Love in Hampi, India

What would you do in the name of love?  Would you hire a magical monkey to build a bridge of rocks across the ocean to have your one true love rescued?  And where would you get such mystical rocks?

Wait, I know. . .

I know a place with rocks that pile on top of each other in inexplicable ways–daring the laws of gravity and humanity, carrying the spirits of the elders in their smooth and playful shapes.  These hard sponges of energy tell the kind of stories you can only feel in your body, in your soul, in the crevices of yourself that you don’t even know. . .yet!

This place is called Hampi.  It’s an ancient village that was once one of the richest cities in the world.  Today it is rich with experience and wonder. . .and what remains are the remnants of a culture, perhaps, long forgotten.

We got whispers of a Rainbow Gathering happening near Hampi (check out my post The Valley of Home here if you don’t know what I’m talking about), so we rallied our group of fantastic traveling faeries (see post The Good-Good Life if you’re intrigued) to meet up with us for a grand adventure.  And a grand adventure it was, indeed.  Btw, the rainbow gathering moved 800km away, so we stayed in Hampi.

We left Goa before sunrise to get an early start on our 9 hour drive across the state of Karnataka.  Most of the drive went through arid countryside decorated with small villages just often enough to keep things interesting.  People gathered at watering holes with special receptacles.  Women and children gathered at slabs of rocks used for washing clothes.  Sometimes we’d pass groups of men sitting at desolate bus stops waiting for nothing but a good conversation.

Village after village, we whizzed by in our orange time machine, Dinky-Doo, and glimpses of other realities faded into the dust.  Half way through the journey, we stopped in a big city called Hubli and had the best South Indian breakfast for a whole 20 rupees.  Yep.  That’s only about 30 cents, dude.  Win!

But, hours later when Hampi appeared in the horizon, it suddenly felt like we were on a different planet.  Gigantic rocks piled high and strategically like some posse of giants just finished a grueling game of Jenga.  I swear dinosaurs roamed these lands.  I never stopped believing there just might be one coming around the rocks at anytime.  The misplaced palm trees also give it a stone age (haha) meets Jurassic park kind of look.

Hampi is divided by a glorious river and the GPS told us our guesthouse was on the wrong side.  Woops.  Couldn’t Hanuman make a bridge across the tiny river while he was making that huge one in the ocean?!  What gives, monkey god?!  So we had to drive more than an hour down to the next town where the only bridge was to get to the other side.  Recurring tip: Nothing is easy in India.

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The two sides of Hampi are quite different.  One side is filled with ruins and temples and the other side (nicknamed “Hippie Island”) is bohemian guesthouses and rice paddies.  You can only cross the river by boat and it’s a whole 20 second ride for 10 rupees.

However, when we arrived at Nargila Guesthouse, I was hypnotized by the postcard views and the sight of my faerie tribe. . .

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Our room, I must admit, was not my favorite in India, but it was peak season and really busy and we were lucky to get one at all.  The restaurant part also made up for anything the room was lacking.  It was similar to the ones in Kheerganga which you can read about here. But to reiterate, it’s a whole floor of cushions and low tables so you can literally lounge around all day and order stuff from the restaurant.  If you’re wanting to catch up on a good book, do some writing, or play cards all afternoon, the rice paddies in the background provide the perfect postcard view for any time of day.

Hampi Tip:  The Nargila Restaurant is worth a visit, especially since one of the hosts, Ganga, is a lovely guy.  He makes your visit very cozy and the place makes the best banofee pie in India, I swear.  So, it’s worth it to check out for a meal or two, or even an afternoon, but maybe stay in another place if you want super clean rooms.  It depends on your needs/wants while traveling.

Every morning we got to watch a local gang of monkeys doing their morning ritual of “monkeying around” on the closest tree line.  It was pretty darn good coffee time TV, people.  Every so often one of them would jump on the roof of the restaurant kitchen and cause a little trouble, but mostly they stayed in the trees.

