And Now For Something Completely Spectacular…

Early next morning the deluge had departed leaving a blue sky full of puffball clouds and the air a tad humid. Around the hotel carpark, the block paving had largely dried out but here and there large puddles attested to the volume of rain on the previous day. Our hotel room looked like an explosion in a flag factory with sodden garments draped all over the furniture to dry them out. As related in the previous episode, our day of near-death encounters with heavy lorries and broken roads had ended in a monsoon storm that drove us off the road and seeking the succour of a cosy hotel. On top of that, having overcome the dead battery in Sumatra, we now had a busted spoke on Maggie’s bike causing a horrid front-end wobble. Looking back at these mechanical problems, at the time they seem like mini-disasters, but invariably involve the trip taking off at some unexpected tangent with a rush of delightful encounters and new friends. So it was to be in this case but not just yet…

A short ride took us to Borobodur, our abandoned destination from the day before. Here we had the delightful experience of actually turning a FaceBook friendship into a real one when, by pure coincidence, veteran SE Asia tourer Phil Stubbs wandered into the hotel we’d just checked into. Phil hails from Essex in the UK and had flown out to Indonesia where he bought a little 225cc Yamaha Scorpio, a perfect vehicle for touring the islands. We had corresponded on various issues on FaceBook, neither of us realising how close we were to one another in the real world.  Next day we trotted off to see the sights of Borobodur itself, the world’s largest Buddhist temple. Built in the 9th Century, it occupies a most majestic setting against a lush jungle backdrop. The architecture resembles a huge wedding cake consisting of nine stacked platforms topped by a central dome all rendered in dark grey volcanic Andesite. The temple is detailed with 2,672 relief panels, houses 504 Buddha statues and the central dome at the pinnacle is surrounded by a further 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa weirdly resembling a troop of serene and smiling Daleks. Pilgrims worship in Borobudur by following the trail of staircases and corridors that ascend all the way to the top with the various levels representing each stage of enlightenment in Buddhist cosmology. The entire complex was lost to history, hidden for centuries under layers of volcanic ash and jungle until 1819 when Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore, was appointed governor of Java. He took great interest in the history of the island, which was certainly piqued when he heard stories of a lost mega-temple buried deep in the interior. Unable to make the discovery himself he sent the Dutch engineer H.C. Cornelius to investigate and he in turn found Borobodur.

The city of Yogyakarta would be our home for the next week or so. We found solace in the beautiful tree shaded garden of the Puri Pangeran Hotel, an ideal base to explore the city. Jeffrey Polnaja, a man with more contacts than an octopus playing drums, recommended a visit to see brothers Lulut and Yayak Wahyudi to solve our wheel problem. Travelling by bike, of necessity you will engage with many motorcycle repair shops but we never encountered anything that quite approached Retro Custom Cycles. Pulling up in the forecourt we were greeted by a huge smile and a warm handshake from Lulut himself. The entrance was home to a huge candy red American Dodge car and a coffee bar where, over an excellent Kopi Susu, we explained our latest mechanical mishaps. With Yayak and one of the lead mechanics fussing over the bike, the offending wheel was soon removed and sent for correction. While we were waiting we took a tour of the shop…

Race-flag chequered tiled flooring was home to a beautiful Harley chop and further back an old WLA Harley was being fettered for a customer. But it was out back in the cavernous workshops that the real treasures lay. Out of a palette of raw rusting ironwork, motorcycles were being handcrafted. Standard was binned and unique designs were given life in this Orc forge where rod, bar and plate were chopped, formed and welded to create machines of heavenly beauty. On a wall a row of brightly painted petrol tanks hung like teacups on a dresser, teardrop canvases of most beautiful line and symmetry. A new-model Harley, recognizable only from its engine, was having new bodywork hand made from aluminium, one of the technicians tinkering each piece into shape, final-forming it into body-jewelry that would later be burnished brilliant as armour for a road knight’s mount. Tour finished, we sat out front waiting for the wheel to return. A kitchen door opened and the mother of the family, a fine lady and beautiful hostess, kept appearing with fresh-cooked morsels for us to try, in case we were hungry. Then the wheel returned; a new spoke had been fabricated from a heavy-duty motocross item. A bent spoke had also been straightened and the wheel was trued; our latest batch of problems was put to rest.

