Monday, February 21, 2011

Goodbye Gorgeous Goa, Hello Heavenly Hampi!

As I mentioned last post, I am now in the town of Hampi, which is a truly magical place. But before I get into the pictures and story, I have some reflecting to do. I have recently passed the three month mark of my trip and I think that deserves some comment and thought.

(that's me being thoughtful and reflective, haha)

That said, I don't have a great deal to say other than “This has been an incredible experience and I am as happy or happier than I've ever been in my life.” Anyone who has been following my blog for the past three months probably could have told you that! I mean, I've met amazing people, learned so much, gone scuba diving, rock climbing, elephant riding, seen countless amazing ruins, huge and bizarre cities, eaten wonderful food, seen friends and family, gone to a wedding, seen wonderful new animal and plant life, hiked, ridden planes, trains, motos, boats and cars, and so much more. I've never been bored, in poor spirits or afraid for my safety. I was sick for one night, but really that is about the only bad thing that has happened to me the whole trip so far. I feel so fortunate that I'm am able to travel the world right now and have the understanding of my boss and the help of my family to make it all possible, so once again, thank you!

All this fun has also meant a longer term change for my life: that I want to start structuring my life around being able to travel like this again and on a somewhat regular basis. I'm not sure the best way to do this right now, or how often, but maybe doing a few months each year isn't impossible? Maybe 6 months off every other year? Ha, that doesn't sound like enough! The other complicating factor is that I absolutely love my house in Seattle and don't want to give that up, plus I still really enjoy my current job... Do I need to find new and seasonal work? Do I need to simply make more money? Should I find a housemate who isn't interested in travel and can keep up the house while I'm gone? Will I have to give up the house? I don't know, but it's a lot to think about, so I'll deal with it when I get home!

Finally, some thoughts on packing since I meticulously reported it all before I left. A few things have stood out for their usefulness, one of my favorite being my bag solution. I have two hiking type backpacks, a large one and a day bag. In the big bag I keep all my cloths and toiletries, in the day bag I keep everything else, including my laptop. The smaller bag fits in the larger one meaning I can have everything valuable, plus things like books and water, then when I get on a bus or somewhere else I can just pull the smaller bag out, keep it with me, and put the cloths below.

The cotton sleeping sack has been critical. It's not that I've stayed at many places where I was afraid of the sheets being unclean, but rather that many places just have a bed sheet and nothing to sleep under, so having your own is a must. The North Face zip off pants have also been good, and don't look too dorky at all, I even wore them to the wedding! Being able to wear shorts and then put the legs on was nice in Buddhist temples where you are required to cover up, as well as buses that get way too cold once they crank the AC. I didn't bring shoes and have worn nothing but flip-flops over than one day. I've worn everything I brought, even the fleece and windbreaker, and long underwear bottoms. A few mornings were cold in the north, especially when getting up before the sun, and it was nice to have them. I expect to use the more in northern India.

The other thing of course is the laptop. Having it has been great and I wouldn't be able to do this blog as it is without it. Being able to write whenever I want to, and being able to handle all my photos has been great and until getting to India free wifi was usually very easy to come by. Obviously it has also been extremely helpful for keeping in contact with all my traveling friends, my family back home, and killing time on bus rides. The 10” netbook is also a perfect size for traveling, a fact many other people have pointed out to me as well.

The only things I've brought and not used have been my mosquito bed net, and head net. Bugs simply haven't been a problem, and where they are even mild a bed net is usually provided. The only things I wish I had were all easily purchased. I've ended up wanting more cloths than I initially brought, and have bought some lightweight pants and shirts on the road.

Whew! Ok, back to the pictures and stories now.

Still in Panajin, I decided to take a bus ride out to Old Goa, the old capital for the Portuguese. It was begun in the 1500s and was called 'the Rome of the east', but was abandoned in the 1835 after massive outbreaks of cholera and malaria. The bus ride was about half an hour and only 10 rupees, so it was an easy day trip out of the city.

Today the only thing that remains of the once mighty city is a series of beautiful churches. This is The Basilica of Bom Jesus, begun in 1594. The large basalt building has a massive golden main alter, as well as holding the glass encased body of St Francis Xavier. For another 5 rupees you can go into the small art museum, which has a some photography and some interesting surrealist art .

