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Hampi – The Ancient City That Speaks

Day 1

The burning morning sun and the dust agitated by the passing vehicles made me think if I should have listened to my roommate.

“There is nothing in Hampi. What will you do there?”, She had said.

The First Impression

 

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Virupaksha Temple in the far left corner

 

The only bus stand in Hampi seemed like a parking place for private cars. Rows of temporary shops awaited for their customers desperately. Auto-drivers and locals selling small items came like a swarm of bees towards the honey combs except that we weren’t honey combs — we were tourists—new to the place and almost completely lost at where to begin.

After a 7-hour journey from Bangalore in the rickety sleeper claiming to be a multi-axle, the bus dropped us at Hospete. I quarrelled with the driver as I had booked the bus till Hampi, and he claimed that the private buses weren’t allowed in there. Only when he assured me that he will provide an auto service at his own cost did I retreat. Luckily, I met my friends at the major bus depot at Hospete. From there, we took a local bus to Hampi, which took us another 30 minutes.

City That Once Flourished

 

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Hampi—an ancient city in ruins—stood before us, silently shouting of its glorious past. People still live there but not as they used to in the 15th and 16th century or even before. There are monumental structures that stand tall and sturdy through the weathering of time, though nobody stays in them. Hampi was one of the richest cities, and a centre of trade of horses, gems and arts and culture. If you ever heard of Tenali Raman, and the court of Krishnadevaraya, it was this place where the intelligent Brahmin impressed the king with his witty answers. Under the rein of the generous king, the city of Vijayanagar (now Hampi) rose to the zenith.

Hampi is situated in a semi-arid area of northern Karnataka. All you can see in your vicinity are stretches of huge chunks of rocks. Little vegetation has turned the air dusty, and the sunlight scorches mercilessly through the already dwindling shade. The only relief to the eyes is the water of Tungabhadra River that traces a snake-like path between lower rocky terrains. On either side of the river, the intricately cut out rocks have astoundingly taken the forms of temples, gateways, deities, animals, and other innumerable structures. These designs and carvings emanate and highlight the cultures and traditions that would have otherwise been buried with time.

After walking for a while, the sun felt warmer and took a toll on our imagination, wavering it to the wildest corners. We guessed that Hampi got its name from its range of hills that looked like the hump of a camel. Hampi was originally called as Pampi, which was the old name of Tungabhadra River. In my imagination, children ran playfully through the rows of tall stone pillars, engraved with pictorial descriptions of wars, horses, courtesans and deities. I saw women clad in saree, going to Virupaksha temple for early morning prayers, with a plate full hibiscus, banana and coconut to be offered to Lord Shiva. Few horsemen, stood patiently waiting for traders, who watched the sturdy horses, admiring their hefty, muscular built. It would have been a pleasant evening—the days much cooler and the sun not so harsh. Pilgrims visiting Virupaksha temple from far and wide, to offer prayers to Lord Shiva, wouldn’t have known that their place of worship would be functional even after 14 decades.

Virupaksha Temple
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We started with one of the giant structures visible around. The Virupaksha temple—which was a prominent landmark in Pampi back in the 15th-16th century—has two huge courtyards with a giant gateway connecting them. This nine storeyed temple tower has stonework at every level that sculpts into figures, few of which may seem erotic but they rather signify the auspiciousness of fertility.

The Mortals

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You have to walk barefoot inside the temple and need to pay if you intend to take photographs. The open temple courtyard has pillars on the both sides of the walkway. On the left, they had kept an elephant to amuse visitors. She was trained to collect money from them and pat their heads with her trunk, as a form of blessing. I lost the count of people who took selfies with the elephant, who was mindlessly munching on the eatables they provided to her. I stood there for long and waited for the people to disperse. I stared at the she-elephant and conveyed to her, how sorry I felt for her, to be away from home, here, surrounded by some silly people, asking for her blessings after enslaving her. I thought she might feel grateful that she is not their God—’They’ would have faced torments if ‘They’ lived among us. It was as if she understood me and brought her head closer towards me. I gave the 34-year-old a gentle pat of assurance and wished her a good life ahead.

The Gods

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The temple hall had stone-carved lions on the outer side of its pillars. One could look up to find the ceilings display rows of beautiful murals—it reminded me of the typical South-Asian gods and goddesses with slender eyes and sensual gestures.
The Shiv-Ling, confined to a small space inside the main enclosure, was barely visible. The walking area around the temple had its roof covered with rock slabs, which blocked the sunlight. It was quite dark and cold inside. While circumventing the temple, when we switched on our cell phone flashlights, we noticed hundreds of tiny bats hanging quietly on the ceiling of the walkway without our knowledge. In fret, we quickly circled the temple in the dim light coming from the cracks between the rocks slabs above us and hurriedly came out from the other end.

