Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hampi, One of the Best Yet

Ok, a little more reflection first. After passing the three month mark, I have one or two months left. I'm hoping I can stretch it and get that second month, but it's not a sure thing yet. My Indian visa expires in just over a month and I have so much I still want to see! I'm starting to see the finish line of this trip and it's a sobering feeling. Everything has been so wonderful out here that it's easy to never want to stop, 5 months will never feel like enough. I am looking forward to returning to Seattle however, because it is the city I love and I think I will return with a renewed energy and focus. So beginning to see the end of this trip isn't such a bad thing after all ;)

In the morning, I awoke from my shack, and I do mean shack. It was made of bamboo and corrugated sheet metal, without a real door and no light. At least it was cheap! A better room opened up, I took that and have been there for the last few nights. I decided to have a lazy day, so I loaded up my day bag with water, a book and my towel and headed down to the river.

I walked along the bank and went for a quick swim, circling some of the water-carved boulders and admiring their incredible shapes. It was about noon by this time, and I needed to find a spot in the shade to read. After some wandering, I finally found a good spot behind a boulder, and hid from the sun to read. I had picked up The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo from the guesthouse, simply out of name recognition and gave it a try. Maybe it was over-hyped, but I was not all that impressed. I've read a few thrillers on this trip and it didn't seem all that special to me. That said, I still read the 500 pages in two days. Sitting out for that long was really wonderful. As I read, I just sat and listened to the sounds around me. From my spot behind the boulder, I could listen to many different birds, the sound of the woman washing cloths on the other bank, the outboard from the ferry, men bathing in the river (they giggle a lot), drums and chanting from the temples beyond, a wedding procession with a marching band and the sound of cows and goats walking through the brush. A nice way to experience a new place.

The next morning I got up at 7am, took the ferry across the river (15 rupees), got breakfast (75 rupees) and rented a bicycle for the day (40 rupees). My first stop was the Virupaksha Temple, the tallest structure in the center of town. I went in through a side entrance, which I was to later understand meant I skipped the entry free of a few rupees and the 50 rupee fee for taking pictures. As I was there, Lakshmi the temple elephant arrived through the same entrance I came in from, and I watched the trainer give it commands to stand on its hind legs, and touch Indians on the head for a blessing.

Hapmi, much like the Angkor Wat area in Cambodia, is just littered with amazing ruins. You can walk for hours among the boulders and temples, never seeing the same thing twice. Because I had already seen some of the area with my Swedish friends earlier, I had a list of what was left and set off.

I walked along the river on the trail to the Vittala Temple, and this partly split boulder was on the way. Seeing how much stone is used on some of these structures is pretty amazing, and to see how the boulders were cut was pretty interesting.

This is the main entrance to the Vittala Temple, and unlike most of the ruins around here it costs a bit of money. If you are Indian, it is only 10 rupees, but if you are a non-Indian tourist it is 250 rupees! On the 2k walk to the temple, you pass countless amazing ruins, and the walk along the river is very pleasant.

This is one of the main attractions of this particular temple, a stone chariot. It's neat, and the wheels once turned (not that it could actually move) but to me the temple wasn't that much more amazing than the free ruins. So travel tip, if you are poor feel free to skip it.

Walking through the rocks you see a lot of lizards, I just liked this picture.

After a leisurely walk back through dozens more ruins, I hopped back on my bike and took off for another complex of temples and royal buildings. This particular building is the Royal Elephant Stables, and this is part of the 250 rupee ticket from the previous temple. The buildings here are in a little better shape, and the grass is green, but to me it felt a bit like just another temple. I was getting a little burned out on ruins to be honest, and the heat was getting to me.

As a result, I returned my bike and headed for the river. Wearing just my swim shorts and flip-flops, I walked a ways up the river. When I had found a suitable spot, I walked into the river, sat down and went for a float. I'd been in the river already, but I got to see and feel it in a whole new way. The bottom is amazingly easy to walk on, with all the rocks being nice and round, no sharp edges or sticks. At some places, the current was pushing me across huge smooth slabs of rock, in others I was walking through rounded gravel, in yet others I was being pushed through boulders 20 feet high on each side. At one point, I swam to a cluster of boulders that had a group of mud sparrow nests, and watched the birds enter and exit their cliff homes from the water. I kept floating down, and once I got to my guest house a ways down the river I went to shore, saying hello to a group of Indian men bathing as I went past.

