The stunning temples of Hampi, India

Hampi

Hidden Gem of India

Hampi is a surprisingly unknown place in India considering how amazing it is. I had briefly heard of it before going but not to a large degree, and I hadn’t seen many pictures of it. All I knew is that it had some old temples.


 

Well, I’m very glad I decided to go in the end because I very almost skipped it, which would have been a great loss. Ancient ruins and temples continue for miles over a huge area amongst beautiful surrounding scenery. The town itself is very small and quite rural, but across the river, a more developed town has sprung up with a number of modern restaurants and guesthouses aimed at tourists. In fact, we were told the government is planning to relocate the local villagers to new residences across the river and bulldozing the town in order to preserve the Unesco Heritage status of the ruins. Whether or not this is a good thing is debatable, and understandably some of the villagers who have lived there for decades are against it, but at the same time most of them earn a living from the tourism and therefore maintaining it would likely be in their best interests.

Sunset Panorama

We arrived without any of this information and as a result, ended up booking and paying upfront for two nights in a room at a small, run-down guesthouse on the rural village side. I thought it was a bit odd they wanted us to pay for both nights upfront and only realised why after crossing the river. They knew we would move once seeing the amazing views and beautiful guesthouses available across the river, in what is colloquially referred to as ‘Hippie Island’ (although it is not, in fact, an island).


View of the River

Boat Politics

At the time we went there was only a small boat service to take people across the river but apparently, a bridge is being built in preparation for when the village is relocated. The boat service is really annoying because there are two boats and according to the driver each can only take passengers in one direction. They will also only go once they have reached 20 passengers, so many times we found ourselves waiting for ages for our boat to leave, while the other boat came across and dropped off passengers a number of times and each time went back empty.


Walk to the River Boat

On top of this, the boat guys are very proficient at ripping tourists off, in a number of ways which I’ll cover later. At the end of the day, it’s still very cheap, but it’s the principle of the matter.  More importantly, it’s sad to see people who were once probably self-sufficient and unconcerned with making a quick buck, reduced to money-hunger and morally-bankrupt because of the encroachment of capitalist-fuelled tourism. This is in no way unique to Hampi, or India, but for some reason, it felt more apparent here. I think a recent and sudden burst of tourism has affected the area and people in a way that still needs to find a constructive and beneficial balance for all involved.


Baby on Board

We had arrived at 7 am on an overnight bus from Goa, so after dropping off our bags we went for some breakfast at a small street-side cafe and met a lovely Slovenian couple who were travelling with their 2-year-old. We chatted for quite awhile about travelling, India, babies and Miha’s freelance work as a video producer. Their baby had been quite sick for days so they hadn’t managed to leave their guesthouse or do any sightseeing. Being about the same age as us, I was impressed – but not at all envious – that they didn’t let their child stop them living their lives as they desired. You could tell Miha’s poor wife was feeling the pressure though, but fortunately when we saw them again the next day their child was already feeling better.


Ancient Water Temple

Lazy Lunch

After breakfast, we explored some of the nearby temples by foot before catching the boat across to hippie island and discovering the beauty that is there. Although to be fair, we actually only discovered the comfortable mattresses inside of a restaurant built on bamboo stilts overlooking a rice paddy because we were both so exhausted from the bus journey we promptly fell asleep as soon as we had eaten lunch. Luckily we awoke in time to catch the last boat back! Once back we decided to climb the rocks behind our guesthouse and were rewarded with a stunning sunset over the temples of Hampi.

Hampi Sunset
Sunset Yoga

Cycling and Swimming

We awoke quite late the next day and after a quick traditional breakfast of idli and puri we crossed the river, hired some 100 rupee mountain bikes and cycled off to find Sampar lake. Along the way, we bumped into Rutger, a Dutch guy we had met on the bus who followed us on his scooter and joined us at the lake. We went on a brief but quite fun bamboo-boat ride and swam in the (apparently) crocodile-infested lake. Afterwards, we cycled back to town and enjoyed sun-downers at one of the beautiful riverside resorts.

