Sunday, January 29, 2012


During my first week of rotations at St. John’s, I met a group of American and American/Israeli medical students that are at St. John’s for 6 weeks of an elective course. The 5 of them are all doing the same rotations but two are from Columbia in New York and the other 3 are Americans that are going to medical school in Israel that associated with Columbia. Since most of the Germans were going away for a long weekend, I decided to join 4 of the Americans in a weekend trip to Hampi. I definitely felt the need to get out of town after moving into the Annex 1 (see previous blog). Hampi was once the site of a large Hindu empire in India. It is thought of as the home of the monkey Gods. It is a city of ruins from the temples and height of the Hindu empire that once ruled in the area. It is also a nice break from the big city life of Bangalore as the city of Hampi lies along a river and the scenery is a mix of rice paddies and giant boulder hills. 

The American students arranged the transportation and the lodging which was very nice for me since I was able to just join in without having to do much of the planning. After traveling for a while on my own, this is a welcome break. We were picked up from the Annex 3 at 12am Friday night/Saturday morning by a hired driver. We rode semi-comfortably in a Toyota SUV for 7+ hours to Hampi. Unfortunately for me, I ended up in the front co-pilot seat which meant that at every toll stop (which seemed to occur about ever one hour), I was woken up by the driver to pay the toll. Of course this meant that by the time we arrived in Hampi, I was not feeling very rested. We made our way to our accommodation - Shanthi Guest House - dropped off our bags and cleaned up before heading out to start seeing the sights. We only had 1.5 days to see Hampi which from what I had heard from the Germans is not nearly enough time as the pace of Hampi is very relaxed and once you get there, you don’t really feel in a rush to leave.

On the recommendation of the German students, I suggested we rent bicycles to bike around the rice paddies and see some of the temples on the other side of the river from Hampi Bazaar and the same side where our guest house was. I was overruled by the other American students who really wanted to rent mopeds (even though they were much more expensive and didn’t include a helmet and to me felt much more dangerous to ride around on the rule-less streets of India). I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and sent out positive thoughts for my safety. I didn’t ride my own since I had never driven one before, I didn’t feel comfortable driving one myself. In retrospect, I’m not sure if that was the best idea although I did make it through the day in one piece and we only fell over one time - a very low speed fall to the side which helped us to learn early on that I needed to get off the bike when we were turning around. 

It was a beautiful day and was incredibly peaceful riding through the rice paddies and the boulder hills. I would have preferred being on a bike not only for my own safety, but also because bicycles seemed to fit the atmosphere of Hampi much more than a moped. I guess this is what happens when you travel with a group - I don’t have the same independence as when traveling alone and when people differ on what they want to do, someone ends up not getting to do the things they want. I still had a great time and really enjoyed Hampi, so I can’t complain although if I had to do it again, I would go about it differently.

We visited a few different Hindu temples recommended by the Lonely Planet although several of the temples have similar names and the maps are not all that great so we ended up going to one temple that we discovered later was not the recommended temple to visit - this was the first temple we visited which I did not find all that impressive. The best part of the first temple were the children that were wandering around the temple grounds. They were dressed up in very colorful clothes and were quite friendly and wanted to take pictures with us which is always a joy.

The second temple we visited was really cool not because of the temple itself (after a while, a lot of them start to look the same...) but because of the landscape it was situated on. After walking past the temple, there was a small canal/well that provided a great photo opportunity. When we walked a bit further, we ended up in these cave-like structures created by the piles of boulders. Inside was much cooler than standing outside in the sun and was a refreshing break. Continuing through the caves, we could climb up a sort of rock scramble stair case to the top of the boulder hill and had a great view overlooking the landscape of Hampi. From here, we could see the river, the rice paddy fields, and the monkey temple which was on a higher boulder hill and from where we planned to see the sunset.

We left this temple and had lunch at an Indian restaurant that served only one thing - the South Indian Thali. We each got a metal plate with a palm leaf on it and had several different gravies (curries), breads, and rice piled on. It was delicious. After lunch we made our way on the mopeds to a reservoir lake that one of the girls had heard about from a rickshaw driver she started talking to when we got into Hampi that morning. It took a while for us to find the reservoir but we did find it and a large group of people from all over Europe that were swimming and cliff jumping off the boulders into the lake. Hot, sweaty, and dusty from the night of traveling and the day riding around on the mopeds, getting in the lake sounded heavenly. Of the 5 of us, 4 of us joined in the cliff jumping and were rewarded with being submerged in cool water.

Refreshed after our brief swim, we took the mopeds to the monkey temple. To reach the top of the monkey temple requires a climb of about 570 stairs. It was a long way to the top but on the way, I had a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside and was entertained by several monkeys playing on my walk up. It was nice to sit and relax at the top while waiting for the sun to set - relaxing until a snake crawled out from between two of the boulders and slithered right in front of my feet. In my state of fear, I somehow remembered that with a snake, you should stay very still which I somehow managed to do and the snake slid away. Thankfully the sun set soon afterwards and we made our way back down the 570 stairs to the mopeds and back to our hotel. 

Our hotel was a collection of individual huts that to my great satisfaction had 24hrs hot water. I took a much desired hot shower and after we all felt clean again, we had dinner at the hotel restaurant. Exhausted after our day, we all went to sleep early.

Hanuman (monkey) Temple
Sunday morning we got up fairly early to check out, drop our bags off with our driver, and see the sites on the other side of the river before heading back to Bangalore. We took the ferry across the river and dropped off our bags. We then hired a couple of rickshaw drivers for a half-day tour of Hampi. We started out at the Royal Centre of the city where the ruins of the Hindu royalty as well as a giant elephant stable were located. After visiting the Royal Centre, we made our way to the Queen’s bathtub which is more like a swimming pool in size. I can imagine that if I were the queen, I would not leave my bathtub. Our final tour stop was at the Vittala Temple which is the main highlight of the Hampi tour. It is a very well preserved Hindu temple that reminded me a lot of the new 2005 temple built in Delhi. I liked this one better just because it was older. It was just as exquisite with the entire temple carved with spectacular Hindu figures. There was also a large stone chariot in the center of the temple that at one time actually carted people around.

view from Hanuman Temple
Satisfied with our tour, we went to the Mango Tree Cafe for lunch. It was a fantastic cafe with an incredible view and even better food. We enjoyed our meals slowly before boarding the SUV for the ride back to Bangalore. I again sat in the front seat on the way back but thankfully we arrived in Bangalore in time for me to get an adequate (well, as good as it can be in the Annex 1) night’s sleep before starting my second week of orthopedics. Namaste.

AM Ferry Crossing

elephant stable

queen's bathtub

Vittala Temple

Vittala Temple

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