The previous night I'd gotten connected with some climbers staying next door to me, and we woke up early to meet at the Goan Corner, at 7am one of the key climber spots here in Hampi. There I picked up a pair of shoes with holes in the toes (for free), one of the few places for people without gear to get it out here. Once the group had assembled, we took the short walk through the paddies and into the boulders a few minutes away.

We had left Goan Corner with just four of us, but as happens every time, we picked up a few new people on the way. We spent a short while in the Crystal Cavern, and then moved to another boulder with some easier problems on it.

I did a few routes, but most of the climbing here is at a level far above me. I have done quite a few of the easier problems, which has been great fun but most of the time I just watch other climbers who are much better than I am.

I just had to post this because it was interesting. This was a group of quite new, identical rooms for rent at one of the guesthouses. I asked why 6 of them had been destroyed, and I was told the government said those few were on government land and were not allowed, so they just knocked them down.

After a late lunch (as per the usual schedule out here) a few of us went out for an evening session, after the heat of the day has died down a bit. As it grew darker and darker, everyone else headed back in but Kim (from Spain) and I stayed out because he had a few problems he wanted to work on more. Once it got too dark, I held my headlamp to light the rock for Kim to work at, and I just stared out at the landscape and the stars. Not a bad way to spend an evening huh? Then, late dinner and off to bed.

The next morning we awoke at around 6:30am and met at Goan Corner at 7am to climb, and this has become the typical day. You get up early, get to the boulders around 7am, climb until 11am or noon, go eat breakfast/lunch, lay around for a few hours during the heat of the day, go on an evening climbing session until dark, hang out under the stars, then go back to the restaurant to eat and chat until late into the night. I have become part of this regular group of climbers, and every day we are hanging out, climbing and eating together. It really is a nice way to live, haha.

Despite the reputation of Hampi as one of the top boulder spots in the world, there still isn't much infrastructure to support it. Since I didn't have my own climbing shoes, I dug through the 'free box' to find a pair. Some are in pretty sorry shape. On the plus side, after leaving a smallish deposit, the shoes are free. I really wish I had better shoes and will try to find some better ones, but the price is right.

This is Luis. From France, he is one of the best climbers out here, and it's been great fun to see the strength and grace of his climbing. I forget the name of this rock, “that rock with the eyes painted on it”, but it has a few beginner routes, and this monster problem. A good place to play.

Katie (England) and Danni (Mexico) working on a different problem on the same rock.

And as the schedule goes, off to eat during middle of the day. We have all adopted the Tibetan Kitchen restaurant next to Bobby Guesthouse as our official hangout. It's a great place to just relax in the shade, and the food is all fantastic. I pretty much eat three meals a day here and am never disappointed. Around the table here is Alex, Kim, Paolu, Jenny, Katie and Will.

Due to the heat, we deviated from the usual schedule a bit and went for a dip in the reservoir. Rather than spending money on renting a scooter to get there, Kim and I decided to rent bikes for 25 rupees and ride. The ride was only 20 minutes or so, but it was very hot and the bike was the worst I've had yet! At water, a few of us did the big cliff jump again (this time being told it was 18 meters rather than 25, which sounds much more realistic to me) and cooled off in the water.

We then decided to 'float the rapids' which is just a minute away from the jumping rocks. This is an outflow of the reservoir and the current is very fast. What you do, is jump (or dive) off the bridge right into the middle of it (the sides could suck you in!) and the water carries you very quickly down a the channel. On the sides are nearly vertical cliffs, and fighting the current is hopeless. That said, all you do is tread water and let the current take you. It's a blast to go flying through the little channel for a minute or two like a little twig, and then a ways down it flattens out and you can swim to shore. We set up a shuttle system with the scooters, giving everyone a chance to ride the river and not have to walk all the way back. It was a ton of fun, and a perfect thing to do on a hot day.

In the evening, we went back to the boulders, climbed until dark, ate late into the night, and another wonderful day in Hampi had passed by, everyone satisfied, no one wanting to leave.

My plans are up in the air now. I've got so much of India to see yet, with the mountains being the big draw, but I'm thinking about spending more time south, climbing and renting a motorcycle, taking a long train trip back north, and seeing far less of northern India than I was hoping. Instead, maybe I can get to see one or two of the highlights, then go to Nepal and feed my mountain fix out there.... not sure if it will work, but that's the plan so wish me luck!