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Our first night in Hampi we spent celebrating reuniting with our friends.  It involved lots of good conversation and even more cashew Feni.  What the heck is cashew feni?  It’s a local alcohol made only in Goa from the fruit of the cashew. . .kinda like a moonshine. Heh heh.  Yes, we stashed some in our little Dinky-Doo just in case.  Needless to say, shenanigans were had and even a dance party by the river unfolded quite, um, naturally.

Pardon the blur in the photos.  In my state of, ahem, bliss, I can’t believe any pictures are recognizable at all.  We did a fine job of spreading some magic on those river rocks.  I’m sure they’ll remember us for a long time. . .

After a day of rest and lounging at the Nargila restaurant, we headed to the Monkey Temple on the full moon.  January 12th was the first full moon of 2017 and it was in Cancer. . .which basically means that it was a more intense full moon than usual and it was said to invoke a lot of new beginnings for this brand new year.  I’ll take it.  Anything is better than the shitstorm of 2016.

For me, personally, going to the Monkey Temple on the full moon was also very auspicious and special.  In case you’re just joining my little universe, I’m a monkey and the year of the monkey is just about to end, so I literally got to say goodbye to my challenging year at my very own temple.  It seemed almost too appropriate and perfect that I honor the growth and changes in such a profound way.  But, it wasn’t easy, of course, physically or mentally.

It all started with 575 steps up.  Way up.  To the top of a cliff.  See that white building on the top of the rocks?  That’s it.  Ooh, and that’s Ela, our American friend.  She’d already been to the temple but joined us for a second visit.  Hanging with her is like eating some good ol’ American comfort food.  Wait, does that sound weird?!  I mean, I don’t get to hang with a lot of Americans. . .okay, I NEVER get to hang with Americans, so her presence was a real Midwestern treat!

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We quickly became part of the pilgrimage, making the climb up to pay our respects.  The steps were steep–a switchback around and between giant boulders.  The old men and women in our procession would sometimes drop on all fours and climb that way because it was so tough for them.  I didn’t find it that difficult thanks to all my running, and my glorious youth, but it was definitely a sight to see.  There were even spots where entire groups of people would rest and catch their breath, all while smiling and laughing at the people still climbing up.  It was pure comedy while we all huffed and puffed our way to the promised land.

There was a countdown painted on the rocks at random spots so you knew how many more steps it was to the top.  I also loved some of the paintings along the way, like this one of Hanuman below.

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Everything was fine and dandy approaching the temple. . .

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And just as I turned the corner of the last rock, my damn foot vein puffed up with shooting pains  (a healed injury from August, 2016).  Ugh.  I don’t know if it was the sudden elevation, or an actual physical manifestation of the monkey year pulsating on the bottom of my foot, or just freakin’ coincidence, but it pushed out a whole bucket of tears in less than 2 whole seconds.  As if I’m not already a scene being a white chick there, but a crying white chick is even better.  Guhreat!

At most Temples in India, you have to remove your shoes because the area is considered holy and shoes are dirty.  I personally never leave my shoes in the designated area. Instead, I carry them covertly with me so they don’t get stolen.  I’m not saying that all shoes get stolen, of course, I’m just saying I don’t want to take the chance because it does happen and I really love my shoes.  A lot.  They’re worth a ton in rupees, man, and that’s all I’m gonna say.

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So, I know it was in the middle of the day and it was the full moon, but still I expected to see at least one naughty monkey somewhere hiding in the shadows or en route to a napping spot.  Nope.  A big fat nope.  Not one single monkey in sight for me, the monkey, in the year of the monkey, at the monkey temple.  Hahahahahaha.  The only thing I got was a resurrected foot injury and some sweet pics.  Maybe the monkeys were letting me enjoy my temple all to myself because usually the place is filled with them in every direction.  I like to think of it like this.  Thanks, Hanuman.

The next day, we braved the river blessed by our magical dance party and paid 10 rupees to get to the other side.  The river is only so big and it’d be easier to have just a foot bridge across it, but since this is India and nothing is logical, you have to take a boat. . .and better yet, since they don’t want to waste fuel on the 20 second ride across, you have to wait ages for the boat to fill up.  It’s annoying and funny.  Indians will do anything to save a couple rupees.  I can’t decide if they’re genius entrepreneurs or horrible cheapskates.  Maybe both.