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Bamboo boat sailing!

Even though we arrived at the boat jetty before the last cut-off time of 5:30 pm (along with a number of other tourists), the boat guy purposely disappeared for about 20 minutes and then came back and told us we’d have to pay 50 rupees now because it was too late. We all protested but soon realised that unless we were going to swim across, we didn’t have any choice but to pay him. What made it even more annoying was that another boat carrying locals did three crossings during this time, with lots of empty seats each time, but wouldn’t let any of us on “because we were foreigners”. I imagine they have some agreement to do this and share the profits.

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Cycling Hampi

Ancient Temples

We decided to wake up early the next day, view some more of the temples before it got too hot and then return before midday to check out. A short walk over the hill from our guesthouse we discovered a massive ruined complex the size of a small airport, consisting of a large temple on one side made up of a few smaller buildings and a huge pillared courtyard that stretched over a few hundred metres. This led on to a few more temples and ended down by the riverside at a temple with the famous ‘stone chariot’ – which is, as the name suggests, a chariot made out of stone.

By 11 am we were tired and it was hot, so we started heading back and stopped for tea and idli at a small food stall. While there a cheeky monkey came out of nowhere and stole one of our idli cakes right off our plate! We also saw another monkey that must have been attacked – it had all his gums missing, exposing his teeth and skull and looking like something out of a horror movie. It was quite sad although somehow the monkey didn’t seem too bothered.


Rock Diving

Escape the Heat

Once packed and checked-out we crossed the river for the final time and left our bags at the bus collection point. Then we rented a scooter and drove to a swimming spot somebody had told us about a few kilometres upriver. We spent a few hours there swimming and jumping off rocks. There were some Indian guys hanging around there who claimed to own the land and annoyingly kept bugging us to buy their snacks or drinks, with the unspoken threat of kicking us out if we didn’t. I highly doubt they really own the land, but I bought some over-priced crisps anyway to placate them.

Beautiful Rice paddies in Hippie Island

We had our sleeper bus back to Goa booked for 7 pm that evening, so we quickly took the scooter back and watched one last beautiful sunset over the rice paddies before getting on a tuk-tuk to take us to the bus.  This turned out to be a rather insane drive hanging off the back while squashed in with four other people and our bags balanced precariously on the roof.  Along the way, the driver had to swerve to avoid cows sleeping in the road and the usual head-on traffic – and that was before we even go to our actual bus!

Just another day in India….

A Wedding in Watamu, Kenya

 

In March 2016, my cousin got married in the beach resort town of Watamu, Kenya.

I only had a week off work, which was enough time to see most of this tiny fishing village, but I could have easily stayed another week!  It is one of the most beautiful and relaxing places I’ve ever seen.  Truly heaven!

I was staying with my parents and my brother and his girlfriend, as well as another couple who we didn’t know but were guests of the bride and groom.  We all rented a huge, mansion like house just off the beach, with four double bedrooms, a huge living area, bar, kitchen, massive swimming pool and amazing outdoor lounge and sitting areas.  It even had an outdoor bed next to the pool!  And all this for a very affordable price, being that the exchange rate in Kenya works out very favourably to the British pound.

Most days were spent lounging around the pool, walking along the beach and generally just eating, drinking and relaxing. Proper holiday style!

We did a few activities, like snorkelling, paddleboarding and riding around on the back of incredibly scary motorbike taxis that weave in and out of traffic and ride with wild abandon along rocky dirt roads.

One of the best days was spent out on a small “glass-bottom” boat – the glass-bottom was only one very small, dirty square meter of perspex in the bottom of the wooden boat through which you could see very little.  However we had no need for it as we spent most of the time in the water around the boat, snorkelling with the free snorkelling gear the boatmen provided us with.  The water was a bit murky from all the sand kicked up by the boat motors, but I managed to see quite a few colourful fish and coral gardens.

 

The day before the wedding we visited a lovely, more deserted beach slightly north of the house.  We travelled there precariously on the back of a small rickety motorbike taxi, up some rocky dirt roads that I would struggle to drive a 4×4 up!  Luckily nobody died and we were rewarded with the most incredible white sands and blue seas I have ever seen.

