Sunday, February 06, 2005


I started the journey to Hampi at 3:30am on Saturday. I got my stuff packed and trekked across the beach to the main street hoping the taxi I had arranged would be waiting for me there - and it was! I woke up the driver and he sped me to the station. I was supposed to take the 5am train so I became a little concerned when the ticket booth was still closed at 4:50am. They finally rouse just before 5am, but nobody seemed real interested in selling me a ticket. I finally managed to talk to one guy and said I needed to buy a ticket on the 5am train to Margao - he nodded his head in agreement and then went back to sleep on his desk!

What I didn't realize (and presumably he did) was that the 5am train to Margao would leave the station a 5:45am. He must have been thinking damn tourist what's the rush??

On a side note I finally met a "dirty backpacker" (two girls actually) - you hear all about them in books and online travel accounts, but I hadn't met one before. I did start to get concerned that I was a "dirty backpacker" because I wash my own clothes and they certainly are not machine washed clean - in fact I will acknowledge they are starting to get a bit dingy. However, I had nothing to fear - I am a "Martha Stewart" backpacker compared to these guys. They were just filthy - with clothes that were stained a million times and looked liked they had not been washed in a month of constant wear. I didn't get close enough to smell them - I appreciate all life's small blessings. What is really mind boggling is that the fisherman's pants and cotton shirts they were wearing would cost $4USD to replace with new ones, and they were carrying $300USD backpacks. Go figure??

Once on the train I was super tired and kept nodding off. I was afraid that I might miss my stop. We came into a station and I asked an Indian man if this was Margao - he said no it was Old Goa. I was too sleepy to work out that Old Goa was farther North and this had to be another stop. Thankfully I leaned across a bunch of men and was able to read the tiny station sign in the dim light. Sure enough it was Margao!

The train ride from Margao to Hospet (closest station to Hampi) was nice as my car was half empty and I could sleep a bit. When I did wake up I enjoyed some fantastic scenery. The train ride took about 8:45hrs and I arrived in Hospet at 5pm-ish. Like all tourist stops people jump all over you if you have a backpack hoping to give you a taxi ride or some other such service. I have adopted the "pick & roll" tactic from basketball and it works quite well. If I get hassled by someone or I see someone moving towards me I get close to another backpacker (who preferably is really white and slow moving due to a huge pack) and walk by them closely on the opposite side from the taxi driver/guide who invariably locks onto the other tourist. This move has never failed feel a little bad for the other tourist, but only a little...=-)

I decided to walk to the bus stop and grab a bus since they are super cheap at 6-8 Rs. On the way a motor rickshaw guy offered me a ride starting at 100Rs by the time he got down to 50Rs I decided it would be worth it to just get there quickly and not deal with the hassle of the bus. He was a nice guy and gave me a bit of a poor man's tour as we drove.

I checked my email last night to get some project mgmt info for an ongoing project in Calgary, but I was way too tired and hungry to do very much. I had a recommendation for a guest house across the river, but I didn't feel like the hassle of crossing the river all the time so I grabbed a small room close to Hampi bazaar and the main temple.

So far Hampi has two main features - amazing ruins and an unbelievable amount of mosquitos! I have had mozzies every where I have been in India, but Kolkata there would be 5 in my room each night, in Anjuna 20 each night, in Palolem 3 each night - well here I have a minimum of 100 in my tiny room. Unlike everywhere else where they pretty much disappeared after the sun was up until the dusk, these guys don't quit because it is day time! One good side effect of this is that I am highly motivated to see the ruins and not hang out in my room napping. So far I have been really good about taking my anti-malaria meds - even though I get an upset tummy now and then,

I found a nice little restaurant and had some veg curries. Hampi is supposed to be completely vegetarian in deference to all the Hindu pilgrims that come here, but most of the restaurants serve meat to capture the tourist dollar. I have decided to respect the pilgrims and I am going to be 100% vegetarian while in Hampi. In India this isn't much of a sacrifice as more than half the menu in most places in vegetarian.

After eating I slept really well after the long day traveling - I woke at one point and was totally freaked out my the super loud buzzing of hungry mozzies right next to my ear. Luckily my mosquito net has no holes or I would have been done for.