Our lovely Dutch babies, Jasper and Femke, joined us for the afternoon.  They are on a mega traveling expedition around the world and also have a blog.  It’s written in Dutch, but you can check it out here.

At the time we were crossing the river, there was a whole heap of Indians on the other side bathing and having a good time.  They got a kick out of me taking a photo as we zoomed by and posed accordingly.

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The view from the other side looked like this. . .

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The other side of the river was completely different from “Hippie Island.”  It almost looked like scenes from Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider in certain areas.  I never saw anything like it before in my life.  Wowie zowie!

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The temples and ruins were said to be 600-800 years old.  Some of them were made with such huge slabs of rock that, still today, no one knows the technology that they used to create it all.  I envisioned an archaic regal society–filled with vibrant colors and different smells–as I scanned the old buildings around me.  There was an energy in the air that felt like memories of the majestic life it once had.

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I couldn’t resist a little photo session.  I mean, when you come this far, you’ve gotta take advantage of the views, right?!

 

That big pyramid temple in a lot of the above pictures might be the most famous in the area, called Virupaksha temple, and up close it has the most intricately erotic carvings. You know, the kind that remind you of the Kama Sutra and probably the sort of fun that this ancient society once had. . .obviously, since they freakin’ carved it in that much stone.  Geez.  Hehe.

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In a popular courtyard area, surrounded by temples, I was happily surprised to finally see some sweet cows being loved.  I know what you’re thinking.  Don’t Hindus worship cows? But really, in my humble opinion, and as I’ve stated in previous posts, they are among the most mistreated beings in this huge country.  However, at this spot, there were two lucky cows given so much love.  People actually waited in line to pet them and even rub their feet.  I’m sure they were just hoping to get some food, but cows are pretty affectionate animals and they deserve cuddles too.

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There was some kind of ritual going on in one of the buildings that echoed out of the stone columns.  Kids danced to music and plenty of visitors checked out the happenings.  We stayed out in the courtyard watching the monkeys rival over turf politics while listening to the sounds of the beautiful music echoing all around us.

It got a bit more interesting when a tiny puppy tried to steal a bag of potato chips from one monkeys’ turf.  I thought I was going to witness a nasty fight, but the puppy survived unscathed, at least, for the moment. . .

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After a day of exploration, we went to the river for sunset. . .

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One of the things I love to document when I travel is the street art, or graffiti, and Hampi had a few good pieces around.

The day before we left Hampi, all of the locals were getting ready for some festival at one of the temples.  I don’t know the name of it but it’s basically fancy chalk drawings that women do outside their homes and businesses for good blessings and festivities.  They don’t use stick chalk, though, they use powdered chalk. . .kinda like colored sand that they drop from their hands as they move in a particular pattern.

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Technically, you’re not supposed to walk or drive on any of the designs because it’s just rude and bad luck and so not cool, but of course some idiot drove on one and it started a big fight on the street.  The old lady was pretty pissed off that her sacred design was defiled.  I was just glad it was an Indian and not a Westerner.  We’re not all white devils after all.  Yay!

Four days later, we said a truly final goodbye to our special friends.  We just happen to catch a good part of their travels before they left for other places, but I know deep in my heart, we will all be together again someday.  I’m very thankful for all the fun we’ve shared and it’s only five minutes until the next cuddle.

Our last night in Hampi was quiet without the faeries.  As they headed on a bus ride towards Bangalore, we got a good night’s rest to make that long journey back to our beloved rainbow penthouse. . .in the jungle village by the sea.

I will never forget Hampi and the reminder of the great spirit within all of us.  Those magnificent rocks are true gurus in the art of how to rock.  Aho!

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Pokhara, Nepal. . . .La la la!

