Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Losing it all in Jodhpur & Pushkar

The blue city of Jodhpur,an 'Evertonian's delight!'
No sooner had we beaten a path out of dusty Jaisalmer, than I realised that I had left my flip flops behind at the guest house.  I know you're thinking "why the heck is she talking about flip flops?", but stay with me on this one. You might recall that in both Goa and the ashram, I was repeatedly being told to "let go" of my earthly attachments, that the universe would provide so long as I trusted and surrender to this possibility. Living the London media lifestyle where everything in my life was perfectly scheduled and controlled by none other than me, this was a difficult concept for me to grasp. Put simply, what I was lacking in, was faith. The first time I attempted to put having faith into practice was in the ashram. 

Siva temple at sunset c/o 'FotoSol'
One morning as I rose for a forbidden trip out of there with some other renegades for a pre-sunrise temple visit, I came downstairs at 5am to realise that my flip flops were not where I had left them the previous night. I hunted and hunted and inspected around 500 other pairs of flip flops left outside various dorms in the ashram but I could not find my own. Despite my best efforts and that of other people urging me  to "let it go", not to worry - because they would come back to me and if they didn't, it "didn't matter" - I could not. As the day wore on I became extremely irritated about the missing flip flops, so much so that I could barely concentrate on my yoga.  Now I know this sounds melodramatic, but you have no idea how much I love those flip flops. Black Havaianas, size 39-40 - just perfect for my sized 6.5 feet. While your immediate response might simply be "buy a new pair", it's not that simple in India. Nothing is simple here. 

The cows in Jodhpur took no prisoners... 'FotoSol'
About an hour into our bus to Jodhpur, I realised that I was once more missing my precious footwear. Suddenly, a calm smile spread over my face and I told myself that the universe would bring them back to me. A quick call to Ashraf confirmed that, completely randomly, he had decided to go to Delhi the next day and his train would go via Jodhpur, at which point it would stop for half an hour and he could bring the flip flops. Incredible! Not only had my spiritual development  markedly improved, but the universe had delivered. And a good job too.. for our arrival in the beautiful blue city of Jodhpur brought with it several other revelations of wordly loss... My beloved sony HD movie camera, only recently purchased had been rendered completely broken by grains of desert sand that had lodged in the zoom. My padlock had gone. My torch was missing. And yet readers and yet...I greeted this all with the same beautific calm smile, telling myself that they are only things, and things don't matter. I can get by. I feel that I have made such progress. 

Me and Liz ramble into the fort c/o 'FotoSol'
Sadly, I do not have many photographs of this leg of the trip, but I truly felt loved, blessed and blissed. I was still basking in the glow of meeting the gorgeous people we had met in Udaipur, not least the R.E. and Fa and So changed their travel plans to continue onwards with us. All was well. We spent an evening wandering around the incredible Mehrangarh fort, although I was sad that we missed the Hands of the Sati, the tiny hand prints of 15 young women who had committed ritual self harm by immolating themselves in spite of it being illegal, to demonstrate their grief for the dead Maharaja Mansingh.The fort itself is gargantuam - a mind boggling maze of beauty. In the dying sun we and prayed to Lord Siva in a tiny temple at evening puja. All of the time I had been praying to Siva... little did I know what he had in store for me...                      

Atypical blue house in Jodhpur c/o 'FotoSol'
The next day we wandered around the bizarres of Jodhpur, the beautiful blue city - an Evertonian's delight! Liz and I got measured up for the traditional colourful Rajasthani dress especially for the wedding that we would be attending in Mumbai. We dined that evening with a lovely Italian couple we had randomly met in a guest house whilst making a booking, before dashing to the station to meet Ashraf who would reunite me with my flip flops. What an experience that was! Arriving late to the station, we were the only white people and certainly the only women there. Hundreds of people lay sleeping under blankets on the platforms or outside the station. Every time we looked up, a crowd of men had shuffled closer to us, their inquiring eyes turning away as soon as we met them. But when we looked up again, they had shuffled a little closer - pantomime style - and soon we were surrounded. We met Ashraf, shared a chai and I got my Havaianas back. Thank you, Ashraf. Thank you, Universe.  