In Yogyakarta we organised our first visa extensions and visited the grand palace of Kraton, actually a walled royal city within the big city and an easy stroll from the hotel. We also rode out to visit the Buddhist temple complex at Prambanan. Set in a splurge of greenery, Prambanan felt like the ultimate ‘walk in the park’ with a collection of four individual temple sites spread across several acres of gracious gardens and we contentedly lost ourselves within the tranquil setting for an afternoon. Riding east from Yogyakarta, the traffic finally began to ease as we left the horrid congestion of West Java well and truly in our wake. Roads now wound along paddy-field valleys taking us back into the mountains to a one-night stop in the city of Malang, springboard for what would prove to be one of our finest ever motorcycle adventures ever and that ‘something completely spectacular’ as promised in the header for this post…

Sleep… sleep… sleep… I am riding across an arena of slate grey sand enclosed by a coliseum curtain of sheer rock. I think I’m standing up on the footpegs; I can feel the bike slalom occasionally as the sand gives way but am reassured as the back tyre bites in and regains firmer ground. I glance in my mirror to check on Maggie; I know she hates this soft stuff but all I can make out from the recess of her helmet is the flash of a huge wide grin as her tyres spew little puffs of grey matter in her wake. None of this makes sense but then most dreams never do. A veil of cloud wafts down from the bluff and drapes a gossamer cloak across our path. We ride on and enter a ghost world, a road to hell lined with tussocks of spikey grass that point to nowhere, only tell us there is no way out. I glance back to see a phantom horseman ride across our trail and disappear off into the gloom. Both sky and horizon have vanished and we are two lost souls. Stopping, we kill the engines and dismount. There is no sound but the whisper of the wind and the tink, tink, tink of cooling metal from the bikes. The cloud parts briefly to reveal a glimpse of the squat form of an ancient temple some way off in the distance. It appears to be made of some black material and is festooned with pointed turrets. When I awake will this all rapidly fade leaving me just titillating fragments in the dawn from this otherworldly encounter?   As I survey our predicament I realise this is not a dream; this is Bromo and we have just ridden onto the crater floor of a very active volcano.

We left Malang and were soon ascending narrow mountain roads that led us up over the 2000 metre mark into volcano country. The mountains were magnificent but we began to suspect that yet again our GPS had led us up a blind draw as it seemed our base to explore Bromo, lay somewhat bafflingly on the opposite side of the mountain. We finally arrived at a gateway to the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, where the rangers explained that to get to our destination we simply had to cross the crater! And so we descended a sharp series of hairpins that dropped us onto the Segara Wedi, the Sea of Sand, that carpets the crater floor and into a world like nothing we’ve ever encountered. We paused a while to ponder the way across and survey the stupendous landscape before us. The crater is about 10km in diameter and within the encircling walls is a little green jelly-mould of the conical Mount Batok. Next to this is the low, jagged and blasted caldera of Bromo itself, not so spectacular yet easily identifiable from the plume of sulphurous gases ascending to the heavens. Finally, nestled at the foot of both, is the Pura Luhur Poten Hindu temple, a low sprawl that looks like some forlorn outpost from a Mad Max movie.

You would think it highly unlikely that you could get lost in what is essentially a big circle yet that is indeed what happened. Riding across the sand flats for several kilometers, we were utterly blown away at the realisation that we were actually riding across the crater of an active volcano. Then realisation dawned that there seemed to be no obvious exit route back up to the rim. The blanket of cloud came rolling in reducing visibility to a few metres in all directions so we stopped and a mild wave of panic set in, a normal reaction I guess when you are so suddenly disoriented… Eventually a pair of headlights loomed out of the murk, a Land Rover whom we flagged down for directions. The driver explained that we had overshot and missed the exit completely. It proved difficult to spot, even in normal visibility, as the road was hidden behind a screen of trees and bushes but fortunately the cloud lifted enough to allow us to take a bearing and make our escape.

