Sunday, February 15, 2009

NCR Colour code for autos and taxis

One more news on free movement of autos and taxis between Delhi and NCR areas have come. All commercial vehicle with NCR permit will have a blue, green and white stripes in this order. Sizes of bands will vary depending on type of vehicle.

Permits for these across NCR vehicles will be issued from 16th Feb onwards. Hopefully they become operational by next month. It is now more than two months since the first news of agreement details had been published. (Read the original details of this agreement here)

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Hampi : Where time stands still

It was around noon on Saturday, the 13th Sept, 2008 when I had made the final decision to go to Hampi. We got two days off from the training that we were undergoing at Bangaluru. I had called up few colleagues in the morning to find if anyone is interested. But each of those lethargic fellows had some kind of excuses for not to travel. The very thought of travelling 400km one way, that too by bus was itself sleep inducing. May be I was asking a bit too much out of them. Therefore I decided to give it a try all alone. In fact all my trips till now had been either with a friend or my own family. So this was going to be a new experience – a trip in true back packer style.

The best way to travel to Hampi is to catch the 6592 Hampi Exp in the evening. It leaves Bangaluru at 2230 and will drop you at Hospet at 0745 next morning. Hampi is just 13 km from Hospet. As it was too late for me to get a ticket in the train to Hospet, I decided to try the KSRTC bus service. From their website, I found that KSRTC have a direct bus service between Bangaluru and Hampi. If one cannot find seat in that bus, then there are many buses to Hospet. Seats in KSRTC buses can be booked from agents they have appointed across Bangaluru. I booked ticket at the nearest KSRTC agent at Ballandur. I got a seat in the Bangaluru – Hampi bus for the night of Saturady itself, but could not a get a return ticket by the same bus for Sunday. I booked a return ticket from Hospet. The bus to Hampi is a Rajahamsa category bus. This service is 2x2 non-ac deluxe buses. KSRTC also runs an Airavat class bus service between Bangaluru and Hospet. Airavat is AC Volvo class service. If I recall correctly, the fare I paid was around Rs.350/-.

I just had a small backpack as luggage which had my camera kit, a towel and the toilet kit. By 10pm I was at the inter- state bus terminal at Majestic. Official name of this central bus stand is Kempe Gowda Bus Terminus. Even at that hour it was heavily crowded. I made my way to my designated platform no 2. Soon I encountered my first problem. I found that except for the Airavat class buses, all others had destinations written in Kannada. Stuck with this piquant situation, I started reading the boards around and made a mental map of what Ha and Pi looks like in Kannada. As the clock started approaching 11 pm, the scheduled departure time, and still there was no sign of my bus, I started getting a little worried. I kept asking people around but was of little help. Finally the bus for Hampi appeared in the scene and to my delight it also had destination written in English. Hampi being a tourist spot, someone was thoughtful enough to add destinations in English. The bus was of so-so quality --- not too good, but not that bad either. Most of the Rajahamsa class buses were new, but this was a bit older. As the bus made its way out of the city, I got sucked into slumber.

When I woke up in the morning, the bus was travelling through a real bad patch of road. At around 7:30 am the bus had made it to Hospet. After a reasonably long halt, it started off for Hampi. All I had as co-passenger was a couple. The boy was a foreigner and the girl accompanying him was Indian. I got into conversation with the girl. When I told about my plan to return by that evening she was bit surprised. They had plan to stay there for a night or two. Returning by night would have been hectic, but returning by 3pm of that day was not even I thought plausible. I had very little choice. I could not afford to miss the training on Monday and also I could not let this last opportunity (for some time to come) to see Hampi.

Anyway, the bus arrived at Hampi around 8 am. It was off season in Hampi. So a horde of agents and autowallahs descended on the 3 souls that had arrived by the bus that morning. As the couple was looking for accommodation, they went their way. I had bargained with an auto for half day sightseeing @Rs.450/-. There are 3 ways to sight see at Hampi – on foot, hire a two-wheeler / cycle or hire an auto.

The priority for me was to get freshen. The autowallah took me to the bathing ghat on the Tungabhadra river through narrow gallis. There were no big hotels at Hampi, yet there was no dearth of accommodation on these narrow lanes. These are probably so-so quality accommodation where you need to stay just thinking about one night. There is a public toilet by the ghat which was reasonably clean. But the water was muddy as it is pumped directly from the river below. Thus having a bath was out of question. I had brushed my teeth using the bottle of mineral water I was carrying. After getting fresh, I sat on one of the hotels on the main road to the temple for breakfast.

The sightseeing tour started around 9 am. The landscape of Hampi is unbelievingly beautiful. As if nature had created it specially. Lines and racks of boulders are lying one upon another, as if kept there by hand. In fact, God created Hampi which was discovered by man and settled down in these beautiful surroundings. As the trip progressed I got sucked into the beauty of Hampi. Most of the monuments are in good shape and are well maintained. As if time has come to a standstill. Built between the 13th and 16th century, these ruins remind you of a well planned town. The Krishna bazaar structure with its rows of pavilion on both sides and open ground in between resembles any modern day bazaar or haat. You will find enough literature on Hampi on the net. But just for record, it was the capital of the Vijayanagara empire. It was a wealthy and prosperous Hindu empire which was taken over and destroyed by Muslim rulers around it.

