People do crazy things for love. Not just human love, but love of anything. I like to think of my love of travel as the same kind of love people have for their pets. While pet owners don’t enjoy the extra costs and responsibilities associated with their pets, or the humiliation of cleaning up after them in public, the weight of these duties are lightened by the joy and contentment they received from the mammal companions. So it is in my relationship with travel. Or perhaps a more accurate description is that of a deranged drug addict who puts their body and peace of mind through physical and financial hell in order to satisfy a craving. For the sake of denial I prefer the former. Plus it gives me something to talk about with pet owners.
At the moment, mine and travel’s relationship is at a low point. I can tell because I am currently uncomfortable and it smells. I’m lying on a dirty mattress in between a huge snoring male and a couple that is making out so loudly I can hear them through my headphones. And I have seven more hours before my bus rambles through the Indian state of Karnataka and arrives in the city of Hampi. I’ve been trying to sleep for the last two. The bus is rocking violently back and forth causing me to swing into the snoring giant. Better him that the frisky couple. I didn’t know it was possible to get seasick on a bus.
The mattress that I’m sleeping on is divided into individual beds and shared by two male companions, the couple, and me: a total of five people on a mattress that is smaller than a king size. To make conditions as unpleasant as possible, my “bed” is the sliver of mattress in the aisle way, so whenever the man in the berth above me has the inclination to descend, which is often, I get a nice pinch in the calf that sends adrenaline to my brain and makes sleeping an even further unattainable goal.
The bus is slowing down now. Must mean we are coming to a speed bump. Ka-thumb!! Yep, I was right. The snoring man was sleeping with his back to me, but the movement wakens him. He rolls over and our noses touch. I can feel hot air each time he exhales. Ugh, I roll on my back and pull the strings on my hoody sweatshirt until only my mouth is visible for breathing purposes. I check the clock. Six hours and forty-five minutes to go. I’ve already taken more Benadryl and sleeping pills than my last ten years combined. The girl from Montana suggested valium. I think anesthesia would be more appropriate.
The bus continues to lurch and surge. My back hurts and I think my shoulder is dislocated. It really should be illegal to have sleeper buses in a country that doesn’t pave its roads. I roll over to the right and get a mouthful of male hair. I adjust the flimsy curtain that is a foot wide and suppose to act as a partition to give the illusion of personal space. India has also gone to great lengths to try and convince me that the small raised portion of the mattress is a pillow, even covering it with a thousand-count white vinyl that sticks to your face. The prison-like slat windows are open on both sides, and when we come to the outskirts of a city, the whole bus fills with a harsh black smoke from the village folk out burning their trash. Over the last three hours we’ve past through several levels of Dante’s inferno.
I feel a tickle on the small of my back and pray that its sweat and not the cockroach I saw on the wall earlier (that statement, in and of itself, marks a new all-time low). Not much can be done about the sweating; lying on my back with my arms ironically criss-crossed over my chest is the only sleeping position that can avoid the possibility of an immaculate bus conception from one of my three male bunkmates. Not to mention the thousands of people who have occupied this bed before me. I’ll be lucky to get of this bus with a curable STD (again, another statement of an all-time low). I was not expecting pregnancy out of my relationship with travel. I guess it was only a matter of time, being that we’ve been together so long. People will begin to talk.
By the time the bus arrives in Hampi, I’m angry, beaten, and humiliated at my inability to meet a single one of my obvious physiological needs. I’m fed up. I’m filing for divorce.
I step off the bus at 7 AM and am greeted by the sun rising over the massive boulders and palm trees of Hampi’s landscape. Scattered among the tan stone skyline are thousand-year-old temple ruins dripping black with age. Crumbling coliseums and carved pillars grow up out of the dusty ground. The rice patty fields layer on top of one another and give color to the monochromatic terrain.
And once again my abusive boyfriend has sent me a dozen roses in apology for his mistreatment, and I take him back once more and I find myself in love all over again.
Hampi has that effect: the ability to draw people in with its mysticism and uniqueness. The terrain is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Rocks the size of houses lay in heaps, as well as solo, as if thrown by the hand of God over the earth. A sleepy river, meandering around the strewn boulders in its center, divides the city into two halves. A lazy boatman shuttles people back and forth. Most travelers will opt for the opposite side of the river, as it is more peaceful and quaint that the bustling city center. One long dirt road holds many restaurants and guest houses. Across the street are layers of rice patty fields, and large piles of brown boulders with palm trees poking threw makes the most photogenic backdrop. Bouldering and hiking are both popular sports here, but rise early as the midday sun can be harsh. Rent a bike or a scooter and putter through the aqueduct ruins for a refreshing swim in Hampi’s lake, or make the climb to the Monkey temple at sunset or sunrise to take in all of Hampi’s glory from a higher view. Be careful with food, belongings, and your hair, as the kleptomaniac monkeys are aggressive and come in numbers, especially at feeding time.
The ruins of Hampi are some of the best in the world, a mix between the Pantheon of Greece and Angkor Wat of Cambodia. It would take several days to see them all, but the main temple area and bazaar can be seen in one day if you are short on time. The ruins are not monitored by any higher power, so the ancient buildings can be explored without pesky safety barriers or entrance fees. The locals have taken up camp in several areas, while the rest remain vacant or home to the large population of cows or monkeys. Some even have the incredible remains of statues and alters to India’s many gods and goddesses.
And while the roads to Hampi are some of the worst in India, don’t allow the dramatic ride to deter you. For the women travelers, it is actually not allowed to have male and females in the same berth, so if this happens to you, inform the bus staff and they will move you. (Unfortunately, I was unaware of this rule and it was my first overnight trip). If you are still not convinced into having a sleepless night, there are also day buses, but be prepared for a long haul.
Hampi, however, is well worth the effort. Most travelers know that the harder it is to get somewhere, the more worthwhile it is to see. Besides, all relationships have their ups and downs, and the lows always give the highs a better view. That’s what I keep telling myself anyway.