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Halloo! When I found out I could go to med school with a Humanities degree with an Ethnomusicology emphasis, I almost peed myself. Here's to me holding it in.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Vijayanagara Kingdom and the Queen of Lithuania

Since I forgot to bring the memory card with the pictures from His Holiness's birthday to the internet cafe with me, we are going to get out of chronological order a bit and go on a pictorial journey through our adventures in Hampi, more anciently known as Vijayanagara, the former capital of the Vijayanagara kingdom. The Vijayanagara kingdom stretched from coast to coast in South India and had economic influence as far north as China (trading records and artifacts are extant).It's kinda the biggest deal that no one has ever heard of, and provided enough ruins and mystery to keep me feeling like Indiana Jones for the extent of our trip.
Fanny packs are absolutely indispensable. Just believe me. 
This picture combines three of my favorite parts of the trip - my lovely wife, fanny packs, and these rather hilariously redundant signs warning: "Illegal activities prohibited." So, are you saying that illegal activities are illegal, or that prohibited activities are prohibited? Hmm... Buahaha.
You can't tell, but this place is freakin' cool. It's known locally as the "Underground Temple." A foot or two of water permanently floods the floor, and several dozen bats have taken roost in the ever-dark sanctum. Ace Ventura would hate it, but he doesn't know anything. Also, you can see evidence of the special place Coke has taken in our lives - it's guaranteed clean and sanitary, and roto-roots one's intestines.
A view of the king's elephant stables from below. I'm working on my double chin. The elephants really had it made back in the day - the stables are absolutely palatial, and I'm guessing daily manicures and tusk-brushings were provided.
One of my favorite things about tourist spots in India is the incredible sheisterism. I honestly admire it, and I'm more than down with people trying to make a buck or two off the tourists. This brother on the right spoke no English except for the word "different," and said this repeatedly while pointing to the ceilings here in the Queen's Bath. Each of the ceilings in the sections of the hall we're standing in has a different design. After walking with us around the perimeter, he tried to get us to pay him for being a guide, perhaps trying to seem like a government employee. I liked him, and admired his sheister-iness, but we just kept on-a walking - this kind of thing happens no less than 10 times a day in particularly touristy areas. In Hampi, only two spots require any kind of entrance fee, and everything else is free unless you actually hire a guide like the brilliant man who introduced us to the temple elephant (a few pictures down). A word to the wise - don't pay for anything unless you asked for it in India.
The carvings at Vittala Temple are very well preserved, as you can see in this very cool example of a drummer. Some of the small pillars (like the one you can see to the left of my head) are musical and give a tone when struck. Sadly, the temple in this complex with the musical pillars was under restorative construction and thus off limits. I guess that's a good enough reason to come back in a few years!
Outside the walls of this Rama temple, said to be one of the locations he lived at for a time in the Hindu epic Ramayana, we met an old Sadhu. To the right of this picture is a small Shiva temple, and behind the photographer is a very cool cleft in the mountain surrounded by Shivalinga. Just past the Shiva temple is one of the best views in Hampi. I didn't take any pictures, and I won't go into description of what I saw and did, because I have this philosophy of simply experiencing a place, and not always worrying so much about "documenting" or "recording" it. In our digital, facebook, camera-phone age, I think it's important to live as many undocumented moments as possible while still recording some things for posterity. So, if you want to see something amazing, go to the Rama temple on the hill in Hampi, go out the gate in the back wall, and hike past the white Shiva temple, and don't tell a soul more than the barest outlines of what you saw. You won't regret it.
Another Sadhu, drying his lungi in the most peaceful way possible - standing in the breeze on the steps of an ancient mandapa alongside one of Indian history's most important rivers.
While waiting for our rickshaw buddy to some pick us up, we met this little dude. He has some kind of disability, and therefore has no fear. He came and played with us for twenty minutes or so, until we walked on to save him from getting in trouble for being naughty (he started taking liberties after a while, and though we just thought it was cute and funny, his grandmother sitting across the street wasn't so amused). I'm rubbing dirt off his head - he liked it when you held his hands and let him back-bend until his head touched the ground.  

This ginormous bull was very impressive and regal (and well-endowed, as you'll see below), and lungi are absolutely the most comfortable things to wear on a long day of hiking and seeing temples. As you see, they tie up into perfect shorts, and then let down into perfectly acceptable temple wear.

This one's for Dr. Keller and Nick - whoda thunkit, this bull is a fertility god!

