Hampi

I got up early yesterday and took an autorickshaw to the Madgaon train station. An autorickshaw, by the way, is an enclosed three-wheeler, some of whose engines seem to be more powerful than others. They’re a step up from motorcycle taxis, but not as ‘luxurious’ as a real taxi. I’m getting better and better at negotiating prices, but it still helps to have a frame of reference. Lonely Planet is not particularly reliable for this –sometimes they’re right on, and other times they seem to be a few years out of date.

When I took the train from Mumbai to Goa it left at midnight, so I mostly slept. This time I got to see the scenery and to be initiated into the moving entertainment that is an Indian train. I think it’s impossible to be bored, what with vendors passing every five minutes, people singing (then asking for money), and a constantly changing landscape.

The first few hours took us through coastal hills, lush with palms and rice paddies in the valleys. In the afternoon we passed into the interior plains, planted with greens, corn, sugarcane, sunflowers, and lots of things I couldn’t identify. The color of the earth is mostly red; combined with greenery, a bright blue sky, and people in multi-colored clothing everywhere, it’s technicolor.

The interior of the trains is not so varied. So far I’ve traveled in sleeper class, which is second class, no air-conditioning. The cars are divided into open compartments, each of which consists of two long facing benches covered in faintly grimy wedgewood blue vinyl, with facing one-seaters across the aisle. Above the benches are two layers of bunks, though the middle one is folded up during the day so you can sit upright. As you can imagine, the top bunk is very close to the ceiling and to the fans that cool each compartment.

We reached Hospet, the closest railhead to Hampi, in mid-afternoon, and I once again got a rickshaw. As we got closer to the village of Hampi the driver let me drive it, though I suspect his reason was to lure me into sitting close to him on the front seat. I checked into a fairly grotty guesthouse, then took a walk.

Hampi is… amazing. It was the powerhouse of the southern subcontinent in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and it at one point it held 1.5 million people. It was sacked in the sixteenth century and was then subsumed by jungle until about 100 years ago. The site covers 65 square kilometers, and a paltry 2000 temples survive of the original 3000. The landscape itself must have been inspiring: imagine dramatic hills, 100-200 feet high, then look more closely to see that they’re composed of piles of huge granite boulders that glow red at dusk. A river runs through the middle, creating picturesque pools, and the river valley is green. There are ruins of buildings carved from rock everywhere, many of them containing huge sculptures carved from a single rock. I took a bicycle tour this morning, and I plan to rent a bike again tomorrow to cover some ground.

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