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The bright sunlight welcomed us again. There were people and monkeys everywhere. The former offered prayers to the deities at the functional temple whereas the latter got all the blessings in the form of food. We walked further to reach an open space and found a few rock statues silently basking in the sun. There was also to an algae-struck pond, probably a reservoir but, thankfully, it was devoid of any human waste. The rear exit of the temple courtyard opened to a mini market along the Tunghabadhra River. A few people—mostly men—went down the step-way to take a dip in the shallow and rocky waters. Not so far from the river stood few changing rooms for the ease of the visitors though the men didn’t seem to make use of them.

Slightly tired, we sat there under the shade and waited for the time to pass and the sun to relax. Fruits were readily available along with things like jewellery and decorative items —it was sold by the locals along the roadside. I went past them like a raven attracted to their glitter. But, then, I wanted to meet the elephant again and traced my own steps back.

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Om sans Shanti: Gokarna-> This Way

The famous Om beach in Gokarna is a stretch of coastline that is separated from Kudle beach by a rocky terrain. Somewhere, a trail without a noticeable direction or sign board leads to Om beach. Every time we asked for directions from someone, they pointed everywhere except the sea. There was a ferry to take us there, but we decided to trek and get lost.

We chose a path and started trekking over the hills, to the other side of which lay the Om beach. It is called so because the beach line traces a shape strikingly similar to Om — the spiritual sign in the Hindu religion. After climbing a set of stairs that were in no-so-good condition, we found ourselves in wilderness amid tall trees and dangerous slopes. The sea was always in view—we were walking around a hill to reach the other side.

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The beach was spell-bounding! It was more crowded than Kudle, though not too much. No lazing here—people buzzed around—in restaurants, shops, in waters, and on the beach. Many localities were selling hand-crafted jewellery, fruits, and coconut water. Few tourists basked in sun, some in lungis, others in bikinis—the former ogling at the latter. The scene wasn’t a comfortable one I would say—a few people blinded by their surged testosterones, passed lewd comments at the foreigners— they didn’t give a damn, probably because they didn’t understand the language. But, I found it embarrassing and disgraceful to belong to the same place as those pervert men.

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It was quite sunny on that part of the land or maybe we felt it that way. I laid a piece of cloth over the hot sand and took out an Umbrella (thank God I carried one) to sit under it. It was awkward but the shade felt good. I dared not think of entering the water, containing wild animals, in their excited states.

A drunkard came quite close to a lady who was basking in the sun nearby. She was reading a book and in between braving the waters to get some cool. We thought of warning her, about the not-so-safe zone she was in, as the drunk man was muttering something, which even we couldn’t understand. Few other men came to pacify him and engrossed him in a conversation, as we patiently watched what’s going to happen next. She didn’t even budge—the lady continued her routine and after she was content, got up to walk away. All this while, we were preparing ourselves to jump in, if the things went wrong. But, as soon as the woman walked away, we too calmed our nerves and moved to a safer zone to rest. It was sad to witness such a drama.

We found a much descent place to rest, after which I gathered some courage to get into the now ‘safe waters’.

The shore at Om beach steeply slants into the sea. Believe me when I say that ‘the waves took me in’. It was scary! My heartbeat surged as I felt the land beneath my feet incline towards the sea. I am a bad swimmer. Yes, I swim, but only in shallow waters—as much as my height, which is a little above 5 feet, and with no waves in it. As the waves pulled back, I struggled to fixate my feet over the ground. I breathed heavily with every wave. I tried to laugh it out, but my lungs shuddered with the water going wavy above my neck and sometimes inside my mouth and nose. My fear of water came haunting back. The waves were strong and pushed me in the direction of some rocks nearby. The moment I thought I will lose it, I hurriedly flapped my way back to the safety of the shore and breathed air.

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It was so warm in the afternoon that I used my towel and my much-loved Umbrella to hide from the sun. Some foreigners who were basking and happily getting tanned in the bright sun, gave us surprised looks.

I wanted to go home to the Kudle beach, after a rough day— The Om sans Shanti (Peace). So, we trekked back but through a different route this time, which was out of the trail.

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On the way, we saw a few hidden restaurants, where two men, who just didn’t seem they were in present, rested in their arm chairs and lazily looked out at the sea. In between some throat-clenching climb caught hold of us. From a high altitude, we could watch the sea almost 40 feet below us, hitting huge rocks with fierce aggression. It turned out to be a tough climb that could send us straight down if a rock wasn’t up there to prevent us from a fall or slip. With our hearts in our mouth, we braved through it but never looked down!

We got a signboard warning us to beware of robbers. It was relieving because that meant we were back on the trail! After a physical and mental adventure, tanned and tired, we reached home—we reached back to Kudle beach. If you want to know more my experience at Kudle beach, here it is.

