|how exactly is this a national highway?|
Since there was no room at the inn, we moved on in the morning. Our next destination was Hampi, which is about 240 miles northeast of Belur, so we got on the road before 8am. The ride was tough, and in one stretch where the road all but disappeared, it took over an hour to go twelve miles. The scenery was nice, lots of farmland again, but with the addition of herds of water buffaloes, cattle, and goats. We shared the road with numerous herdsmen moving their beasts from one place to another. As we approached one town along the way, the roadsides were filled with small trucks and carts and people walking bullocks. As we entered the center of town, the street was filled with very clean bullocks and water buffaloes being led to the market for auction(?). About eight miles before Hampi, we rode through the city of Hospet. On the main road out of the city on the Hampi side, we saw... an upholstery shop with motorcycle seats on display out front. Colin marked the location with his GPS (maybe Santa will bring us new seats for Christmas!). We did finally make it to Hampi by about 5:30 in the afternoon, found our guesthouse, registered, schlepped our junk up the stairs into our tiny room, and collapsed there for a few minutes. While taking the bags off the bikes, Colin noticed that my rack had again broken. Aarrgh, these damnable roads! Since we were exhausted and our guesthouse had a reputedly very good restaurant on the rooftop, we climbed the steps, ate a delicious dinner, and then went downstairs to bed.
|Me on Hemakuta Hill|
After yesterday's marathon ride, neither Re nor I was in a hurry to get out of bed. The combination of bad roads, speedbumps, and collapsed seat foam is hard on our butts and backs, and we ain't as young as we used to be. Sometime around 10:00 we made our way back upstairs for a big breakfast. Suitably fortified, we headed out on foot to see the local sights along the river. Hampi is a Unesco World Heritage Site, full of the remains of a former capital city of a regional royal empire. By the 16th century Hampi was a thriving metropolis of about half a million people. By the mid-1500s, however, the city was razed by a confederacy of rival sultanates. The boulder-strewn landscape is dotted with ruins for miles around. We first walked up Hemakuta Hill, which is dotted with the remains of old temples and offers an expansive view of the Virupaksha Temple and the nearby Tungabhadra River.
After surveying the sights, we made our way down through the small bazaar and to the monolithic Nandi statue. As you may recall, Nandi is Shiva's buddy, and statues of him are frequently seen on temple grounds. This Nandi was huge. After I got my picture taken sitting on Nandi's knee, we strolled around back to discover that this Nandi was at least partially anatomically correct. Jutting out the backside of Nandi was an enormous set of balls, and I tried to convince Re that rubbing them would bring her good luck and no more crashes. I don't think she believed me, but she gave them a vigorous rub anyway. Who knows? After walking back around to the front, I noticed that Nandi seemed to be smiling a little bit more. Balls rubbed, we walked up over the hill to the remains of the Achyutaraya Temple and then made our way through the ruins of the Sule bazaar. After admiring the remains of the carvings and massive size of the ruins, we walked north to the river where we followed the path to lunch. We had a delicious thali at a restaurant overlooking the river.
|Sunset at Hemakuta Hill|
Later that afternoon, we walked out to look for an ATM but found none in town. We then toured the Virupaksha Temple, the working temple in town. It is one of Hampi's oldest remaining structures, having survived the destruction of the city nearly 500 years ago. We arrived around pooja time and joined the busloads of students who were there to worship. Since the sun was setting, we quickly made our way back up Hemakuta Hill to the sunset view point. After catching up on email at an internet cafe, we got some dinner and then worked on ride reports until bedtime.
|The Queen's Bath|
Since it was Christmas day in a rather un-Christmas-y place, we decided to shower to the accompaniment of Christmas carols on the iPod. We walked back along the river to the same restaurant where we had lunch yesterday for a breakfast of fruit, muesli, curd, and honey and a cup of coffee. It wasn't my mom's Christmas coffee cake, but it was still pretty good. While we sat, we watched the kingfishers dive into the river for a holiday breakfast of their own and saw monkeys warming themselves in the sun.
