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Sunday, January 15, 2017

TRAVEL SPECIAL..... Rock Show at Hampi

Rock Show at Hampi


It is history carved in stone.
With over 500 monuments, from temples to palaces, Hampi is an unending delight

Travelling with an all-woman group was on my wish list for five years. Yet I kept putting it off, complaining of deadlines, family commitments, elderly care.
Friends returned from such trips and narrated fun stories of how -away from family and work -they forged strong bonds with fellow wanderers and revelled in the liberating anonymi ty of these journeys Then one fine day, overcome by a now-or-never wave, I too signed up for the Magical Ruins of Hampi package with Wonderful World, a women's trav el club. Helmed by two friends and pas sionate travellers -Shibani Vig and Li ane Ghosh -Women's World (WW) connects a sisterhood of 25to 65-year olds who like “travel, adventure and discovery“. Arunachal Pradesh, Spiti Valley, Ladakh, Bhutan, Andretta, Jor dan, Iran, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Russia have all been part of its itineraries.
It was Vig's travel philosophy that resonated with me. “Every woman should be free to embark on a journey of discovery, adventure and fun, even if the rest of the family isn't game,“ says the entrepreneur who launched WW in 2013. “We scout for places of breathtaking beauty, head out into unknown worlds, savour local flavours and life to experience popular cultural and historical traditions.“
Yet, I was assailed by doubt the moment I signed on the dotted line. Would all that temple-hopping be worth it?
How many temples can you ooh and aah over? Besides, most of these shrines were rumoured to be in ruins.Did I really want to spend an entire vacation roaming around ruins?
But Hampi surprised me. For the place isn't just about heritage. It's also about fun and relaxation, adventure and introspection in one of the world's most surreal landscapes. I watched history come alive as we explored a forgotten civilisation and walked in the footsteps of kings and queens. Hampi's canvas is grand. The city can be a million things all at once. It can be a backpacker's paradise, a pilgrim's goal, an artist's muse, a sage's sanctuary, a poet's inspiration, a trader's hub, an adventurer's dream.

Fun and Frolic
The fun began the moment all 10 of us -a diverse group of professionals of all shapes, sizes and temperament -congregated at Bengaluru airport. We were all strangers. Yet who knew that we would be parting as a robust sorority?
After an eight-hour bus ride from Bengaluru to Hampi (with a lunch and tea break and peppy music thrown in), we reached our resort -Uramma Heritage Homes -in the tiny hamlet of Anegundi near Hampi Bazaar. Nestling among almond and coconut trees, the property overlooked a boulder-strewn landscape and the Tungabhadra river. The rooms were clean, albeit devoid of any fancy accoutrements. The food was authentic -fresh wheat bread baked daily in a woodfired oven, spice-perfumed curries, and pickles, jams and sauces concocted from fruit that grows around Uramma.
Next morning, we began our historical trip. Our local guide Ravi swiftly put things into perspective. “Hampi,“ he explained as we cast a sweeping gaze across the exquisite stony amphitheatre, “is the site of the imperial city of Vijayanagara.“ It acquired fame as the capital of south India's largest, wealthiest and strongest kingdom.Hence its name “City of Victory“. “The empire was founded by two brothers Harihara and Bukka Raya who succeeded in halting the march of Islamic invaders from the north by building a massive army of about two million men.“

Precious Stone
A Unesco World Heritage Site, Hampi's biggest cachet are its ruins. Vast stretches of craggy hills and plunging valleys are peppered with over 500 monuments. Yet there's no homogeneity in this open-air museum. Every monument is different.Each temple hides more than what it reveals. And there's a surprise around every corner. The city's spectacular setting is dominated by the river Tungabhadra and open plains, with ruins spread across.Among them are stunning temples, dilapi dated palaces, remnants of aquatic structures, ancient market streets, royal pavilions, bastions, royal platforms, mandapas, gateways, sacred complexes and treasury buildings.
“Most of the structures in Hampi are constructed from local granite, burnt bricks and lime mortar,“ said Ravi, as we inspected the exquisite innards of the Vittala temple. The stone masonry and lantern roofed post and lintel system were the most favoured construction tech nique. The massive fortific ations have irregular stones without any binding material.
The 15th century temple's gigantic stone chariot, an ornate structure that is among H a m p i 's m o s t p h o t o graphed, is set within an enclosure pierced with three gopurams. There's also a Garuda shrine here, a large Pushkarani (a “stepped tank“), a Vasantotsava mandapa (ceremonial pavilion at the centre), wells and a warren of water channels. Another gem -the Virupaksha temple -has a 50-m-tall gopuram, a coronation mandapa of King Krishnadeva Raya and shrines of goddesses Pampa Devi (from which the name “Hampi“ is derived) and Bhuvaneshwari Devi.

The Cosmic and the Commercial
After five hours of sightseeing on day one, we took a break from history to lunch at Mango Tree. Located in the atmospheric Hampi Bazaar, the eatery caters to a foreign palate pretty much like all other outfits in the area. The offerings are staple -a smorgasbord of pizzas, burgers, noodles and Israeli delicacies like shakshuka.
Post lunch, we explored Hampi Bazaar where the cosmic and the commercial co existed seamlessly. Ash-smeared sadhus and hirsute seers jostled for space with coconut sellers and peddlers of souvenirs, handbags, clothes, footwear, hats, confectionery. “Madamji, yeh dekho... aisa badhiya kaam aapko kahin nahi milega (Madam look, you won't find such beautiful work anywhere),“ a woman from Gujarat tried to lure me to her psychedelic collection of mirror-encrusted handbags, tops and footwear.
Also known as Virupaksha Bazaar, the one-km-long market sprawls in front of the Virupaksha temple at the foot of Matanga Hill. The street is lined with a phalanx of old pavilions, which were once noblemen's residences. They have now been encroached by villagers and converted into shops, restaurants and even dwellings evident from clothes hung out to dry.

Coracle of Friends
The next few days follow a set pattern. We wake up, enjoy a hearty breakfast, step out to see the temples, stop by for lunch, shop, have dinner, sleep. Repeat.
Apart from temple hopping, river rides and treks spiked the adrenaline. On day two, we woke up at 4.30 am to trek to Matanga Hill. Negotiating an undulating terrain and slippery rocks in inky darkness near a river bed, we marched ahead, illuminating our paths with cellphone lights and torches, to get to a waiting coracle. These were large bamboo baskets that ferried people across the river. The transportation seemed as old as civilisation. Darkness enveloped us as we soaked in an elemental symphony of birdsong and the gushing Tungabhadra. The huff ing and puffing up the Matanga hills was richly rewarded with one of the most spectacular sunrises. As the golden orb climbed over the hills, its reflection glit tering in the large glassy pond inside the Veerabhadra temple complex, our chat tering group was left speechless. The temple's chants and chimes added to the moment's magic.
The trip was joyful and overwhelming, exhausting and sad, entertaining and poignant all at the same time. At the air port, as we group hugged, trying to pro long an inevitable farewell, we derived succour from our earnest promises to stay in touch. And meet up for another adventure. Soon.
Neeta Lal

ETM15JAN17 

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