The other main attraction in Old Goa is right across the street, the Se Cathedral. Built in the 1600s, it is the largest church in the whole of Asia. The outside of the building is actually quite boring, but the inside as you can see is very nice. I had gotten to the area fairly early in the morning, but by ten or eleven, tourist buses had arrived in droves. I went into the last of the three largest churches in the area (there are many) and decided to check out the archeological museum. I found it a little boring to be honest, as it had some stone carvings, and dozens of large portraits of the Portuguese rulers who had ruled the area, not a whole lot else.

I left in the early afternoon and had some time to kill in Panajin. I hung out in the park reading, walked around aimlessly, and eventually sat down in a coffee shop, primarily to use an outlet to charge my computer since the guesthouse room didn't have an outlet which I found rather annoying.

At 8pm I boarded an overnight bus to Hampi. I had opted for a bed, but I couldn't really sleep. One reason, besides for the frequent stops to pick up more people, is the fact it went on smaller roads which are full of speed bumps. This meant it was a bumpy and uncomfortable ride, and falling asleep was not easy. The 'bed' I had was a compartment with two flat cushions less than two feet wide. I was happy I had both to myself, but then at midnight, a final stop put someone in the cramped space next to me.

Luckily it was a very friendly (and rather small) Swedish guy named Carl. He is traveling with two friends of his, and we ended up chatting for about an hour and a half. Before trying to catch a few hours of sleep (I got maybe 3), we decided to room together in Hampi.

We arrived in Hampi at about 6am, before sunrise. After negotiating the gauntlet of auto drivers (the Indian tuk-tuk/three wheel taxi) and meeting a friendly Aussie named Ollie, we headed down to the river to catch the 'ferry' (a seriously overloaded dinghy but the ride is only about a minute and a half) across the river to get to the guesthouses on the other side we got to see this early morning ritual, going to the ghats and bathing in the river.

On the other side we found a place to stay and got two double rooms for the four of us. From left to right, this is Leo, Alex and Carl. We ate breakfast next to the rice paddies and then set off to explore this new wonderland.

Naturally, I saw the tallest thing around and decided I wanted to climb to the top. I set off out of the palms, past the paddies, and into the crazy boulder fields.

This is the view from about half way up, simply amazing. Looking over this from atop a house-size boulder, I was blown away. This is one of the most surreal place I've ever seen, like something out of a dream. I pushed on, up towards the top. There are no trails and I was alone. I crashed through the lower brush (tons of thorns!) took my flip-flops off and continued barefoot across the boulders.

Once I neared the top, I decided I'd gone far enough and it was too difficult to get any farther. The going was rather treacherous and I was rock climbing in sections, but getting hurt would be a real problem and my better instincts told me to turn around. I was unable to return the way I'd come, so I headed off on a new route, taking me into a large cave-type area created by massive boulders suspended overhead.

Right away, I got an idea and started to build. I cleared the leaves from the dirt and began to gather rocks. This was the result. I like the idea of creating a piece of art somewhere almost no one will see it. It was fun to build, and I hope the next person that stumbles upon the spot will enjoy it. I continued down the hill through the boulders, climbing and skidding down into more cave type areas, some full of bats. I got dead-ended a few times and had to turn around to find a different path, and ended up having to squeeze through a few tight spaces but I got out, and laid on a large boulder in the sun just taking it all in.

Once I had gotten back into the town, I caught this wonderful view across the paddies and through the palms of where I had just been.

This is looking back towards the Hampi Bazaar area, over the river from where we are staying. As I said, this place is a wonderland.

The next morning Alex, Carl and I woke up early for an 8am yoga class. Yoga is another of those thousands of things I've been interested but never tried, so it was on the list for this trip, especially here in India. It felt nice to get up and move in the morning, but I felt the instructor moved too quickly to really stretch out, and I wasn't all that pleased with it. I'll definitely give it another try at a different place though.

After yoga and breakfast the four of us headed out to explore the dozens of temples in the area. We took the ferry across the river, and went off in search of motorbikes to rent. To our surprise there were absolutely none available, they had all been rented. This was especially strange, because on our side of the river there were dozens waiting to be rented. As a result, we set off walking. We went into Virupaksha Temple, but it was closed for an hour so we walked up the hill and checked out the Kadlakalu Ganesha, a 4.5m tall sculpture made fro a single boulder.

