part 2


(Photos of Hampi are here)The Elephant Stables in Hampi !

Hampi was founded by the Hindu Vijayanagar dynasty in 1336 AD, and quickly became one of, if not THE most brilliant capital in all India.
At its apogee, its population numbered in the hundreds of thousand and it spread over 30 square kilometers!!
When four Muslim sultans of the Deccan, unable to bear any longer the arrogance of the Hindu Raja united to take it, it fell after the battle of Talikota in 1565. The Hindu host is said to have numbered 600,000 foot soldiers, 100,000 horses and nearly 1000 elephants! All for naught!
The sack of the city lasted for five months, and the heat of the fire is said to have cracked the huge basaltic rock hills scattered all over!
'Never perhaps in history had such havoc been wrought on so splendid a city, wealthy and prosperous one day, and on the next, seized, pillaged and reduced to ruins, amid scenes of savage massacre and horrors beggaring description' (Sewell).
Today, all that remains are many perfectly preserved temples dedicated to the myriad gods of the Hindu pantheon, parts of SEVEN huge rings of fortifications, elephant stables for eleven, gorgeous kingly dwellings and a village bazaar.
For three centuries, the city had lain forgotten when an Englishman started restoration works in 1837. But it was after years of work by a French couple in this century that the UNESCO finally classified it in 1987!

Virupaksha Temple (Pampapati) in Hampi ! At the Hampi bazaar, at the foot of the awesome Pampapati temple, I was accosted by a soft spoken man speaking good english, who asked me if I wanted a private guide for the day.
As a wise-ass traveler and a ten-day veteran of India's incessant attempts at selling me something, ANYTHING, I declined his offer, effortlessly blending courtesy with polite disdain. Unsurprisingly, he insisted, but in a different fashion from his hawking brethren.
-"Would you like to buy some film?"
-"No, thanks, I already have some."
-"I have 100, 200, 400 ASA."
-"I already said no!"
-"OK, how about some film, then?"

He calmly and convincingly explained that Hampi is very large, most sites are unmarked and a good distance apart, and that with a knowledgeable guide I wouldn't miss anything. Furthermore, at 250 rupees for the day, he was cheaper than the other guys (Yeah, right!).
Out of weariness, or unconsciously agreeing with his argument, I relented and said yes. Never have I been so glad of a snap decision to do something I didn't want to do at first! He was knowledgeable indeed, educated, friendly, and westernized in the oddest ways (more on that later).
The great Pampapati temple (aka: Virupaksha Temple)  is the oldest and most sacred in Hampi. Parts of it are older than the founding of the city and kingdom of Vijayanagar, Hampi's original name. The temple's first gate is topped by a lofty pyramidal tower entirely covered with hundreds of sculptures and carvings of men, women, hunting scenes, and many other representations, all diminishing in size as the tower narrows toward the top. Around all these statues frolic hundreds of monkeys. At least they do in the evening. At midday, I could only spot a handful, as Swami (my guide) explained that they leave for the surrounding fields in the morning, only to return at sunset. Since I had already booked my sleeper berth on the 8:30 Bangalore Express out of Hospet that very night, I missed most of them!
Hampi monkeys ! Passing that first gate, you come into a large courtyard with another similar gate, only smaller, at the other end. That second gate opens into another large court with verandahs all around on pillars of stone, a sacred elephant is cared for in a corner and in the center of this court is the house of the Bhuvanesvari shrine. The shrine is lit by hundreds of oil lamps and candles housed in small holes in the wall. Images of various small idols are everywhere, the principal one being a round stone lingam (Shiva's penis), the object of much veneration. There is a larger lingam nearby in the ruined Shiva shrine between the Narasimha statue and the main Krishna temple. Swami told me it is the second largest in all India. Shiva's wife Parvati must have been a happy woman!
I won't describe the many other temples I saw that day, though a special mention must be made of the extraordinary Vitthala temple and its musical columns. Carved out of single blocks of granite, the fluted columns each resonate in a different sound when hit, for some unearthly rock music! The Krishna temple (I prayed to Him for the return of my beloved!!) was grandly dark and inhabited by bats, for a bizarre Transylvanian effect!! All of them ranged from beautiful to magnificent, and evoked much awe and wonder in this atheist's heart.
For some reason, the subject of smokeable drugs came up (Now, you know me!), and Swami asked me the magical question: -"Would you like to smoke something?
-"My man! Let's go." I blissedly blurted out!
So we climbed up a hill overlooking Pampapati temple, in the direction of a group of small Jaina shrines.

In one of them, Swami told me, lived this sadhu saint who had been fasting for the past month, only drinking water and smoking ganja (the word originated in India before passing on to Jamaica and points west. Dreadlocks also come from India, and I saw two Holy Beggars with heavily matted dreads reaching the ground!!). Two Sadhus in Hampi !