Next day we hiked down into the crater from the hostel town of Cemoro Lawang. The views over Bromo crater and Mount Batok from the rim in clear weather were simply breathtaking. Horsemen, looking like fierce nomads on their stocky little ponies, offered tourist rides up to the crater itself and jeep safaris were taking folk across the caldera. We declined these to walk across the floor of the crater, a hike that was every bit as exciting as yesterdays ride. From the temple we picked up a trail that led to a series of steps that marked the final ascent of Bromo itself. The views on up to the summit, then the panorama across the crater to the rim and over to the adjacent Mount Batok were beyond equal in all of our travels to date. We had truly attained something completely spectacular, yet all of this visual hyperbole was nothing compared to what happened next. The summit was circled by a narrow path making an ideal perch to sit and appreciate the internals of the volcano itself. The view was somewhat occluded by the clouds of steam belching forth but other senses now heightened as noses twitched at the stinky sulphur and, most spectacular of all, we felt the acoustics of the volcano rumbling. I say ‘felt’ rather than ‘heard’ as deep base notes resonated our very chest cavities, shaking us to the core. Slow brains processed all of these inputs and realisation dawned that we were listening to the actual sound of the internal workings of planet Earth, our home. It was a humbling experience, leaving one feeling so insignificant in the overall scheme of things yet standing in total awe of this beautiful and natural world. Bromo was completely spectacular and we will remember and treasure these days for the rest of our lives.

The photogallery for this post may be accessed by clicking on the following link: East Java

Ellora

The roads north of Hyderabad took us back into the state of Maharashtra and an overnight stop at the little city of Nanded. That day started with a mega-breakfast at Geethas, moved on to a sad farewell to a fabulous host and thereafter evolved into an easy day’s ride that by mid-afternoon led us to what looked like a relatively pleasant little hotel, the Pooja Garden. Time for a peaceful couple of hours catching up with my journal while Mags did some Yoga…

The peace lasted all of five minutes when one of the staff tried to force in the door to our room. He was only delivering some bottled water by barging in unannounced.  As this has happened before in India, we always lock the door. I guess they just want a peek at the strange arrivals on the crazy motorcycles. I went to log on. There was no Internet connection. I called reception. They’d look into it. Somebody else tried to force the door, this time with a little more ‘enthusiasm’. It was still locked. It was another hotel guy, this time to see about the Internet. He came in to the room rubbing his shoulder, had a quick scan around, then said ‘”can I see your computer?” “There it is” I replied. “Ah! It is very weak signal,” he explained. “There is no Internet connection” I retorted. At this he admitted “Ah yes! No Internet. Only at reception”. “OK so why do you advertise Wifi available in all rooms and, more so, why did you need to come up here, try to barge in just to tell me that?” He turned and left. I gave up and worked offline.

An hour later the phone rang just as I was lathered up in the shower (sorry for inflicting that ‘vision’ upon you)… “Come now! Move your bikes!” were the imperatives squawked down the phone. “Pardon?” Mags replied. “Need to move your bikes! Come now!” I finished showering and sauntered downstairs where the manager explained that the bikes were parked at the side of the hotel and were drawing a lot of attention from passers-by. He suggested we move them round the front, into the garden and directly outside reception where the staff could keep an eye on them. We already suggested this on arrival but were told to park them round the side where a rotund security guard, for what he was worth, would keep an eye on them. Now they decided it might be better to move them…