Liz flying over the lake on the zipline 
Jodhpur was a bit of a whirlwind, the denoument being flying over the city on a series of ziplines, blinded by Yves Klein blue. Yes, I was pooing my pants, but channeled Hanuman the monkey god and threw myself off a series of aerial crevices, over rivers and the turrets of the fort. What a wonderful, exhilarating way to view the vista! I'm sad to say that we barely scratched the surface of Jodhpur but had to move onwards in a kick-bollocks scramble, dashing off in a rickshaw trailing sari silk, we very nearly missed the only bus outta there. Why does everything take so long to do in this country?

Me and Liz, at the centre of it all in Milkman guesthouse

According to the Lonely Planet (!), Brahma dropped a lotus on the ground, and Pushkar appeared. It is indeed a truly beautiful jewel of a place. Liz and I had attracted a rabble of new friends along the way and soon became ensconced in a crazy hippy guest house 'Milkman' owned by an Indian family, with dogs and children running amok, accompanied by David the Israeli, the Italian couple we met in Jodhpur, some German hipsters and a couple of English girls. Here we felt that we were full of love and radiating light, attracting like wherever we went. 

Beautiful Pushkar Lake
However, in spite of ridding ourselves of our attachments to physical objects, we still felt that we were carrying around some emotional baggage. I suggested that we undertake a cleansing ceremony and so the next day, we walked with David and the German boys (who, despite being hipsters were wonderfully open minded) to the Savitri temple on a hill overlooking the city. We cleansed the area with incense, cast a circle - ringing a bell to ward off evil spirits and placed the elements at the four compass orientations. We then called in the energies, held hands, meditated and spoke affirmations. We had previously written down all of the attachments we wanted to rid ourselves of and ritually burned them, releasing them with grace and asking that this, or something better, would manifest in their place. The flames burned interminably with a dark intensity.. There were definitely some powerful emotions on those pieces of paper... After a further meditation and affirmation, we undid the circle, took prasad and rose water, then we embraced one another, heart to heart. As we descended the hill, I felt lighter and, on impulse, walked into a tiny little kitsch Indian barber shop and asked him to shave off some of my hair. After the ritual, that little symbolic act of 'letting go' to the thing I attach my strongest sense of femininity, felt fitting. 

Lord Shiva, ever-omnipresent
The rest of Pushkar passed in a beautiful daze, although letting go of all of those attachments brought some subconscious scum to the surface. Doing all of this spiritual work isn't always easy on the old emotions. But nonetheless, progress had been made on faith front. Now I just have to extend it beyond flip flops, to cameras and work up from there - eventually to the ability to have faith that the bigger things in life I crave will come to me. 

From small acorns...

Liz and me - works in spiritual progress! 

Monday, 20 February 2012

Jaisalmer Desert & Camel Safari

View of Jaisalmer fort from our guest house rooftop

We finally left the confines of Lal Ghat and continued on our merry way to the desert town of Jaisalmer. I would like to say that the journey was comfortable, but  we endured a 15hr bus journey where temperatures reached below freezing. Thankfully, the poo Gods were kind to poorly Liz and she managed to last the journey on a couple of toilet stops. However, we were cursed with an overzealous bus driver with a penchant for going over the bumps too fast which resulted in breakdown and replacement bus (not cool when you've popped a sleeping pill, having to change buses in a dark late night service station). However, we finally got there around lunchtime, the dusty desert town of Jaisalmer.
Arising from our glamorous tent

When in Udaipur we had booked a 'tent' instead of a room and had had romantic notions of arriving to a desert marquee, hung with Indian silks. Not so. We were shown to an Ikea-style two man tent that had been pitched on the roof of our hostel, Mystic Jaisalmer. But it was cosy, with plenty of mattresses and blankets and our host Ashraf was wonderful and convivial. 

Camel all dressed up for the show
The views from the roof of the town and Jaisalmer fort - a giant sinking sandcastle - were stunning. We collected ourselves after our journey and headed into town to watch the main event - the desert festival that we had travelled so far to come and see. Due to our prolonged stay in Udaipur, we had missed the previous days festivities, which involved moustache growing competitions and tug-of-wars between Jaisalmer locals and tourist. But we were very lucky to bump into Mr. Desert (who told me I was beautiful by the way), see some camel dressing and a camel tattoo. All in all, it was wonderfully naff.