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We walked quite far out into the shallow ocean and took some pictures sunbathing on a sand dune.  At one point someone dropped my phone in the ocean but luckily it’s a waterproof Xperia z3 and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the waterproofing actually works!
After getting sufficently sunburnt, we enjoyed an amazing meal of fresh fish and seafood in a tiny little wooden restaurant presumably run by the local fisherman.  Amazing they even had cold beer and wifi!  Although the toilets left much to be desired…

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As you can imagine in a small fishing village the nightlife isn’t expansive, however we managed to find a few bars with a bit of a vibe, the best of which was the infamous Pole Pole Bar (pronounced Poly Poly).10273470_10156752727600220_3041581785144207921_n  It was a bit dead the night we went and they were playing mostly awful radio pop and oldskool tunes, but amongst the eight or so of us we managed to get quite a dancefloor going!

That evening I finished off same as most others, lounging in the pool drinking Auchentoshan whiskey and watching the stars.  It’s so hot the pool water was still warm at 7am every morning!

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The day of the wedding went smoothly, with excellent weather, clear blue skies and only a slight breeze.  The ceremony was performed right on the beach under the palm trees and next to the softly lapping waves, in what must surely be the most beautiful wedding venue I’ve ever been to.  A small arch was erected for the bride and groom and the 20 or so guests were provided with sarongs to sit on the sand.  After the many touching speeches and formalities of the ceremony, it was time for the real reason people go to weddings – the reception!

We all piled into tuk-tuk’s and were whisked off a few kilometers to another huge lagoon-side mansion where my cousin and her family were all staying, and where the dinner and wedding party were to take place.  It was a stunning setting, all outdoors with white tableclothes set around a beautiful swimming pool and catered by a huge seafood buffet.  I drank and danced until inevitably ending up in the swimming pool, losing my shoes and yet somehow waking up in bed the next morning, albeit still wet.

 

 

 

A week in Watamu, Kenya

 

In March 2016, my cousin got married in the beach resort town of Watamu, Kenya.

I only had a week off work, which was enough time to see most of this tiny fishing village, but I could have easily stayed another week!  It is one of the most beautiful and relaxing places I’ve ever seen.  Truly heaven!

I was staying with my parents and my brother and his girlfriend, as well as another couple who we didn’t know but were guests of the bride and groom.  We all rented a huge, mansion like house just off the beach, with four double bedrooms, a huge living area, bar, kitchen, massive swimming pool and amazing outdoor lounge and sitting areas.  It even had an outdoor bed next to the pool!  And all this for a very affordable price, being that the exchange rate in Kenya works out very favourably to the British pound.

Most days were spent lounging around the pool, walking along the beach and generally just eating, drinking and relaxing. Proper holiday style!

We did a few activities, like snorkelling, paddleboarding and riding around on the back of incredibly scary motorbike taxis that weave in and out of traffic and ride with wild abandon along rocky dirt roads.

One of the best days was spent out on a small “glass-bottom” boat – the glass-bottom was only one very small, dirty square meter of perspex in the bottom of the wooden boat through which you could see very little.  However we had no need for it as we spent most of the time in the water around the boat, snorkelling with the free snorkelling gear the boatmen provided us with.  The water was a bit murky from all the sand kicked up by the boat motors, but I managed to see quite a few colourful fish and coral gardens.

 

The day before the wedding we visited a lovely, more deserted beach slightly north of the house.  We travelled there precariously on the back of a small rickety motorbike taxi, up some rocky dirt roads that I would struggle to drive a 4×4 up!  Luckily nobody died and we were rewarded with the most incredible white sands and blue seas I have ever seen.

