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A very special place

March 7, 2007

We arrived back in Bangalore yesterday morning after a rather bumpy overnight train from Hospet. Hospet was our connecting point from Hampi.


Let that name rest into your psyche, because someday, you will come to Hampi. Perhaps in a book, or in real life, or maybe in your dreams, but you will visit here. This was the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire and it’s clear why they chose this land. There is magic here. You can see the magic when you look at the giant boulders that defy gravity, sitting precariously on the sides of granite outcroppings. But mostly you can feel it; in your bones and your head, your heart and your belly, and the soles of your feet. This is not scary, witchy-poo magic. This is whimsical, fun, life-is-a-delicious-treat magic. It’s in the hills and the stones and in the breeze. A peaceful and welcoming magic. There is a resonance here, a gentle play of harmonizing vibrations that seem to embrace you and assure you that you are held, connected to this earth, to each other, to God… you can feel your heart in Hampi. My friend Tim, who visited here last year said, “this is a very, very special place.” Indeed.

The area around Hampi has nearly 2,000 temples, y’all. Two thousand!! They range from large columned affairs to small stone carvings the size of two or three children huddled together. There is plenty of ornate detail to the carvings that adorn the walls and columns of the temples, but the real beauty lies in their harmony; the harmony of their design and of their location in relation to the earth and hills made of piles of giant boulders. There are temples that are clustered together in what look like villages. Imagine a village of temples! What does that say about the culture that built them? Other temples sit alone in fields or atop the many hills surrounding the area. Some are perched on boulders on the sides of hills. You can’t open your eyes in Hampi without them falling on the sight of a temple.

Hampi teams with animal life… cows, pigs, lots of stray dogs, and monkeys that seem to pop up everywhere. Monkeys clamoring on temples, jumping between boulders, climbing up and down buildings on the main street… they travel in groups and seem to do everything with a sense of determination, even if it’s playing or tugging on each other’s tails.

Sunrise brings crowing roosters and smoke. Smoke from cooking fires–some of them on the sides of roads–and burning garbage. They must be burning most of the tons of plastic water bottles we use because the morning air burns my nostrils. The daily smells of cooking food, dung, smoke, spice, incense, and earth, all playing in your nose. Women hunched over, sweeping with long grass bundles, sweeping all the time in a constant battle against dust and trash.

Devotional music lilts through the air. Religion lives integrated into most daily life here, not relegated to Sunday morning. They wear it on their bodies, infuse the air with incense and flowers, make intricate chalk drawings outside the doors of homes and businesses as a welcome.

I had originally timed my arrival in India to correspond with Holi, the spring-time festival held on the day after a full moon. I had come to realize that Bangalore does not really celebrate Holi, so I had lowered my expectations about it. I did not do the math to realize that, since we had moved our arrival in Hampi a couple days earlier, that we would be there for Holi.

Holi in Hampi. It could not have been more perfect. The Hampi Bazaar has the relaxed buzz of a center of a small village where the locals have moved into some of the ruins and setup shop. That main drag was the center of Holi. When you look up Holi, you’ll see that one of the most recognizable features of the celebration is the smearing of color on the faces, bodies, and clothes of those around you. In Hampi, this was led by children. What started as a few kids chasing each other around became an all out frenzied colorfest in the middle of the street. Being chased by small kids with water bottles filled with colored water, and chasing them back, trying to get your own color on their beautiful faces. Some adults–mostly foreigners and tourists–joined in and added squirt guns filled with colored water. After a while, drums turned running and play into frenzied dancing and the teaming, bouncing, color-splashing crowd of light-skin and dark, pigment and colored water spraying in all directions, danced its way down the street in the shadow of the largest temple in town.

This was one of the sweetest experiences I’ve had in a very long time. To approach total strangers and touch green pigment to their noses, to have small children with beaming smiles on their faces reach up and smear purple on your cheek, is about as sweet a connection with people as I can imagine. This celebration showed me something about myself, that I thrive on connections with people. I long for it, hunger for it. It motivates most of my actions in this life. To touch people, to be gentle and playful… what more could I want out of life?! I knew I had wanted to be a part of Holi, if I could, but I now know why. To break down the normal barriers that keep us at a safe distance and to touch one another is just more magic to me. I feel so blessed to have found myself in this mayhem of fun.

Then something bad happened. My brother came up to me, coughing and choking, and said he had inhaled a bunch of the powdered pigment. We went back to the guest house and for the next few hours he coughed and wheezed as the pigment burned his throat and sinuses and eyes. Turns out the pigment we were throwing around was industrial strength and was certainly not meant to be inhaled. Some kids had grabbed for his bag of color and he had accidentally inhaled quite a bit of it. We were both rather concerned for the rest of the day. Actually, we were pretty freaked out as he was having trouble breathing. By evening, he was beginning to feel better so we got some food and relaxed a bit. A couple days later he was fine and mostly happy for the experience.

So, if you happen to be in India for Holi, remember to keep your mouth closed!

Later that afternoon, we explored more ruins up on Hemakuta Hill which overlooks Hampi Bazaar. Randy went back to the guest house after a bit and I stayed on top of the hill and waited for the pink and purple of dusk. Hemakuta Hill appears to be a granite monolith with an occasional tree sprouting out of the stone. It’s dotted with temples large and small and has an eerie, exciting air to it.

The next day we rented a small motorcycle and explored the outlying areas. Riding on the left side of the road was not as challenging as navigating around ox carts and through herds of sheep. As I was waiting to pick up the motorbike, a young boy stopped and said hello. He saw the pink and blue on my neck and smiled and said Happy Holi. We chatted for a minute and then he said there was a picture of the two of us in the Hospet newspaper, that there had been a reporter in town who had taken our picture as we chased each other around. I was excited to hear this but then after another minute he said, “well… it may have been you, or it may have been someone else, because you all look the same.”

Yes. I guess we do.

The teeth rattling ride back to Hospet in an auto rickshaw was jarring in comparison to the gentle serenity of Hampi. The auto attempted to pass everything in sight and, as with most vehicles we’ve seen so far, used the horn to announce that it’s coming through and you better make way. Entering Hospet is quite an insane trip with a billion things to look at and look out for. There was a traffic jam as we entered the town, made up of auto rickshaws, trucks, ox-carts, motorcycles, herds of sheep, bicycles, dogs, cows, and people of all ages, all in the middle of the street, all heading somewhere, all in a hurry, all making noise. At one point a guy on a motorbike ran into our auto. The driver stopped and looked back. Satisfied that the rider would live, he took off again.

Back in Bangalore, I seem to have come down with some kind of flu-like bug. I’m glad that I haven’t had any digestive problems yet but a bit bummed that I came across some run-of-the-mill-make-you-feel-like-crap virus. It’s going to slow down our road trip a bit but I think I’ll still be up for the drive to Mysore. At least being sick has allowed me the time to write.

I miss my friends and family. I miss hugs and familiar places. And I’m having an amazing time. I wish everyone well.


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  1. Michele permalink

    Wow! It sounds like you are having an incredible time and realizing quite a bit about yourself already. I love the value you put on connection and the love you show in your interactions. Glad to hear Randy is feeling better and hope your own flu bug has flown. I enjoy your writing very much–the poetry of your experience, of your noticing and appreciating, of your very Jeff-ness shines through beautifully. Miss and Love You. Michele

  2. Mary permalink

    Jeff -I hope you are feeling better. The Holi festivals sounds like fun!


  3. Katie Burke permalink

    So … did you at least check to see if it was in fact you in the newspaper?

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