Me, the Maharani & Mr. Desert. Oo er!
Dressed to the nines in the clothes we had tailor made in Madurai and the turbans we had purchased in Udaipur, we drove out to the desert the next day for our camel safari with Mr. Khan, our tour guide and an intimate group of three other travellers - a Japanese youth called Taka and a lovable, melodious Argentinean couple called 'Fa' and 'So'. We decided that we would prefer not to attend the desert festival, but instead have our own little party in the wilderness  under the stars. After riding our camels into the desert, we collected firewood and set up 'camp' (a fire and blankets). As the sun was going down, Fa, So and I stood in a triad (the sacred number) and performed asanas as the red orb sank into the sand. Getting into the headstand was tricky given the terrain, but I managed it and contemplated the sand and the sky and the nothingness from my inverted position.
Desert sun
Desert sands
Me and 'Bri'

Our group contributed to the culinary effort by pressing fresh dough into chappattis, whilst Mr. Khan cooked up a feast and Sunny (another Jaisalmer village local) went off to procure some moonshine. We ate our fill then sat swigging whiskey and singing around the campfire - traditional desert songs were replaced by mine and Fa's ipods when we realised we shared the same taste in music. It was extremely cold in the desert and we were worried about being cold, but Mr. Khan tucked us in under heavy blankets and we slept beside the dying embers of the fire. As I lay there, bathed in the white light of the full moon, despite the emptiness of our surroundings - nothing but sand and stars and sky, I have never felt closer to the cosmos. During the night, I awoke to feel footprints stamping over my body. I poked my head out, wondering what was going on, only to find that a stray desert dog and her tiny black puppy (who I had been keeping warm in my hands earlier around the campfire) had come back to me, finding my energy in the cold night. And so the three of us slept in a tangle of blankets, creatures of the desert.
Mr. Khan cooking breakfast

Our desert men were already up with the steaming chai when we sleepily poked out our heads and shored up with a hearty desert breakfast of hard boiled eggs, jam, toast and biscuits. We tacked up our camels (I nicknamed mine 'Brian' - I dunno - he just looked like one and seemed to respond when I called him 'Bri' in a cockney accent). He was certainly a strong beast, having not only me to carry on his hump, but all of our food and water supplies. We rode for several hours through the desert, mostly in coin the phrase of our Japanese friend "my ass hole is dead". Along the way we stopped off at a village and, before we knew it, were ushered in by some local women, to sit outside their mud houses (constructed from cow dung, water and sand) whilst they served us chai, played with their children, chatted with us and, rather randomly, insisted on painting my nails. 
'Desert manicure'

One of the village ladies
We gave the girls some bindis and the money I had in my purse but were conflicted. So many times in India we have been asked for money - harangued even, or practically physically accosted. I have come to the conclusion that in cases like this, when we are sharing hospitality and being allowed to voyeuristically take photographs, that we should respond in kind with gifts or money. However, I won't give money to beggars (or indeed their children) as I believe that it only keeps people on the street. A tough and often heartbreaking call, but so it must be.  
Village children 

Ashraf, our host at Mystic Jaisalmer, is a spiritual soul having journeyed through his home country on a quest for knowledge, visited various ashrams and studied several disciplines and meditation techniques. We had a few late night chats with him on the roof and on our return he cleared out a room for us to have an impromptu satsang. The three of us sat listening to some of my beautiful aarti music from the Sivananda ashram and then had an incredible meditation to the sound of Osho music. This was followed by an Osho 'dance meditation'. I felt a little silly at first as I whirled like a dervish -dizzying, kaleidoscopic sensations in my mind before collapsing on the floor. I don't know if it was the meditation or the desert air but I slept soundly again that night, snug and warm inside our little two-man. 
The colours of Rajasthan: crowds gather at the desert festival

During my stay at Mystic Jaisalmer, I had absentmindedly picked up a book and the minute I set eyes on the words inside I was mesmorised - they spoke to me and rang so true. Every chapter I picked seemed to be relevant to the trials and tribulations I had faced on my spiritual quest and answered many of the questions that I had been struggling with. Each morning in Jaisalmer I arose early and sat alone, cross legged and bathed in morning sunlight to read from the book on the roof and meditate on the sentiments within. Imagine my surprise to discover that it was in fact a collection of quotations from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the guru who founded the Art of Living ashram. This seemed to me to be more than a coincidence as one of my friends who I had met at my ashram had talked to me very enthusiastically about it and urged me to go.  Ashraf wouldn't let me leave the hostel go before he summoned one of his staff to retrieve the book (that I had reluctantly left behind) and pressed it into my hands.. 