As you can imagine, with these incessant interruptions, we were not best pleased with either hotel or staff as we came down for dinner. What a bunch of twats! The manager met us. “Car is here to take you on Sikh temple trip.” “We didn’t order any car for any Sikh temple trip so would you please just go away and leave us alone.” “Yes but car. He is here…he is waiting.” Clearly this day was ending with us cast as hapless victims in India’s very own ‘Fawlty Towers’ complete with waiters speaking bad ‘Indglish’ instead of Spanish. As befitted the role, I was getting all ‘Basilled’ up and ready to swing for somebody… The hotel staff had pestered us constantly since arrival and now we were being scammed for some hotel-sponsored-temple-trip, costing god knows what, when our hearts desire was no more than a simple beer and a bite to eat. “Please come sir. Here is the driver…” At this a lovely mild mannered gentleman stepped forward and presented a card. It had the name of a doctor friend of Gheetha’s on it. She had called him the previous day asking if he could recommend a hotel for us. He was working this evening but as a welcome treat for these visitors from afar, he had laid on a driver to take us the Sikh temple in town…  Now we were the twats!

The Hazur Sahib Sikh Temple was simply magnificent and one of the most memorable visits of our travels in India. The temple itself is one of five Takhats; places of primary importance to the Sikhs and is the final resting place of Guru Gobind Singh.  He arrived here with emperor Bahadur Shah towards the end of August 1708 as they journeyed south from Rajasthan into the Deccan seeking justice against the perpetrators of the murder of a group of Sikhs that included his young sons. With the emperor proving non-committal the Guru elected to leave the southern procession and remain at Nanded. Meanwhile his enemy Wazir Khan, wary of the time that Gobind Singh was spending with the emperor and to forestall any possibility of royal retribution, sent two assassins to remove the threat. The assassins managed to infiltrate the company surrounding Gobind Singh and when the moment was right they struck. The Guru fought back killing one of his assailants but was badly wounded before his supporters could dispatch the other. Although he initially recovered he re-opened his wounds a few days later while trying to string a sturdy bow, an action that proved fatal. Later the temple was erected to mark the spot where Guru Gobind Singh rose to heaven along with his unfortunately named horse, Dilbag.

A short fifteen-minute night drive through mental traffic took us into the heart of Nanded to the temple where we parked up and, at the driver’s request, removed our shoes and socks. Heads must also be covered to enter so Mags adjusted her scarf while I ducked into a nearby market with our driver to lungi up with a suitable hanky. We entered through one of the huge gateways to view the central shrine, which is sited at the heart of a large flagged pavilion. Entering, we mingled with brightly turbaned worshippers and everyone was very friendly, saying ‘hi’ or just waving a welcome as we padded around the complex. This was our first visit to a Sikh place of worship and the immediate impression was that of peaceful happiness as our eyes sated on the graceful structure of the gateways while strains of religious chanting, music and song filled the air. Nights like tonight are why we love travel; times when you are subject to such an act of kindness and suddenly exposed to new marvels that you previously had no inkling even existed.

The following morning, 26th January, was a national holiday; Republic Day. We figured on quiet roads riding to our next destination; the rock temples of Ellora, but India rarely gives you what you expect as we had experienced last night. We started the day dogfighting through maniacal traffic while trying to circumvent Nanded followed by a good fast stretch of National Highway; NH-222. GPS told us we were on this for 75-miles before the next junction so we settled in for an hour or so of easy cruising, which lasted all of about twenty minutes, when GPS announced ‘recalculating route’. The NH-222 had made a right-turn back in a grubby little village we’d just passed through. A couple of truckers who were parked up confirmed we should have made the right-turn so we rode back to return to the correct route.  Alas our nice ‘NH’ was gone, replaced by a disheveled country back-road. A few miles later and this disintegrated further into a potholed track that is now in our books as one of the worst ‘good’ roads we’ve ever ridden. It ran mostly straight across arable land and we stopped now and again to ask if this really was the route to Aurangabad, the main city near Ellora. No-one had heard of the place and the realization dawned that, with our destination over 100-miles away, we may as well be asking for directions to Timbuktu as most of these simple country folk had probably never strayed more than a few miles from home.

