We arrived in Hampi at 7:30ish in fog of sleep deprivation and jet lag from our four connective days of travel (we flew from Morocco to an overnight layover in Rome, to Bulgaria, to another overnight layover in Dubai, and finally to India where we then took an overnight bus to Hampi.) Our first glimpse of the temples were fleeting as we raced to our hotel, if you could even call it a hotel. Once we walked into Sunset Restaurant Guesthouse, we were led to a single hall in the back of the restaurant. There appeared to be a set of four rooms, one being the kitchen and we're given the choice of a cheaper room with a shared bath or one with a private bath that cost about 75% more. As we tried to make up our minds in the hallway, an entire Indian family (grandparents to children) from one of the shared bathroom rooms was in the process of taking turns bathing. This consisted of the young waiter, about 16 years old, carrying plastic buckets of warm water back and forth for each member of the family to have a bucket bath. We were so tired we opted for the “nicer” room since a whole family was waiting in line for the bathroom. As soon as we closed the door we laid down and fell fast asleep in our rock hard bed. All things considered with the ridiculous mark up for the private bathroom, we still only paid $10 dollars for the night.
Side note: We eventually got a refund and let for another place because we came back from dinner that first night to a swarm of ants all over the wall and bed from a piece of food under the sheets that apparently never was cleaned from the previous guest. We didn't expect this place to be a spick and span room at the Hilton, but ants all over the bed? Emily wasn't having it.
Once we emerged from our cave we went out in search of sustenance. We happened to soon find the only restaurant offering "special" Bahang Lassi and were immediately offered a medium glass for 400 rupees or strong for 500 rupees. We didn't know it was known for this before entering. For those not in the know, it's a drink made of yogurt, nuts, spices, rose water, and cannabis. The drink is consumed on certain Hindu holidays, and it's not for the faint of heart from what we hear. We ordered a Thali, consisting of a curry the kitchen has on hand, a Dhal (a lentils dish), a chapatti (type of pan fried bread that is almost a tortilla), rice, and a last type of fried bread. In my head I refer to Thali as Indian samples and am a huge fan. It's the upgraded lunch tray you wish you had in the middle school cafeteria.
The main Temple in Hampi proper dominates the skyline wherever you go. It has two huge tower/pyramid like structures above the two main gates that rise one tier on top of the next tier with carving on each side. To walk to the temple you have to walk down a boulevard of stone pillars. You can sense the age of the pillars as you walk by them. The temple itself exudes the same age but unlike many old structures it is still a working temple for those in the community that surrounds Hampi, but is also a pilgrimage site for many Hindus. There were probably 20 Indian tourists here for every one white person.
Inside the first main gate the area is mostly empty except for an alter open on all sides. It consist of three cows, but it isn’t like religious icons in churches. This icon is covered in fresh and dead flower heads, burnt incense leaves, blackened spots, and messes of oil and candle wax puddles around each of the cows showing that while not a major place of worship since there were no crowds around it, it was well used.
Inside the second main gate to the left the sacred temple elephant was munching away at straw and attended by a very non-religious looking man and three very religious looking monkeys. The sacred elephant will bless you after you pay 10 rupees! We watched a very excited young man offer a ten rupee note to the elephant himself. the elephant grabbed the bill with his trunk and passed it to the attendant sitting off to the side before performing the ritual blessing. It then placed its trunk on the top of the young man's head and back and held it there while he said a short prayer, then the young man touched his chest and the elephant touched his hands.
You would think that our first experience with an Indian elephant would be the star of the show, but the back rooms of the temple were even better. There were practicing Hindus everywhere, they would enter a chamber where a monk would go through a ceremony with them that includes incense, bells, and dyes to mark the forehead. The entrances were a bit daunting for a us to enter. We were really curious, but more than anything didn't want to offend those entering worship. The alter rooms behind the antichamber contained the idols dressed, covered in flower buds, surrounded in smoke and painted in bright colors. There were three many sets of these chambers in the Temple complex.
From that point on we wondered the many ruins and old temples that dotted rocky landscape around Hampi. At about 15:00, because we are trying to get comfortable with military time, we searched for a workout spot in one of the ruins. When we were in Patagonia we were in extremely good shape and could eat whatever we wanted with the kilometers we were putting on our feet each day. We realized afterwards though that if we wanted to keep eating as much, we needed to do some sort of plan, so we are about three weeks into a workout plan right now. We did our pushups, pull-ups, and HIIT (high intensity interval training) lower body workout. Hands down the best spot we have ever worked out in. As we trained we looked down into a sunken courtyard with our backs to a raised pedestal 8ft by 8ft. The feeling of pushing through the last several sets was fantastic.
For sunset we climbed up one of the largest boulder hills, Matanga hill, and were surprised to find another temple at it's top. This Temple is dedicated to Veerabhadra. As we entered a young priest welcomed us. We learned that he was the sixth generation disciple and despite his young age, he proudly told us that one day his son would run the temple when he die, just like all of the other men in his family have. He showed us around and finally brought us to the altar room. He knew we weren't Hindu but happily walked us through the blessing.
