Saturday, 31 December 2011

Visit to the Hampi ruins

I had a day out visiting the ruins of the Vijayanagara empire at Hampi, about 12 Km off the town of Hospet. Hospet is about 150 Km by train from Hubli. I reached officer’s rest-house at Hospet at 10:30 PM on 28th night night; the train was half an hour late. Daughter had arrived at Hospet earlier in the day to spend a day with her school friend who was visiting Hospet with her family. Settled for the night, but, sleep evaded me. I must have slept later than midnight. I had fixed up to pick up my daughter from her friend’s place at 6 AM. I woke up groggy eyed at 5 AM, after a bath, I landed up at the hotel at 05:30. We walked back to rest house for an early breakfast. We picked up a sachet of milk from a roadside store, was charged Rs. 2/- extra over the MRP. I was in a generous mood; the royal town of Hampi was having its influence over the stingy bean-counter. Daughter was full off her night’s conversations with her friend; she had slept at 2 AM.  Both resolved to make the best of the day available to us for the Hampi exploration; I had revised the material on Hampi tour printed out from the internet the previous night. Literature had made it clear that one day was not enough for doing justice to the place. We decided to do our best and reserve the balance for the visit next month.
 After a hurried breakfast over bread-jam, banana and fresh milk we left the rest house to walk to the bus stand a distance of about 1.5 KM. We warded off the attempts by auto-wallahs to take us for a ride. The city was like any small town in south India, I kept my eyes skinned for the royalty of the place to appear suddenly before my eyes. There were ubiquitous queues of ladies with coloured plastic water pots. I cannot see how poets of yore could see beauty in maids fetching water in pots, to me it seems to be an act of subjugation by us males. We were lucky to catch a bus just moving out to Hampi. We settled into a comfortable seat and paid the conductor Rs. 30 for the 12 KM ride to Hampi. The road was very narrow and bullock carts and all forms of motorized transport fought valiantly to go ahead of each other. Coconut trees and fields on either side made it look prosperous. Water shortage in the town was paradoxical considering the stretches of water intensive sugarcane crop lining the road. Was it commercial cropping taking a toll of a much more basic need of drinking water?
The road showed signs of scattered temple ruins along the way, maybe, hiring a bicycle at Hospet and covering the spots on the way to Hampi would be a better idea. We crossed the board indicating Dorji bear sanctuary, it announced the best time to see bears as between 1300 hrs and 1800 hrs. The bears seemed to be attending classes in the first half! The snaky road suddenly led us in front of the Virupaksha Temple, the main shaivaite temple of the kings of the Vijayanagara empire. It seemed to be reasonably well maintained from the outside. The lord of destruction had managed to save his abode on the earth from the marauders, or, was it the simple and the rustic ways of the lord of the cosmic dance which was not attractive enough for what the marauders were seeking to plunder? We approached a tourist guide who flashed a identity card issued by the Karnataka Government, Department of Tourism. He told us we can engage him for the whole day and that if we hire a bicycle for him, he could accompany us for the whole day. It all looked too good to be true, when he told us the price tag of Rs. 1800/-, I all but fainted. Maybe, if we go as a bigger group, it would become worthwhile!
There was a huge queue of school kids with their teachers in tow to keep count of them crowding the temple. The entrance fee was a miserly Rs. 2/- per head. Free entry to the temple was allowed between 0630 hrs and 0830 hrs. Whatever may be the inflation and cost of living, citizens of Hampi will never want divine audience! The kids were initially disciplined and standing in a queue, but, seeing elders pushing their way, they learned quickly. The teachers egged their wards to excel in this race too. I could not control myself, instead of taking on the kids; I tried to reason with the teacher explaining to him that kids may improve their after-life by jumping the queue to reach the lord, but, he would have failed in his duty to produce a good citizen. My advice was lost on him and my daughter gave me a ‘I told you so’ look! The idol is a small lingam, maybe, with shaivaite temples, the smaller the better. The idol at the more famous cousin at Kashi Vishwanath is a case in point. This is the only temple where pooja is still performed. My daughter realized the futility of having come in shoes, frequent taking off and putting on and the tension of losing it was spoiling the divine experience. I jumped at the chance and offered her my hawaai slippers and went barefoot. The Sun was kind and at his rate of heating, we could complete our temple visits before the rock surface would make walking barefoot unbearable. The feel of the bare foot on the cold rock surface was heavenly. The artisans of yore had thoughtfully pockmarked the surface for better grip. Maybe, walking barefoot was common then!
