Saturday, 7 June 2008

Temples, boats and elephants

Some people recommended going to Hampi (thanks Kate and Pep!) and some people didn't ("Hampi's a shit hole". Thanks Peter!), but we didn't read Peter's critique until after the event, and we didn't really have anywhere else to go, so we went.

We spent 3 days and 4 nights there, and had a nice time, but it was a shame it wasn't a bit busier. We couldn't face a day of temples on our first day in Hampi, so we decided to do a few of the little temples instead, which turned out to be the most beautiful. First we visited the Virupaksha Temple in Hampi Bazaar, which was a bit underwhelming but OK in the end. We started the day off by walking around the temple in our shoes - a big no no - because we entered by a side entrance by accident, then we spent ages in a scrum at the official entrance trying to pay. Annoying. The best part was the temple elephant, who took a rupee coin in exchange for a head pat. Very cute.

We had the Achyutaraya Temple entirely to ourselves, except a few lizards and chipmunks, and were truly enchanted by the place, which was a little eerie, and gave us a real sense of what it must have been like to live in Hampi in the 15th century.

The following day, we got up nice and early, and planned to get a relatively expensive guide to show us around the "undisputed highlights of the Hampi ruins" (according to The Lonely Planet); the Vittala Temple and the Elephant Stables. Things never go to plan here, and after hanging around in an empty tourist office for about half an hour (sitting ducks for unofficial tour guides who had their beady eyes on each of the few tourists in Hampi) we got bored and went it alone - which turned out to be a good decision in the end. Rather than buzzng around on bikes, being bored to death by a tour guide, we ended up taking a beautiful boat ride across to the Vittala Temple in a coracle - a round boat made of bamboo, tar and plastic sheeting, which we previously thought were cooking pots drying in the sun.

And that's where the fun stopped. To be fair, I think it's us that's jaded, but we're just not that impressed by a load of crumbling buildings anymore, especially when it's 35 degrees outside, with little or no shade.

I also think our Hampi experience was slightly marred by our timing - we visited in low season. We stayed in a lovely bungalow (our cheapest accomodation in the world at 150Rs (2.3EUR) a night!) in Viruppur Gaddi, over the river, and spent lots of time eating and reading in a beautiful open air restaurant, but nothing else on our side of the river was open, the boats stopped at 6pm, and there were no other guests, so it felt a little deserted. Not ideal. Also, the touts were relentless, because there were so few tourists, and we had no choice but to pay their extortionate prices if we wanted to get anything done. Shame.


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