His n hers turbans
In Jodhpur a couple of days later, Liz got an opportunity to go to Bangalore, the home of Sri Sri's ashram. It appears that the universe is trying to tell me something. And so, I have made arrangements to head up to Bangalore on my way back up north. The question is...will I find my living guru...?

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Udaipur, what is it good for...?

Absolutely nothing! Or so it would seem..... Our first Rajasthani town had other plans for us....
View of Lake Pichola from our guest house 
After another epic journey from Hampi involving a semisleeper bus to Mumbai followed by a flight, Liz and I found ourselves in the wondrous north of India. It was everything we had been waiting for, the labyrinthine streets, the marble palaces, the glassy lakes. We were in no hurry so spent the first night with a lovely couple of lads we had picked up at the airport chilling over a few beers. We took a room at Lal Ghat, a 300 year old stone house, complete with courtyard and view of Lake Pichola. Our boudoir was very romantic, we slept by candlelight in a tiny stone room, two iron cots and - for the first time - sheets, a quilt and blankets, which served to keep the chilly Udaipur air out very well.
Donkeys in the streets of Udaipur
However, on the first morning - disaster. Liz awoke with muscle pains and the Delhi belly. At first we thought it was due to the hatha yoga class that we had taken on our last morning in Hampi with an ethereal American - a beautiful class which opened our heart chakras right up...I even turned into a leaf during tree pose, but more on this to follow). So I toddled off and left Liz, seeking help for a dodgy knee from an ayurvedic doctor. I agreed to an innocuous massage which turned into something  dubiously sexual.. The guy painted herbs onto my body in a pattern and lit a candle on top before performing some 'healing', even carrying an emormous mirror in from a furniture shop at one point so I could look at myself as he did it. Hmmmmm. That won't be an experience I will be repeating. I ended the evening at the Monsoon Palace, a deserted building that is usually inhabited only in rainy season - they built it so high on a hill that they didn't think of the logistics of pumping water up there. Classic Indian planning... 
View of the washing ghats from our guest house
My second day in Lal Ghat was spent in a similar affliction to Liz. I felt so unwell and we were both beginning to meditate on the fact that we had refused to take antimalarials and had been drinking local water since we arrived (especially since there were open sewers in Udaipur). Perhaps we had been a little cavalier in our all-embracing approach. And so the day was a write off - but what a beautiful place to be an invalid, cloistered in our ascetic stone cell. 
Perhaps the local water wasn't the best to drink....
On the third day we were determined to see some of Udaipur. It had become a running joke that we had not even made it to the City Palace, literally a few doors away from our guest house and a star attraction of the city. A German friend that we had met had had the foresight to hire a car (typical German efficiency despite his protestations to the contrary) and we drove 95km out to see the Ranakpur Jain temples. Riding through the rough desert scrub of the western Aravalli range, the northern landscape lay in marked contrast to the lush, tropical greenery of Kerala. The drive, although wonky and a little risky given the precarious state of our stomachs, was worth it. We had to leave our cameras, tobacco, leather items and Liz (!) outside before going in (it was her time of the month...) But she respected the custom and despite having made the drive, meditated under a Banyan tree for the duration of our spell inside, being joined by a little chipmunk who jumped onto her shoulder as she was in deep trance. 

Colourful murals adorn Rajasthani doorways 
Since arriving in India I have been coming to grips with Hinduism and feeling very at home with it, relating to the colour, the sensuality and the differing aspects of God very comfortably. Walking into a Jain temple (a religion about which I had very little knowledge), my immediate response was that I had no idea how to access it. Instead of experiencing recognition of one or two Hindu deities in an inner sanctum, here were 30 or so statues of varying sizes, all looking like Buddha - some scary with illuminated glass eyes. My state of indifference however, was banished suddenly when what I can only describe as an enormous wave of grace swept over me and the words "Peace. Peace. Beauty. Serenity." were resounding softly and persistently in my ears. I felt fresh and free. Suddenly, I felt better. 