The old steps up Matanga Hill - very fun, and I'm very glad it wasn't raining. Barnes is braving it here with her flip-flops - I recommend going barefoot for better traction and a better pilgrimage vibe.
Near the top of Matanga Hill, Lori was craving salt water. I happened to have some.
This one's for you, Mama! Unspeakable horrors await her should she fall... :)

My favorite mechanical contraption on the planet so far. This Rube-Goldberg-esque machine (Wikipedia Rube-Goldberg if you don't know) is an automatic temple worship music player. Flip it on, and the beaters whack the drum while the bell rings at intervals. One priest can do the work of three!
Now THIS would be a favorable rebirth, for sure. The temple elephant (I think her name is Lakshmi) lives the life. She has been trained to give blessings if you give her a ten rupee note. She gets to wear jewelry, fancy make-up and all kinds of temple regalia on special occasions. Otherwise, she eats her fill of the best leaves in town and lives on temple grounds with the priests. Our guide in this complex got us a special audience with her after her official duties were over and the crowd was gone.
That's an actual look of "HOLY GIANT STATUE BATMAN!" on my face. I thought we had seen all the impressive things in Hampi already, and then I turned a corner in this hillside temple. This Ganesha statue is something like 18 feet tall and made out of one piece of stone. The gravity of the thing floored me, and still gives me the chills.

This huge Shivalinga (again, Wikipedia it if you don't know) has a mandapa all to itself, and the base is permanently in water due to some ancient rainwater channels. Legend has it that a poor widow commissioned the construction using all of her savings.

Standard Hampi. Intricately carved walls, heavy stone everything, and bare feet. I love this place.
Remember Matanga Hill from earlier? This is the shrine at the top.The craziest thing to me about Hampi wasn't how old or beautiful everything was, or even the amount of work that must have gone into the dozens of temples and so forth, but that almost all of the temples we visited are still active temples. Incense is burning, the deities have new clothes, and it is completely normal for the temple to be inhabited by the Brahmins whose families built the temples 600-1000 or more years ago. I love India, if for no other reason than that it hasn't forgotten the mystery and truth in the divine.

Inside the shrine, looking up.

Landrum (the Britney in the middle) has this thing with meditation pictures, so the girls decided to get one of all three of them meditating on top of the temple on Matanga Hill. I squatted to get a better angle, forgetting that I was wearing the lungi tied up to knee level still. This resulted in the girls getting a better angle on my family jewels, nicely nested in the biker-short style garments (they're basically see-through). Knowing a genuine photographic opportunity when I see one, I snapped about fifteen pictures before standing up. This shot shows nicely the three reactions: Lori looked straight at me while cracking up (she is married to me, after all!), Barnes (on the right) slightly averted her eyes while cracking up, and Landrum completely freaked, laughing hysterically while craning her neck as far as possible to the side, then sneaking a peek to see if I was still squatting, then throwing her head to the other side to laugh more.
I had no idea the girls were taking these pictures, but they are probably the most majestic pictures I have ever seen of myself. This is probably because they feature my best side.
The view from Matanga temple, and Lori using her doctoring skill to diagnose something Landrum had wrong with her.
Another of these cool "surveying the land" shots that the girls took while I was off in my own little/huge world. I felt like Marco Polo. But really, every man should wear a lungi on a pilgrimage up a mountain at least once. I didn't know what it meant to be a man before this.

If "Bo knows baseball," then "India knows bugs." This most-of-a-centipede found its final resting place behind a Nandi (Shiva's mount) statue. My hand is on the ground for size comparison.

On our way down the mountain, we found out that the other side has a much easier staircase. I stand by the efficacy of the way we took up the mountain by virtue of its pilgrimage qualities (Gregski, only you understand me), but it was pleasant to walk down this way. It was much easier to appreciate the view. Pay attention to that banana grove in the center of the picture, because...
we walked through it. Or, rather, we walked through part of it, decided it was going to eat us, and found a better way out of the jungle to that road you can see in the last picture. We only had to ford one river, so it wasn't too bad.

We have a sorta, kinda, half policy that any picture that gets taken has to have a member of the adventuring party in it, so you get me in this picture that is really of the coracle - that little black hat floating upside down in the water is actually a boat, and we went across this river as a party of six (the four of us and two boatmen) in the middle of the night. It was another one of those "coolest thing I never planned on doing" things.

Ok, I have to get going again, this time to get some tasty shakes with my beautiful wife, but there is a pretty good description of the kind of things we were up to on our expedition to Hampi. There are many more picture where these came from - I'll show you when I'm back in the U S and A!


  1. Epic. I think we need to hear more about this Queen of Lithuania ;)That picture of us laughing...still makes me giggle inside - ohhhhhhh boy love traveling with the Hiltons! p.s. can you email me the photos from your phone?

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