My goodness, the puns for Hampi are endless and hopefully now that we are out Dustin finally will stop singing “Have yourself a Merry little Christmas and a hampi new year”. Current location is sitting on a dark train platform in Hospet (Hampi’s nearest train station), waiting for our night train to Banglaore.
It’s time to get caught up! We had decided on Gokarna for a bit because it’s more relaxed than touristy Goa and apparently was home to vast, empty and beautiful beaches. That part was true. We were probably the only ones on the beach there. Okay, we weren’t in Gokarna but slightly south. Accommodation was limited in the town itself so Dustin found a place probably 20 minutes outside. We knew we had to experience the beach shack accommodation at one point but the idea of sand everywhere really upsets me so we booked a tree house.
When we got off our train at the station I couldn’t even see a station. We just got off onto a platform and there were stairs ahead leading to the road. That’s it. The rickshaws tried to rip us off as always but normally you have such an abundance in the cities you can always find a person who will take you for your price. Here, on this empty and narrow jungle road it was just us and 4 rickshaw drivers. We tried to haggle and then walk away (the classic move to create urgency) but it was hard to pretend you had other options on this stretch of road. We took a long and bumpy ride further into the middle of nowhere and were dropped off outside a little gate made out of drift woof that was haphazardly leaning against a pole. We had to dodge in between young plants and trees, trying to find any semblance of a building or the place we might be able to sleep. We see what looks somewhat like the picture of the tree house and I realize. There. Are. No. Walls. A large Indian man with bushy hair and a long beard comes out of a wooden shack in nothing but a tiny pair of orange shorts and greets us. I am petrified at this point. Where are we and how do I get as far away as possible…. I’ve never been greeted to a accommodation by a man in tiny orange shorts before and I hope to never be again. He explains we are the only ones there (……) and that he will let us stay in the cottage for the same price because it’s easier (I still have yet to see a proper building so I remain skeptical). We are lead to what does look like a low building with a roof of large slabs of concrete. The first thing I notice is that the roof does not connect with the walls of the cottage so anything that feels like crawling through the 2ft gaping hole at the top of the walls and make its way in for some midnight cuddles is welcome to. We were the only ones there and there was quite legitimately nothing there (which, according to our host, is why he chose the location…..). One man there was in charge of the kitchen so we basically just had to tell him what we wanted and he would make it for us. Some people might find that awesome. I found it awkward. If it was Canada, I would have just ordered a million grilled-cheese the whole time because it would have made me feel the least uncomfortable, but this is not Canada and grilled cheese is not such a common thing.
I’m still writing and nothing crawled over the walls to kill me in my sleep. I did sleep with ear plugs in though in fear of a bug crawling in there. It got completely dark at night and there was only one outdoor light on the property so Dustin and I sat in the hammocks in the dark and the star-gazing was amazing. At one point, while I was alone in the dark, I did see the biggest frog/toad I have ever seen and I was petrified. I couldn’t move for fear it would realize I was there and that it was big enough to eat me. I am not scared of many animals or bugs (unless its where I am sleeping) but this toad/frog changed my life. Dustin came back and I showed him why I was sitting perfectly still and he went closer to take a picture. It was dark and the creature was slightly illuminated by that one outdoor light I mentioned but my view was obstructed when Dustin moved closer. He turned around to come back towards me and my mind immediately assumed he had it in his hand. I started panicking and asking, “Dustin, do you have it in your hand???? Do you have it????” He took, what felt like, 3 years to respond (probably because he didn’t have it and was confused about his extremely frantic girlfriend) and my heart was aggressively beating against the inside of my chest. I finally calmed down but that night I couldn’t shake the feeling of seeing that toad/frog. Dustin bumped the bed when I was half asleep and in my delirious state I actually thought the frog had jumped onto the bed and the sheer weight of the thing had moved it in such a way. I still think about it to this day.
Overall, the experience was fine and I survived, though I would have not liked to stay any more time. It was nice to have the beach to ourselves and to simply spend the days laying in a hammock.