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Crossing the Nepal border from India on a bicycle rickshaw was pretty cool. . . even after an overnight train from Goa, a scathing visit in Delhi, another over night train to Gorakhpur, and then a 3 hour local bus ride to Sunauli.  We got to Nepal exhausted and starving, wondering where to go next, and stopped for our first meal.

Mo-mo’s and chow mein are staples in Nepal.  The vodka is questionable, but it is available everywhere, and after a 1700 mile journey to get to this exact moment, we deserved every drop.

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After dinner, we decided to go to Pokhara.  Besides, what was 8 more hours on an overnight bus, anyway?!  Clocking so many hours in so little time, our rating on the Hardcore Richter Scale just kept going up.  Booyah!

We caught a local bus for 375 Indian rupees and scored the best seats.  Loud Nepali music blared through the speakers, and despite the bumps and the laughing, I slept for most of the ride.  We left the border around 8pm and arrived in Pokhara at 5am the next morning.

It was cold.  Real cold.  In fact, when the bus stopped, I could see my breath and didn’t want to go outside.  Brrrrr.  Coming from Goa in the 90’s just less than two days before, it was like going from the height of summer to winterrrrrrrrrr way too fast!

I put on most of the layers I had with me in my small backpack before venturing out into the cold morning.  It was still dark and too early to go to any hotel room, so refuge from the frigid air was a frivolous desire.  The only open thing near the bus stop was a small place that served chai.

We walked in and sat at one of the five tables in the place.  It felt like night.  A man stood next to a small fire near the front entrance making chapatis and chai.  There was a quietness in the cold air, but it wasn’t desolate, it was more Zen feeling.

A young boy brought two cups of steaming, hot chai to our table.  The steam, like the breath of tea, was one of the only visible things in the early darkness.  I noticed two men sitting at another table–dressed in heavy jackets and scarves–bundled up appropriately for the weather, but wearing flip-flops on their feet.  They sat quietly hunched over their cups.

I was quite perplexed that the windows and door to this little hole in the wall were just open.  The doorway didn’t even have a door, actually.  It made me wonder why they wouldn’t want to close the space to conserve heat of some kind.  Who the heck wants to eat or drink in a place that’s outside in winter?  Nepali’s are tough.

We got two more cups of chai to kill time and borrow warmth, and after an hour, we took a taxi straight to our room.  We crashed hard and for many hours.

20160208_104349Pokhara is a pretty mountain town surrounded by the Himalayas.  It hadn’t rained in weeks when we were there, so the sky was too hazy to see any of the great mountains in the distance, but we still got gorgeous views. . . and a decent latte!

The town is set next to a mystical lake.  It looks like the Lochness monster might lurk in the waters and, if you’re lucky, you might just see the tail hidden in the fog that hovers above the surface.  There’s a windy dirt road that traces the contours of the lake, stretching for miles from the city out into the small villages.

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We spent a couple afternoons walking along that road.  The pastoral landscape was beautiful from afar. . . . and it was so peaceful bumbling along the countryside.

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On our way back into town, we caught a fantastic view of a bus.  Some things are so similar to India.  Don’t you just love it?!

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I found Pokhara to be filled with heaps of cool street art–murals, graffiti, mandalas.  And the people?!  So lovely.  So happy.  And so very little. . .especially the women.  Unlike places in India, I noticed a lot more women in Pokhara running shops, restaurants, guesthouses.  They seemed to have a dominating presence on the streets–all huddled together in different turfs talking about the obligatory gossip, I’m sure.

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Our first night we got lucky and stumbled upon happy hour at a bar across the street from our guesthouse.  We didn’t even know until we ordered two drinks and the waiter brought out three?!  We thought he either got the order wrong, it was going somewhere else, or we had an unexpected guest. . .but it turned out to be the deal of the evening: buy 2 get 1 free.  Okay, twist my arm.  Now, give me three more!!  And did I mention that I got 106 Nepali Rupees for ONE US dollar?!

After a few days of wandering around the city, we made friends with a very special little baby named Rocky.  He was hairy, stinky, and almost too cute, but we went to visit him every day we were in Pokhara.  We actually both got sick from the extreme weather shift, and spent a lot of time in our room drinking ginger lemon honey tea, but we made it out at least once a day to give Rocky a banana.  I think he gave us therapeutic cuddles, too, so he wasn’t the only one benefiting.

