town is just left of center:

We hooked up with Jesse and Hannah that evening to take a rickshaw to the previously visited Anegundi village.  Tonight was Ganesha Chaturthi, the big celebration of one of the most revered Hindu gods.  Kumar had told us the story of Ganesha and I’ll try to tell it accurately but there may be some mistakes, and who knows if what Kumar said is what supposedly happened as there are many theories.  Two of the main Hindu gods, Shiva and his wife Parvati, are involved.  Shiva left Parvati for a long time to go and pray somewhere distant.  Parvati was unknowingly pregnant and gave birth to a boy, Ganesha.  The boy grew up.  Parvati seemed to like taking long showers and she was concerned that someone might come in and see her so she had Ganesha stand out at the front gate and keep guard. Shiva returned unannounced and when he was refused entrance to see his beloved wife by this young boy, he chopped off his head, not knowing that it was his son.  Parvati told him and Shiva raced off to find another head for Ganesha from the first animal he would find, and what did he find?  An Elephant.  An hence this god with an elephant head that is one of the most popular with the Hindus as he promises prosperity for believers.

Ganesh Chaturthi is the annual celebration of Ganesh and typically households or groups make or buy a statue of Ganesh which they keep in their home for days culminating in the release him into a large body of water, be it the ocean, a river or a lake.  Various castes celebrate for a different number of days and also have their peak night at differing times.  This means lots of fireworks, lady finger firecrackers and happy people over the course of a week or more but tonight was supposed to be the peak for Anegundi.
Immediately after arriving, we walked into a welcoming house with quite a display of various coloured lights, all types of flowers, a big Ganesha statue and many happy Indians.  A roped off walkway led us in and we were offered tikkas (a smear of coloured powder on your forehead between your eyes), to throw some grains of rice at Ganesh and then a palm full of this sweet, white powdered stuff that I can’t say I could finish so I serendipitously dumped it behind me.

The entrance to our first house:

Our first Ganesha:

Trying out the sweet stuff: 

Ganesh and all his buddies, the Justice League of Hinduism:

We continued from celebrating house to celebrating house littered around town including one with some young teenage boys busting a move to some energetic music.  We couldn’t help but jump in...this is what visiting foreign places is about, soaking up the experience.  What a great evening.

Everybody's got their take on Ganesh:

Naomi posing with a happy bunch:

Gettin' down with the locals:

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hampi Happiness

Sept. 6th, 2013

The highlight from my first trip to Hampi was watching sunrise at the Monkey Temple which is perched on a rocky hilltop a few kilometres out of it was something I wanted to do with Naomi this time.  We rented a small motorbike the evening before and arose at 5am.  We began in the dark but the sky was getting lighter and as we passed through a few small enclaves of houses and sheds clustered by the side of the road.  A few of the locals were beginning their morning chores of getting water, feeding cows or hacking out phlegm from the back of their throats with maximum effort.

Arriving at the temple we were greeted by a cute three legged dog named Hampi according to the chai and banana seller.  We declined the chai but took a bunch of bananas to feed some of the temple regulars, macaque monkeys, up on top.  After 10 minutes of climbing the 4-500 steps and we reached the top to be greeted by the chanting and drumming of the worshippers from inside the white single storey temple.  Most of them are young boys from the north of India who typically spend 6 months to a year at the temple.  They are supervised by 2-3 men who live there as well.

We lucked out and witnessed a beautiful sunrise partially surrounded by clouds.  It would be the last clear sunrise for the rest of our time in Hampi.  By surprise, a young Israeli couple that we met at the Rosh Hashanah dinner called Dror and Rotem arrived just in time to catch the sun’s appearance.

Good Morning Hampi!