12096117_10156762550835220_3436346047139880738_n

We walked quite far out into the shallow ocean and took some pictures sunbathing on a sand dune.  At one point someone dropped my phone in the ocean but luckily it’s a waterproof Xperia z3 and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the waterproofing actually works!
After getting sufficently sunburnt, we enjoyed an amazing meal of fresh fish and seafood in a tiny little wooden restaurant presumably run by the local fisherman.  Amazing they even had cold beer and wifi!  Although the toilets left much to be desired…

225597_10156762548660220_87430267711748597_n

As you can imagine in a small fishing village the nightlife isn’t expansive, however we managed to find a few bars with a bit of a vibe, the best of which was the infamous Pole Pole Bar (pronounced Poly Poly).10273470_10156752727600220_3041581785144207921_n  It was a bit dead the night we went and they were playing mostly awful radio pop and oldskool tunes, but amongst the eight or so of us we managed to get quite a dancefloor going!

That evening I finished off same as most others, lounging in the pool drinking Auchentoshan whiskey and watching the stars.  It’s so hot the pool water was still warm at 7am every morning!

12832559_10156740097360220_1829164436593995399_n

The day of the wedding went smoothly, with excellent weather, clear blue skies and only a slight breeze.  The ceremony was performed right on the beach under the palm trees and next to the softly lapping waves, in what must surely be the most beautiful wedding venue I’ve ever been to.  A small arch was erected for the bride and groom and the 20 or so guests were provided with sarongs to sit on the sand.  After the many touching speeches and formalities of the ceremony, it was time for the real reason people go to weddings – the reception!

We all piled into tuk-tuk’s and were whisked off a few kilometers to another huge lagoon-side mansion where my cousin and her family were all staying, and where the dinner and wedding party were to take place.  It was a stunning setting, all outdoors with white tableclothes set around a beautiful swimming pool and catered by a huge seafood buffet.  I drank and danced until inevitably ending up in the swimming pool, losing my shoes and yet somehow waking up in bed the next morning, albeit still wet.

 

 

 

Croatia: Split, Hvar and Plitvice


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In July 2010 six friends and I decided to go to Croatia for two weeks – exploring Hvar, Split, Plitvice and ending up at a music festival called ‘Stop Making Sense’.


Split

Some of us flew into Split together on Easyjet and met some of the others there. The first night we just had dinner, explored the small town and hung out by the ocean side – drinking and messing around in some old forts and railroad tracks.


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Hvar

In the morning we had to get up fairly early and get a ferry to the island of Hvar where we were camping for the night. The ferry took about 2 hours, during which time we relaxed on the deck tanning and drinking beer. We arrived and took a taxi to the far end of the island where we found our campsite.

One couple had booked a pre-made tent with beds, electrical point and even a fridge. The rest of set up some tents that we had brought with, although I didn’t even have a tent so I just slept in the foyer area of the others pre-made tent.


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That evening we got a taxi to the main Hvar town and had the most amazing seafood, and when I came back from the toilet everyone played a trick on me saying we had ordered shots of some crazy strong Croatian alcohol which I was scared to drink, but it turned out it was just a shot of water!


The following day we went swimming in the nearby bay and explored the island around the campsite. It was strangely very quiet around where we were, with not many people around, which was odd for high season.

Bol and Brac

The town of Bol on the nearby island of Brac was our next destination and found our apartment that we had rented for the night. Then the few of us that had licenses hired some scooters and drove around the island for a bit, before coming back and taking some of the others out on the back of the scooters.


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We chilled on Zlatni Rat beach for a bit before getting another ferry back to the mainland, where we spent the night before hiring a car in the morning and starting the drive up to Plitvice National park.

Plitvice

It was a bit further than I thought and took us most of the morning and past lunch, so, unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to see the park which is huge! We rushed through and took as many photos as we could of the beautiful turquoise waterfalls. It really does look like something out of the garden of Eden!

Festival

Around 6 pm we had to leave and did the short one hour drive to Petrcane where the festival was, and then dropped the hire car off at Zadar airport. We all had booked into the hotel that also served as the site for the festival, except one other couple that had their own small apartment nearby.

I don’t remember exact details of the festival but we had some amazing sunset boat parties with DJ’s like Robodello, and at one point I went swimming at midnight which was freezing but fun.