We adopted a place called Cafe Europa as our main eating spot.  It had four tables, cool murals, and one of the most fun, sassy ladies in town cooking.  Everything Lakshmi made was from scratch right in front of us and it was delicious.

Lakshmi was around 25 years old–married at 13–with long black hair and a Marilyn Monroe beauty mark by her left eye.  She would dart back and forth in the kitchen saying nonsensical things, all with a big smile, and if we said anything to her she would reply, “I cooking you looking!”  And if we ever asked her for anything she would shoot a naughty grin, with one hand on her hip, and say, “Not possible!”  But it was always possible.  Sometimes she would say “Not possible” at the same time she was doing the impossible thing.

“La, la, la,” was another one of Lakshmi’s sayings.  She would say it really fast in the space of a verbal pause or even totally at random.  It was like whimsical Tourette’s and it was kind of hilarious.

Lakshmi’s son, James, liked when I took his picture and was very confident as he pointed and directed me on how to photograph him.  This particular day he was grounded from not coming home the previous night, so he had to sit in the restaurant all day in Lakshmi’s sight.  He sat quietly in the corner table staring at the kids playing on the street.  I could tell by the look in his eyes he knew he was wrong, but he didn’t regret it one bit.  Whatever fun he had was worth the day of sacrifice.

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On our last night in Pokhara, we brought a bottle of whiskey to put in our ginger lemon honey tea.  Lakshmi was in her usual spunky spirits and gladly accepted when we offered her a shot of whiskey.  We didn’t know, but soon found out, she liked to drink!  Heh.  After the first shot, she came to our table, “la, la, la,” and our bottle of whiskey magically disappeared and ended up next to the chopping board in her kitchen.

Before we knew it, a whiskey party was happening.  Lakshmi’s husband and one of his friends came and the shots continued. We even made friends with a lovely French traveler who joined us for a few rounds.  I then got ordered to go into the kitchen and make my own ginger lemon honey tea, so I told Lakshmi, “I cooking, now YOU looking!”  We both laughed and hugged.

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The next morning, we packed up our room and said goodbye to Pokhara.  But this time, instead of taking two locals buses and then trying to catch a train in Gorakhpur, we opted for the cheap, masochistic single bus option. . .THIRTY-TWO HOURS, 680 miles, straight from Pokhara to Delhi.  Duuuuude!

Since we took a night bus on the way to Pokhara, I was excited to see the landscape on the way back.  We didn’t get the best seats for this round, but had the funniest Tibetan neighbor in our row.  He had long hair and deep life lines carved into his tan skin.  In his right ear, he wore a turquoise and coral earring.  I didn’t get his name, but his smile was good enough.  I knew we were kindred spirits when the bus hit such a large bump we went flying into the air. . .me and the Tibetan friend laughing like maniacal teenagers, smiling at each other, reveling in our mutual joy.  Truthfully, the bus ride was so bumpy I wished I had packed my sports bra!

The countryside views we flew past were like post cards.  Some of the landscape looked like patchwork quilts of bright green and brown squares, sewed together by yellow and purple floral thread.  Multi tiered hills, rope bridges, goats, dogs, and mint green rivers whirled by.  It was poetry in motion.

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Several hours later, we stopped for chai–although they call it “milk tea” in Nepal.  We were definitely far away from anything and the people were entertained by my presence.  The woman making tea was using a cool, clay stove, and she smiled as I sipped her brew.

The journey to Delhi was long and funny.  There were so many older Tibetan women on the bus and they kept making the driver stop so they could pee.  Now, we were in the middle of nowhere for most of the drive, so the driver would just pull over anywhere.  The men would go in one direction and the women in the other.  I thoroughly enjoyed my strange bonding time while squatting, even though none of us ever said a word, and I felt very blessed to share such moments in this beautiful land.

Until next time, Nepal!  Namaste!