Hampi is probably one of the hidden treasure of India. It was the capital of the largest Indian kingdom in 14th century. It is glorious day, its has over half a million population. Then the Muslim rulers came and destroy everyone. Now it is an ancient huge ruin covering an area of 75 km square with just a few small farm villages. Hampi is far away from any major travel route so it is not well known to most travelers. Hampi only got a paragraph in my tourist book and a couple pages in the Lonely Planet. With its status as a world heritage site and massive preservation project on the way, I think it will transform itself into the second biggest attraction in India after Taj Mahal.
To get to Hampi, we have to take an overnight train from Bangalore. Riding trains in India is quite an experience. Although we are riding first class, things are not quite right. The cabin is OK, at least we got clean sheet and pillow case. The toilet is a hole go straight down to the tracks. You can feel the wind when coming up when you are doing your business. You are not allow to go to toilet when the train stops at train station, otherwise what comes out of you will stay on the tracks. The train door is not locked, so you can stick your head out and get some fresh air. It seems quite scary at first, but after a while you use to the open door, you will find it very enjoyable.
The natural beauty of Hampi is stunning. The whole area is scattered with rocks mountains. The ancient Indian build their temples and palace using local materials by cutting the stones. There are over 300 temples in the area, most of them are destroyed and deserted, only a few survive. The scale of the palace, the market, public bath, the royal bath is very impression. Every building is connected by an aqua duct system. The canal built in the ancient times are still used as water supplies by villagers. The most spectacular view is the sun rise temple on the highest rock mountain. We woke up 5a.m. to climb the mountain. Unfortunately we were too slow and missed the sun rise by 15 minutes. However, the view on top is so beautiful that it still worth the 600 steps hike up the ancient stairs carved out from the rocks.
We don’t plan ahead of time, but the weekend we visit Hampi is also the birthday of the monkey god. There is a big festival going on in the only functional temple in the area. Villagers nearby all come to the temple to celebrate. Indian festival is very interesting. Hundreds of men and boys will pull a 6-7 stores high chariot down the street. The temple elephant will also come out and give blessing to people. You just have to drop coins into its trunk, it will give the coin to its master then laid its trunk on your head.
Hampi is very clean compare to other Indian cities. There ain’t any garbage on the street. The people are poor but they seem to live a happy simple life. There are not many hawkers nor people asking for money. The villages are generally very nice and kind. Probably many of them never see foreigners, they want to take photos with you. The little kids are especially energetic, they will follow you around with their curious little eyes. Mark is trying to teach high-five to the little kids. Maybe a few years from now, high-five would be the coolest gesture in Indian.
Hampi is the kind of India experience I was expecting. Seeing the ruins of an ancient civilization and having close encounter with people living in peaceful poor villages. I am glad I sign up for this trip, it is a pleasant surprise. If there is one thing I have to complain, it’s the heat. It’s over 35 degree under the sun in the afternoon. We have to start our sight early in the morning and retire to the hotel swimming pool in the afternoon.