I knew then I was in for a treat.
The thirty-something sadhu, wearing turban and orange loincloth, reclined in a corner, entranced and smiling at a small boy haltingly reading sacred words from a holy book. Ten or so people lounged or cross-legged about, obviously becharmed by his saintly presence. Now, unlike its Christian equivalent where contemplative fasting would involve ponderous gloom and mortification of the flesh, the sadhu and his companions smiled happily, cracked jokes, and made me feel welcome and included. The sadhu then ritually offered me germinating beans out of an earthenware urn, a piece of coconut, a glass of water (I passed on that one!) and the first of many shiloms.
Om Shiva!!
A second sadhu came in moments later, beamed a toothless smile at me when Swami told him what he brought me for, and pulled out his own shilom and stash to, obviously, put me closer in touch with the godhead!
The air crackled with vitality!
Now, I would like you to stop and think about this for a moment.
There I was, a Philly Parisian in an ancient temple reeking with transcendence, dedicated to Ganesha (or was it Vishnu or Laxmi, I forget) by the side of a still, emerald-green pond, sitting with friendly locals and two holy men turning me on like there's no tomorrow, while outside, under blue skies and a vibrant sun, overlooking the majestic Pampapati temple, goats and monkeys frolicked, whilst a soft breeze cooled the fragrant Karnatic air.
And that is why, later, while passing under a sacred marmosa tree, I thanked Virupaksha, Lord of the Nagas, the Red King who ruled over the Western Quarter.

A Saddhu !

I mentioned earlier that Swami was oddly westernized. He told me how he and his friends organize "acid parties" (what!) in Hampi where they live. (He was the first of several to tell me about acid. Subsequently, I found out it is quite the thing with young Indian hipsters, who get it from Italians (!!), fanning it from Goa into South India). My Hampi head friends set up a sound system in a temple courtyard (beats the Elk's Lodge or a West Philly squat!), drop, and groove the Deccan night away, floating in millennial reverie as they, no doubt, ponder the ebb and flow of sentient existence. Nonplussed, I asked him what kind of music they listened to.
- "Acid music of course!", he replied, looking surprised that he should have to state the obvious.
-"Indian acid music?" I ask.
-"No, western!"
At that point, I was so flabbergasted that I neglected to ask him what he meant by that: Dead, Airplane, Jimi, Techno/Ambient/Chill/House....? Next time I see him, I'll ask and let you know! Another thing I noticed (and not limited to Hampi) was the complete lack of graffiti and vandalism. These sites, albeit abandoned and no longer in devotional use, are sacred, and it wouldn't cross anybody's mind to break anything: bad karma assured otherwise!
There is a large statue of Ganesha whose trunk has been broken off. The rest of the statue is in perfect condition, and I assumed some hooligans broke it off in a drunken stupor. "Not so", said Swami. "The Muslims did it when they sacked the city in 1565."
Finally, while the Karnataka State Antiquity Dept. must be warmly congratulated for the great job it's doing to salvage and restore all these glorious wonders, I must wish reincarnation as a cockroach upon the bureaucrat who allowed the quasi-ubiquitous electrical lines and poles to be so haphazardly laid out, nearly everywhere. Cheap-looking , they ruined dozens of tremendous photo opportunities.


Mumbai is a hell hole, I already told you that. Beggars everywhere, children in rags, hovels and huts on every street, people sleeping and living on stoops, in doorways, beside dumpsters. Organic garbage and plastic bags strewn all about, cows in downtown streets eating said garbage and shitting it out all over the place; the stench of it all combining with an omnipresent cloud of diesel fumes and the incessant din of car horns honking without let up! Need I go on?!

Pune (Poona) is about the same, maybe a little less so, but I can't quite judge. I spent eight hours there, splitting my time between trying to sleep in a downtown park and finding a cozy place to vomit the bad chicken I had eaten the night before in Aurangabad!

Panjim (or Panaji),
Outside Xavier Beach Resort Hotel !   Mossy steps in Panjim !

Goa's capital, was a lot better, but torrential rains and 200% humidity (it was so humid that, even when it didn't rain, you could SEE the air!) had everything dripping with a sickly rotting mossy mold, dark green and cancerous.
I stayed at the Xavier Beach Resort ("We're closed this time of year, sir, but if you don't mind being the only customer, we'll be glad to open for you". And I didn't mind, so they did!!).
It's in Candolim Beach, two hundred yards from the Arabian sea, along a red-earth path pocked and puddled here and about with carmine copper waters.
Cows and buffaloes munched placidly amidst Banyan trees taking root and root again alongside cacti scattered in coconut groves. Coarse sand on the beach, grey waters, darker skies, and many fishing-boats in the choppy water.
"Don't go in the water , it's dangerous during monsoon season" said my hosts.
I scoffed looking at the puny waves, went in to my knees and, within seconds, one of the puny waves in question had pulled me under and rolled me on the sand.
I managed to stand up, gasping for air, and decided to trust the locals about local mores and practices!