We came out and walked over to see the two Ganesha idols and the Krishna temple. We crossed two portable toilets with doors matching the architecture of the buildings there. I felt good about the local administration.  The Kadalekalu Ganesha (literally the Bengal gram shaped one) was so named for his middle of the shape of the Bengal gram. It is a 4.5 mtr monolithic structure. The pride of Ganesha, his prosperous middle had fallen prey to the marauders, maybe, he was wearing something valuable around his middle. He should have stuck to his original belt of a live snake; it would have warded off the looters. Still, the Ganesha was majestic and the way it suddenly appears before you in the dark interior is very pleasant experience. After getting our customary snap before him, we went in search of his other image, the Sasivekalu Ganesha (literally the mustard seed shaped). Looking for him we serendipitously reached the Hemakuta temples. The temples are all in ruins and the idols have been taken away. We asked people around and with lot of leg work we located the ‘Mustard seed’ Ganesha. This idol is without a blemish and very elegant to look at. We moved on to the Krishna temple which glorifies all the avatars of Lord Vishnu and the main idol is said to have been brought by King Krishna Devaraya from Orissa after his Utkal campaign. There we met with a lady of undecipherable age. She came to us seeking help to locate the ten avatars of Vishnu. We also were struggling to locate them. Finally enquiries from the cleaning lady there in a spattering of local language got us to the pillars. Maybe, more economical options should be offered for the guide services, Still, Rs. 1800/- was not in my means! I didn’t complete the story of the toilet complex, apart from the exterior, the place was stinking and there was no place to relieve one. The local administration did not disappoint us, the regular affliction of a tourist site was there here also!
We returned to the main Hampi street outside Virupaksha temple, Yesss, the famed street where legend has it that diamonds were traded there during the reign of the Vijayanagara empire. More than the prosperity of the place, to me, it spoke of the high moral and ethical caliber of the people who could buy diamonds off the street, like, from we do from vegetable vendors of date.  We now require BIS and Hallmark to vouchsafe quality and weight, really, India must have been a land of milk and honey. You feel all the more sad for, not the physical wealth plundered by the invaders, but, the society of such high values to be reduced to what we have degenerated today!
It was 11 o’ clock now, we were on course to complete the Vittala temple and return to Hampi Street for food by 1300 hrs. We walked to the monolithic bull crossing the full length of the street; the shops have now become residential places with petty shops selling eatables and tender coconut. What a come down from selling diamonds! We went discussing along the street, as to the shock the subjects of the peaceful and prosperous kingdom would have had when the marauders would have done with them. To me, that was a bigger damage than the physical loot of treasures. What must have motivated this savagery Envy? Greed?
The bull had his face squashed, but, looked majestic for its size. The distance of the bull from the main temple in front of the Virupaksha temple (it’s customary to have a bull in front of a shiva temple), the scale of size of the temple complex overawes your mind.
From there we crossed over to a trail with a marker pointing to Vittala temple. We found a man trying to sell some artifacts to two foreigners. They were, it seems, not settling anything less than the promised diamonds! There were huge boulders and overgrown bushes; we did not need an invitation to relieve ourselves, each standing guard for the other by turn. The long walk finally led us to a temple complex; we had our doubts on the way, finding the path very desolate and no soul in sight.
True to form, at this temple of lord Vishnu, the tickets were priced at Rs. 10/- for Indians and USD 5 for foreigners. The foreigner lady, Christine (my daughter had got her name when she was telling it to pestering kids at Virupaksha temple), accosted us at the gate asking me to clarify to the guard that she being a diplomatic person (she was from the Polish Embassy) was allowed to pay in INR. Our intervention helped her. The main Mahamantapa of the temple is under renovation; hope they do justice to the original construction. This being a temple of later vintage, the designs on the pillar were more intricate. Here we saw the trade mark chariot with the intricate wheels which are symbols to depict Hampi to the world. We took a snap in front of it. There were a bunch of art students trying to sketch what they saw; surely, they must be positively impressed by the skill of their ancestors.
