The three temples I came to see in the two days – the Hoysala temples at Belur and Halebid and the Jain temple at Shravanabelagola – were truly spectacular, each in their own way. The third was up 614 steps, some steep. How some of the overweight and crippled ladies made it to the top and bottom only the Four Jain Gods will know. At the top was the most magnificent statue I have even seen – 54 foot high, naked, with vines growing over him and an ant’s nest on hidden feet because he had been meditating for so long. The return bus journey to Hassan (first leg) required four locals to push the bus. The second night I stayed I went to another Hindi/Bollywood film and this was better, although only me in the stalls was there to enjoy it; the other 1,000 seats were empty. Six people were in the circle. For this film I purchased a ticked for the princely sum of 50p and advanced to the stalls. Waved away by three ushers who pointed upstairs. No I said, I prefer the stalls. Not allowed. This in a cinema seating 2,000 and no one in the stalls. It was resolved by me trading in my 50p seat at one kiosk and buying another at a separate kiosk for 40p. They lost 10p in the transaction. I saw two foreigners in those two days and they were happy in their own company!
Indian roads are not made for comfortable log distance trips. There are three things to make sleep impossible, anyway for me: (a) the roads are in terrible condition, some big towns having no tarmac surface at all; (b) the government had put in bumps even on the major roads to slow the drivers, and they are big bumps; (c) many level crossings. So, I arrived in Hampi having had no sleep at all. I took a tuk-tuk the 15 kms to the hotel D-W had recommended much to the evident displeasure of the driver who knew a much better place in Hampi itself. And he was right: the D-W recommendation was twenty pounds a night and the one I eventually took is eight (with free wi-fi on which I can use my Blackberry free of charge!). I had breakfast overlooking the Tungabhadra river and set off for the first of 1,000 temples. Everyone raves about Hampi and they are right to. It is surrounded by enormous stones – which you can imagine into all sorts of strange animals, and temples spread out over 25 square kilometres. As luck would have it, a guide asked if I wanted to join a couple of Germans who he was taking on a cycle trip round some of the temples. Thinking it was the couple from Hassan I said that I would be delighted. A really sweet couple; Clelitha (a very odd name) was beautiful and he was somewhat older, scruffy with dreadful skin .. and a more gentle intelligent man one could not wish to meet. We extended the morning tour to the afternoon and had the most wonderful day. The guide really knew his stuff and gave us all the time we wanted to wander, the bikes were ok (though going up some of the hills with no gears was a challenge) the temples were all different and special, the King’s residence quite amazing. In the 1600s this city had about 500,000 inhabitants and ruled an enormous part of India. Unfortunately, the Muslims overtook it in 1565, destroyed the kingdom and defaced many of the statues, and for Hindus if the temple God is blemished in any way it can no longer be used. The Vijaya Vittala Temple was built for a queen who was a dancer, and was built with stone columns which when struck each sounded a different note. This I did not believe but it could not be tested because other tourists had wanted to try it as well and the place was off limits and patrolled by the police. Our guide waited until all other tourists had left then asked if we would be willing to offer a bribe. A quid did the trick and two of them wandered round the temple striking the columns with their fingers and getting real notes. Spell-binding!
Today I hired a bike, crossed the river in a rickety boat and happily peddled off to a temple at the top of a hill – 514 steps this time up a beautiful curling track with reasonably high white walls so no need to worry about heights. A stunning view over this extraordinary countryside. I then peddled off to another village at which point one break pad fell off and my bike was buggered .. until the local Bicycle Repair Man fixed it for 20p. The butterflies are not a patch on Kovalam but the birds are much better, the highlight be a red-throated sunbird.
I have read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins; I strongly recommend it .. for the Bookclub perhaps? I have not had sugar in my team for 16 days. Hampi is a vegetarian, alcohol free town! The Times of India has an excellent bridge column. Households make money by allowing whole sides to be adverts, most, it seems for cement or mobile companies. A drink from sugar cane put through a mangle is so sweet I nearly gagged. All bread has added sugar. English translations can be hilarious. Suburban houses in towns look really rather nice: verandahs, roof terraces, jolly colours.
Two more days in Hampi then another overnight coach trip (more expensive so may be better) then off to Rajasthan. I will next write from there.
Loads of love