To put it plainly, Hampi was the shiznit (translation: "really cool, awesome, the best"). (Clearly, I’ve been expanding my vocabulary, and not just on account of my Kannada lessons.)
Hampi has actually been the shiznit much longer than most of the cities in India. Between the 14th and 17th century, it was the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire, which encompassed about the entire bottom third of the country. According to trusty Fodor, the capital city was a bustling hub of activity, teeming with traders and temple chariot processions along the busy Hampi Bazaar and home to palaces, temples and elephant stalls. It took five neighboring Muslim nations to take the ruling party down; the invaders left the city in ruins, the state in which it remains today.
We arrived in the early afternoon on a Saturday, and after checking into our little hotel, headed into the heat to survey the grounds. We only ventured out on foot, which apparently restricted our sight-seeing greatly, so next time (because there will be a next time) I definitely intend to hire a guide or rent a scooter. The scenery we experienced was gorgeous nonetheless, and my camera really doesn’t do it justice. We explored ancient stone temples and strolled through vast marketplaces, calling on images of markets today to picture the baskets of bananas, coconuts and jasmine strands and piles of gold and bronze jewelry strewn across blankets on the ground. I wondered if the merchants then really looked any different than they do now.
In the evening we climbed a rocky hill to take in the darkening colors of the sky as the sun set behind Virupaksha Temple.
On Sunday morning, the ruins and huge natural boulders provided a beautiful backdrop for my morning run. They say Hampi is an awesome place to go bouldering. I passed by many residents on their way to temple, with flowers and fruits for offerings, and a number of fields, filled with banana trees, rice paddies and other crops.
Since we only had a half-day, most of us decided to take it easy and stay close to home, so we spent our time in the bazaar, perusing the little shops for the best deals on jewelry, clothes and other trinkets. Because we’re totally recognizable as tourists (really?!), we’re always quoted ridiculously high prices, so we have to work at getting them down, with some of us much more successful than others. We used the fact that we were there in the off-season as leverage. This process of bargaining is always a grey area for me, as I worry about walking a fine line between paying a fair price and taking advantage of the situation. So many people live in poverty here, and the rupees are more valuable to them than to me, so I don’t worry too much when I know I’ve paid more than market price.
The train ride home was another adventure, as train rides always seem to be here in Hindustan. A bench for four turned into a bench for seven, and we got real cozy with our travel companions in a sticky, cramped and smelly car. You can see that the little girl next to me (who smelled like she’d been doused in curry and had just popped out of the oven) was thrilled. I did say I loved the scents of India best...