|The Elephant Stable|
We then resumed our tour of Hampi's ruins with some of the outlying temples. Our first stop was the Queen's bath, which was surprisingly elaborately decorated on the inside. We then rode the short distance to the Royal Center, where we wandered through another set of massive ruins and posed for 30 or 40 more photos. We got back on the bikes and rode to the Lotus Mahal, which was surrounded by a 25 foot high stone wall punctuated with massive guard towers. Next to the Lotus Mahal were the gigantic elephant stables that once housed the royal elephants.
|The Lotus Mahal|
Some of the architecture at Hampi is completely different from most of what we've seen in India. The Lotus Mahal and the Queen's bath are more delicate looking buildings, with floral knotwork designs in the plaster and moorish style, arched and pointy windows and doorways. All the columns and hallways were symmetrically designed and created beautiful patterns from every viewing angle. The exterior of these buildings was a faded, powdery peachy colored plaster that looked especially pretty in the sunlight against the blue sky. The elephant stable was a massive building with eleven elephant-size stables, each with a different domed rooftop and decorated ceiling, and moorish doorways between the stables.
|The stone chariot|
After a quick stop at the underground temple, we rode to the Vitalla Temple. Even though we were bordering on being “templed out,” this temple was worth the visit. Located in the courtyard was a massive, stone chariot that used to be mobile despite the fact that the axles and wheels are made out of stone as well. In some places, the carving on the temples was remarkably intact and crisp. Especially impressive were the sets of slender pillars that were carved out of a single piece of stone. Some of the pillars in the temple are musical and will generate a tone if tapped (yes, it's a World Heritage site, but no, they weren't cordoned off, so we tapped on them to see if it worked, and yes, it does).
After all this architectural wonder, we were in temple overload and decided to ride back into Hospet to buy a bottle of something celebratory (“of what?” you ask. Um, Christmas?). Since Hampi is a temple town, alcohol sales are banned, so Hospet is the nearest den of bad habits. We rode the eight miles back, found a liquor store just down from the upholstery shop, so Colin went to ask about getting our seats redone while I went to buy some (not) hooch. When I returned, Colin said the upholsterer would gussy up our seats the next morning while we wait for 350 rupees per seat (about 7 USD each). I opened my mouth to haggle on the price, but when I realized how little it actually was, I quickly shut my mouth. For dinner, we went back to our favorite rooftop restaurant for Christmas dinner. Colin had his new traditional holiday dinner of falafel, hummus, pita, and chips. Some of you may recall that two years ago we arrived in Bangkok late on Christmas night after a looong bus ride from Phnom Penh, and that was what we found for dinner that night too. I, however, was a little skeptical of Indian falafel for some reason, so I had paneer masala and rice. Both of our meals were surprisingly delicious. After a nightcap of Diet Coke and Indian whiskey, we called it a night.
|Our butts' savior|
The following morning we rode to Hospet after breakfast to have our seats redone. With all the miles, jolts, and fat asses on them, the foam seems to have lost some of its liveliness. We arrived at the upholsterer by the designated time of 10:30, removed the seats, and tried to convey what we wanted done. The man spoke quite a bit of English, but not enough to get the full extent of what was needed, so he called over another man who spoke a bit more English. The plan we arrived at was to add between two and three inches of foam to the seats (we initially thought he'd take apart our stock seats) and make new covers. He found two pieces of lightly used foam that were rear seat pads from a different bike in their previous lives and proceeded to shape and then sculpt them to fit our bikes. He glued the foam to the top of our stock seat covers and then stitched two new, much taller seat covers to fit. He did a fine job, and the seat is very much more comfortable, but you know what a shoe with a lift on it looks like? That's our bike seats. Colin says it's a little Frankenstein-y. My bike is especially so, since in addition to the new seats, Colin also took my rear rack to a welder to be fixed again, and it hopefully will hold this time. Between the scrapes, rough welds, and “lift” seat, all I need is a zipper neck to be truly Frankenstein (wait, would that make Colin's bike, the bride of Frankenstein?).