Boulders and Pillars of Hampi

Ruins and active temple in Hampi bazaar

Sunset on Boulders

Set beside a winding river, the landscape around Hampi is magical. Gigantic golden brown granite boulders are piled on top each other in gravity defying configurations. Just how this landscape is created is a complete mystery. Banana plantations are scattered among the boulders and ruins of what was once a vital city and lush rice paddies border the river.

Hampi is the ruined sight of the once capital of a Hindu dynasty, Vijayanagar, which held out from the invading Moguls until the 16th Century. The ruins look much older than they are due to damage done by the Muslim invaders. But from the main bazaar you can still make out the remains of the old city. The ruined colonnaded bazaar is still partly inhabited by today’s colorful market, and landless laborers live in many of the crumbling 500 year old granite buildings. Some of these ancient buildings have been recycled into a modern bank, a bookstore – with no fanfare.

The ruins are so prolific that one can get blasé about it. There’s ruins at the ferry stop… in the bazaar… on the surrounding hills… to the left… to the right…You must try and be still enough in order to begin to absorb what an unusual place this is. Removed from familiar surroundings and daily routines, traveling offers a unique opportunity to be in the present and fully appreciate what you’re seeing.

My love affair with a thatched hut is over. It’s claustrophobic and we share it with too many critters of various shapes and sizes. We have a spectacular view of the rice paddies and rocks behind, but after three days we retreat back to a guest house and a more spacious room. We wake up one morning, invaded by an army of mosquitoes. They are everywhere – clinging in droves to the mosquito net, swarming in the bathroom and, springing from our suitcases when disturbed. We made the mistake of opening the back window. Once again, Gerard has to rise to the occasion and after squatting mosquitoes for at least two hours, it is finally safe to inhabit the room again. The next night we light mosquito coils and we get a good night’s sleep.

I discover there are advantages of eating out three times a day, but also disadvantages. Sometimes you get what you want, sometimes you don‘t. The other night after a grueling day of sightseeing, I’d obviously had too much sun when I asked the waiter who could speak about three words of English, if his spinach soup had real spinach in it….Not having learned the lesson, this morning I ordered “good” coffee. Good, he repeated blankly – and served me Nescafe yet again.

We’ve now met five couples roughly our age, who like us, traveled in the late 60s/early 70s and are now traveling again after families and careers. A Swiss woman, who traveled overland to India back then, also remarked that Europeans traveling in India now is like Americans traveling in Europe in the 60s.

Brief meetings give us a snapshot of people’s lives, but leave room for both mystery and misinterpretation. At the guesthouse, we meet a boisterous Iraqi and his beautiful Parisian girlfriend, again around our age. They both have interesting stories: his escape from Baghdad; her miraculous recovery from being literally run over by a car and in a coma for six months. At first we assume she is having an affair while traveling – but no, she corrects us, she’s divorced amicably… How did the Iraqi manage to make enough money to bring his family to Paris and support them, and now travel for months on end? They leave for Goa before us and we’ll never know the rest of the story. But on the other hand, with people we see every day, we don’t get the complete story either.

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