First he picked two flower blossoms from the idol and handed us each one. We sniffed them, then held them to our hearts and thought about what we hoped and wished for. He then took the flower blossoms to the idol and began chanting and rigging a bell, starting from the top and working his way to the bottom of the idol. Once finished he returned the blossoms to us and using a small dish, added a little oil from a reservoir near the idol and lit it from the idols flame. Emily and I wafted the smoke over our heads and repeated his words. Next we were given holy water in our hands to sip and rub over the top of our heads, and sugar to eat. Lastly the priest dipped his fingers in red dye and touched them to each of our blossoms, which he instructed should remain in our pockets, then our foreheads. It was a surreal experience followed by a sunset from the roof of the temple and over this ancient city of boulders and ruins.
All of Hampi is covered in these massive boulders. From our height we could see the other hills of boulders scattered around like God's Legos, interspersed with coconut trees, rice fields, temple ruins and a huge hazy sun. It really felt like we were in a totally foreign world even though we have been traveling for the last 5 months.
On our second day in Hampi we made like tourists and visited most of the major sites in the city. There are plenty of ruins that we didn't see because there are just so many, but we did our best to hit as many as possible.
The other side of Hampi is across a small river and considered the “hippie” conclave. We crossed on our third morning and all the monks in training were on the way from or to training school dressed in their orange garb walking in large groups down the road. We woke up early one morning to watch the sacred elephant from the temple bathe in this river and found all of the monks bathing in the river too. They washed with soap, splashed each other like kids in a pool, and in general seemed to be having a very pleasant morning. That same morning women drew white mandalas, or sacred symbols in chalk in front of their doorsteps to help the flow of positive energy.
The hippie side of Hampi didn't have the ancient feel the temples did, but it was the first time I've legitimately felt a bit of the hippie era. With a quick crossing of the river, we were transported to a completely different time and place. There was a large percentage of people who were visiting for several months that were real hippies. They came with their children and spoke the local language, and greeted locals and other hippies in the street with such warmth. Restaurants were painted with psychedelic murals, you sat on mats on the floor or bean bag chairs, and the main street was lined with yoga, meditation, rock climbing, massage, drum circles, jewelry and hippie clothing stalls. Many locals that we met so far would ask us if it was our first time in India. No one else around the world really asked this question. For them India was a Meca they come to time and time again. The question was beginning to make sense; you could how easy it would be to fall in love with such a relaxed and laid back hippie haven.
The other highlight of our time in Hampi was our bouldering class or rock climbing on boulders. We were given rock climbing shoes… these shoes are an experience in themselves. They are meant to be so tight that your toes are bunched up into a curled up claw so you can perch on quarter inch wide cracks of rock. The instructor was 25 years old and had moved to Hampi 15 years before and had been climbing ever since. His name was Jerry and was one is the owners of “Tom and Jerry Climbing School”. We lugged our folded pads from his little shop up to the same area we watched the sun set the night before. Initially we climbed up boulders with inclines about 15 degree off of vertical. Baby rocks. We soon graduated to 15 degrees off vertical towards us so that we were clinging on with all of our strength. To reach hand holds or footholds we would have to stretch one leg around the rock to balance our weight and the opposite arm up to another handhold while lifting our bodyweight with the planted foot. It was hard, but the boulders were only about 10 to 12 feet tall so it was exhilarating bursts of climbing. On one of the hardest boulders that both Emily and I had trouble climbing (we would get up to the second handhold and not be able to hold on till we could extend one of our legs) a boy about 12 years old selling chai tea came by to hang out. At first he sat back and watched, but once he warmed up to us would have a chat or easily scale the rocks Emily and I were falling off.
About half way through our instructor began playing some music on his bluetooth speaker. Emily and I were definitely digging his music and started asking him who different artists were. To our surprise Spotify isn’t available in India!!!!!! Emily and I live and die by Spotify and half of our messages to our friends are links with shared music that we all send back and forth. Here in India everyone saves the songs on their phones and shares the music when they meet someone and like theirs. It was like be transported back to the early 2000’s. So after diving deep and playing lots of our music for him back at the climbing shop we exchanged all of our downloaded sets (recorded shows from some of our favorite artist), for a number of his playlist. Later that day we were walking down the road in search of a fresh fruit juice and heard one of our favorite songs Speakerbox by Bassnectar blasting its way down the street. We entered the shop with huge grins on our faces, Jerry has stayed up most of the night studying our music! It was a great experience to share our music with someone new and in turn be influenced by his music.
Later in the day we walked through the more local section of town to a river surrounded by boulders where we lounged in the sun for the afternoon and swam in the river.
We closed out our time in Hampi with yet another gorgeous sunset from the boulders while we looked out across the river at the temples glowing in the sunlight, set around a bunch of fields being plowed and covered in water.