Columns inside the Ranakpur temple c/o Sai Prema blog
I spent an hour or so inside, undertaking a meditation in front of a serpent carving scattered with rose petals and admiring the breathtaking architecture, the foliate scrollwork and geometric patterns. The building itself has 24 pillared halls with 80 domes that are supported by 400 columns (no two the same and apparently the hue of marble changes dependent on the hour of the day). Despite repeated attempts, allegedly not a soul has managed to count them definitively and no two column is the same. On exiting the temple we overheard a guide tell a tourist that when they entered the temple they would be overcome with a feeling of peace. This is exactly what we had both experienced in there independently and it was wonderful to hear that affirmation. On top of this...I felt better. I was healed.

James Bond 'Octopussy', c/o the lovely Tom Berendt
On arrival back at Lal Ghat, Liz and I fell into the company of a rather fabulous couple and a certain rambunctious Englishman, whose bubbling enthusiasm and infectious energy carried us to the roof of a nearby restaurant to watch the 1983 James Bond movie Octopussy. This is a nightly event in Udaipur, which was the setting for the spectacularly kitsch movie, "featuring a band of Amazon trapeze artists / jewel smugglers who help Bond prevent nuclear tragedy. How can you not love a film which culminates with an army of Bond girls clad in red polyester bodysuits storming Udaipur's Monsoon Palace by trapeze, joined by Bond in a Union Jack hot air balloon" (thanks to The screening is a nightly affair in this town we could see and hear Octopussy being simultaneously played on various other screens at surrounding restaurants - slightly distracting, given that they were all at different points in the reel! 

Rajasthani saffron liquor
Afterwards, I crossed over the lake with our new friends and tried a local Rajasthani liquor that I had been long seeking - a saffron infused drink of the Maharajas, flavoured with over 20 different exotic ingredients...I wish I could say that it tasted as good as it sounded, but like all booze I have tried in India, it was paint stripper to my palate. After my miraculous healing experience, the infamous 'Wilson Second Wind' made an appearance and I stayed up with the R.E. talking and laughing about everything and nothing, being mischievous and seeing in the dawn together while a far away guitar strummed some gentle tunes. 

We felt rubbish the next day! But luckily (kinda), so did Liz and.. tragedy... Stephanie (one half of the delicious couple we had met) had fallen ill. So onward travel plans were jettisoned by all and here we were again for another night in Lal Ghat (slowly starting to become Hotel California). However, Liz managed to leave her sickbed briefly to join us in a spell of turban shopping and we picked up some fabulous headgear for our stint in the desert. You should have seen us striding through town in our colourful turbans - to the smiles and delight of the locals who were calling us "Maharani" (queens)! Later that night, our new crew ventured out in the evening for some famous local Thali, in a bizarre experience that I can only describe as akin to a Grand Prix pitstop - we were poured into the restaurant, several shades of spicy food was stuffed down our throat before we were promptly poured back out again. A helter skelter rickshaw ride, whiled away by screaming karaekoe at the top of our lungs and we were once again in Lal Ghat.
The boys rocking some turbans - pics of ours to follow in next blog
We had to get out. When I paid our bill on the final day I realised that we had been there for 5 x nights! I couldn't believe it...We were usually so efficient with all of our time when travelling and had never stayed in one place so long, having achieved so little. Ironically, when we finally went to see the goddamn city Palace, they were just closing the gates! Liz and I had to laugh. The universe wanted us to stop here and rest awhile and just do nothing. So we had to surrender. We spent a peaceful evening eating pasta under the magenta of a bougainvillea and pondered upon the wonderful friends we had made. That was definitely the positive of being in one place for so long. Afterwards, Liz still being in a bad way, me and a lovely Israeli guy called David spent a quiet half hour giving her reiki healing and the powerful waves of energy swept over us and sealed our sense of calm and love. Blissful. 
Colourful shopping in the Rajasthani streets 
Every night in Udaipur we had heard traditional Indian music emanating from the cultural centre next door, but typically had never made it there to see it. With David, we climbed up to a platform, covered in tangled plants, pots and vines - to a peep hole he had discovered in the wall. And through it we watched a puppet show and danced to the drums in the dusk air and the peace. To me this encapsulated Udaipur...we were rebels, on the outskirts, prevented from accessing the usual workaday tourist experience we were outside, looking in. But we were dancing. We were happy. 

