Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Hampi


I love overnight trains. I save on accommodation, it's comfortable, you get to meet normal Indian people who can actually afford sleeper class ticket, you can chat with them and eat with them. They would always offer you whatever they're eating. They're usually pretty happy, will always help you with luggage, stations, will wake you up if necessary. But more importantly you go far during the night without spending all the day moving around. But for some reason I can't sleep when the train is not moving ... maybe because I'm impatient, or maybe because the rocking motion helps me sleep. I arrived in Hampi completely sleep deprived, got the worst and the most expensive room and felt like a zombie for the rest of the day. I couldn't go to sleep because I had to find out good accommodation and a popular spot that every tuk-tuk driver would know so that I could write an email to Andy (from Varkala) who would be arriving the next day.
Finally a cheap place to do laundry. South America was so cheap, they were charging about 80 cents per kilo, here they charge from 30 - $1 per item!! In Hampi it was 10 cents, so I just handed my entire suitcase in for a wash. It wasn't much cleaner when I got it back. My pants still had mud stuck to them, and my shorts and Adidas t-shirt magically disappeared :(
The whole time after Madurai I was on my own in completely non touristic places, and I missed some human interaction. I went for breakfast to the most packed cafe so that I could meet someone. Apparently I wasn't the only one missing talking. Maria, the girl on the next table started talking to me the second I sat down. I ordered tea, but when I put honey in it, it was overflowing with ants. I didn't look at the honey bottle which was half honey/half ants. Maria said that the black ones are ok, they do no harm, it's the red ones that have some acid in it ... oooooh, ok... well if black ones are ok, I'll guess I'll add some protein to my diet! Naaaaaahh :))
Maria is from Germany, but lived in Indonesia for a while. She built a house there, said it was beautiful, relaxing, like a paradise. Then a lot of her friends started to come for vacation and her house was always full of guests. Her neighbours got jealous because they thought that she opened a hotel and was charging people, and look how much money she's making, meanwhile she didn't charge anybody anything. They started accusing her that she's dealing drugs, it got worse and worse, and one day she just took the next flight out, since having drugs in possession (which they could've hid anywhere in her bike or a house) in Indonesia means death sentence.
I have no idea why we met at 8am in the morning for breakfast, since I still didn't accumulate enough hours of sleep from the night before. I usually work with averages. If I sleep 4 hours one night, I need at least 12 hours the next night, so it would average out to 8 hours/night :) In the morning Maria brought James a funny British guy who would say fantastic, amazing, smashing, intriguing, and thrilling to any small phrase.
- It was a pretty good tea we had at the train station the other day
- Wow! brilliant !!
James was late a few times, just by a few minutes, but Maria was joking that he's the girl of the pack, that we're always waiting for him. I'm German, I'm never late! She said.... But then every time we met, she would always set up a range. "Let's meet for dinner between 7 - 8". Why between 7 - 8? Who sets up time like that? What if I get there at 7, and then I have to wait for another hour for her to show up? It took me a few times to make sure that she will arrive there at 7. I don't understand that logic at all ... but then it hit me: Germans are never late, so instead of being late, they just make up this huge range to accommodate for their "perfection".
Maria decided to have bong lassi for breakfast (lassi mixed with marijuana), and she peered pressured James to share it with her. Hampi is a holy city, so no alcohol is allowed, as pretty much in most places in India. They actually went as far as having dry states. But in touristic places they would serve beer in a tea pot, and marijuana mixed with lassi, and would have funny names on the menu. Bong lassi was called lassi.com. What you have to look out for are the prices. If a regular lassi costs 20-30 rps, and lassi.com costs 300, then you know you hit the target. Peer pressure doesn't work on me, and I only had a small sip. Man it was strong! Ok to share this cup between 5-6 people, but not between 2! At first they had a lot of energy, and couldn't sit still. We decided to rent bicycles to cycle around Hampi. We made it to the nearest temple which was a 2 minute ride. Climbed inside, and they crashed to sleep for 5 hours. I didn't mind it at all, because my sleep accounting was not yet in order. Their happiness and over-hyper-activeness turned into exhaustion and paranoia (when James thought that the temple would collapse on us, and that the police would suddenly find them and put them to Indian jail). They started feeling extremely sick and were barely able to move. James said that 4 days later he still felt it. Their munchies came just in time for me to meet Andy in the restaurant. I couldn't help but laugh when Maria ordered tomato soup, and chapati, and french fries and oh, don't forget the double burger!! :)
Andy came !!! YEEIII :))
We went to the town temple where the temple blessing elephant shook Andy's hand. The temple was called “sri sri sri virupaksha”. “Sri” means something like “respect to”. There are a lot of names of restaurants/ tour companies/buses that are called Sri/Shree Krishna (god’s name)… another example is Sri Lanka (respect to Lanka (king’s name)). We were laughing. It’s triple respect as in: re-re-re-spect! Temple’s in the house!!! :))
 Then went to the nearby ruins for the amazing sunset views. I think this is the best sunset I've seen in a while, and definitely the best sunset pictures! This is where James got scammed by the local police for drinking in a holy city. James is a nice guy. Him and a few more guys took 1 beer each to the ruins to watch the sunset. The police fined them 1000 rps each!!!! Poor tourists ... or poor James. It should never cost this much, and you can ALWAYS get away with not paying. The police is very lazy, and they would've gotten away with 100 rps fine in total if you demand to be taken to the police station and pay the fine properly. This means that they have to walk, miss the opportunity of "fining" someone else, fill out forms, and actually not get any money out of it. They would accept any amount if you know that it's the case.
