Thursday 30th JanuaryThe eagle-eyed pedants among you will notice that I’m now using dates rather than days. The reason is simple: I’m so awful at maths that even basic sequential patterns baffle me, to the extent that I was unintentionally adding days that hadn’t happened, a reoccurring mistake that threatened to get out of control.
In more exciting news, hello from Hampi. I arrived this afternoon after an eight-hour train journey from Margao, whose train station is confusingly spelled Madgaon. The journey was pleasantly unremarkable, save for the masochist English girl sat opposite, who spent the entire journey in the same cross-legged position, her defiant toes never so much as twitching. “That was quite a feet of endurance”, I wanted to tell her at journey’s end, before realising it was probably the worst idea I’ve ever had.
I did manage a little kip on the train, though it was cut short by loud clapping and stomping. I opened my eyes to see a woman’s surprisingly broad sari-draped back about nine inches from my face. When she turned around I was struck by her prominent jaw and large hands. Then it clicked - ‘she’ was a hijra, one of India’s unfortunately-downtrodden third gender. I rewarded her heavy-footed rhythm with 10 rupees, at which point she was happy to dance her way to the next berth to threaten somebody else with a curse.
On arrival at Hospet Junction, Hampi’s closest station, I caught a rickshaw with a 49-year-old New Yorker called Jeff, who happens to be the youngest almost-quinquagenarian I’ve seen. We arrived at Pushpa Guest House to be greeted by Raghu, the friendly-yet-money-grabbing owner, who hastily introduced us to ‘Prince’, a local tour guide he’s affiliated with. What a nobhead he turned out to be; a conclusion I should have arrived at immediately after learning his ‘name’, which definitely wasn’t ‘real’. After receiving the hard-sell and haggling until my voice all but disappeared, Jeff and I agreed, wearily and reluctantly, to half a day’s sightseeing for the equivalent of a fiver. How bad could it be?
Friday 31st JanuaryPrince greeted us at 10 am, only to tell us he had to go to the bank in Hospet, 15 km away, to deposit a wad of cash. He ushered us into a nearby rickshaw, whose juvenile driver tugged on the accelerator before we could question what the bloody hell was going on. Our ‘guide’ never told us his name, nor cared to ask ours, but Jeff and I grew to love him. His limited English was made up for by his relentless spouting of misinformation: apparently, the whole of Hampi was built in 50 years rather than two centuries, while the population in its heyday was a mere 2,000, not the half a million universally quoted in the guidebooks. If you’ve ever been on the Bullshit London tour, you’ll know how fun this can be, even if it felt a bit like we were actually being shitted on.
Saturday 1st FebruaryI woke at 5:30 for an illicit rendezvous with Prabu, the Pushpa housekeeper who supplements his incoming by moonlighting, mostly literally, as a sunrise guide. Remarkably petit and as agile as a cat, Prabu happens to be Hampi’s most famous man. Cries of “Mr Bean! Mr Bean!” ring out when he hops, skips and jumps around the bazaar, and it’s true - there’s something of the Bean about him. “All these blah-blah people,” he told me the day before, “Always calling me Mr Bean. But it’s no problem, I like Mr Bean, very funny.” Which, when read back, sounds exactly like Data off of the Goonies. Go on, read it again. Told you, didn’t I? Ha ha ha. God, I love that film.
My god, was Jeff right. Stepping over empty bottles and streams of spilled whisky to our table, the bar was the most tragic place I’ve laid eyes on. Looking around, everyone was drinking scotch from cartons costing 60 rupees (60 p). And if you couldn’t stump up the cash then no problem - 20 rupees would get you a third of a carton. Jeff and I were quickly surrounded and asked all the usual questions, though things escalated when one chap, pictured below, took off his shirt and squared up to me, demanding a play fight minus any good humour. Seconds before he was bent over a tableside bucket discharging caramel-coloured gloop from his oesophagus, so I decided to politely decline his kind offer.