The Monkey Temple:

The boys from the temple:

That's me in the background...contemplating life:

Enjoying the view with Naomi:

Now it was time to feed the monkeys!  I put my backpack on my front with the plastic bag of the small bananas inside.  I gave away 3-4 to different monkeys as Naomi snapped a few pics.  Now it was her turn and she took the plastic bag out of the backpack and almost immediately the largest, fattest,ugliest, meanest looking of the bunch raced up beside her and began pulling at her baggy pants, almost bringing them down.  We were both stupefied as the alpha male snatched the whole bag from her, retreated about 5 feet and then set about feasting on his bounty as the rest of us, humans and monkeys alike, watched helplessly.  I tried my best attempted at scaring him and proving that I was in fact the alpha here but he growled and bared his teeth back and I heeded Naomi’s prudent advice to just let him have the fruit.  No wonder he’s so fat!

The exchange...

 The Alpha Male...fat and bad ass:

Everyone could only watch:

When he was finally done, this one hoped to find something left in the bag...

But he'd cleaned it out...  :(

After an hour or so we descended, hopped back on the bike and continued away from Hampi to a small village called Anegundi.  It’s a quaint little place, once you can look past the decrepid little houses with cows or goats sometimes occupying what should be the front porch, or the odd smell wafting by, or the shit lying here there and shit, cow shit, human shit.  I guess plumbing technology hasn’t quite reached here yet.  We slowly puttered along the short and sometimes narrow streets as school kids prepared for school in their cute uniforms.  I stopped the bike by a little temple where there was a sign for a “Community Place” with a small path down to the river.  We were greeted by a cute but dusty little puppy but after a bit of love was exchanged he didn’t follow us down the short trail...and we quickly found out why.  I couldn’t help but remark to Naomi the number of piles of excrement that was everywhere, primarily of the human type.  I was amazed at the variety of colours and types; you had the large logs, the coily and even the pancake...ay yai yai!  Needless to say, we didn’t spend much time there.

On the way down:

Yes, stopping to smell the flowers (after a pee in the bushes):

Great rock formations:

The rice paddies below with the odd random boulder:

Naomi caught this one perfectly!  He couldn't have posed better by the statue on the gate at the bottom:

The chariot in the center of Anegundi:

The dusty puppy and perhaps his mom:

The entrance to the "Community Space":

Ah...puppy love!

Just as we reached the outskirts of the town, we ran out of gas.  Thankfully we only had to walk 400 meters back into town and by 1 litre of petrol from a plastic bottle from a shop but we had hardly gone 4-5 kilometres and the bike was supposed to have at least a litre in it already when we rented it (normally good for 30-40 kilometres) so the rental guy was going to hear about this.  Refuelled, we headed north and within half a kilometre we passed the only petrol station around, so we had at least run out in a good spot.  We explored the area, going as far as the small city of Gangawadi and essentially the end of the amazing rocky landscape.

Late in the afternoon, we decided to take advantage of having our own transportation and biked out to and along the nearby manmade lake used for irrigating the nearby countryside’s rice paddies.  It was a beautiful ride and as we returned back by the dam a man in a small round boat, called a>coracle
, asked whether we wanted to go for a paddle.  I immediately dismissed it but luckily Naomi was interested so for 100 rupees each he took us for a little boat ride.  They’re funny looking little boats, like the cap of a huge mushroom upside down.  Obviously they don’t track easily as there’s no keel or rudder but with some practice you can get them going in a straight line.  The cool thing (well Naomi didn’t think so) was that man, could they spin!  The old shirtless paddler got us spinning around rapidly enough that Naomi’s stomach was disagreeing with the dizzying motion and she quickly asked for him to stop.  He gave us each a try at paddling the boat with Naomi trying first before we headed back to shore.  As we were about to get back on the bike, Dror and Rotem showed up on a big, proper motorbike and we told them that they should go for a boat ride too, which they did and thoroughly enjoyed. 

We stopped at a small waterfall after we bumped into an Israeli man and his adult daughter from the Rosh Hashanah dinner:

The dam:

And how it makes the landscape below so luscious:

"Don't pay the ferryman!"

Naomi relaxing in the coracle:

It's not as comfy as it looks...and you get a bit of a wet bum...

Riding back to town:

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life...