Through the peeky hole 

Friday, 10 February 2012

Hampi Happenings

So, readers...we reluctantly left behind the sleepy Keralan backwaters to spend a day exploring the historic town of Fort Cochin. Due to our tight onward schedule, we had to go at lightning speed,  hiring a rickshaw driver to take us around the main sites. Doubtless our lack of time had something to do with our impression, but I couldn't help but feel shortchanged by Cochin - I was expecting the rich history of the maharajas and the spice infused intensity of Rushdie's A Moor's Last Sigh. In reality we got the Western menus, pollution and hassle of tourist town. We were pleased to leave it behind and snuggle into our double bunk on the overnight bus to Bangalore. 
All dressed up in Bangalore

Liz is a DJ and music producer and has been looked after by various music promoters at points during her trip. We were really lucky to receive more famous Indian hospitality from one of her business contacts on arrival in Bangalore: collected from the bus and taken to a serviced apartment, ours for the day to chill out in during our stopover before our onward night bus (the second in a row).  The lovely and charming Praveen even facilitated a visit to the biggest Shiva statue in India, where Liz and I put a coin in the pool, chanted Om Namah Shivaya 7 times and prayed for our wish to come true underneath the majestic 65ft statue of the creator and the destroyer (classic India - monetary opportunism meets Indian superstition). But nevertheless we dived into our pockets and made our wishes and more on Lord Shiva later...(maybe by the end of my travels we will see if the wish came true...) We were wined and dined over a fine business lunch and enjoyed a few cocktails in a Bangalore bar with the house music elite (booze! finally!) before being poured onto what was the cosiest night bus we have slept on so far - proper beds and blankets! Imagine our disorientation after being woken from  deep slumber at 5.00am to be hurried off the bus to shouts of "Hospet, Hospet"! No mate! We want to stay on! 
Shiva statue in Bangalore
Will my wish come true.....

Arriving in the chill before first light, we had no choice but to take a rickshaw the 12km to Hampi. The ride was atmospheric - passing cow-drawn carts with whole families swathed in turbans atop, on their way to the fields to work. The sky was dark but inexplicable fires blazed in the distance, lighting up the horizon in flaming orange. The sun was rising as we drew into the historic Bazaar, a hotch-potch of historic ruins dating from the Vijayanagara Empire (that's around 1336 to 1565 to you). We haggled our price down on a beautiful beach hut in Paradise Gardens, far from the madding crowds and nestled amongst a banana plantation, we stationed ourselves there for the first night. A happy afternoon was whiled away shopping, taking in the relaxed vibe of the open air, prayer flag strewn restaurants and visiting the historic Virupaksha temple (a Shiva temple with an imposing 49 metre high tower at it's entrance.) 
Hampi bazaar
Virupaksha temple tower

The next morning we took the little boat across the river to Virupapurgaddi - we had heard on the traveller grapevine that this place was much more relaxed than the main Hampi bazaar and weren't disappointed. A series of guest houses nestled against the rice paddies lined the river banks. Prices were more reasonable than in the bazaar and there were plenty of chilled out eateries to get that much sought after luxury - fruit and muesli for breakfast (read: a break from curry and samber three times / day!). After having our fill in another rooftop restaurant strewn with floor mats and cushions, Liz and I abandoned the horizontal posture that Hampi had come to increasingly foster and went out to explore Kishkindha - the kingdom of the monkey God, mentioned in Indian Ramayana mythology. 
Chilling out
Messing about on the river
River crossing
Hampi and it's surrounding areas are strewn with ruins and temples and temperatures were soaring. Knowing that it would be impossible to walk and impractical to bike, we surrendered ourselves to the Indian way and went off to hire scooters. Unfortunately, no sooner had Liz sat on her bike she accelerated too quickly, lost control and crashed, rising several feet in the air in spectacular fashion before landing on her back and leaving a nearby water pump gushing with water. Lucky that she was wearing a rucksack, which certainly saved her back, if not her life and the only damage done was to the exploded tube of suncream that had taken most of the impact. (She swears that this is the second near-death experience she has survived unscathed since leaving Amma's ashram). Despite having had a similar experience my first time on a moped in Goa (I hadn't braved it again since) I knew that it was now or never. After a few wobbly tries, I set off (complete with pillion rider) to lose my scooting virginity. The universe was kind to us- and we didn't falter once, despite negotiating tooting buses, rickshaws and the occasional herd of goats. By the end of the day I was a total biker chick convert, bezzing around the jurassic ruins,  with the wind in my hair. Sorry mum, but I think my next new toy might have to be a motorbike..

