This weekend me and three of my friends went to Hampi, the city where Hanuman was born. The city is beautiful. And breathtaking, And powerful. I loved it. I loved the mountain views, and the ancient temples, and even the European hippies that are swarming around. And I love the fact that I had interesting things happen to me, without even really trying.
So…what happened? Well, let’s see. It all started when our train got in at 5:30AM. Our rickshaw driver decided that we really needed to go to the “sunrise place.” So he drives up these really steep hills, and finally he stops in front of a huge pile of rocks. It’s dark and we’re tired, since we spent the night on a train, but we stumble out of the rickshaw and follow him. He leads us up stairs and around rocks, and eventually to this old abandoned temple on top of a hill. We sit there and I see one of the best sunrises in my life. The view was fantastic.
Afterwards, we look over, and there are two monkeys, just staring at us. They show no fear of us at all. In fact, one grabbed the strap to my huge backpacking bag and tries to drag it off. I had my foot on the strap so he couldn’t take it anywhere, but it was really funny to watch him tug at it. Monkeys are stronger than they look. There were some Russian tourists there as well; they have food and they start feeding the monkeys. One of them gave me some grapes, and a baby monkey ate out of my hand. Watching the old Russian ladies with the monkeys was hilarious; they were really afraid of them, so they’d be opening a pack of nuts or something and then a monkey would come up and they would shriek and drop it and the monkey would take the whole plastic package. And then the monkey would figure out how to open it (and the fact that plastic is yucky…).
I think my first real adventure happened when I decided not to climb the steps to a temple. I’m not a big steps person. So, while waiting for my group to come back (and at this point, I would like to mention that there were people around, most of whom were Europeans and that Hampi is very touristy and very safe—just for any parents who might be reading this), I decide to walk around a little by myself. I end up stumbling on this homeless man who was sleeping outside one of the temple ruins. I was going to leave, but he beckons me over and puts down a rug for me to sit on, and ends up reading my palm and talking to me about religion and reincarnation for 45 minutes. (Apparently I have been given a gift from God, I am slow to have a physical relationship with anyone, I will get married but then we’ll start fighting and I’ll get divorced and remarry again, and I’ll have four kids.) In my next life, I’m apparently going to be someone like George Bush, who he really admired—I really hope not. This guy, on the other hand, will be reborn as a yogi and that will be his last life. Then he’ll go up to heaven.
So, I finally leave and go back down the path to where I left my group, but they’re not there. And there’s no cell phone service. After getting a little worried, I decide that the only thing to do is go up the steps that they were climbing the last time I see them. They eventually lead me to this old abandoned temple in the jungle, with more steps up this mountain. I hear people shouting my name and telling me to come up, so I start climbing. I end up in this watchtower with the most amazing views I have ever seen in my life.
I would have been fine just sitting there for hours. There’s service up on the mountain though, and I get a call from my friends, who followed another path up the mountain and are on another path. We eventually all meet up—and they yell at me for wandering (I’m not the one who went up the mountain—at least not until I heard their voices telling me too! I stayed right off the path in plain sight!)
The next day we went to the birthplace of Hanuman, otherwise known as the monkey temple (and it’s crawling with monkeys…). We didn’t eat breakfast before we left, and again, there were hundreds of steps to climb up. And I immediately got really dizzy. So I stayed at the bottom (after promising not to wander again). I went to the chai stall at the bottom of the hill and bought some hot chai, and the people invited me into their home (also known as the chai lean-to) and I sat there and drank chai and watched them get ready for their day. After some sweet tea, I felt better and decided to climb some stairs. I took a break part way up and was just sitting, staring out at the view and thinking/meditating/praying. This Indian family walks down the steps past me, gives me the dirtiest look ever, and starts muttering in whatever language they speak. The only word I understood was “opium,” which was repeated over and over again. I am not an opium user, I promise. So, I decide I should start moving again, but soon the view is too tempting and I stop again and sit on the railing (not a real railing, a cement barrier thing…) and stare at the view. Soon I feel these little hands on my back…one of the baby monkeys had decided it would be really fun to climb on my back and give me a hug. He was really cute, but I still screamed. I think I scared him more than he scared me. By the time my group walked back down the stairs and met me, I was laughing hysterically and talking to the monkeys…people probably thought I really was a drug addict.
We also made friends with a huge family we met in the train station. We didn’t speak the same language, but it’s amazing how easy it is to break the ice. We showed them our jewelry (they laughed because my fingers are huge and none of my rings fit them) and American money, they were amazed at our sunburns and bug bites, and I showed them how to use my camera. In return, they handed us their children to hold, approved of the double piercings in my ears but told us we should get our noses pierced, and gave us bindis and bought us flowers to put in our hair.
They were going to Hubli to “see God,” and we bonded over religious icons (I showed them my St. Christopher necklace and my cross anklet and one of the boys showed me his necklace with Arjuna on it). They figured out I was Christian and kept saying, “Jesu Christe!” and making the sign of the cross, and I kept saying, “Arjuna! Hanuman!” It was fun.
I had so much fun, and I feel like I learned more from this trip than I have from my semester so far. It was the first time I’ve had the chance to really interact with Indians—besides my professors and classmates. This, more than my experiences wandering around with other Americans, has taught me about “real life India”—a phrase that tends to get thrown around here a lot. I feel like although I am an outsider here, India will learn to accept me. As long as I make an effort to accept it. And my goal is to try, whether this be by going out of my comfort zone in talking to people or going places without a protective group of Americans surrounding me.
(Also, for more pictures: http://web.mac.com/katarina3435/iWeb/Hyderabad,%20India/Hello%20from%20Hyderabad.html Then click the two Hampi albums.)