A drone’s eye view of that tarmac strip would probably reveal the finest piece of Scrimshaw known to man such was the tortuous intricacy of its pot-holery. Did we really have 60-odd more miles of this to go? We were crawling along at speeds rarely exceeding 20mph, trying to spare our poor suspension and running gear from the worst of the gaping holes, our minds equally tortured at the prospect of another three hours of this. Then the road really disappeared, totally ploughed up as a prelude to a big chunk of roadworks aimed at rebuilding it and we found ourselves crawling along a footpath past the rubble. Just as we contemplated turning back a trio of youngsters, all mounted on a little 125, broke the good news that there was only another 5-km of bad stuff ahead and after that we would be back on the highway.

Even so, the roads remained bad all day marred by poorly repaired potholes such that we rarely exceeded 40-mph traversing that bleak, featureless backdrop of dull-as-dishwater scenery. It all ended with a ring-road around Aurangabad and then some gravel-strewn twisty roads to the remote ‘Etranger Resort Hotel’, set in the hill country up behind Ellora. A shower and a Kingfisher beer-lube revitalized the pair of us, prelude to a tasty dinner of mouth-watering Aloo Gobi with buttery Paneer Masala, creamy dhal, roti breads, Jeera rice and a dessert of sticky little rum-baba type cakes served in syrup. We had only ordered the Paneer Masala, rice and bread; the rest was  courtesy of the owner who was having a special family meal to celebrate his little daughter’s 9th birthday. This splendid repast all finished with a piece of chocolate birthday cake, hand delivered by a smiling little angel.

In the morning we set out to explore Ellora and ‘explore’ is certainly the right word. We read in the hotel reviews that it was possible to hike to the caves cross-country from the ‘Etranger’. Armed with simple directions from the hotel, “out the back, walk to the river, cross over, turn left and follow into Ellora,” we set out across a spectacular wilderness of baked oatmeal grasslands interspersed with short scrubby trees and spiny bushes. Here we encountered something exquisitely rare in all the length and breadth of this marvelous country called India: utter peace and silence. It was one of those moments when neither of us wanted to speak, to break the silence, just to be content with our suddenly found solitude secure in the knowledge that, for a while, everything was good in the world. The magic of the occasion was heightened when a couple of beautiful Black Buck Antelope suddenly broke cover before us, sprinting away to a safe distance before stopping to turn and stare suspiciously.

The instruction ‘walk to the river’ was missing one vital piece of information, namely that ‘said river’ lay at the bottom of a vast broad valley with no apparent way down. We followed the edge the escarpment we’d been walking across and after about half an hour it started on a scree strewn scramble down into the valley. Using mobile phone GPS courtesy of ‘Maps.me’ we could see that the caves were only a mile or so away across a low saddle that proved a wonderful continuation of this wilderness hike. We saw signs of farming on the land and then a jingling carillon of little brass bells in a stand of trees announced the presence of a herd of glossy black goats. A few moments later and we stumbled upon a small homestead, a vignette revealing nothing more than a shack made of pallets and corrugated iron that lay to the side of a small ploughed field. Our approach set off a couple of farm-dogs who barked noisily at our approach.

The lady of the house was bathing a couple of grubby little children in a metal bucket and the farmer himself dropped what he was doing to silence the dogs. We waved and smiled across the field, hoping there would be no resentment of our trespass. Everyone waved back. The farmer, a short, balding man with a chin full of stubble, wandered over to chat and we asked if this was the way to Ellora. He replied with a kind smile as his eyes lit up and he said ‘come’ and beckoned us to follow as he led the way. We followed our new guide, climbing a broken fence to walk through a magical forest of barren silver trees all the while chasing goat tracks up over the saddle. After about half an hour we reached a staggering viewpoint overlooking a spread of green landscape.  Below us; the carved out rock temples of Ellora. Our guide revealed all with the sweep of his hand and then explained how we could gain access to the site. At this he turned to walk back to his farm. “Whoa!” I said, “please take this small payment for you help today…” An upraised palm expressed a simple “No thanks / not required” gesture. He was clearly a proud man and had guided us out of sheer kindness, wanting no reward for his trouble. We insisted he at least take it for the children and at this he accepted and left us to contemplate Ellora.