As we walked farther up the road we walked past more and more ruins. I don't have the map so I forget the name of this part, but it is one of the sites where the (at the time) world famous Hampi bazaar took place.

After walking down the road a bit farther and visiting another temple on the way we arrived at the Kakshii Narasima Temple. This is a sculpture of the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu made in 1528. I like this one a lot, but maybe because the goofy face is hilarious.

A few temples later, we arrived in the old Islamic Quarter. We looked around briefly, but were all a little templed out (its easy when you visit one after another for a few hours), tired from walking in the hot sun, and hungry for lunch. I'll come back with a bike and see the rest of it another day.

That night we had dinner at the guesthouse restaurant and I had a bit of a feast. I had some really delicious Tibetan dumplings, a salad, pudding and water. This excellent meal cost me just about $4. The guys left the next afternoon, they were fun to hang out with and yet another example of the good people you meet on the road.

The next day I awoke at 6:30am and climbed up the biggest hill/rock pile again to watch the sunrise. Again I was scrambling around barefoot across the rocks, and eventually found a place to sit and watch from. I stayed up there for two and a half hours, just looking at the world around me, watching lizards and birds and taking it all in.

In the afternoon, I rented a motorbike and set out for a reservoir. I'd been told it was a short way out of town and that in addition to nice water and places to relax, it had some big rocks to jump off. I rode away from my room down some of the most potholed roads I've seen yet, my anemic little scooter buzzing away. I followed a dirt road along the side of the reservoir but shortly realized I'd gone to far. I had just turned around and two young Indian girls in bright red saris indicated they wanted me to give them a ride. I said sure, and they got on. It was a bit nerve wracking, since the roads were terrible and the brakes of the bike even worse, but after a quick ride they got off on the other side of the hill and thanked me.

I backtracked a bit longer and saw a spot with a few other bikes. I figured that would be a good place to enjoy the reservoir, and parked. I had in fact found the jumping spot. A huge mass of exposed rock jutted almost straight out of the water and atop that was a pile of three boulders. The local selling water at the spot said it was 25 meters down to the water (I think it may be a bit less than that), and I scrambled up the rock to give it a try. With a running start and big leap, I flew towards the water, it was quite a ways down really. A lot of fun, and certainly the highest thing I've ever jumped off.

Also at the spot was Elel (middle, sp?) and his friend, from Israel. He jumped after I did and as we got to chatting we decided to grab some lunch back in town. We had felafel and tea and went to his guesthouse to exchange our jumping photos we had taken of each other. Next was going up to the Monkey Temple for sunset, but we had time to kill so we hung out in the common area and played a game of chess. Now I haven't played chess in probably ten years so naturally Elel won but I thought I put up a decent fight!

Another short moto ride and we were at the base of another hill of boulders. Up this hill was a long and steep white staircase to the top and we began climbing. It was a lot of stairs, but didn't take more than a few minutes if you go at a quick pace. As you would expect, the view was amazing, the the light of the setting sun on the boulder covered hills was simply beautiful.

In Indian mythology, this is the birth place of Hanuman, the monkey-god, and the top contains a small temple in Hanumans honor. Inside, in one of the small rooms sit an alter to get your blessing, and next to it is another small room with men playing musical instruments and chanting, which they do all day long I am told. We sat for quite some time watching the deep-red sun go below the horizon and returned to the village.

Back at my guesthouse a few people were sitting around the TV and I was curious what was on. The movie they had put on was 'Hercules in New York' from 1969. Now for those who don't know, this was Arnold Schwarzenegger's first ever movie, and regarded by some as one of the worst movies ever made. Everything about the movie is bad, just awful really, but of course that makes it hilarious and worth watching. The part where Arnold fights the man in the bear suit is classic, the spray-painted re-bar of Zeus lightening bolts are a hoot and and and Arnold tears is shirt off every chance he can get. It is a classic.

And that is about where it stands right now. I'll probably spend a few more days here exploring the ruins and the nature a bit more then head south to Kerala and try to find a houseboat to join. Hampi is one of those places that sucks people in and doesn't let them go. I can see how easy it is to come for two or three days and spend a week or two and many people do just that. Until next time