It’s nine o’clock in the morning and it’s hot in Hampi. Scorching. Boulders and rocks sit on top of one another–red and copper and sunburnt–and this is the landscape. Like a planet, like Mars, really. Like the red planet, minus aliens, but plus otherworldly ruins. And it’s hot. Hot as hell. I already said that.
I am walking to the Monkey Temple. The monkey temple, which I heard about on my first day in the bazaar, waiting for the ferry to bring me over to my side of the river. “There’s a monkey temple?” I asked. “Yeah,” the woman said. “It’s filled with monkeys.”
This was something I needed to see.
So I am walking to the Monkey Temple. Asaf has not come along because he feels sick. He feels sick from the watermelon he ate yesterday. He had the shits all night. You can get sick from anything here. Even watermelon. And that’s exactly what Asaf has done. So I lather myself with sunscreen and set out walking.
It’s nine in the morning. I already told you it was hot.
Everywhere where there aren’t boulders, there are ruins and rice paddies. And palm trees. And little shops. And cows. Water buffalo. But mostly rice paddies and ruins. Oh, and banana trees. But anyway, rivers feed elaborate, tiered and quartered irrigation systems, the rice sits with its roots submerged in water, and on the little barriers separating the paddies grow the palm trees and the banana trees that I was talking about.
So there’s this–ancient farming, lush and green and tropical–set amid that–a landscape 300 million years of erosion in the making, though it looks as though it were created by God–and it’s a nice walk. Truly. To the Monkey Temple.
You should try it sometime.
I arrive at a fork in the road, have some water. “Which way to the Temple?”
A man is standing outside of his car. He points down the road I’m on.
“This way or that way?” I ask, pointing at each. I need to clarify, and I need to ask questions that cannot be answered by resorting to yes or no. There is in India a cultural aversion to saying ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know,’ one that you need to be on your toes to remember, lest the answer always be “Yes.” A yes answer is only the one you want fifty percent of the time.
The man at his car assures me that I’m on the right road. So I keep walking.
A kilometer or so further, sweating now, a boy herds water buffalo with a stalk of sugarcane. Three of them. I ask him if I’m on the right road. “Monkey Temple?”
“Yes. This way.” He points down the road I’m on. I say, “Not that one?” then, correcting, “That one or this one?” There is another road, the one that I skipped at the fork, that has so far run parallel to mine, but which looks as though it is the one that in fact leads to the Monkey Temple. Not the one I’m on–this road doesn’t. Rather, the road I’m on looks like it’s heading away from the Monkey Temple. Which would be bad. So I’m curious. Because it’s ninety-five million degrees outside and I don’t want to be on the wrong road.
“That one,” he says. He points at the road on the other side of the rice paddies. Fuck. Okay. “Are you sure? Is the temple this way or that way?” He again indicates the road over the paddies.
I make him tell me for a third and fourth time that it’s the other road–not this one–that leads to the Monkey Temple. He affirms that it is. He then asks me for rupees. I say, “No rupees.” Repeat. Then he asks me for a pen. “School pen?”
I give him my pen. “This better be the right road, little dude, or I’m going to be pissed.” I start crossing the rice paddies.
It takes fifteen minutes or so, but eventually the other road winds behind a grove of banana trees and completely reverses direction. Wrong road. Obviously, Tom: it isn’t paved. I turn around, retrace my steps, cut back through the rice paddies, to the main road where, as one would expect, the little kid has disappeared, and I’ve got another two kilometers to walk.
So I shut up and walk them.
And then when I get to the bottom of the hill that the temple sits on, six hundred stairs up through giant stones and monkey shit, I shut up and walk those too. In the sun. Drenched in sweat. And I only stopped once, shit you not.
At the top, were there any monkeys? There was precisely one. They come out in the morning and in the evening, when it’s not unbearably and oppresively hot, because they are smarter than I am. From what everybody who had been up there at sunrise told me, it was quite a sight to behold–monkeys taking your clothes, trying to put them on; monkeys jumping in your hair and trying to pull fleas out of it; monkeys stealing bananas and screaming and yelling, hooting and hollering. But, did I see it? Did I see the monkeys at the Monkey Temple? No. I had to take it on faith. I had missed it. I sat on the wall in the shade, looking at Hampi, ancient, ancient forevermore crumbling Hampi, and drank water for an hour. Then I turned around and went back down.