I’ll finish for now by directing you to the photographs in the gallery covering the rock temples of Ellora as I fear I am such an unaccomplished wordsmith to attempt to convey the wonder of that place. Suffice to say that everything you see was carved out of solid rock in the side of the mountain between the 5th and 10th centuries AD. There is no construction or fabrication, just the chasing out of each shape from the rock sub-terrain and then the fine detailing. There are thirty-four temples in dedicated groups to Hindu, Buddhist and Jain faiths in a rare example of religious harmony. Until next time, enjoy…

To access the photogallery for this page please click on the following link: Ellora

Karnataka – Hampi

I think it is fair to say that our 10-nights in Goa almost spelled an end to this trip. It would have been soooo easy to just abandon the bikes, break out the hammocks and slouch at Agonda Beach living on tasty vegetarian and seafood curries washed down with the odd quart of Kingfisher; just keep doing this till the money ran out… and believe me with the prices here, that would have taken an awful long time! It was clearly going to take something rather special to tear us away from our sandy haven and that ‘special’ was a place called Hampi.

Hampi today is basically a small ramshackle village of 2,777 folk (as reported in 2011) centred on a little bazaar of lean-tos and souvenir shacks with a smattering of snug homestays and restaurants serving the travellers and tourists who come here. All around are the impressive ruins of the city of Vijayanagara, former capital of a vast empire of the same name. By 1500 AD that city had a population of half a million souls making it the second largest city on the planet after Peking and almost three times larger than Paris! A few years later, in spite of possessing an army of nearly one million warriors, this great empire was utterly destroyed by invading Muslims from the north who razed the city following its conquest. Add to all that history some magnificent geography; the site, which covers an area of around 35 square kilometers, is located amidst rocky hill country whose length and breadth is scattered and strewn with colossal boulders, the whole lot interspersed with palm and banana plantations. Not surprisingly, our guidebook rates Hampi as the No.1 tourist attraction in India, knocking even the Taj Mahal into second spot.

Somehow, in our languid days at Agonda, we managed to plot our road ahead up until Christmas. The route would take us first inland and east to Hampi and then on roads south to the city of Mysore where we planned to spend Christmas itself. Day long rides of about 260 miles separated each of these places, which is a fairly huge distance to cover in India once you factor in the crazy driving, chaotic traffic and unknown state of the roads. All of this is then compounded by short winter days; it is dark by 6pm, so we needed to be off the road before then.

The ride to Hampi led us on verdant palm-shadowed roads that finally quit the coast after Karwar and took us on a gradual winding route up into some low hill country. After Yellapur this opened up into a fairly easy ride with not too much congestion such that we made it to Hampi by 4pm. Then the fun started… We pulled over for a cold drink by a gateway that led into the first set of ruins. A couple of Indian Bikers stopped to chat (and for obligatory photographs with the bikes), confirming it was only another 4-km into Hampi itself. The outlying ruins so far had been hiding behind feather-fans of palm frond and broad banana foliage giving us only sneaky-peak views to whet our appetites.   Then, round one last corner and over one last hillock and we were rolling through ancient Vijayanagara itself in a scene that looked like some giants had just finished a game of  bowls through a bunch of temples as we entered this tableau of enormous rocks and ruins. A short descent dropped us at the entrance gate to Hampi Bazaar where we were immediately beset by hawkers and touts offering everything from silver bracelets to Tuk-Tuk rides to rooms for the night.

It was a stunning location with everything overshadowed by the enormous heights of the still-working Lord Virupaksha Temple as they towered up into the evening sky, their facades adorned with the most beautiful and intricate carvings. We asked for directions to the Thikal Home-Stay whereupon three of the hawkers suddenly turned into guides, taking it upon on themselves to ‘enthusiastically’ lead us to our bed. All three legged it towards the temple and we followed them up the sandy lane, ignoring a few scruffy security guys who tried to block our way as we rode past a sign that said “Gov’t vehicles only beyond this point”. Another dirt track led off to the side and into the bazaar proper where one guy was calling us to go one way over a bunch of broken tiles and down some dark alley, while the other two pointed in an altogether different direction over some broken ground that finally led on to some flagged paving… So it was that the two bikes pootled into town following the flip-flop beat of our guide (now down to one) as he ran ahead and negotiated our way through a right little labyrinth that led us to the door of our simple home-stay.

