On the long road to Hampi
My next target for the trip was to get down to Hampi from Aurangabad. By road it was a mere 620 km, but even google suggested it was a 13 hour drive, 2-3 hours more driving time if you detoured at the 5 good sites on the way. Ashok my tour agency in Aurangabad wisely suggested we stop for a night at Bijapur. It was an interesting day – the highway was pretty decent. We set off at 7am and I was surprised to see the median barrier on the highway planted with lovely bougainvillea. We stopped at 9am for possibly the best Masala Dosa for my life at the Anvita Hotel, and they were so happy to see me they even gave me a bonus serving of Sheera pudding (delicious semolina, spices and raisins), washed down with masala chai. We made it to Bijapur at about 3pm and went to visit the two biggest sites…
Buried in Bijapur
Bijapur was a muslim state for 350 years so the two main sites are both islamic tombs of emperors. Ibrahim Rouza is considered one of the most elegant Islamic monuments in India. It was built by Emperor Ibrahim Adil Shah for his queen, but he died before her. He is interred here with his queen, children and Mum.
Next up Golgumbaz which houses the tomb of the later Emperor Mohammed Adil Shah and his two wives and mistress. It is an odd place, with most people coming so they can walk up six flights of narrow dark stairs and then circumnavigate the gallery at the top of the dome and scream. The noises echo loudly down in the tomb, and for some odd reason the gallery is called the ‘whispering gallery’. It was certainly an experience.
I eventually made it to my hotel pretty knackered, and annoyed that wifi wasn’t working as I had work calls that evening. I managed to get one of my three sims to work and did the zoom on the phone. I also managed to have a lovely dinner at the spicy taste – where I was escorted to the family section. It was delicious, and I was amused to be told by the waiter I was ordering too much (more than one curry is too much ma’am, ‘yes I know sir but I want to try more than one thing’). He eventually relented when I told him I could ‘parcel’ the left overs (I have figured out that is the word for takeaway). And to bed…
Dealing with the Bjiapur blues….
Not the best night sleep, I do love our Muslim brothers and sisters, but I don’t love being woken up by a Muezzin at 4am, and then the traffic in Bijapur got going around 5am with the associated honking. I met Eshwar at 7am and we headed off down the well made highway 50. After about 90 minutes we left the highway and bumped along a very rural road en route to Aihole
Bumping through rural Karnataka
Rural Karnataka is fairly basic. The villages are celebrating harvest so all the tractors and vans are decorated with flowers. The roads are heaving with trucks and tractors carrying crops and wood. The houses are basic, but most of them have beautiful coloured carved wooden doors. Life is very in your face in these rural villages – kids were pooping in the street, ladies were carrying water from the well, one poor girl was getting a rather tough hair wash from her mum. It was a lively scene. Being whisked through these villages in a car solo is a huge luxury, everyone kept trying to flag us down to get a lift as if it was nuts that a car wasn’t full (it probably is nuts). Every rickshaw, tractor and truck was fully occupied. My favourite was a small truck which had been turned into a double decker by putting a platform in. Men had 1m at the bottom to sit in, and then the women were on the top. Efficient. I wanted to take photos of the lively goings on, but it felt intrusive so I just enjoyed the scene.
Vada and Temples in Aihole (no puns please)
We arrived in the lovely town of Aihole to see the Durga and Ladkhan temples. They were lovely, and excellent examples of early Hindu architecture. Apparently Delhi parliament is modelled after the Durga temple. Aihole is worth a wander around as there are bits of temples scattered in between houses in the village. Eshwar and I then had some excellent Vada and chutney from a street stall. Sadly the man was out of chai, and there was not a wallah to be found, a sad day. Eshwar also took me also to see a lovely small cave temple near Aihole with some spectacular carvings (including the buddhist swastikas on the ceiling),
Pattadakal was next – my favourite of the day. A cluster of beautiful temples – the main one being the Virupaksha which is still in service for blessings, with a huge Nandi bull in the adjacent shrine. There were lots of school trips at Pattadakal, so some kids asked me to join their school photo, which was delightful. When you walk by a big school group (all neatly lined up, in pairs holding hands, girls at the front boys at the back) they all whisper ‘foreigner’ down the line, nudging each other and staring, but largely being too polite to ask me any questions. The intricate carvings in the temples were stunning, and rivalled those in Khajuraho but without the sex.
Famous selfie girl at Sri Chikka Mahakuteshwara Gudu
Eshwar treated me to an unexpected stop at the Sri Chikka Mahakuteshwara Gudu. I saw my first westerners since Bhopal here – a group tour who were being quite rude to some inquisitive locals – I wondered if they had confused the local tourists with the resident touts. There are lots of local tourists (and school trips) visiting these sites, and they are 99% friendly and just want a selfie or to say hi. My only watch out is groups of young men who I ignore. Lots of families or women ask for selfies with me, and I pretty much always say yes, and get one back. I have no idea what they do with them, but as long as there are women in the photo I don’t mind. Touts, of course, are an entirely different proposition, but even then, a firm ‘no thank you sir, normally works fine for me. If not, silence and walking faster always does. This temple was a delight, full of pilgrims getting oil blessings in the Shiva temple and bathing in the pool. My favourite sculpture (in the photos) was a half man/half woman (half Shiva/half Parvati) carving. There were more kids here so I ended up in a couple of school trip photos :-).