Biker chick
Our first stop in Anengundi was the Hanuman temple, reached by ascending 567 steps. As we climbed higher and higher, the view just expanded and got more and more beautiful as we reached toward the little white temple on the hill. We arrived just in time for an afternoon satsang - priests were singing bhajans and offering incense and we sat in meditation before them. In the time-honored tradition of awarding pilgrims when they reach their destination, we were offered a steamy hot cup of chai and prasad of giant sweet sugar crystals. A sleepy sadhu (Hindu holy man) lay slumbering on a bed, but awoke to answer his mobile phone in typical collision of two worlds (ancient and modern, spiritual and the material) that is India.  
Hanuman temple on the hill

Pilgrims descend the steps

Hanuman is the god of strength and loyalty. He can fly through the air like superman. At this temple he is in a devotional stance to Lord Rama, but elsewhere in Hampi he is 'working it' himself, tail and arm in the air. We had our own little picnic (avoiding the cheeky monkeys that tried to pinch our chikky nuts) staring out at the jaw dropping panoramic view of Hampi. I literally felt on top of the world and was overcome with the urge to do the yoga asana sequence surya namaskar- the sun salutation. Just another day in India, another momentary realisation of my insignificance in the scheme of this beautiful universe.. 
Another traveller takes in the view from the Hanuman temple
 We spent the afternoon driving around the dusty streets of Anengundi, racing through villages with mut and palm leave houses, where children simply played with tyres and sticks. We were greeted with waves and shouts of "hello" and "Namaste" wherever we went. It was a joy to be seeing this side of India. We came across a beautiful, deserted white temple and found a statue of Shiva at the inner sanctum, discernible by his ever present cow. It was in here that I had the realisation that Shiva was becoming a recurrent motif in this leg of our travels. Shiva symbolises destruction and creation. It is only be destroying the old that we can begin anew. I began to understand what I had destroyed and left behind and why I needed to do so. After our meditation we came across a large family, eating in the shades of the colonnades. We were rapidly sat down and given food to eat from a piece of newspaper - beaten rice flavoured with fresh coriander, little purple flowers, spices and peanuts. They were very excited to meet us and took some persuading out of the idea that we would travel onwards with them to Hyderabad that night! As a compromise, they asked us to take their youngest son to the West with us instead. It was a shame to tell them that I'm not planning on returning for some time.. 

One of the village children

As the afternoon was closing we found a tiny temple adorned with beautifully coloured murals of various gods and goddesses and arrived just in time for puja. I was instructed overzealously by the priest to ensure that my hand made the "shape of a half moon" when offering my hand for prasad. This typifies India: simultaneously sensual and spiritual. Despite this being a Krishna temple, the lady next to me was praying to Lakshmi - a strange coincidence as I had been praying to her for my little sister's new professional endeavours and Liz also has an affinity to the goddess. As sun was beginning to set we drove around on our little bike to the huge lake, feeling meditative in the dusk light.

Wall paintings in the Krishna temple

Lake at dusk
The next day we spent exploring the other side of Hampi. Highlights included the Shiva 'lingum', the elephant stables in the palace, feeling a 'jinn' or nasty spirit inside a temple of Krishnu that literally threw us out of the inner sanctum (prompting both of us to cast a circle and protect ourselves), being overwhelmed by serenity in the water flooded underground temples and marvelling at the musical pillars that 'sing' when tapped in the staggeringly beautiful Vittala temple. 
View of Hampi bazaar
Hampi monuments
Elephant stables
Stone car at the Vittala temple
We climbed to the rocks at sunset to watch the beautiful orange orb disappear over the ancient landscape.  With the last boat back at 6pm and no other distractions, the done thing in Virupapurgaddi is to watch a film. Liz and I lay down in one of the chilled out guest houses to do this, but alas, plans were jettisoned by hopping frogs, barking dogs and power cuts. For me, this epitomised Hampi. At every stage we were utterly disconnected from the twenty first century, conjoined instead with the ancient energies of this wonderous place. 
View of the sunset from the rocks
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