11.11.2016 - 26.11.2016 33 °C
Friday 11 November
At first light I am woken by cries of "Chai! Chai! Chai!" as the chai wallah makes his way through the air conditioned carriages. He is quickly followed by another man selling chapattis, rotis and sandwiches from a blue plastic box. I turn over, trying to ignore them and sleep fitfully until we pull in to Tivim and my companions alight amid much noise as they drag their luggage from beneath the seats. I am now alone in my compartment and I climb down from my berth and spend the next two hours gazing through the discoloured and dirt streaked windows at the passing palm trees and rice paddies as the carriage attendant folds and stacks last night's sheets and blankets. Shortly after 11.00 am we pull in to Margao, only 25 minutes late, which for Indian Railways is pretty good, and I disembark and cross the footbridge where I am greeted by a motorbike taxi driver. We haggle over the cost of a pillion ride into town and I fail miserably to knock him down from his 50 rupee stating price. Defeated, I climb on the back for the hair-raising five-minute slalom ride into town. My plan is to go to a bank and get some cash from an ATM and then have some breakfast, but when I see the dozens of people queuing in the sun outside the State Bank of India I quickly change my mind and decide to catch a bus to Colva.
Half an hour later I am making the 15 minute walk along the beach to C'Roque Resort where I am shown to the room which will be home for the next 10 days. I grab a bite of lunch and then have a very refreshing swim. The rest of the day is spent lazing on a sunbed, swimming and walking along the beach once the early evening cool arrives. Day follows day in much the same vein. I occasionally make the effort to walk into Colva village but there is never any money in the ATM. As I am able to pay all my bills with my credit card I am not too concerned and I manage to change 100 dollars US so I have enough cash for a week or so. As the money I have is mostly in small denomination notes I have a wad of cash over an inch thick! It seems that the demoneterisation is causing severe difficulties for many people and not just those it was intended to hit. On the face of it, it seems like a good idea, but in true Indian style the planning leaves much to be desired. The new notes are failing to get through to the banks and the little that does is soon gone. Prime Minister Modi says give it 50 days and everything will be fine. We shall see!
And so the days pass in indolence: to the cawing of the ubiquitous crows I eat good food, drink a few beers and work on my tan. All too soon, though, I am packing my bag and saying goodbye to Ali, Azaan and Sonu who have looked after me so well and heading 30 miles north to Goa's capital, Panjim, for a couple of days.
C'Roque Resort and Ali, Azaan and Sonu
Panjim, the capital of Goa
While there I take a local bus to Old Goa, just a few miles inland. This was once the capital Of Portuguese Goa and during its heyday in the 16th century it boasted a population greater than that of Lisbon or London. However, due to the continuous outbreaks of cholera and malaria it was abandoned in the 17th century. All that now remains are the tea stalls and roadside restaurants that cater for the hordes of Indian tourists and the few foreigners that descend on it every day and half a dozen magnificent churches. One of these, Se` Cathedral, is the largest in Asia, while another, Bom Jesus, contains the mummified remains of St Francis Xavier in a glass sided coffin.
The tomb of St Francis Xavier
Two of Old Goa's churches
That evening I go to the bus station to catch the 8.00pm sleeper bus to Hampi. It pulls in at a quarter to and I show my ticket to the bus wallah. He studies it for almost two minutes before impatiently informing me that I have the wrong bus. Not only that, but I also have the wrong bus station. As I used this bus station two years ago I have assumed it will be the same one but this is the state government bus station and I should be at the private bus station. The bus wallah waves a hand in its general direction and in a panic I heave my pack onto my shoulders and set off having no idea how far I have to go and seriously concerned that I'll miss my bus. Taking my life in my hands I dodge the teeming traffic as I cross busy roads and stopping occasionally to ask directions I arrive ten minutes later, drenched in sweat, at my destination. Much to my relief my bus is still there and I dump my bag in the luggage hold and climb aboard to find my bunk. I need not have worried because it is another half hour before the bus finally departs. Mainly due to the erratic habits of the driver, i sleep little that night. In an effort to curb speed and reduce the horrific number of death's a profusion of sleeping policemen have been installed on many Indian roads. Having bumped over one of them the bus accelerates towards the next, brakes sharply just before it, then bump, bump as we cross it. This process continues ad infinitum throughout the night until we reach Hampi soon after daybreak. I push my way through the horde of rickshaw drivers who clamour for trade at the foot of the buses steps and ignoring their pleas walk the short and familiar route to Rocky's Guesthouse. I breakfast on omelette and fruit salad and when my room becomes available at 9.30 collapse onto the bed and step till midday.