Battling for space at Badami
I had forgotten it was Saturday and that it would be busy for tourists and school trips. Badami was a crazy house. There was a crush of 100 people trying to get into the site, and a lot of security guards blowing whistles. Most of the visitors were filing in a very slow moving queue. It was impossible to take photos without lots of people in them. The carvings were lovely when you could squish past the people to see them. There were some pretty cheeky monkeys – one stole a ladies handbag so the security guard had to chase it down. A particularly cheeky monkey jumped across the path using my head as a half way spring board and trying to steal my hair band as he went. I lasted about 25 minutes and scarpered. I highly recommend going early if you are there on a weekend.
We stopped at a Darba for lunch, and Karnataka must be slightly more conservative than other places as I was escorted through a curtain to a pink room for ladies and families. Eshwar and I had lunch – him continuing his tradition of eating at another table, even though we were sharing the same curries (carrying them between tables). I never quite figured this one out – if he didn’t want to sit with me because I was a woman or because I was the client. He was largely my perfect driver, very safe and consistent speed, always on time, and pretty silent. The only time he got chatty was to talk about his admiration for Trump – hmmmmm – his logic (very Indian logic) was that if Trump was in power, he would have nuked Putin and the Ukraine war would be over.
Heaving it down in Hampi
It was another 3.5 hours to my resort in Hampi, and I arrived 10 hours after leaving Bijapur, delighted to have a cup of tea. Sadly by this time it was pissing down with rain, which was mostly a pain as I had been looking forward to getting some laundry done, but that won’t happen as it will be raining for the next few days. I guess if that is my biggest problem in life, things are pretty good.
The bed was comfy and the buffet dinner delicious and I had double servings of kheer for dessert. I was the only westerner there, along with five families mostly from Bangalore. As per normal they were curious that I was wandering around India by myself, but they were delightfully friendly
I was up early and headed out to the connect with the world. It’s pretty remote here and the data is unreliable – so the nice hotel man told me what rock to stand on to get Airtel, and what part of the restaurant terrace would get me the best Jio. This was an important endeavour as I needed to figure out which of my two adopted nations had won the football match in the World Cup :-). Happy that the blues had prevailed, I joined a family and the guide for a morning walk around the property dodging the monkeys.
After an excellent breakfast of more vada (savoury donuts), sambal and coconut chutney, I headed out to see the sites of Hampi in the pouring rain.
Stone Chariot at Vittala Temple
First up the Vittala temple. It was Sunday and the temple was a mad moshe pit. I love that Indian tourists take advantage of their sites on the weekends, but if you have time then I would avoid visiting temples on the weekends unless you like the crush. On the upside, I love how they all bring picnics and the whole family and then take up residence in parts of the site to enjoy the day – it is quite lovely to watch. There was also some weird tummy rubbing going on – with an old lady rubbing a young ladies tummy as she lay on the temple floor – no clue what that was. Vittala is lovely with the most incredible carved musical pillars to represent 81 Indian instruments. And the highlight of the site is an amazing carved stone chariot in the courtyard – apparently the wheels actually work.
The archaeology museum was next, and I probably should have skipped it, but it was a clean place to have a pee :-). The sites around the royal centre were nice but not astounding – the Queens Bath, the Zenana Enclosure (with the Lotus Mahal and Elephant stables), the Manavami Diiba, and the Hazarama (which was interesting for the black pillars)
We then headed down into Hampi Bazaar to check out the statue of Lakshmi Narasmiha, see the Krishna temple and climb up Hemakuta Hill to see the view over town. It was still raining but at least it was warm. The highlight of the afternoon was visiting the quite mad Virupaksha Temple. There was a festival on, so entrance was free which meant it was even busier – as this is the only remaining working temple in Hampi. It was bonkers and squished as I went through the temple with the devotees, and tried to avoid getting groped by wedging myself between two women. The road to the temple was lined with stalls selling neat conical piles of kumkum (powder used for bindi dots) and sweets. It was quite fun to people watch.
The rain started belting down again, so I retreated to Kamalapuram for a birthday Thali and then headed back to the hotel to spend the late afternoon reading the grim but excellent Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
Next up Mysore and then Tamil Nadu…
Hampi, Dec 11, 2022
Bijapur – stayed at the Kyriad, probably the best place in town, but it was grubby with hopeless wifi. Shower was hot though. Dinner at the spicy taste was expensive but good
Hampi – stayed at Hampi boulders which was nice with good but simple buffet food cooked with organic ingredients from their garden, but far from Hampi given you now have to drive the hour to get there versus take the ferry. It would have been nicer to stay closer to the Hampi Bazaar to see the temples at dawn and by foot, but as of now there is nothing good open in that area. Ate at the pure veg restaurant in kamalapuram and it was excellent
Transport – Ashok at Ashok travels in Aurangabad sorted the car for me – the driver was excellent. Contact him on WhatsApp +91 98903 40816 or email email@example.com
Communications – Airtel is rubbish in Hampi, get Jio. I have an Airtel Indian sim and a Jio e sim in the UK phone, so always had options.