In the morning met James and Robert for breakfast. Robert is 20 years old, and came to Hampi to volunteer for 4 months with the kids teaching them English. I would’ve loved to do something similar and actually get close to Indian people instead of just seeing one side of them, which is usually not that good.
They didn't have change in the restaurant, gave me more money and asked that I'll give them 55 rps later! 55 rps??!! That's a lot of money! I've never encountered that in India before. Change is always a problem in India, since the ATMs always give either 500s of even worse 1000s out, and nobody ever has any change. The best bets are hotels, expensive restaurants, and train stations. Sometimes I would walk with a 500 ruppee note for days and wouldn't be able to change it anywhere. We came back to the restaurant for dinner, next breakfast/lunch, and I still didn't have 55 rps to give them. They haven't said a word. Very surprising!
We then went for the walk to the other side of the river. On the map it looked like 6kms, in reality it was more than 20! We left in the morning and came back at 9 at night! There is a big problem with Lonely Plants maps. Things look close, but end up being almost always twice the distance. I think India is so big, it just doesn't fit on the map :)
Everybody we met on the way run up to us. Hi, your name? Your country? That's all they want to know, or that's all the English they know, and it's usually as far as the conversation goes. Sometimes it's so bad, you say it 100 times a day. Sometimes I don't even look at them, keep walking ... Yana ... Canada. But then I feel bad, it's not their fault that they're hundredth person to ask me that in a day, and not the first one, or even the tenth one, when I still have the energy to sound enthusiastic or friendly. Everybody's taking our pictures, or if they don't have a camera, their pictures on our camera (which at the end of the day we delete ... they're just way too many). I don't think even if I'll stumble across a famous person on the street, I would say anything to him/her. Let them have their peace and quiet, they deserve it!
I'm not irritated by their sneaky pictures as much, I just put my hand in front of my face and look down.
There were no restaurants in the area and we ended up in some local bar where the ground is filled with broken bottles and the locals are driving away on their bikes drunk. They don't have coke, or don't want to pay for coke, so instead of drinking rum and coke, they drink rum and water. They had some snacks to go with their drinks and that's what we had for lunch, which was not good and over spicy. We didn't have anything to wash it down with. We ordered sprite, and they said yes it's coming. It wasn't coming for a while. We saw the guy running around. "Is the sprite coming?" - Yes, yes. And then we don't see him again. What does that mean? It means that they don't have sprite and they're now too embarrassed to say that they don't have it, even though they can have fanta or coke or pepsi, and they would rather disappear than admit their mistake.
Also "I don't know" doesn't exist in Indian language. When you ask for directions, they would rather send you somewhere rather than say "I don't know". I already learned how to differentiate between the two. When they just point somewhere, it means they don't know, if they point and say something like 2nd left or give a landmark, then it's a sure bet. They would also say "yes"/"no" if they don't know. That could be annoying at times.
- Can I have sunny side up eggs please?
- Yes, yes!
All the orders come, my eggs don't come ... GRRR ...
- Are my eggs coming?
- What eggs?
-----
They sold whole walnuts at the shop. I'm not sure if we wanted any, but I asked them if they have a nutcracker.
- Yes
We later decided that we do want walnuts. We waited until all the Indians were served that were now in front of us. Finally it came our turn.
- Can we have nuts and a nutcracker?
- We don't have a nutcracker
... but I already knew it. I somehow learned to differentiate when their yes means an actual yes ... just like a head wobble.
570 steps up to the hanuman (monkey god) temple. At the bottom we bought a bag on bananas to feed to the monkeys on the top, but were almost attacked by a huge monkey on the bottom who saw the bag and was sure it was all for him. We would've given up if it wasn't for the brave local with the stick who came running and yelling at it and waving the stick up in the air.
On the top there were lots of monkeys. I'm scared of monkeys because I know what they can do. They can be cute and fuzzy until they want something from you, then they're gonna gang up on you and scratch your eyes out. Although they are my favourite animals just because how smart and human like they are. At first Andy was throwing the bananas to them, but then the locals said just to hold the banana in his hand, and the monkey would come by, stand on his feet and calmly take it from the hand. Or he would hold it up, and they would jump to get it :)
We were getting late for the last boat across the river, but when we got to the bottom, we were offered a tuk-tuk for 300 rps for 6 kms!! Hampi is a very touristic place very near Goa. So stupid tourists come for a vacation and do a quick jump to Hampi, and pay these prices because they just don't know any better. Tuk-tuk should cost 10 rps per kilometer. We told them that we're even ok with paying 100. They didn't barge, and we didn't either. They told us that we'll miss the last boat across the river unless we take a tuk-tuk, but according to LP we already missed it. We couldn't pay even if we wanted to. If we allow them to use us, they would use the next tourists as well. It's the principle of backpackers "inc". Sometimes I wouldn't even pay 5 rps extra. Just because I'm white, it's not a reason for me to be ripped off! I met a lot of backpackers who wouldn't give in as well... "Pay it forward"!!!
