Along the Away

a traveler's tales

Archive for March, 2011

The other weekend it was time to get out of Bangalore again, this time Alicia and I headed to the historical town of Hampi, about a 7 hour drive north of Bangalore.

We booked tickets on the overnight sleeper bus for Friday night, returning overnight on Sunday (arriving in time to go to work on Monday morning – nice!)

The town of Hampi is situated amongst the ruins of the ancient capital city of Vijayanagara, the empire that ruled the south of India during the 14th to 16th centuries. The magnificent ruins of temples, palaces and buildings (some hanging in there quite well) cover a 25km square area and have put the site on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Hampi rocks

The landscape is all rock, boulder, stone, rock. Of all shapes and sizes, perched precariously atop each other in random formations, some looking suspiciously glued together (how are they not falling??), some littered about exactly where they fell, others forming the large piles reaching to the sky and defining the Hampi skyline. The ruins blend seamlessly into the scene, despite the hustle and bustle of a functioning tourist town nestled amongst them.

There appear to be hundreds of sites around the place, but there are a couple of areas with clusters of must-see’s so we chose to walk around the sites in the ‘Sacred Centre’ on one day and on the second day hired bicycles to explore the expansive ‘Royal Centre’.

The most significant site in Hampi is Virupaksha Temple, it is one of India’s oldest temples, built in the 7th century and has been in use without interuption ever since. The architecture is amazing, the sheer height and intricacy of the carved towers and pillars is awe-inspiring and their condition considering their age is mind-blowing!

After visiting the Virupaksha Temple we wandered along Hampi Bazaar, the main road through Hampi lined with food vendors, clothes and textile sellers and all the usual tourist town shops. We visited the Nandi Statue, walked up the ancient stairs and found many temples, statues and monuments. I won’t list them all here because they are many, and it’s not much use to you if you’re not there (in other words, I don’t remember the names). If you are going, we found the website Explore Hampi really helpful and even followed a walking tour and bicycle tour from the website (another reason to worship the iPhone).

Some visual highlights for me were:

Being out of the city and getting some SPACE! The landscape was so unique with it’s rocky horizons. I particularly loved the view from the Nandi Shrine, looking down at Hampi Bazaar with Virupaksha Temple at the end.

Walking through the temples and buildings, exploring the sites which we pretty much had to ourselves.

The Tungabhadra River was a refreshing sight amongst the dry, dusty landscape. And like in every place in the world, the energy of the water draws the locals to it’s side.

Bike riding around the sites was pretty energy-zapping in the heat, but it was still worth it. Whenever I travel I jump at the opportunity to hire a bike to meander around. It was good fun and a convenient way to cover the longer distances. And I only fell off once, but I was already stationary so it doesn’t count. Definitely not.

The weather was gorgeous. Actually it was bordering on unbearably hot, but looking back the pictures all I see is brilliant blue sky and a happy sunshine-y day which does wonders for wiping the memory of the sweat trickling, mouth parching, zombie-inducing bike ride in 40 degree heat. It was a lovely summer day on a bike with the wind in my hair. Let’s remember that.

The impressive statues of Hindu deities that we found in the temples were awesome too. Here is Lord Ganesha, in all his glory.

I also couldn’t get over how old these structures are yet they are still standing proudly and still in use. And everywhere!

I’ve bombarded you with photos but they don’t convey the natural beauty of the area, I definitely recommend you visit if you can! The locals were also very friendly, some stopping to ask me to take their photos :)

Beware the western hippies hanging out in the cafes though – how embarrassing! (Fully aware I will be one in 6 weeks, you can laugh at me then).

We were back to Bangalore on the bus overnight, time for work on Monday morning. It was not as bad as it could be owing to the rather comfy sleeper-bed situation on the Indian night buses. The rocking and pot-hole flying gradually becomes quite soothing, and the Hindi-Bollywood pop music (loud enough to keep the driver awake) will only serve to enrich your dreaming experiences – unless you are have ridden a bike for 5 hours in 40 degree heat, then you will be sufficiently exhausted for the soundtrack to not penetrate your sleep on the way back.

All in all, Hampi was a fantastic mini-break weekend and it was great to have the opportunity to explore such a historical area.

Until next time!

Following on from my previous posts Indian Fantasy #1: Attend an Indian wedding and Indian Make-over: Sari Buying, comes the final in this trilogy – The Wedding. Yes, the wedding reception that has been dominating all conversations and shopping trips this past week. As a colleague joked, “I expect to see the event reported in the Bangalore Times tomorrow – ‘Australian’s steal limelight at Bangalore wedding of the year’. Well yes, maybe our preparations were comparable to those of the bride herself, but we are talking about Indian Fantasy #1 here; ie A Big Deal.

Anyway, following sari material shopping on Monday night, a trip to the tailor Tuesday night and accessory shopping Wednesday night, our (their) big day arrived! We were quick to get home after work and start the preparations. Equipped with a ‘How to wrap a sari’ YouTube video and what Alicia remembered from a quick tutorial with a colleague at Janaagraha we attempted the Great Wrap ourselves. We didn’t look too bad… maybe a little crumpled… and a little puffy… was that how it was supposed to look? We trooped down the stairs (not easy in a badly wrapped sari by the way) and presented ourselves to Mrs Singh. After she recognised us (two white girls in sari’s would confuse anyone) and had a chuckle, she examined what we’d tried to do and then unwrapped us and masterfully put us back together the right way. The interesting – and tricky – part of the sari is the pleating. It’s not really noticeable that it’s there, but the success of the sari is all in the details! I have to admit, the sari’s looked fabulous when Mrs Singh was done (for the record, no, crumpled and puffy is not how it’s meant to look). Indian makeover complete!

