new india tourism slogans

In Hampi, Rachael and I decided it would be a good idea to rent bicycles for a day, ride to a nearby village and back.  For reasons which will soon become apparent, on the way back, Rachael said the day was “a bit traumatic but interesting”.  That has now become our unofficial new tourism slogan for India.  I can see the advertisements now.  Incredible India just doesn’t capture it.  The other slogan we accidentally came up with is, “it gets hot and everything smells of poo”, but that’s got even less chance of getting up.

Anyway, Hampi.  We took an overnight bus from Hyderabad, ironically named a “sleeper bus”.  Someone must have slept, because there was snoring, but we didn’t really.  Still, fascinating to see the arid, red-earthed Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka countryside up close, even in a daze.  We stop at village chai stalls under moonlight – men smoke and drink chai, throw their plastic cups on the road, half the bus pisses next to it, stray dogs wander around us, sniffing.

Approaching Hampi is jaw-dropping.  Impossibly balanced arrangements of boulders rise up from the hills, hugging clusters of temples from around the 15th century, surrounded by vast fields of rice and coconut palms.  In a way, the terrain reminds me of the outback, but its also somehow tropical and lush.  Not surprising that temples are built, as responses to the place itself – very human attempts to concretise something hinted at in stone.  A guide we had at Konark quoted Tagore saying “the language of stones defeats the language of men”, referring to the Sun Temple, but here it is entirely accurate.  A few photos for proof…

 

Hampi's boulders and rice-fields
Hampi's boulders and rice-fields

 

Brooding Hampi monkey
Brooding Hampi monkey

 

Temple built into and from stone...
Temple built into and from stone...

 

Lotus Mahal, Hampi
Lotus Mahal, Hampi

 

 

 

 

 

So, partly because of the torpor-inducing heat, but mostly because of its seductive and haunting beauty, we stayed in Hampi for about a week.  Just to mention – if you’re planning on going, I’d recommend staying on the other side of the river – it’s quieter and less touristy, though in Hampi, it’s all a bit touristy.  It captures perfectlly the dilemma of tourism – a beautiful place draws people who can afford to come, the locals in their desperate poverty flock to sell souvenirs and rickshaw tours and familiar food, and the whole dynamic can feel unavoidably tainted.  On our bike ride, as soon as we arrived, we had children run up to us, begging to be given pens or bags for school, or chocolate.  A reflex action.

If you stay on the other side, avoid Mowgli.  Stay somewhere more intimate and personal, less of a business, if you know what I mean.  If you feel you want the manic energy of the bazaar side, I’d recommend Vishnu Guest House.  Beautiful people, simple basic clean rooms, and almost quiet!

Hampi was very nice to us.  We met some lovely fellow travellers, people we had real affinities with.  We took way too many photos.  But who could blame us?  Boulders created by sheer erosion, shaped in ways modernist sculptors would be jealous of.  Ochre earth, vivid greens, the sounds of frogs, and the sight of kingfishers, cows, oxen, and humans in all their ragged, absurd behaviours.  So many little stories…

 

A friendly army man at "Mango Tree" restaurant
A friendly army man at "Mango Tree" restaurant

 

The things you can fit on a ferryboat...
The things you can fit on a ferryboat...

 

Homes built into the ruins, Hampi
Homes built into the ruins, Hampi

mist

It feels a little odd writing this now – I’ve  been away from the blog for a while, so now I have to do a big update, talk about places I’ve left behind “long ago”.  India is nothing if not time travel, though – Ambassador taxis, foot-pedal sewing machines and mobile phones, crumbling infrastructure, homes built into ancient ruins – indeed, the collision of different times.

So, about two weeks back we were in Lava, a tiny hill town not far from Kalimpong.  Again, a gorgeous place – the small village of farmers and monks is dwarfed by the surrounding forest, and for most of the day is swathed in thick fog, waves of it rushing across the town in the morning and mid afternoon.

Rest-stop, walking near Lava, West Bengal
Rest-stop, walking near Lava, West Bengal

Being habitual Westerners, we’d forgotten that they might not have ATMs, so arrived with very little cash, just enough for two nights accommodation, plus cheap meals.  We soon realised what poverty was, of course, when we went for our first meal – soup that was really just hot water with shards of vegetable and packet noodles.   Lava exists on what little grows on tiny plots.

A beautiful place – we walked around the forest, such a powerful and independent presence, not a place that can belong to anyone, a spirituality loose of any language.  But, as usual, a place of confounding contradictions – a huge, still expanding monastery, next to precarious poverty, shacks and destitution.

Lava, West Bengal
Lava, West Bengal

The trip back to Kalimpong was incredible.  A 90 minute bus tripo along winding, thin, potholed mountain roads, packed to the  rafters with yawning schoolgirls, old men spitting paan out the windows, tough weathered old women swaying with the bus as it honked its way down the hill, Hindi pop blaring optimistically through the fog.

Next time – Bhubaneswar, Puri, Hyderabad…