Nearby, we located the Vishnu temple with inscriptions and the Kings balance (it looks like a scaffold for carrying out crude hangings, minus the balance; maybe only thing of value to the raiders). The king used to get weighed here against gold coins for distributing to the needy. Contrast this with the Big Bazaar at Hubli now offering parents to play kings by letting them to offer clothes, etc. weighed against their kids once a week.
On the way back to Virupaksha temple, we located the Sugreeva’s cave. The legend has it that this is where Sita stayed and was abducted from by Ravana. We cooled off at the banks of river Tungabhadra and watched kid goats gamboling on the green grass on the banks. This is where we decided that we were too tired to now do justice to the Royal part of the city; the late night we kept the previous day was telling on us. We took a decision to take a bus back to Hospet city and after food rest in the rest house before catching the train back to Hubli at night. The royalty will have to await our visit next month. On the street back to Virupaksha temple (this was a different one from where we went earlier); we saw exotic dishes advertised on the shop front. We played safe and after a tender coconut, we trudged back to where the bus dropped us in the morning. Eager auto rickshaw wallahs (these are shared auto’s) pursued us, but, the thought of bumping in the rickety auto with mixed company; with no separate non smoking seats was scary. We decided to wait for the bus. We met a young boy leading a pup on a plastic string. The pup tried to get friendly with me and my daughter; maybe, he smelled Biscuit on us. I asked the boy the name of the pup, he said ‘Raju’; when I told that was my name too, he became instant friends with us. It was nice to see that neither the pup bothered about the economic status of his owner, nor, the owner about the pedigree of his pet. Maybe, they will have to grow up to get corrupted with the concepts of class, creed and economic status.
Shortly the bus arrived and we got on and triumphantly took vantage seats. The driver got off for a break of undeclared length and we started getting tired and restless. We thanked ourselves for deciding to drop the second part of the visit to next month. After a little while the bus moved and we dozed uncontrollably. On the way back we were blocked by bullock carts overloaded with sugarcane. Some of the bullocks were staggering and frothing at the mouth. The cruelty to the dumb creatures made me sick; the animals should be fed better and treated better, if not for empathy with the living soul; at least for economic reasons for prolonging their working life. Persistent horns from our driver finally made them give way and in time we entered the bus stand to the overpowering smell of urine, welcome back to modern civilization. I had spotted ‘Shanbag restaurant’ while entering the bus stand, I remembered the rest house attendant had recommended it for food to me. We went and had Thali meals there; at Rs. 40/- each were wholesome, filling and value for money. We walked back to the rest house and crashed to sleep at 3:30PM after giving a report to wife on the railway phone. We surfaced back to life at 7 PM, we had a good hot water bath, had tea and lazed till dinner time. It was nice to be stuck with daughter without the intrusion of a TV for we had a good discussion after a long time.
We set off for dinner at 9 PM, we had seen a Udupi restaurant ( Hotel Mayura), while walking back from the bus stand to rest house in the afternoon, which, we decided to try for dinner. The food was excellent, I tried the thali meal and daughter went for a plate of Idlis followed by a Masala Dosa, the bill was only Rs. 81/- and food excellent and service good. The bearer looked pleased to receive a royal tip of Rs. 10/-. On the cash counter we asked the guy to open a branch at Colva (we were fresh from the harrowing time for food at Goa, where we had to survive on curd rice and bread-jam). I think this honest and wholesome praise made his day. I don’t know whether he will take my suggestion of setting up shop at Colva seriously, though.
The rest house attendant after collecting the due charges for the stay asked and took a tip of Rs. 10/- (insidious wages of engaging contract labour at Railway rest house). We returned to Hubli at the scheduled time of 04:30 AM after an uneventful journey. We walked back to our colony to an enthusiastic welcome from Biscuit. Truly a wonderful trip, I am looking forward to the next part of the visit to Hampi, touted as the height of human creativity and human depravity.

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