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Gokarna ->This way

Never Sit in the Backseat

It was supposed to be a solo trip. Few days before leaving, I felt like an overheated CPU, in dire need of cooling. Summer had just taken over Bengaluru and instead I was experiencing heating issues, mentally and emotionally. A beach was the necessity! A trip to Goa had already been a successful undertaking before, so the next never-visited destination that flashed in my mind was Gokarna.

All excuses and no company, hence ho! Girl on solo trip! Though I must admit I was much apprehensive about it. The new destination, the search for peace but then Indian men have always been surprising women. So I got a company of a good friend. Bus tickets were booked and one good evening I excitedly boarded the pick-up bus to Seabird Tourists . My excitement turned to embarrassment when a newly wedded couple got hold of the last seat, at the far end of the window, opposite to where I sat. Not long after the pick-up bus began moving that the kissi-pissi started and all sorts of nasty sounds made it really the most uncomfortable 45 minutes for me, until the main bus stand. Oh God, Their co-passengers are going to have a tough time, I thought.

The main bus stand was lined up with crowded Travel Agencies, that had set up their small offices in the most cramped and spooky places, so much so that all the Goras (foreign travelers) waiting for their buses, thought and discussed repeatedly among themselves, whether to go in, at that time of night, for an enquiry or not.

I was there for an hour and a half, sitting in a cramped path; waiting for my bus, while the other passengers walked passed me, often brushing themselves against moss-filled, chipping-walls to the enquiry office. I strangely felt good to be among strangers, who, as if encapsulated in a time along with me, were waiting for their vehicles to take them ahead. There was an aura of impatience but a hint of eagerness for the coming time, in that WAIT.

 

The Places that should be left Undiscovered

By this time, two girls came to sit beside me on either side, waiting for their bus, trapped in the wait-time capsule, like me. Something triggered a conversation and they asked me where I was travelling to. While we were getting acquainted, I felt a sudden urge to go to the toilet. I asked the people there for directions and they directed me to the most filthy travel agency toilets. Just when I was about to enter, a MAN came out, of a Ladies’ Toilet?! When few people told me go further in and that there was a ladies toilet inside, I was left wondering with a blank mind and a question mark on my face. With my nostrils all shut to the pungent smell, I made a face of sheer disgust and entered.

The door to the ladies washroom was inside the men’s loo! WTF!

With no other way out, I relieved myself and just as I was about to open the door, guess what? I heard the presence of a man, outside, through means that you might have probably guessed by now. The most disgusting feeling that crept inside me, told me to get the hell out of there!

In the most gentle and polite tone out of my heightened endurance, I spoke to ‘the Man’ through the door, ‘Bhaiya, aap bahar jaa sakte hai (Brother, can you go out?)’

Though I didn’t get a reply, I heard the other door open and shut. I slowly opened the door and thankfully there was nobody standing and peeing just outside the women’s toilet.

I rushed out, and went straight to my new acquaintances, to tell them what just happened. My conscience was pacified with wide-eyed responses and curses to the travel agencies. To be careful next time, Don’t opt for Seabird Tourists, the reasons I will share later.

 

Happy Journey!

Post that, we chatted for a couple of more minutes and it was great to know their purpose of travel, out of all excuses, was to escape from life. We discussed our lives and it felt great to know those two complete strangers for that brief period. When the Wait was over and their buses arrived, I bade them goodbye and merrily wished them a happy journey. Though we discussed so much about our daily life in such short span, that bounty of time was refreshing and welcoming.

For the next half hour, before my bus arrived, I sat there, alone but not lonely because my mind was already buzzing with the coming of an excitement that had already started.

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A Vast, Wide Escape

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Habbits Gone Wrong

I recently started walking to and fro, from home to office. The distance being just 1 km, one way and me turning into couch potato again, both the reasons seemed good enough to take up this habit.

So there was this day, my headphones giving me a good company, and the drizzle from above, all made it a perfect walk back home. The pedestrian path was much less crowded than on any other day until my path arched and I found a man, peeing on the adjacent wall, few meters away. With a hat on and his khaki pants, I found out he was a policeman. Disgusting as it was already, he finished his job and went ahead only to rub his hands clean against his trousers.

Until then I had worn this ‘O-GrossS!’ expression on my face and worst he caught my eye, turned as if nobody saw him and went back on his duty. I suddenly realized the drained out concept of untouchables seemed quite valid, and the gesture of respectful ‘Namaste’ so apt and perfect!

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Thru my mind


 

Peeing in public seems a puny problem. There is something, much more unpleasant and totally unnoticed, happening out there – NO WASHING HANDS!  And here I can feel you all going like “Eww..yulk..shit!..”

So next time, you meet someone new, prefer a namaste and promote Indian culture, because    you never know.

Develop it as a good habit and inculcate in others too, is all I can say.