Hampi, India | Day 14 | Heart of the former Vijayanagara Empire

Hampi is not easy to get to from New Delhi. It involved a flight to Bangaluru (Bangalore), then another flight to Hubballi, then a train to Hospet (at which point I decided ‘close e-damn-nough’). There are definitely places to stay in Hampi but I was unwilling to make the Hospet to Hampi jump after dark on my first foray into the area.

This excursion taught me the following.

Times it feels fine to be a woman, white, and alone in India : Anyplace super touristy. Hampi. Goa. The Taj Mahal. (Not Agra in general. Very specifically the Taj Mahal.)

Times it feels less fine : Waiting after dark on the Hubballi train platform. IT’S OKAY THOUGH. The barefoot man in the rumpled and filthy yellow linen shirt that stared me down from the end of the platform, then watched me across the tracks in the dark from inside the empty train that had parked for the night, then showed up in the doorway to my compartment when my train finally arrived and I boarded, got shooed off right away by the conductor.

(To my mom, who is probably reading this post, and to Barbara who may never let me travel again, please don’t be concerned. It obviously turned out fine.)

What I learned …

Wikidont be slow to the draw. I always have that moment I hesitate and think ‘well, maybe I do have to share this compartment’ when it’s CLEARLY my personal room for the evening and the guy abruptly standing in the doorway of the first class car isn’t wearing shoes.

For a bit more context on how overtly not-supposed-to-be-my-travel-buddy the lurky guy was, the conductor referred to me by name before I said a word to him or got on the train because the math of ‘the one person named Sonia at this stop getting on first class AC’ = ‘obviously the white woman nervously clutching her luggage’. But all those apparent details didn’t sink in until after the fact.

Someone stepped in before I had to process what to do in that moment but :

Don’t hesitate. It’s perfectly acceptable to make a scene before you miss your chance to do so. It’s okay to be wrong about the scene.

I’m reading a book on World War I called The Guns of August and it describes an event that had a huge negative impact on the war (and history in general if Barbara Tuchman’s assessment is to be trusted) which was the arrival of the German battleship, the Goeben, in Constantinople. This was a moment in history which could have been stopped multiple times. In the book, as the author describes all the ways it wasn’t, all the chances not taken, she uses the phrasing ‘and, with that, the first opportunity was missed’, and ‘then the second opportunity was lost’, and so on. Here’s the thing – for most moments in life, we are only presented with one opportunity to miss. Time and again in India it was made clear to me that if you pause, a thing – whatever that thing might be – is likely to be irretrievably lost. Indians know this down to their bones.

But once I made it safely all the way to Hampi, it was an amazingly comforting place to wander around on my own, so onward to the scenery …

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Because it definitely makes sense for the casual boulder to dwarf the two-story temple.

I cannot begin to tell you how remarkable Hampi is. A different girl in a different blog described it as Jurassic Park meets the Flintstones. She’s not wrong. Throw in some genuine confusion about whether giants once roamed the land and juxtapose a goat-herd with a blond American chick who looks like she’s spent most of the day looking for a pumpkin spice latte* and the visual is complete.

* It wasn’t me. I’m not blond.

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And then there’s the temple that looks like a porcupine. I would actually like to get a petition started to keep the scaffolding FOREVER so that in several hundred years it just seems like someone took some creative liberties with the stylistic nuances of this particular temple.

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As a follow-up note to the story I opened this post with, the trick to traveling in India alone is to simply make sure you always have a handoff. I like to think of the whole New Delhi to Hampi expedition as a relay race in which I was the baton. The plane handed me off to a taxi which handed me off to a train which handed me off to the hotel driver.

There are a couple of critical things to keep in mind to execute this method flawlessly :

1) Your hotel will always be able to send a driver to pick you up from your last mode of transportation.

2) If you’re not sure about one of the hand-off moments (meaning you’ll have to take a gamble on the transportation options available versus having a trusted source ready and waiting), make damn sure it’s not happening after dark.

3) Always know exactly how far it is from one point to the next and make it clear you’re very aware of the distance and direction you need to be headed in.

4) I am under the impression it’s always a better bet if you’re concerned about safety to go with someone who has an actual taxi versus an auto but if anyone knows differently, please speak up.

5) Airports will often have a pre-paid cab stand. This means that the fare is fixed and that the drivers have been vetted by the company at least. I can feel good about that.

Plus real-talk from Hampi :

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I would be lost without Snapchat when I’m traveling alone. It is my bes’ frand. We have a lot of meaningful conversations when left to our own devices.

And please eat at the Mango Tree if you ever make it all the way to the wilds of Hampi. It was a tapestry-covered, pink-elephant-painted oasis of thali trays and lassi shakes.

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