My last night in India and I whipped out the credit card to stay at the fairly swank Woodlands Hotel. That night I took a walk near Brigade Road, Bangalore's swinging neighborhood. Shops, restaurants, bars, computer emporiums, a cyber cafe,...., why, you could have thought you were on South Street, Phila., or in the Village. I went for a beer at the Pub World for Kingfisher on tap. Grad students and yuppies, jeans and Polo shirts, Bryan Adams and Guns and Roses on the juke, India-Sri Lanka cricket test-match on the telly, all-men except for a handful of accompanied, escorted, women...
I went back to the hotel, bought two quarts of Kingfisher at a corner stand, a pack of Gold Flake cigarettes for a nicotine high, and spent two hours flicking channels between cricket, more cricket, Hindi or Kannada musicals, several channels of MTV-style music stations, and the unavoidable CNN International!


Below Davaraja Market in Mysore !

And now, we're in Mysore, deep into southern Karnataka, and the last stage on my short trip. What a perfect way to end on a good note. A very pleasant city, small by Indian standards (only a million inhabitants!), fairly clean and with broad avenues, trees and parks, nice buildings NOT uniformly made of leprous cement blocks for a change. Of course, there was the obligatory diesel cloud, and dozens of cows, horses and stray dogs doing their thing untroubled on every street. But an airy haven nevertheless.

Mysore has several beautiful and old fruit and vegetable markets, including the Devaraja market, which my new friend Vijay kept referring to ironically as "the world-famous Devaraja market!"

Strolling through it one day, in search of incense and essential oils, I stopped by this young man's stall displaying joss-sticks and multicolored vials. He spoke english, of course, and even a little French and he turned out to be of good advice and a fount of information. To wit: he informed me that the sandalwood oil trade is a state monopoly in Karnataka, from sandal forests to bottled essences. He warned me: "don't go to the cheating markets. They'll sell you official-looking sealed bottles, but they'll remove the real oil with a syringe, to replace it with synthetic stuff."
The real question for me was: how do I tell the difference between the cheat and the straight-arrow, in a country where everybody is always so nice and drips honesty while trying to sell me something?!

the next day I'm on the Akbar Road in Mandi Mohalla district, near another market, a small one with a look-out tower topping the entrance gate. As I'd grown accustomed to, I let myself carried in a dream-like state by the hubbub of merchant life, women in saris buying mysterious looking legumes and tubers, people going from shop to stall, eating golden fried delights as they go, smiling at me and asking for my name, as I photograph delivery men in orange or white turbans driving ox-carts or carrying mountains of jute-cloth bags on their heads. Life is good!

All of a sudden, I find myself face to face with this ten year old boy, all smiles and eagerness, asking me if I want to visit an incense factory and smell rare oils. Cheap, too! Keeping in mind yesterday's warning, I say OK to the incense part, and before I can think any further, I find myself in a capharnaum of a shop brimming over with soaps and fragrances, herbs and ayurvedic distillates, spices in glass vessels of all sizes and shapes. In the shop's back room is the "incense factory"! The boy's name is Samul, and he grabs a handful each of charcoal and sandalwood powder, mixes the two in a copper bowl, adds water, stirs quickly and spreads the mixture on a stone slab, palm-rolls it on a wooden stick, and presto, incense. I'm amused by his effort to put on a show for me, I like his gung-ho energy, and buy ten sticks from him, at ten rupees way too much money, but what the hell, I liked his act. When he wants to bring in his big bro for the oil sale spiel, I say no and leave. Look of dismay on Samul's face, as if his new friend from across the dark waters had been torn away from him!

Lil' Samul in front of his shop!

I then took a rickshaw to the state sandal oil factory, a few miles south. Fascinating place drowning in the headiest fragrances
imaginable. I took the tour with an Italian couple from Roma, and we all retreated to the factory shop afterwards. "Soap and incense, no problem", said the clerk, "but we're out of oil, so sorry, what with export demand so high, we can't keep any stock on hand"!
Big disappointment from the three of us, but to the rescue comes the rickshaw driver.
-"I know a place", he says "good oil, cheap. I take you"
-"Great", we think. "Let's go!"

