Sunday, January 25, 2009

Windows and Mirrors I

My Sweetie Honey Pie, Brendan in Hampi
(I can't be affectionate in real life in India so I have to blog affectionately)

Bangalore is not a terribly fascinating city unless you've got an insatiable lust for call centers. We had planned to get a few things done; book hotels in Kerala, eat a good meal and print our PDF guidebook pages for Egypt, in that order - and then head out to the ISKCON temple before meeting my friend Hemant for drinks. The ISKCON temple is apparently a massive glass-and-steel temple with traditional gopurams (temple gates) attached; it even has a shopping mall inside.

So we are told, anyway - we never made it. It took us most of the day to run the errands we needed to finish and the piece of Bangalore we saw while doing so was enough for us. It was a delight to see Hemant, but unfortunately had to be on the Hampi Express within hours.

We hurtled through the night on the train; Brendan's first Indian train experience. We stopped the chai-wallah and drank around of the sweet stuff in honor of our trip before Brendan crawled atop the highest bunk (the middle bunk has to be pulled up but the top is always rolled out) and promptly fell asleep. It was probably the Indian heat; I have been finding myself dropping into the netherworld earlier and earlier each night and nodding off on buses and trains during the day. Something about the sun here saps the energy from your bones.

We awoke at 6am to a Martian heath:

All red dust and diaphanous white light.

Hampi itself is one of those 'land of contrast' cliches - the beauty of a highly civilized culture and the crumbling ruins that now mark its existence. Friendly restaurant proprietors and scheming rickshaw drivers. A beautiful river and a red, sun-dumped landscape. Temple gates, only 500 years old - that's not a lot in the Indian historical canon - that looked as though bites had been taken out of them:

Half-Eaten Gopuram

It was, however, a treat to show Brendan his first Indian India. I found myself drawn to photographing not only individual sculptures, but scenes with pillars and windows

It sounds silly, almost cliched, but I love being blessed by temple elephants. The elephant at the temple in town is particularly friendly. For one or two rupees, you get a holy bop on the head and if he's lucky, he gets a banana (he got a lot of bananas from us).

Photographing ruins and historical sights is all well and good, but besides photographing the lathe-turned columns and sculptures of Hampi, I find local people interesting photographic subjects as well. That's not a reflection on race or 'local color' - I do the same thing in the USA. Having people in your photographs adds something to them, otherwise you have a pile of pictures of buildings and nothing of what life is actually like.

It was really in Hampi, though, that my penchant for photographing people through windows and doors took hold. This was especially fun in the area full of royal ruins, which are remarkably well-preserved when compared to the state of the city around them. The problem with these particular ruins aren't that they're mobbed with tourists or expensive to enter; it's that they're surrounded mostly by gardens and landscaping and therefore lose all sense of self.

The walls, however, are still quite arresting, all over the city. Some are plain brick faces, others are adorned just so:

On the third day we left the 'ruins' behind and took a coracle - a small basket-boat - across the thin river and got ripped off in the process. Although the ride was over 1 kilometer, it should not have cost 300 rupees (and that after bargaining down from 1,000 and then 600). We didn't feel too bad about handing over far too much money though; the 'boatman' was a young boy and he was obviously not well. He vomited copiously into the river about halfway through our trip, not far from some fording cattle. If anyone deserved all that extra money, it was him. We gave him a little baksheesh on top of the extraordinarily extortionary price because we suspected his father would pocket the rest of the money. We didn't feel this was right; his father wasn't rowing two chubby foreigners down a river while heaving up the contents of his stomach.

The ride was otherwise gorgeous; red boulders in teh distance and green grasses up close, with the tiny whitewashed castle of the Hanuman temple atop a hill straight ahead.

The Hanuman temple (monkey god, companion and comrade to Lord Rama) was awash not only in gorgeous views, white paint and of course monkeys - but also foreigners. The "Om" shirt and dreadlocked wearing kind. No mind; the views were gorgeous.

One of the trees at the Hanuman Temple

On the way up, we saw a single Hanuman Monkey among the macaques. The monkey god watching us?

Brendan and the glorious view

Another cliche to be sure, but the rice paddy and sugarcaned ground below looked just like a patchwork of green stained glass and clouded mirrors.

The monkey god Hanuman

Tiny Hanuman Temple
We left that night for Mangalore; the mirror image and exact opposite of Hampi. More on that in the post above

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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