The long road to Hampi: part 2

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
Trip End Oct 01, 2006

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Monday, April 24, 2006

So after many more miles, I finally reached Hospet, through a confusing maze of roundabouts again, more dirt roads, and passed a huge dam. At length, as I was getting out of town a bit, I consulted the not-too-good atlas I carry, and, learning nothing from that, I turned around and there was a sign that had an arrow to Hampi. So much for cartography. .
I drove and drove, expecting there to be a turnoff to Hampi, perhaps with a sign, but no such luck. After about 40 km, I thought I must have passed any turnoff to Hampi, and I was getting hungry and thirsty once again, so I pulled into a rather nice-looking dhaba on the side of the road. After the usual greetings head-bobs and the like, I sat at a table. There was, of course, no menu, and the waiter suggested vegetable fried rice--probably the only english he knew. Also I ordered my customary cold coke, and pani, which came quickly.
The food was delicious, and perfectly cooked, although again in my hungry state I would have eaten just about anything. To have it taste good was truly a bonus at this stage.
Finishing my meal (they had provided a spoon for me to eat with as well, surprises never cease), I proceeded to ask the waiter the way to Hampi. He pointed at the cashier, actually the owner, presumably, who was "that guy" the one with all the english. The man motioned towards Hospet, which I had determined not to go back through, as with the requisite alternating muddy/dusty roads it would be difficult in the dark.
He must have read my trepidation as he pointed once again: "go back, 12 kilometers, right, 6 kilometers, Hampi direct, no Hospet." Hampi direct was just what I was looking for. I left a tip of 10 rupes, and thanked the man, headwaved all the staff and clientele, who of course were staring, and proceeded back the way I'd come.

Watching the odometer, I thought that 12 km could mean anything from 10 to 14 or better, so I started looking after about 9. A couple of roads, but nothing promising. At around 14.5, I came to a little village and saw a "road" with a big archway and hindu writing all over it. Pulling over, I asked a man in a shack, a barber, about the way to hampi. He signed in the affirmative, so off I went up the road.
The road looked to be dirt in the beginning, but in a few hundred meters it turned to paved road, newly paved by the look of it, and there were absolutely no trucks or cars on it. The winding and fresh road gave me a chance to really test out Rocinante's handling, with only the occasional tractor and wagon to overtake or let pass on the opposing side. 9 kilometers of beautiful road in the waning minutes of the day, the shadows long, the air cooling, and Rocinante purring contentedly under me like a happy housecat. .
One more intersection, and suddenly I was driving through lush banana groves and coconut palms interspersed with ancient ruins. The air smelled alive, growing things were everywhere, and the people on the sides all looked happy and healthy. Ahh, the road to Hampi at last.
The groves and such thinned out a bit as the huge boulders took over. Here and there near the temples and ruins, one can make out how they cut the thousands and thousands of stones to put together the buildings, in a sort of evolved post-and-lintel style. Many other newer sites were of brick, and many were a kind of combination of both.
The city once was the capital of the whole kingdom, controlling much of the spice trade for hundreds of years, until finally being ransacked in the 1300's. One can easily see why they built here, there is a good-sized river that never dries up, and the locale is easily defensible with hundreds of promontories made of huge boulders, numerous caves, and the buildings themselves built out of solid granite.

Up the road a bit I came to one of those long log gates, though it was open, one man motioned me to stop. A tout. He asked me if I needed a room, that he had nice rooms for 250, and I had to cut him off with my laughter. "I pay 80, only for a room, no attached (in-room bath)and single." I rode off with him imploring me just to come and look, come and look. .
Up the hill and through an impressive ancient archway brought me to the gates of Hampi colony proper. The rickshaw stand cum bus station is just outside the gates, and the usual touts surrounded me shouting out prices for rooms. "two hundred, two hundred!" shouted the one, "one hundred fifty," shouted another. I gave them "the hand." "I pay 80, best price, no attached. I go Indian, not Western!" A young man of about 17 came to the fore, saying "I have room for 80!" "Parking for Enfield? I motioned him to get on the back of Rocinante, and we proceeded through the opening gate (manned by official-looking army types) and began the slow ride through the crowded and extremely narrow side alleys of the Hampi colony. The young man (named "Gonesh")had an honest face, and I liked him from the start. Also he couldn't resist teasing the other touts as we rode away.
Kamala Guest House is at the end of a small street, near the river, with trees and a decent view. Gonesh showed me inside, and opened room #1. One of the better rooms I had seen, two fans, a large bed, two sets of windows, and of course, the kicker--attached bath. "No attached," I repeated, and he came back, "ok, I have one room no attach, but you like this room, one hundred."
This is how deals are cut, you can stick to your guns for the 20 rupes and take the smaller room and shared bath, or perhaps you can just enjoy an attached bathroom, which by the way was spacious and clean, and just accept an excellent price. I chose the latter, 100 was a great price, so I shook hands with Gonesh and his associate Ravi (also no older than 18) and took the room. It also had a retractable mosquito net, which, if what I had heard about Hampi was true, would come in really handy. . .
With about 30 minutes till sunset, I quickly showered, and went out to find a beer. The old man next door talked to me for a minute,(if "talked" can describe that communication) and suddenly ordered one of the small boys to take me to a place called Gopi.
Up the stairs and into a seat I chose strategically for sunset-viewing ability, I ordered a beer. "No beer in Hampi" came the reply. Ouch. There's nothing after a hard day's ride than an ice-cold weak Indian beer. Except two. This was one detail about Hampi I had overlooked, I guess. I ordered coke and pani, and talked a bit with a couple of westerners whose english was also marginal, paid and got ready to leave. As I was leaving, my "waiter" came to me with some information: "No beer here in Gopi, but we have rumandcoke. Here, wait, you try some. . " He ran into the kitchen and in a few minutes came out with a bit of coke in a glass. I did try. It was good. I knew where I was coming tomorrow, after a hard day in the sun.
Slept like a rock that first night. Tired and glad to be in a shanti oasis like Hampi.
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