And in no time, we find ourselves at... Samul's place, on Akbar Road! Small world, I think, as the kid beams at us, ushers us into that backroom with the bottles and the powders and the sumptuous reek.
And this time, we're in for the big oil show with Samul's older brother Sagheer. Half an hour later, I have gardenia and white Mogra flower on the back of both my hands, two kinds of jasmine on my wrists, rose on one forearm and sandalwood on the other! All of the headiest fragrance, luxuriant and intoxicating, earthy and airy all at once, floating spells about the dim room, soothing me into their thrall. Sagheer is totally organized, with a pre-printed price list in six currencies, and description of the fragrances in as many creative foreign syntaxes.
So I buy a bottle of jasmine, but still feeling the faint tug of a warning, I go for only one phial of sandalwood. The two Italians, who obviously have Roman biz in mind, buy six along with a dozen more assorted oils. We say goodbye, I take a picture of Samul and Sagheer, give the kid a pen (he asked) and some French coins (he loved), we promise to send all the tourists we meet, and, "of course we'll be back!"

Big brother Sagheer smiling at the tourists
he just rolled!

I drop my buys at the hotel and return to Devaraja market for more photos and catharsis. Within moments, two young men approach me with the usual "What name, what country, would you like to smoke some ganja?". They were called Shankar and Vijay and I followed them through a daedalus of small streets and alleys, dodging cows and puddles, to a small cafe where we smoked and drank tchai. At one point, I bring up the Samuls and my oily transaction. In no time Shankar interrupts me and, with a grin, proceeds to tell all that happened as if he'd been there the whole time! They laugh gently. -"You got cheated. This is an act they play for the tourists".
Sure enough, when I checked the sandal later, I noticed a minute pinprick in the cork stopper, and the oil, while actual sandalwood, was ok at best, much different from the thick and rich and sweet concentrate Sagheer showered on my arm earlier.
Anyway, Shankar and Vijay tell me not to be upset, it's past and done, and it's dharma! They say they know this fellow in Devaraja market who sells good oils and speaks French.

-"I know him!" I say.
-"Let's go see him." they say.

At Devaraja Market in Mysore !
And so, feeling awkward and stupid and pissed off, I follow them back to the good merchant in his market shop who is appalled at my naivete.
-"I told you not to go, I explained to you what they do, I warned you. How could you do it?"
And it is feeling guilty as hell that I buy five different oils from him (all very good, I might add!), and I depart with promises of eternal friendship, I'll be in touch, Namaste, and all that!
Afterwards, I thought: "What could I have done?"
If you end up being so paranoid about being conned, you end up holed up in your hotel, buying nothing and returning home empty-handed from this fascinating land of plenty. And all I ended up losing was the equivalent of $12! Cheap for the adventure! 


The guide book I had, waxed lyrical at great length about the Mysore Maharaja Palace, one of the most beautiful in all India, it said. With visions of a centuries-old palace, sculpted marble lace-works, and armies of divine statues and their retinue of demigods and heroes, I aimed for this purported architectural wonder. How can I convey the sense of disappointment that engulfed me when coming face to face with that royal monstrosity! Forget ancient Indian architecture. Built in 1894 by a British architect (shame), it epitomizes Victorian bad taste (check that! Bad taste does have its charms. Let's say Victorian NO taste!!). In an attempt to hide the Brits' historical lack of imagination and creativity in all things unrelated to mercantilism, behind a feeble attempt at local color, the architect (sic) topped his railway-station horror with a few cupolas, minaret like, achieving thereby the tackiest effect imaginable. It would make a fine megalomaniac Rotary Lodge Temple, but an Indian Maharaja's palace?!....
The Maharajah Palace in Mysore ! The Mysore Palace!!

Having visited earlier in the day the pure marvel that was Tipu Sultan's summer pavilion, the shocking contrast between the two structures couldn't have been more blatant! Built a mere one hundred years earlier, the Tipu's mansion is a masterpiece of airy elegance with its carved wooden arches and sublime filigreed decorative patterns. And I wondered: Could Indian architects have reached such decadence in a single century, and could their talents have so atrophied as to make their commissioning impossible? Obviously not. If decadence is to be found, it lies with the Indian ruling elite of the period, so enslaved to British imperial power had they become, that the shameless aping of the colonial invader was the only course of action they could conceive of!  

Tippu Sultan's Mausoleum near Mysore !
Tippu Sultan's burial Mausoleum, near Mysore.


At the end of my first week in India, I tried to advance my return flight by a few days, so freaked out was I by the horrifying human misery and filth. All seats were booked and I wasn't able to do it. The wonderful second week of my stay made me very happy it couldn't be done, but still I was glad to return to Paris. Now, four months later, unable to see a day pass without thinking of India, the India of a million gods, divine musicians, celestial dancers, the India of aromatic magic, of flowers in garlanded temples, of ineffable marvels and wonders without end, I now think of when, and how, and with whom will I return?

I'll see you there!

All Photographs Copyrighted © Michel Polizzi 1997-2000

Namaste!! A letter, please!!?
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