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Hampi

The swarm of tuc-tucs following the bus as we rolled into Hampi was a sure sign of what was to come, but after being so relaxed after our stay in Goa we weren’t quite prepared for the amount of harassment we were about to receive. Some of these tuc-tucs had been following the bus already from the last rest-stop it did in nearby Hospet. We really felt like we were the honey among a swarm of wasps, and there were no let-up to the constant bombardment. All of them seemed to be the owner of a guest house and could ensure us they did not get any commission – how thick do they think we are? Especially obvious as there seemed to be many owners for the same guest houses in the end. When I asked one alleged owner of Gopti Guest House his name he said “Roy – I’m the owner” I confronted him with the fact that the person I’d been in contact with was not called Roy. He then goes on to explain he’s the owner and doesn’t deal with the bookings – that would be just the people working for him, like it was beneath him… strange then that he was roaming the dirty cow-dung littered streets harassing newly arrived tourists, because that really sounds like a job for the top boss…

The harassment seems to cease somewhat shortly after I leave the backpack with Hannah at the outskirts of the main bazaar and venture in to have a look around for a guest house. I finally find one that looks OK (Rocky’s) and we go there and check in. Also mandatory is that all tourists have to report and register with the police, so after a quick breakfast we wander down to the station to get that over and done with. As we now are walking about without our backpacks we’re suddenly largely left to ourselves apart from the odd shop or tuc-tuc driver.

Hampi is a world heritage site, and you quickly become very aware of the splendour of what was once here. We decided to hire push-bikes and cycle around. Being optimistic, and not realising the extent of this site we thought we’d be able to do all the sites in a day, but soon realised we’d bitten over more than we could chew. A second day with sore cycle-saddle-bums was definitely needed (oh… did I not mention the bikes were not very comfortable and break down on a regular basis? Top tip is to check the saddle, brakes and tires before you agree on a bike…). There are literally old ruins scattered around everywhere, so to see them all wouldn’t be very feasible. We get to see most of the highlighted temples and monuments on our two days of cycling around but there are a few we don’t get the time to see.

A bit of an eyesore is all the demolished houses around the Main Bazaar of Hampi, but it’s a necessity for preserving further damage to the site. The centre of Hampi is slowly getting moved from its current position to a new location away from the protected site. One would think it could be demolished in a nicer fashion though, and not leave half broken houses everywhere as if an aftermath of a warzone. When walking around in the ruins we again notice how these historical sites are not being looked after very well – we see where people have been littering these monuments with all sort of rubbish, and in true Indian fashion we see people casually urinating on their own heritage – and that seems to sum it all up…

There is another part of Hampi they call Hampi Island, which is across the river by boat – the bridge apparently “mysteriously” fell apart and they are in the process of building a new one up river and away from the protected site. This side of the river seems really quiet and relaxed, and I would recommend staying on this side if you’re not on quite as tight as budget as we are – it’s quite a bit more expensive on this side in comparison to the budget options available in the Main Bazaar.

Our second day of cycling around is on the other side of the river, and on the agenda is the Hannuman Monkey Temple and Anegundi, a small village by where the new bridge crossing is being built. First stop is the Monkey Temple, and the 600ish steps to climb to get to the top. The steps were a challenge in itself in the baking heat, but the monkey-attack near the top of the steps (when you’re at the most exhausted of course) was the proper test of strength. We didn’t get attacked in the end, but it looked bad when we managed to startle an aggressive little firecracker of a monkey with some very large teeth, that he was more than happy to show off… With a lot of growling and waving with his hands as he was trying to grab a hold of me he was a little bit too close for comfort… Managed to slowly back away and move down the stairs a bit to get away and rethink how much we really wanted to get to the temple on the top of the hill. Quite suddenly our little furry friend found an alternative outlet for his aggression and started to chase another poor innocent monkey down the steps right in between us, brushing our legs – the scuffle seemed to be due to a piece of coconut. Just after – while we’re trying to calm down – a man comes down the slope squeezing on an empty water bottle. This noise seems to keep the creatures at a distance, and he also breaks off a branch of a tree and hands it to me as an extra deterrent against more attacks. So there is me armed with a twig, and Hannah crushing a water bottle – creating a right racket – we climb the last few steps up to the top of the hill. There is a nice view from the top, and a very tranquil atmosphere – good to relax and unwind a bit after the heart-stopping experience just below. The temple is apparently on the spot where Hanuman the Monkey Faced Hindu God was born. Second stop, after the descent from the Hanuman Temple, is Anegundi village which has a nice little temple (Ranganatha Temple). We also have a bite of lunch and a drink at the Hoova Craft Shop & Cafe here – the food was heavenly. Anegundi is a very relaxing little place, and we kind of wish we had known about this place when we arrived and arranged to stay here instead of the Main Bazaar, although we really enjoyed our stay at Rocky’s this place would have been even more tranquil.

After our exploration of the other side of the river we hand our hired bikes back and head down to the river crossing. The crossing seems very busy this time – it must be rush-hour or something. The result is of course that they try to fit as many people on as possible. We only just get a space on the boat crouched down between two large motorbikes. The boat by this time looks like it’s about to give up and sink to the bottom, but somehow we do get over to the other side without having to start swimming. I’m sure for the boatmen this is a complete mundane daily thing, but most of the passengers (being tourists) look very worried on the short voyage across the tiny river. By the river crossing there is always a well of activity from people bathing and washing. Many women can be seen washing clothes in the river and drying them on the stones or bushes along the riverbank. You can also sometimes see people throwing what looks like prayers (pieces of paper or parcels of offerings) into the river from the Ghats – some wrapped in plastic bags, which doesn’t seem the nicest thing to do to their local environment.

Hampi is a very tranquil place once the touts have left you alone. The historical sites are amazing and that alone is a good enough reason to endure the initial shock and stress as you arrive. The place itself has an aura of peacefulness to it and you can get lost in just taking it easy for a few days. I can highly recommend visiting Hampi – just beware of the touts initially and you’ll be fine – it’s probably advisable to book a hotel/guesthouse in advance, so you don’t have to hunt around for a place to stay on arrival with a swarm of people constantly harassing you claiming their hotel/guesthouse is the best (and make it more expensive as the hotel will have to whack a big commission on top of the rent to pay off the tout. I would recommend staying on other side of the river if you like a more tranquil experience, but can highly recommend Rocky’s in the Main Bazaar. Rocky is quite a young man – very friendly and helpful – he runs the guesthouse with the help of his mum and dad, and he can of course also help with booking of further travel and such without charging extortionate commissions. With his help we booked our tickets to go to Bengaluru (Bangalore) where we picked up a local bus for the onward journey to go to Tiruvannamalai. A fun bumpy ride on a rickety bus for about five hours – unfortunately, not what we had expected was waiting for us on the other side of this journey…

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