All wrapped up and ready to go; Alicia, Mrs Singh and myself.

We travelled to the wedding with Mrs Singh and her family, Alicia and I were lucky enough to travel in Mrs Singh’s old vintage car – very cool! At the Jayamahal Palace hotel we drove in through the gates and up the drive which was lit on each side with lots of fairy lights; the fairytale vibe continued as we stepped out of the car and onto a red carpet leading onto the palace lawn. On one side of the carpet a loud, energetic band were drumming away and setting the scene. On the other side, waiters with trays of nibblies and drinks indicated the way – it was an amazing welcome!

A warm welcome :)

We walked through to the lawn where tables were scattered around under massive trees from which sparkling fairy lights were hanging down – it was magical!

There was a big stage adorned with flowers and lights, and when the bride and groom arrived, they stood there to receive the best wishes from their guests. Alicia and I were employed to help out by standing on the stage behind the bride and groom and took the presents and flowers that were handed to them – it was partly thrilling to be in the middle of the action, and partly unnerving to realise that in most of the photos with their guests the bride and groom now have two white girls in sari’s standing in the background – not sure how they’ll feel about that!

Helping out on stage.

When Mrs Singh, her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren Kartini and Varun went on stage to greet the couple and have a photo with them we were included! The groom had to blink a few times to recognise our sari-selves, and although I hadn’t met the bride before, I was excited to say hi and tell her I loved her beautifully henna-ed hands.

The guests congratulate the bride and groom on the stage.

Following this we joined the line of the buffet and loaded up our plates with delicious Indian food and sat with ‘our Indian family’ at a table under the fairy light trees.

One of the best aspects of the night was checking out the fashion of the other guests; I was steered clear of purchasing a bling bling sari (and to be fair, I am grateful as I love the one I bought) but there were plenty of sparkly, glitzy ones to admire, and the colours were amazing! The guys in traditional clothing (like the sherwani) also looked fabulous.

The wedding was of the Muslim faith, and for an arranged marriage; we were also told that it was on the grander scale of weddings, not all in India would be so big. As well as the band and the red carpet, there were also fire works when the bride and groom arrived – wowsers!

Before leaving we were encouraged to try the pan for the first time by Mrs Singh’s daughter. She explained that it is traditionally put in the mouth and chewed after a meal to cleanse the palette and aid digestion. We had the sweet variety, which consists of a Betel leaf with a layer of lime paste, candied fennel seeds and sugar and then folded up to be put inside the cheek and chewed. It was quite different from anything I have had before, I can’t say I really enjoyed it – perhaps it is an acquired taste!

Then it was time to go home! It was a great night and full of new sights and sounds, plus we got to meet lots of lovely new people – AND we got to wear a sari which was really comfortable and feels so lovely and feminine to wear. But now, definitely on the hunt for another occasion to wear it…

As I have a wedding to go to, it is essential to purchase a sari so that I can accompany my Indian family looking like a respectable Indian guest. Because it’s quite likely this sari will be my one and only, purchasing it was actually quite an overwhelming experience. Window shopping at the many sari stores here in Bangalore almost paralysed me. So many colours! So many patterns! So many fabrics! How do I choose?

Luckily we secured the help of Rashmi, who is my colleague in the Communication Department at Janaagraha, to navigate Alicia and I through the process. As we went along I was all the more grateful to be under her guidance; who knew sari buying was fraught with such social risks and potential faux pas’? It quickly became apparent that the biggest danger I was facing was that of Cringing Tackiness. Rashmi steered me clear of all the sparkling, embroidered, beaded and multi-coloured atrocities that my inner bollywood wannabe made a bee-line for. It was to be pure silk, colourful (but by no means rainbow-ed) and under no circumstances sparkle-y. Ok then. Minor head space adjustment required and then I was good to go.

The great sari search begins under Rashmi's guidance

If this narrowing down was supposed to make it easier it didn’t seem so; choice after choice was pulled down from the wall lined shelves holding thousands of pieces of folded material. After dismissing a lot, and admiring a few, the attendants gradually figured out where our tastes were going. Alicia, the black-workshipping Melbournite was favouring the darker options, and I, as everyone who knows me would predict, gravitated towards the pinks and purples.

Pink was inevitable.

The trying-on method involved the attendant pleating a panel of the fabric and then throwing it over one shoulder so we could parade and swish around in front of the mirror; like so:

Sari swishing, a necessary part of the sari buying process

We finally made out choices and paid up; both our sari’s were 100% natural silk and cost around the Rs 4000 each, so just under AU$100, and worth every rupee :)

Sari owners at last!

Buying the sari material doesn’t stop there – at this point it’s just a beautiful length of fabric! The next day Rashmi again helped us out and took us to a tailor who measured us up for our choli tops. The place was really tiny and there was fabric and thread everywhere, a guy on a sewing machine in the corner and a couple of guys on the floor hand sewing the clasps onto some choli tops.

A lot of work happening in a tiny space!

Cutting the fabric for the choli from the sari piece.

We were shown a book where we were able to pick from a book the shape we wanted the back of our choli top to look like, then told we could pick it up the next day. Needless to say, very exciting! The results will be seen in the next post: Indian Fantasy #1: Indian Wedding Success.