The autowallah took me to all important monuments. I started with the 12 feet high Sasivekalu Ganapati. Then to the Krishna temple, Ugra Narasimha and Badavi Linga, Pataleshwar temple, etc. etc. Many insignificant ruins are seen scattered everywhere. I spent ample time photographic each of them. Occasional drizzle was breaking the trip from time to time. I also visited the museum at Kamalpur which had a good collection of artifacts. In fact none of the temples had any statue. All the statues recovered from the ruins are kept in the museum. The temples like Krishna temple or the Hazaari Rama temple are objects of history rather than being place of worship. I do not know how they have managed to keep people away from reclaiming these places as place of worship. In India you will find people built temples and then put up sign as ‘ancient temple’. If you want to see this go the holy places like Haridwar, Rishikesh, Vrindavan, Mathura, etc.

After about 2 hours, I had reached the most famous monument of Hampi. It is the Vijaya Vittala Temple. The stone chariot of Hampi was waiting there. I could not wait to touch it. This was the biggest reason for me coming to Hampi. In my small old postal stamp collection, I had a 15 paise stamp depicting the stone chariot of Hampi. The chariot is also the structure that represents Hampi in history books. I clicked my picture standing by the chariot by putting the camera in self-timer mode. The Vittala temple complex is truly magnificent. It was built by Krishnadevaraya in 1513. I have seen beautiful shot of the temple with lights on. Therefore I asked the guard on duty about the timing of putting the lights on. He informed me that these are put on only during Hampi festival. That was a dampener.

I was then taken to the point from which you can see the ruins of the ancient bridge. I was a certain prospective customer to the lone boatman who operates couple of Coracle boats there. The boatman offered me to take to the other side of the river for 200 bucks so that I can go to the Hanuman temple perched atop a hill. Going to the other side of the river was OK, but climbing up a hill was not OK for me. So he offered me another proposal for a brief ride for 50 bucks. Despite being not sure about the safety, I also wanted to try it out. But I could not prevent my pants from getting soaked in water. The Coracle ride was really memorable. After that the autowallah took me to the Sugreev’s den. Even though he was a muslim, he showed me places like the Sugreev’s den and Kiskindhya parvat. Locals believe that Kiskindhya of Ramayan was here and the den was used by Sugreev when he was chased away by Bali.

He then urged me to take the pedal road winding up by the side of Tungabhadra from this side and reach the market area. Few monuments on this stretch can only be covered on foot. I agreed to his advice and paid him good bye. It was only around 12:30 pm when I had passed the Kodanda Rama Temple. It was barely noon and I am almost done with the sightseeing of Hampi. Then I met the couple who had started on foot from the opposite direction with map in their hand. They probably had covered 2 or 3 monuments by then. They were surprised to find me coming from opposite direction. They were more surprised when I told them that I had finished sightseeing and was contemplating going back.

Thus Hampi can be covered in 4 hours by riding an auto. In that I also had a Coracle ride and the museum visit. This time frame for someone who loves photography and spend lot of time at each monument. So one can actually cover it in 3 hours. My trip ended at 1 pm. But my return ticket was for a bus at 11pm. I rang up my brother to tell that I am planning to come back. None of us were sure whether I will get some refund for the reservation ticket. In any case I have nothing to do till 11pm, i.e., nearly ten hours to kill. I may probably make it back to Bangaluru by these ten hours.

I had lunch in one of the roadside hotel doting the main street of Hampi bazaar. Being an off-season, not all of them were serving. I found one that was serving lunch. Then I rode a Vikram with locals to Hospet. On enquiring with the KSRTC counter, I found that they would refund me some amount after deducting cancellation charges. I lost about 100 rupees, but was happy to get major part of it back. There is no deluxe bus service during day hours. So I rode a semi deluxe bus which started off at 3 pm. The fare was probably Rs.230/-. The bus stopped at all towns on the route. This bus trip before sunset gave me an opportunity to see what I would have missed by an overnight trip. On seeing the reservoir of Tungabhadra dam (which I found out later), I asked a fellow traveler as to what it is. He replied – samunder (sea). It indeed appeared like a sea. Riding through the rural Karnataka was another unforgettable experience.

Anyway, I reached Bangaluru by 12 midnight. This means I had travelled nearly 800 km in 24 hours, that too by bus. Fortunately I would get 6/7 hours to sleep comfortably and get refreshed for classes next day. I hired an auto at Majestic and the buggers literally looted me. There were two of driving. I handed them a note of 500 rupee. Both of them denied receiving the 500 note and told me that I had given them a 100 rupee note. I got into a brief argument but then wisdom returned. My brother had warned me against quarreling with autowallah in Bangalore . It was dead of night with nobody around. Autowalah in Bangaluru are notorious, worse than in Delhi. I did everything right in the trip except for the auto ride back home. When I look back at the trip, I feel that I should not have taken that risk of riding an auto at such hours. They could have snatched my camera kit! I was thankful to God that I made the trip from Majestic to home safely.