Saturday, 8 February 2014

I went to Hampi and Bangalore and this is what happened...

Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

Thursday 30th January

The 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 January

Prince 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.

Temples adorn the Hampi landscape
Still, we got to see Hampi’s magnificent Royal Enclosure and Islamic Quarter at our own pace - the driver wasn’t interested in getting out and explaining the context behind the centuries-old ruins, which suited us just fine. And while I’m not particularly interested in regurgitating Hampi’s fascinating history in this here blog, I will mention that there are approximately 1,600 temples, monuments and structures to explore. Its scale is almost overwhelming, and I don’t think there’s anywhere on the planet quite like it.


Saturday 1st February

I 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.

Tour guide in Hampi
Prabu’s boundless enthusiasm was funny yesterday, but at this ungodly hour it was as irritating as being trapped in a lift with a flatulent Jedward. Unlike Rowan Atkinson’s loveable buffoon, Prabu has a proper voice on him (or rather in him, constantly fighting, and winning, to get out), and he spoke so quickly that only certain words and phrases registered, namely “sun”, “long” and “time”. It turned out that we had climbed Matunga Hill a whole hour before dawn, and Mr Bean’s miscalculation meant he had to depart 15 minutes before sunrise to get to work on time, leaving me on top of an unfamiliar hill frequented by black bears. Which, as the following photo shows, was absolutely worth it.

Hampi sunrise
Alcohol is forbidden in Hampi, so yesterday Jeff went in search of beer while I had a nap. He ended up spending most of the afternoon at a watering hole in nearby Kamalpur. Full of solitary drunks young and old - all male and all whisky drinkers - Jeff described it as “the saddest place on earth”. He also said he absolutely loved it, so it seemed like a good idea to return this afternoon. And if there was one thing I needed after my Mr Bean morning, it was a cool Kingfisher.

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.       


Drunk Indian man

Sunday 2nd February

Following a lazy day soaking up the atmosphere of Backpackerstan, an appropriate nickname for Hampi Bazaar (I decided to sport a pony tail to fit in), it was onwards to Hospet Junction for the overnight train to Bangalore. After locating my berth I fell into blissful unconsciousness in seconds, only slightly concerned that I had to wake at 05:55 to summon the strength to disembark at Bangalore City Junction.


Monday 3rd - Tuesday 4th February

I awoke on time, wahoo! I even got to the carriage door before anybody else - but despite being rather pleased with myself, it turned out I was in an awkward situation. With a backpack, holdall and manbag hanging from my shoulders, I was too loaded up to let someone pass in front of me, while there was no chance of turning back. And in India, when a train pulls into a station the able-bodied jump off almost immediately. It was a case of jump or be pushed, so I jumped, ungraciously, but somehow managing to stay on my feet. By the time I regained my composure I realised the exit was right in front of me. Today was going to be a good day. Welcome to Bangalore.

Bangalore cityscape
Full of home comforts and familiar-looking European faces, Bangalore is an easy city to settle into, though it’s a bit of a bastard getting around. There aren’t any stand-out sights, which I actually quite enjoyed as it meant getting into the swing of things without having a to-see list to tick off. During my couple of days here I tasted a particularly delicious beef lasagne, sipped a Western-style coffee and travelled in a pre-paid taxi. How bloody civilised. I could have happily spent an extra night here, but I had a very important date with a golf resort, which you shall shortly read all about. Oh goody.


  1. Not to forget the very special "Autos" & their drivers, in a well ..civilized & comfortable Bangalore!