Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Hubli to Hospet to Hampi

I'm tiring of the larger towns. Mangalore is off the list. For me, they are less cities and places of civilisation that an agglomeration of ordure. Without exception, the large Indian town is polluted. For the time being, I'm down-sizing (now there's a term I loathe).

Time to see Hampi, sine qua non, I am yet to come of age as a backpacker. My third visit to the subcontinent and I am still yet to visit the seat of the former Vijayanagar kingdom, the last great Hindu empire and mythical home to Hanuman, a major player in the Ramayana.

Getting there was like sitting through a reality TV show. Excruciatingly dull and painful. On the train, loads of people in close proximity. But we just had nothing interesting to say, possibly no common tongue. I took an overnight express from Mysore to Hubli, and fell off the platform at 05h00.

Three and a half hours later, I shook off the rigor mortis and boarded a passenger train that took five and a half hours to cover 138 kilometres. Trying to keep me entertained, a gaggle of Muslim women draped in black tents took it in turns to slap every child within reach. Strangely frightening. I gave extra points to the woman sprawled across the bench, who, at one point, slapped me across the legs when you she missed a/her child. The whole carriage erupted with laughter.

I have great legs. Why wouldn't a woman want to touch them? No reason for such mirth.
Tired as I was, I wept inwardly and for some reason, began to sing 'Care for Kids'. Anyone who remembers this song must be over 30 and Australian, and I hope you have it stuck in your head for the next three hours, like I did.

[It was just like that taxi driver in Mumbai. When his taxi reversed, you got a few bars of Britney Spears' - 'Oops ... I did it again'. He moved backwards unnecessarily several times. I think he did this to antagonise me].

When I arrived in Hospet I was still half an hour from Hampi. I negotiated half-heartedly with a rickshaw driver and let him live out his Michael Schumacher fantasy while I dozed off completely. Good man that he was, he deposited me at the door of a cheap hotel. I slept for a few hours, and awoke to find myself covered in familiar looking red welts. Made mental note to self: mosquito net is not sheet, use appropriately in future.

Hampi is beautiful. For the first time I cursed the little bugger who stole my camera. Not gifted enough to describe this place in writing, it might be a good idea to check it out on the Internet. A landscape of boulders and giant rocks, the tiny village is dwarfed by the magnificent Shiva temple. Ruins of temples and other buildings litter the surroundings. It's the first place I've been since Angkor that deserves the epithet 'magic'.

Out in the main street, a broad avenue lined with colonnades, I met a young rabble of kids. Jiri, Santosh, Imran, Devaraja, Chidananda, Santu and Prakash soon roped me into a game of cricket. Not sure what position I played, but they christened me Adam Gilchrist (think it might be the ears). As an Australian, I could do no wrong in the game.

It was great fun playing among the ruins, though I wasn't keen on collecting the ball when it ended up in the runnels brimming with the ubiquitous Indian dark 'liquid'. Other than this, Hampi is remarkably clean and tidy. Unusually so. We finished the seventh series as the sun fell, and somehow I had promised to buy new bats and balls for the entire team.

I spent a number of very peaceful days here, riding my bicycle among the banana plantations, fighting off mosquitoes and visiting the numerous, varied ruins. Hampi is extraordinary, and I hope to return one day. Especially since I am major sponsor of the recently-formed under 10s Hampi Cricket Team, Karnataka Division. I'm so proud of them.

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