Oh goodness, time has flown by! Yesterday we said goodbye to South Africa and landed in Kenya for the last leg of our adventure before Europe. Since internet has been spotty to nonexistent, we have a lot to catch up on! We will start with a few more posts on India :)
After staying in Goa, India for our yoga program, we went on a tour of South India with the other students from the group.
Our first destination on the tour was a tiny village called Hampi, situated within and around the most amazing temple ruins. I alluded to it in our overview post on the best things about India, and really, seriously, our visit here was one of the biggest highlights of this ENTIRE trip.
Just to give you an idea of our expectations, we had been told we would see temple ruins and that there wouldn’t be too many tourist around. We had also been told that the atmosphere in Hampi is such that when exploring the ruins we might stumble upon an amazing structure and feel like we are discovering new ancient civilizations that no one else ever had. Sounds cool, right?
No way did even that prepare us for driving into town and seeing this:
All a few minutes walk from where we stayed. The whole place was truly amazing!
Several mornings I got up before sunrise to do yoga (a place like Hampi just makes you want to do that kind of crazy thing). The first morning I went to the rooftop of our guesthouse. With the amazing Virupaksha temple towering over the building and the sun rising next to it, the feeling was surreal. Several monkeys also came over to join me, interrupting my downward dog each time they got too close for comfort and I had to poise myself to move away ASAP.
The second morning, myself and several other yoga students walked to the ruins in the second picture. Although the sun had not yet risen, we trekked through an area within the rocks and ruins where locals were already gathered to worship. Once we found a quiet spot, we climbed to the top of a stone structure and began our practice. In that magical time right at dawn, the enormous boulders around us emanated a coolness, a calm and a presence that we felt through our entire beings–a feeling similar to walking into a sacred building like the Cistine chapel, only even more awe inspiring since we were not enclosed in a building, but surrounded by this sprawling, surreal landscape, still able to see the real sky.
The landscape in Hampi was unlike any other I have ever seen. Giant rocks, all smooth and a soothing tan in color, tipped and tumbled over each other as if someone had placed each one specifically. Some were piled up ten high in rows that seemed to go on for miles. Others balanced precariously on top of one another in formations that laughed in the face of gravity. In others still, you could see square chink marks in rows down their sides, evidence, we decided, of the ancient and unknown systems used to move these giant stones once upon a time.
And when was this once upon a time? Actually, not so long ago. After doing some research I learned that Hampi used to be the capitol city of the rich and powerful Vijayanagar Empire, who rose to power in the 14th century. Apparently the empire had so flourished that diamonds, rubies and pearls were sold on the streets. Although we did see a number of shops selling semi-precious stones, something we hadn’t seen elsewhere on our India trip, the idea of that kind of wealth was a far cry from the vendors we saw selling the typical Indian tourist wares of dyed Ali Babba pants, tapestries and carved statues (not to mention the small children hawking post cards instead of going to school…. ). So what happened? Well, in short, the empire was ransacked by Muslim kings in the 16th century and the ruins of this once grand kingdom remain today.
Some say Hampi was not always a town but was a playground for the great monkey god, Hanuman. They say he was the one who placed the rocks as they are. Whether this is a widely held belief or not, I don’t know, but there were a number of temples dedicated to this wild deity.
Several temples were high up on the sides of cliffs. Some required definite climbs, but proved to have the most stunning views.
Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without some real monkeys….
The town itself, although built within the ruins, is easy to navigate. It felt very safe and is full of small Indian restaurants and guest houses catering to a laid back, backpacker type of tourist. It was easy to find good, cheap food. If you ever go to India, DON’T miss this place.
There was a river running through the village and a ferry taking people across. This river separates the religious ruins on one side of town from the royal ruins related to the kingdom on the other. This river is also the spot where locals came to bathe. We saw many residents lathering up down here, the men in shorts and the women fully clothed in their colorful saris.
The ruins themselves were extraordinary, especially the religious ones. Some had thousands upon thousands of detailed figures and deities carved into them, all depicting stories lost and found in ancient religious texts.
Ruins related to the kingdom were skeletons of what they had been. When at these sites, you could close your eyes and almost see the place built back up, bustling with people, gardens on one side, queen’s chambers on the other, bathhouses around the corner, etc, etc.
Some of the people here were interesting as well. Of course there were the typical vendors, actually much less pushy and persistent here than in other places like Goa, but one morning we met theses men:
They coaxed us aside and did a “magic show” for us, pulling rocks out of their mouths. Afterwards (of course-duh!) they asked for a donation. The interesting thing about this exchange was that when we said we didn’t have any money on us (we really didn’t), they had us write down our names in an old notebook with an IOU amount to be payed later! I never did end up paying the fee, so I’m hoping they don’t hold grudges and that their “magic” is constrained to the display we saw….
When we left Hampi after just a few days it was all too soon. I am hoping we get to come back and explore again one day.