They were desperate for the money, and kept driving by our side trying to negotiate. But our theory goes like this: if the price it too high in the beginning, no further negotiations are possible even if you give us a fair price. They have to learn their lesson not to be greedy! They actually did get down to 100, but we declined. We had no idea how to cross the river. The guys being all macho wanted to cross the river in complete darkness with day packs and cameras/iPods/phones and we heard that they're crocodiles in there! No thank you, I'm not crossing, I'd rather pay $2 and stay in the accommodations on this side of the river and will cross in the morning with the boat.
We reach the river, it's dark and there is no living soul in sight. We yell "heeellllloooo", and after a few minutes heard a "heeeelllooo" from the other side. The small round shaped bamboo boat thingi was coming to the rescue. We knew that he would give us a crazy price because he have no other choice but to take his boat. And it was a very slippery situation trying to negotiate when we knew that he could just paddle back to the other side and we would be stuck. That's where principles do not work well at all :)
At the guest house they promised us electricity 24 hours, maybe with 10 minute outages, which seemed reasonable. But this night it went off for 2 hours! I couldn't sleep at all. I was covering myself with a wet towel to cool off a bit, and also somehow I managed to get a bottle of water at 2:30 in the morning. It's all about stupid room construction. It's actually quite nice outside, but the rooms are boiling hot. If they would put 2 windows on both sides, there would be a breeze and an outside temperature.
Hampi is gorgeous. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen in the world. The scenery is magical and almost unreal with thousands of giant boulders somehow lying on top of each other for miles and miles. (LP) Hampi was once Vijayanagar's capital in 1336, which grew into one of the largest Hindu empires in Indian history. By the 16th century, it was a thriving metropolis of about 500,000 people, with busy bazarrs dabbling in international commerce, brimming with precious stones and merchants from faraway lands.
Hundreds of temples that are scattered everywhere around the region add a fairytale feel to the place. I have no idea how it's so unknown to the world, I don't think places like that exist anywhere else!
The problem with it though is that the locals started using the structures of the temples to build their houses/stores! … in the world heritage site!! UNESCO started destroying some of the houses, and promised to bulldoze all houses which are not cleared out, so now locals started to take down all the valuable pieces of their houses like roofs and doors and moving somewhere else. The town of Hampi is half in ancient ruins and half in modern ruins. Walking in some parts is like walking in a war zone.
We rented scooters for the day. They were ok, though the steering was misaligned, they had problems starting, and oh, the breaks didn't really work. We drove around the whole day from temples to temples, exploring them all. We saw so much, queen's bath, elephant enclosures, cart, wedding temple, and 100s of other temples, statues, holy men bathing and chanting in the water. Absolutely beautiful!
It felt like the whole day I was just saying: Lets go here, lets go there, lets have a coconut, take a break. It occurred to me that no one really objected. At one moment I decided that I won't say anything for the suggestion of the next place to see. We get out of the temple, I'm quiet. Everybody else is quiet. We stand in silence for a few minutes. "Where do you want to go ?" finally someone says. I pretend I don't hear. We are not moving ... I don't understand why doesn't it bother anybody? After maybe 10 minutes of indecisiveness, I get back into my role. I'm wondering ... am I a natural leader or people don't want to make decisions for others, or people in general just don't want to think at all?
In Hampi my bag tore, and I had a hole in my jeans. I gave them to a tailor without asking for the price first. I wonder what's gonna happen when I'll come to pick them up? I come to the tailor, she shows me everything, then she shows me the jeans, I fixed it here, and a bit here, and here and here ... oh, oh I think! I ask her how much. She says that I should give her how much I think is a good price. I hate when they do it. I usually give them how much I think and they start yelling at me that it's not enough. And it's not because I gave them not enough, is because it's a technique they use to get more money out of tourists. I tell her that she should give me a fair price ... she thought for a bit and told me 50 ($1). I was in shock and gave her 100 for excellent job and honesty!
Next day we went for a walk on the river to a small lake. We had to jump over boulders (which I love!) except that my shoes are slippery, and it's not that I don't trust myself, I don't trust the shoes. I would stand there, look at the next rock, make a little whine sound, and would have 3 pairs of hands helping me :) Once we were at the bottom, and had to go to the next set of rocks, and I was literary flown to the top.
The lake was cool, it was just for us. We had to go through a little cave to go in and out. There was water very deep to swim in some parts, at other parts the rocks would be a few cms from the surface where we could chill in right in the middle of the lake. There was also fish that would nib at us, and occasionally one of us would scream like a girl (and it wasn't me :) ) when the fish would suddenly mistake a toe for a worm :)
The whole day we sat in the restaurant, sat in the sun, in the shade, in the lake and at 8pm I'm so exhausted I couldn't keep my eyes open.
Hampi is great! It's sad to say goodbye, but great adventures await!

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