“Start your day with a sunrise.” To be honest it’s not something either of us are particularly keen on as it entails getting out of our pit a little too early but maybe it is something we should maybe all try more often. On this occasion it was necessitated by Christmas, which is celebrated as a public holiday here in India. It impacted our travels as we could only get two nights accommodation in high-season Hampi so we had to concentrate our visit to see as much as possible in our single day at the ruins.

5:30am, the following day and were up and out for one of the greatest and most memorable occasions in all our travelling days. Apart from a few holy-cows we had the whole place to ourselves. We filtered through the temple complex to climb high up on the overlooking boulder field, gaining a beautiful perch where we watched the sun change the temples from inky monochrome through a suffusion of soft saffrons to a soft pastel buff as the brilliant illumination of the sun once again brought light to the day. The backing soundtrack was provided by a squawk of emerald green parakeets, while overhead spans of Black Kites circled high on the thermals of the dawn. Behind us atop one of the giant boulders a troop of pink-faced monkeys lined up for their early morning groom beautifully silhouetted by that rising sun or maybe like us they were just soaking in the warm, relaxing powers of its rays… Now I’m not much of a hippy but that sunrise over the temples seemed to infuse the day that followed with more than a velour of sparkle and magic as we explored the rest of the ruins.

With the sun now settled in the sky we surrendered our footwear to enter a mostly empty Virupaksha Temple under the watchful stares of a platoon of black-faced monkeys loitering up on the carvings around the temple doorway. The temple was magical and we padded around its smooth stone floors and courtyards, heads craned through 360 degrees to gawk at the staggering beauty of its elaborate carvings depicting finely toned gods and warriors cavorting with full-figured nymphs and comely hand-maidens.   The only thing that spoiled it was those monkeys. Like their pink-faced cousins, their early morning groom was well underway but for some reason this seemed to consist mainly of having their bottoms ‘thoroughly’ cleaned by a buddy. Suffice to say there were no rubber gloves involved only fingers and, ahem, fists… well, I’ll leave that there, shall I?

After a hearty Indian breakfast of Masala Omelet and Aloo Paratha washed down with Masala Chai at the Mango Tree restaurant, we set out to walk a few kilometres along a winding path with overviews of a broad river that took us to Vittala, the second major temple complex here. The terrain is somehow softened by the presence of yet more of those big round boulders and it is all very pleasing on the eye. At Vittala, another abundance of those fine Hindu carvings, this time in a soft pinky-red stone and the complex was further brightened by a vivid flash of orange drapery from a visiting mob of monks.

Afternoon and a tuk-tuk out to see the Royal Enclosure where we marveled at the Lotus Mahal, a summer palace made it seemed from Edinburgh Rock with deliciously nibbled archways leading into it’s shady interior all beautifully illumined and cross-lit by the sinking afternoon sun. A small gateway led through a stout fortress wall and into a grassy enclosure containing a terrace of cavernous accommodations that looked like a home for retired steam trains. This was in fact the elephant stables, another marvel you don’t see every day.

And so our day in Hampi ended as it began, with us perched atop a pile of rocks watching the sun, this time as it set across on the western horizon pulling its orange drape once more across the landscape of rocks and ruins. Parakeets and Kites returned to their roosts and monkeys walked across temple roofs as if in a chain-gang to find the peace of their bedrest for the night. And us; two tired sleepy heads climbed down off the rocks to meander twilit streets in search of supper and then on to bed after this most marvellous sunny day. In Hampi we had truly found a place to rival any Pyramid or Picchu; a treasure in our human world and holding that thought it was off to sleep…

To access the photogallery for this article click here: Karnataka – Hampi