Hospet is a 7 hour train journey from Vasco Da Gama, we shared the berth with another traveller and a Goan businessman. Janet and I spoke in hushed tones about the scenery and our plans for the next few days and our berth-buddies dozed. An hour in to the journey the Indian guy sits up and proclaims "I'm bored, where do you come from?" a great ice breaker, that got the ball rolling for a steady flow of interesting conversation for the next few hours. We got some great inside info on Hospet and Hampi and in return he asked us our opinions on our experience of India so far.
Hospet is really just a gateway for tourists to visit Hampi, an ancient Hindu city and heart of the Vijayanagar empire which was built between the 14th and 15th centuries. The ruins of the city are spread over the area of 26 sq km.
We checked in and after a bit of aggregation, we settled down for a fairly quiet day, a couple of drinks and a late lunch and we were perfectly content.
The next day we were heading down for breakfast, when out the corner of my eye, I saw a dog coming down the stairs behind us, 'great' I thought, they're not even keeping the strays out of the hotel grounds. But it wasn't a dog, too small and too big to be a cat, we stopped in the stairwell and moved over to the side as the large male monkey regarded us with surprise and then continued his way down, with us slightly shocked ambling along behind.
We had procured the services of Ravi, a local lad with an infectious smile and an auto rickshaw which emblazoned 'From Leicester With Love' across the back, the story went that a lady from Leicester had met him while on holiday and when she went back raised the money to buy him a rickshaw. He had taken us from the station to our hotel the previous day and we'd got on pretty well.
Our first stop was Virupaksha Temple, unlike the rest of the temples we would see today, this temple was still in use and so shoes had to come off before entering. Unlike the previous visits to temples, we decided that we both would like to go in and so both of us had to take our shoes off. Janet asked whether she could keep her socks on but with a shake of the head she was told no, socks had to come off too!
On entering, you could hear the recorded chants that play throughout the temple site. Both Janet and I felt very differently about the chants, I felt they added depth and feeling to the experience whereas Jan felt uneasy about it.
The Virupaksha temple is architecturally stunning. The sand coloured stone tower has ornate carvings from the base, to its very top, nine tiers above. The erosion caused by the elements makes it look far older than it actually is and this adds to the character of the site. Walking through the courtyard, it became apparent that the monkeys in the compound were worshipped just as much as the deity Ganesh. They were well fed on bunches of bananas, coconuts and flowers that many of the worshippers brought with them, this gave us fantastic opportunities to take photographs.
There were a few people who had made their pilgrimage just milling around, however largely the site was empty. The real star was the architecture and the sense of history that we gained from just being within the walls of the Temple left us in awe.
Ravi was waiting for us in his autorickshaw as agreed, he asked " Do you want to see the elephant baths?" to which we replied "Yeah, go on then". A short chug down the road and we arrived at some steep stone steps which led down to the murky river. There were people bathing either side of the steps. Mixed in with the bathers were cows and goats but at the very bottom of the steps, there was indeed an elephant. There was a Hindu family standing by the pachyderm (yes, I did use the word pachyderm) , they took water from the river and put it on their head in prayer, the young girl then went to the lowest step and touched the elephant's head. She recoiled and quickly came back up the steps, the rest of her family laughing and chatting happily. They departed with a smile and next it was our turn to go see the animal up close. The temple elephant was having her daily bath, the warden scrubbing away at her feet and legs. I tentatively went down the steps lower and lower towards this ginormous beast. I put my hand out and touched its head and took a few seconds to think about what it really felt like, it was certainly not what I imagined. Jan's turn, she passed over the camera and nervously walked down. The elephant had started to get restless, its ear was flicking and its head moved ever so slightly, the warden gave a shout for the elephant to stay still. Janet Attenborough reached out and touched the top of the animal's head and I think you'll see from the photograph that an eternal connection was made.
After this amazing experience, we were taken to two carvings of Ganesh, one of which is 16 feet high the other 14 feet high in both cases the statues were crafted from single stones and were carved beautifully. From the second Ganesh statue we were able to venture up one of the hillsides to get breathtaking views of the surrounding area. The city was clearly built in an oasis of palm trees that stood surrounded on all sides by piles of boulders, which in turn looked like they had been stacked systematically one by one. A little bit further on we were also able to see an overview of the Virupaksha temple complex in its entirety. The vast scale of this single temple hints at the enormity of the entire site.
Onward to the next monument, to keep this interesting, we won't describe each site we went to but suffice to say the area is vast and the temples are so numerous and of such differing levels of completeness, some still remain pristine and fully intact, the stone facias still depicting scenes of the Mahabharata, whereas others are nothing but fallen stones and rubble.
We arrived back at the hotel exhausted but buzzing from a great day out, we flopped on the couch and opened a beer. We were deciding on what to have for dinner and then BANG! The window shook and we jumped to our feet. What the hell? We were three floors up! We went over to the window and slowly drew back the curtain and there they were, a family of four monkeys, mum with a baby, a bigger (fatter) male and another female (we assume as it was chattering). They looked at us with equal interest as we looked at them, there were no fearful or anxious expressions from any of us. The baby put its hand against the window and I put my finger on the other side. The second female slowly moved to push my finger away. I pulled it back and we slowly retreated to leave them to it. What an incredible end to the day.
Day 2 in Hospet and for the first time Janet wasn't feeling very well. We had arranged to go with Ravi again to some of the other sites in Hampi. All started well as we walked around the Lotus Mahal, a beautiful building constructed with both Hindu and Muslim influences and which they say was a retreat for the socialising royals, we also visited the block of 11 ancient elephant stables whose domed roofs conjured up a bazaar scene from the Arabian nights. As we wandered round the smaller temples, Jan got stomach cramps, she tried so hard not to let it cut short the day but she was suffering and enough was enough. We had a 9 hour, overnight train journey ahead of us that evening and she had to be on her best form for it. Indian train toilets can be somewhat challenging on the senses. On one occasion, we saw a guy go to use the western style toilets on the train, he opened then very quickly shut the door and went to the Indian style toilets, then quickly opened and shut the door and headed back to the western loo, the lesser of the two evils.
Later that night, we were dropped off at the train station by our new found friend Ravi (if anyone is going to Hospet and needs a driver we have Ravi's details, please ask), he kindly came with us to the platform and directed us to roughly where our carriage should be. We said our goodbyes and we waited for the train to arrive.
Bangalore here we come!