The train ride to Hospet from Margao was our first experience on the Indian railways. We arrived in good time to make sure we could figure out the station and stocked up on supplies for the six and a half hour journey. Only once the train arrived at the platform did we realise that the sign indicating the intended position of our carriage was totally wrong. A backpack-laden sprint later, we found our seats and settled down for the trip. It was an interesting first experience. I don’t think the sound of ‘chaiiii?!’ being shouted loudly into my left ear will ever leave my memory, as one of the numerous chai-wallahs dragged his feet for the thousandth time along our carriage. We were booked into a sleeper carriage, but there was certainly no sleeping to be had on this one.
We arrived in Hospet an hour late and the train was full of tourists. We were a little worried about acommodation and we knew we had to get to Hampi before everyone else or the guest houses would fill up. Fortunately we were able to arrange our rickshaw before we even got onto the platform, thanks to a bit of quick haggling through the train window as everyone else was trying to heave their baggage off the train. I’ll have to remember that technique!
We arrived in Hampi and Alexandra guarded the bags as I ran from place to place checking out the rooms and haggling as much as I could. I’d planned on checking three places recommended in the Lonely Planet but simply walking from one to the next attracted other people who were trying to get me to check their rooms out too. I ended up looking at about eight rooms and by the time I’d decided on one of them it turned out to be full. Yes, the hordes of other tourists had already arrived (armed with their own copies of the Lonely Planet, damn them!) and were swiping decent rooms out from under our feet! We had to act fast and ended up paying a little more than we could’ve, even after a bit of haggling, but it was clean and comfortable so we were satisfied.
We’d challenged ourselves to see Hampi in a day and despite the exhausting journey the day before, we were up early and filled up with fuel (pancakes) ready for the day ahead. Hampi is a naturally stunning part of the world, with single giant boulders and huge mountains of slightly smaller ones scattered all over the dusty landscape. But what makes it even more spectacular are the 15th century ruins of temples and spacious bazaars from one of India’s largest Hindu empires that have been built on top of and in amongst the boulders. We spent the day covering a large area of Hampi completely on foot, exploring most of the ruins, and visiting a temple where we were both ‘blessed’ by Lakshmi the resident elephant (who has been hilariously trained not to bless – by touching the person’s head with her trunk – a foreigner if they give her a coin, but to do so for a note). Alexandra also spent quite a bit of time trying to avoid attracting school children, who seemed to love approaching her to ask her name and nationality from before letting off a collective giggle and offering their hands (yes, all of them) for a handshake. We also accidently took a wrong turn which led us on a twenty minute steep climb up to the summit of one of the mountains of boulders. The guide book said ‘stairs’, but we took the ones up the mountain, not the ones that go around it, which we only spotted once we were at the top looking down at them. It was a happy accident though, because the views from the summit were amazing. We ended the day by rewarding ourselves with a curry (surprisingly). The fingernails on my right hand are getting yellower by the day!
And I’m writing this post the following day, sitting on the first of two trains to get to Mumbai. This one was an hour and fifteen minutes late just leaving Hospet, so I’m starting to sense a recurring theme of lateness with the trains. Nobody here seems to care though. We should get to Mumbai early tomorrow morning, but I’m just hoping to make it there before Christmas!