Part 2: Took a small couple day hiatus from writing this post and current location is now sitting on a public government bus headed to Calicut and then Kochi with 16 Indians and 1 cute blonde guy (who is sitting beside me, crossing my fingers he strikes up a conversation!!!!!!) (I’m really tired)
From Goa we took a night bus to Hampi which has to be one of the worst experiences of overnight travel (thus far..I don’t want to jynx it now). Everyone remember my middle of the night bathroom break in Bolivia on the bus? I live in fear of reliving that moment, and I expect it would be infinitely more terrifying in India. Night busses here as so weird. There are no seats and a narrow aisle is lined by basically bunk beds of double beds. At first when we laid down I thought, this is awesome! Comfy and I can lay next to Dustin so I don’t need to worry about someone stealing him in my slumber (I worry about everything being stolen here, including my 6 ft boyfriend). It was A/C and we should have known that, in India, A/C means Arctic Conditions. I was plunged into a frozen tundra of temperatures and sleeping when you’re losing feeling in your fingers is probably close to impossible (until hypothermia sets in, I hear that shit makes you sleepy). In frustration at one point, Dustin stripped off his shirt (which I thought was quite brave in -40) to try to stuff it in our A/C vents to prevent air flow. In addition to my stiffening joints and slowed blood flow, I rolled around alot. Driving on Indian roads is a feat in it of itself but, in a big bus, every corner feels very aggressive. I had about a 5 foot drop on my side in the aisle and luckily there were two narrow metal bars that somewhat held me in the bed, though it didn’t feel like it would when you’re almost asleep and wake in a jolt, expecting to fall off.
Hampi made that whole experience worth it. Set amongst thousands of ruins from centuries ago, the tiny town is completely enchanting and completely laid back. I understand why so many travellers flock and stay there. We stayed there for 5 days, which was probably more than enough but I couldn’t have imagined staying less time. There is the main Hampi bazaar and across the river are some more restaurants and guest houses. You have to take a boat across which seemed so archaic to me. The river, which is not big or fast-moving, is interrupted in several spots by large boulders and it really would be as simple as chopping down a few trees strageically so they fall across the river to create a bridge. But whatever, I suppose it added to the charm of the place.
We visited the Hanuman Temple up 7000 stairs and saw some Japanese girls trying to crawl under large rocks to find the monkeys who stole their shoes. We spent the rest of the days exploring all over the hillsides (more like rock-hills) and the ancient ruins they housed.
It took days because it was bloody hot and we had to take at least 15 minute shade breaks anytime we found some. Hampi is by far our favourite place in India thus far and that time was the easiest 5 days I’ve ever spent in one spot (excluding my couch at home, I could spend weeks there if left undisturbed). Only negative there was the rickshaw mafia. They made motorbike rentals illegal on the bazaar side of the river so they could stay in business. While I understand and support that, it had this weird effect of creating a rickshaw cult where they would deliberately all quote ridiculous fares for even 2 kilometers and they would absolutely not undercut each other so you were forced to pay it or walk in the Hampi heat. They also assault you with “free maps” and conversations, questions, prices, etc etc, as soon as you arrive there and everytime you leave the safety of your hostel. You kind of feel like this is how Kim Kardashian must feel with cameras and people all the time (she was the first famous person who came to mind). It was so aggressive. Nothing can spoil Hampi, though.
From Hampi we had an overnight train to Bangalore (Bangaluru) which was 9 hours or something and I planned effectively and did not have to use the bathroom at all which I was thankful for because I smelt it when I walked passed…. I read that Bangalore rivals Mumbai for India’s most “progressive” city, and if we had seen more of Mumbai I might have been able to comment on their similarities. Bangalore was lovely though. We had two days there and nothing to do but shop and eat. Yay! I bought 47 bangles in Bangalore-dont ask me why, I have no self-control. I also ate my first rice meal entirely with my hands on the street in Bangalore and I must have broken the dam because the next 3 meals were also utensil-less.