I got up and decided to check out the main temple. It was really cool, but there were a lot of tourists and every shrine had people demanding money if you wanted to have a look, what was worse though with all the hustle and bustle you couldn't really take some time and contemplate what you were seeing. I did luck out on my way back towards the gate I saw an old sign point down to some dark stairs. It actually looked at bit scary as the stairs descended to 4ft high door below the temple. Feeling a little adventurous I went down there and found a shrine to Shiva that seemed forgotten by everyone. There were no offerings, but the shrine had been cleaned recently. I sat cross legged in front of it and took some time to appreciate the effort someone had put into the room. It wasn't as dark as I had thought because there was a small sky light that illuminated things nicely and allowed for a refreshing breeze. Sounds from the busy temple above echoed down to me. I spent a relaxing 30mins there - definitely the highlight of the temple for me.

Andy Warhol says everyone will get 15mins of fame. So far I have had about 5mins with three TV appearances and one magazine article, but I think I burnt through the remaining 10mins today. I was just about to leave the temple when an Indian man asked me where I was from - I went through my usual long explanation that I was born in Kolkata, live in Canada and that my mom is swiss and my dad is Indian - I have to repeat this at least 10 times each day! This guy was totally stoked that I was sort of Indian and lived in Canada. He called over his friends' and suddenly I had 50 people milling about me. He was the only one who spoke English so he would ask me things and then translate for everyone else. They tried on my sunglasses and everyone thought Oakleys were very clear - they also liked my watched and asked how much everything cost. I have stopped telling Indians the truth about prices for things at home it just blows their minds and I think it puts walls up between us because they think I must be super rich. Even when I said the sunglasses were $30USD and the watch $20USD - they nearly fell over.

It was kind of fun, but then things got weird. One guy thrust a piece of paper and pen at me - I wasn't sure what he wanted until the translator said he wanted my proceeded to sign 20 autographs - a squeal went through the crowd when they saw my name was Indian - "...very good name...very good name...!!!" I then posed for 10 photos and shook all 50 hands. It was surreal. After they finally moved on 4 or 5 more people shook my hand - one guy admitting he only shook my habd beacuse assumed I was a celebrity when he saw how the other people reacted.

I felt a little like David Hasselhoff at the Munich

I spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon exploring the ruins. It was a lot of fun, but without the proper historical & architectural background one ruin starts to look pretty much like another. I did find something cool though - I spied some steep rough stairs in the side of a hill disappear amongst the rocks. I started climbing and after 15mins I was at this super old temple all in ruins on the top of a hill with a spectacular 360 view of of Hampi and the remaining ruins. As per normal there were zero tourists up here - it seems a universal rule that if you want to get away from the crowds just sweat a tiny bit and you will have solitude.

For anyone who has been to Joshua Tree you will be amazed to hear that Hampi looks just like Jumbo Rocks! - just with the addition of a beautiful river, palm trees and the ruins of many temples! I spent quite a while chilling on some rocks enjoying the spectacle of tourists below me.

I met several more groups of Indians who were extremely friendly once they found out where I was born and what my name is. I was discussing with one guy how much it cost to travel and live in India. He blew me away by telling me his monthly budget in Hampi was daily budget is 1000Rs - although I try and spend around 600-700Rs most days so I can buy souvenirs and have the odd expensive day of luxuries. Quite a contrast!

By 2pm I was out of water and it was well over 30 degs so I decided to grab a shower back at my room. Since I have no sink in my room I came up a new way to wash my clothes. I just wore everything in the shower and soaped up as I would if I was naked and then rise everything out the same way. Once they were clean I took them off and showered for real.

I would have hung out in my room, but the mozzies made that undesirable so I wandered around and did some yoga by the river. I saw my first elephant and got a video of it as it walked past. I also watch a monkey steal a mango from a fruit vendor and then run up a tree. He sat on a branch just out of reach and ate it while the vendor cursed him - the monkey just bared his teeth and gave out a few"...OOO...EEE's..."

I stopped in a restaurant for a snack of veggie pakoras before getting online, but now I am hungry again so I will sign off and go get a veggie thali for dinner.

One funny thing the dial up connection in Hampi is faster than the cable connection in Anjuna or Palolem - keep in mind faster is relative - it is still dead slow!

Even funnier a dutch guy was just here picking up his train tickets. He was totally stoned and after getting the tickets he asked the guy where he should go tomorrow in Hospet to get the Indian shop owner looked at him and said..."...the train station...!" He then suggested the guy smoke less dope tomorrow so he would not miss his train!!! The dutch guy gave him a sheepish smile and agreed that was a good suggestion.

India - never a dull moment!


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