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INDIA | Thursday, 3 April 2014 | Views [291]

Ganesh the monkey god

Ganesh the monkey god

Hopped a flight to Hubli this morning and then took the train to Hospet. I could have taken the train all the way there, but it would have taken 24 hours instead of 5. I don't think very many tourists come this way to Hospet because I was the only person in my train car to get off there.

Hospet is the closest station to Hampi, which was a mega city (1 million people) for two hundred years from the 1500s to the 1700s, but is now a small rural village with amazing ruins.

Lucky for me, a rickshaw driver was waiting at the train station to take me to my hotel. I kid. Only once, maybe twice, have I gotten off the train in India and had no drivers begging to know where I wanted to go. The guidebook did not prepare me for this. More likely it frightened me into thinking the guys who greet you are shady and you should go to some prepaid taxi stand. In my experience, if there's a prepaid stand, probably no one will greet you- they'll simply tell you as you leave the station where the prepaid stand is. When there's no stand, the guys who greet you are the hungry guys who really want to help you so they can make a sale. That makes sense. Best to go with the first one and he'll fend off the others. But it took me my whole trip in India to figure this out.
This time, I wasn't overly friendly, but I did take a ride from the first guy who talked to me. And it definitely simplified and improved my experience at the train station. No hassle. Just a ride to my hotel.
And when I arrived, a pitch about a tour of Hampi for the next day if I was interested. He's a tour guide too apparently. That seemed far fetched, but I took his number just in case, though I was intending to go to the travel office and take a bus tour, if I could find it.
The hotel is nice - overpriced but nice and free breakfast. The "helpful" travel desk at the hotel wanted 400 rupees more than the rickshaw driver to hire me a taxi for the day and said in order to go on a tourist bus I had to be minimum 20 people. No way to sign up as an individual. What? This country is soooo not set up for foreign tourists!
Anyway, in the morning I rang the rickshaw driver to get the better deal. He not only claimed he would drive me to all the sights, but he would be my tour guide as well. That's better than just a taxi, right?
In the end, I did get lucky. He was an excellent guide. Spoke great English. Took me to some special out of the way places and in one day made me feel like I'd seen what I should have needed three days for. Turns out he'd gone to school and studied the history of the area, but wasn't able to get a job using his degree, so he does this rickshaw thing instead, and plays the tourist guide as much as he can during the tourist season. 
First stop was Malyavanta Raganath Temple. This was a bit out of the way, past other temples and ruins that most tourists go to. It had a great lookout point up above it. We had to scale some old steps and boulders to get to it but it was worth it. Really beautiful. And you could see a whole valley on either side.
The guide explained about the different carvings on the temple pillars, what the different platforms in the temple were for, demonstrated the musical columns, and explained why the monks were singing even without an audience.
This proved to be a great introduction since I would see five more temples that day, all similar.
I also saw the queens bath and palace, elephant stables, the kings palace, the nobleman's palace, the main temple in Hampi, still in use, with an elephant who will bless you on the top of your head if if you give it a coin, and finally a glorious sunset view where I finally got a good picture of monkeys!
At lunch, we ate at the Mango Tree, a popular restaurant that used to be under a huge mango tree by the river, but which was ousted after the Hampi sites were designated UNESCO a few years back. It relocated to a tight space in the small town. I had an amazing eggplant curry, but the eggplant was green and white, like zucchini. Very tasty! And the service was fast, which is unheard of in India. In India, they still really do not make it until you order it. So expect a 45 minute wait after you order, generally. 

Unfortunately, the main bazaar in front of the temple was also destroyed by UNESCO because it was built on top of the ruins of the original market place. This is such a shame because it was mirroring history. All the other temples had in front of them a wide road lined on either side with what used to be a covered marketplace. Only a few years ago, this market in front of the main working temple still existed. This is the temple with the elephant - this was the one temple that couldn't be destroyed by the Islamic invaders. And somehow the market was still intact all these years later even though it had been built up in front of the original stone market place. Now all that there is are ruins and no market. Such a shame! You wouldn't even realize it if you're not paying close attention.
A lot of the temple ruins reminded me of Ephesus, and I think the Greek and Roman type engineering and planning were definitely at work here influencing the builders.

They had dammed the water source, making a man made lake and created an aqueduct system to supply the palaces and temples with fresh water. This dammed lake is still in use today for irrigation of the farms. They still grow a lot of food here, including corn, garlic and coconuts.

However, the stylization of the columns and the art incorporated into the temples and into the buildings were very unique and beautiful and nothing at all like their Greek and Roman counterparts.

Hampi is still a sacred place for many Hindus. At the river, we saw a lot of Indian tourists (my guide said they were not locals) bathing in the river. He said they clean themselves here before going to pray at the temple. Even some women were going in fully clothed and then skillfully changing into another outfit on the beach afterward without exposing themselves.
Towards the end of the day, we stopped at a great shrine to the monkey god. This area around Hampi was considered the land of monkeys because before man arrived in the area that's who ruled the kingdom - the monkeys. At first this seems like legend, or part of the Hindu religion, but when you think about it, its probably true. The monkeys, along with bulls and elephants, probably did have a commanding presence in the jungle before man arrived. Kind of makes the whole "god who looks like a monkey" or an elephant or a bull make sense. These are the animals that dominated the jungle when man arrived here, and continued to be omnipresent alongside man.
After a dreamy half hour at the sunset lookout, it was time to go back to the hotel in Hospet. A lovely last day on tour in India.

And now for a rest stop in Goa. Yay! :-)


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