After the first big city where we didn’t get scammed and/or robbed, we took a 3 hour train to Mysore (are all the Yogi ears perking up?). We reserved 2 seats in the chair car but they weren’t together but we assumed it was because we booked last minute. When we got on the train we noticed someone was sitting in Dustin’s seat. When questioned, the man told us his wife was sitting in the seat next to him so “if it isn’t too much trouble” he wanted to switch that seat. This already tweaked a nerve because Dustin and I weren’t sitting together either but you didn’t see us sitting our asses in other seats and hoping the other people would arrange themselves around our desires. We looked at the seat the man mentioned was his and two middle-aged Indians, ONE CLEARLY SITTING IN THE SEAT, stared back. There was a third seat on that side, next to the couple, so Dustin told me to sit there and he would go sit in the seat that actually was ours and was still vacant. I went to sit down and the couple kicked me out almost immediately (but not quick enough to save me from just having gotten settled in, only to be uprooted) and told me to sit across the aisle in another random seat. I realized this is because the middle-aged couple’s daughter soon turns up and takes her seat that I had previously been in. I turn into a real psycho when I’m in the wrong seat and am anxiously waiting for someone to kick me out (especially when I’m staring at the back of the original seat-theif). It sounds mellow-dramatic as I write it but I was tired and it was a lot more hassle than was necessary.
We spent Christmas in Mysore, which is the city that some say if you haven’t seen Mysore, you haven’t seen south India. It was bigger than I expected but it had the best markets I’ve seen so far. Overhead was covered by tarps and sheets haphazardly strung together, while the people bustled below through the narrow alleys, collecting all their necessary fruits, vegetables and flowers. The flower market was so enchanting and I could have spent all day in the 100 meter stretch, just walking back and forth, but I might have looked like a nut.
I could always skip the “sights” of a place, named in the guidebooks and online, and head straight to the markets just to watch everything. We did a food tour with Gomowgli in Mysore that I could not recommend enough. We got to know some really common Indian street food and I fell in love with pani puri.
Mysore is home to the Ashtanga style of yoga. Dustin and I both had intended to participate in yoga regularly in India but as complete yoga virgins, we were totally intimidated by the idea and had flawlessly avoided it so far. I knew we had to go to an Ashtanga session in Mysore, though. This morning, at 7am, that is exactly what we did. It was just us and another guy, who was clearly more pro than us, and the most flexible Indian man I have ever met (not that I’ve tested alot of Indians’ flexibility). It was ridiculously hard. At one point I thought I was going to throw up as the more sweat than I thought was possible drained off my forehead. I ALMOST dissolved into a fit of giggles a couple times, as a stress reaction from the strain on my muscles and flexibility, which is really awkward and difficult to hide in a quiet room with 4 people. I watched Dustin learn how to do a headstand which still makes me giggle like a maniac (and the guy beside me on this very cramped bus keeps looking over with worry in his eyes). Dust had his head down in his hands on the ground and was on his knees against the wall. The instructor (leader? Guru? What is a yoga guy called?) was trying to get him to walk towards the wall with his legs straight in order to kick up into the head stand but Dustin clearly did not understand so he just kept shimmying his knees back and forth with his butt in the air. Oh, it was beyond impossible to hold my zen yoga composure at the sight. We did downward dog about 70 times to many for my liking. My shoulders felt like they would crack off when my noodle-arms vibrated violently under the stress. Beyond the near vomit, the still shaky legs and really awkward pretzel positions, I really enjoyed it and would like to partake more so I can actually control my breathing instead of panting like a dog the whole time.
I cannot believe I actually caught up to my current location! Hopefully this post isn’t too long. We are over a month into our travels and it feels weird to think that this is about to get considerably longer than South America last year, but it went by incredibly fast and Dust and I only don’t get along when we turn into raging lunatics when we haven’t eaten in a while (that is a lie, we still get along, there is just no talking or smiles). Merry Christmas from India!