Wednesday 23rd November
The landscape around Hampi is extraordinary. Over many millions of years, erosion of the granite mountains that once stood here has resulted in the formation of huge boulders that are piled on top of each other, sometimes so precariously that it seems the slightest touch will set them tumbling down the hillside. A less plausible, but more pleasing theory, is provided by Hindu mythology which holds that the landscape is the result of of a battle between two monkey armies and the boulders lie where they came to rest as each army hurled them at the other. During the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries the city of Vijayanager, as it was then called, developed into the world's second largest city, after Beijing, with a population of 500,000. It was immensely wealthy and drew traders from as far as China and Portugal to its teeming bazaars. It all came to an end in 1565 when the city was sacked by a confederation of Moslem armies from the north. All that remains are the ruins of a vast royal palace, the pillars of the bazaar and the ruins of the 2000 temples which litter the landscape. Today, to cater for the tourists, a small town of guesthouses, shops and restaurants huddles in the shadow of the 50 metre tall gopuram which forms the entrance to the still used Virupaksha Temple and dominates everything around it.
Virupaksha Temple gopuram and the village of Hampi just beyond it
I hire a motorbike (200 rupees or £2,20 for the day) which takes me to the nearby village of Anegundi where I pass the time wandering the streets and chatting with the friendly locals. I then ride to the foot of Anjanadri Hill and leaving the bike climb the 575 steps to the summit where a temple marks the reputed birthplace of Hanuman, the monkey god. I have managed to time this for the hottest part of the day and reaching the top in the baking heat gives me an added sense of achievement.
Chillies drying in the sun
The ruins of Hampi Bazaar
The Hampi landscape
Hanuman Temple and Anjanadri Hill
The following day I sign up for a bicycle tour of some of the ruins and spend a very enjoyable day in the company of Julia from Berlin and Steve and Liz from Manchester. He's a United fan so we immediately hit it off. We are shepherded by Krishna who is a mine of information but travels the route on a motorbike. Just in case one of us gets a puncture and needs a lift, he explains. After seeing the impressive ruins of the royal palace lunch is provided for us and we sit on the grass in the shade near the underground Shiva Temple. An Indian couple appears from nowhere- they spread a mat and from their baskets produce a feast of chapattis, poppadoms, rice, chutneys and curries fit for a king. Later, having eaten our fill, we cycle back to town and spend the rest of the afternoon in the Mango Tree restaurant, lounging on the floor cushions, chatting and drinking lime sodas in the cool of the overhead fans.
I wake on my last day in Hampi feeling a little unwell and would happily stay in bed. Unfortunately, I have to check out of my room by 9.30 am and so I pack my bag, leave it in the luggage storeroom, and set off on a slow walk along the river to Vitalha Temple and back. I pass the rest of the day in the Mango Tree and Gopi restaurants, sipping lime sodas and banana lassi and trying to decide if forcing myself to be sick would be beneficial. In the end I conclude that sticking my fingers down my throat is the least attractive option. By nightfall I am feeling better and I board the 6.30 bus for the half hour trip to Hospet from where I will catch the night train to Mysore.
Hospet! The name conjures up nightmares for it was here on my last visit in February 2015 that my bag containing my passport, credit cards, money, camera, phone and tablet were stolen. I walk past the restaurant where it happened and think about going in. I don't believe in fate, but nevertheless, decide not to tempt it and, pausing only to take a photo, I hurry on towards the station. I grab a bite to eat on the way and then waiting on the platform I am surprised to see Julia coming towards me. She is catching the same train so we chat for half an hour before boarding different carriages and agreeing to meet when we reach Mysore in the morning.
The scene of the crime