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16th February

We had some bad news from home today that put a damper on things somewhat. However our driver, Prahlad, showed up early, and while he spoke very little English, he was a nice guy and got us to Badami in Karnataka state efficiently. At the border a guard rummaged in the trunk of the car. The car was air conditioned and we sat in the back munching chips and listening to podcasts, watching the hot, dry plains of India go by, for about five hours. Podcasts really help the time pass.

Our hotel in Badami, Krishna Villas, is our first dump of the trip; the photos on must have been taken in 1975. Everything is worn and grotty, the family kids play in the echoing main lobby (well, it’s pretty much a tin shed really) we couldn’t get food when we arrived (they need a day’s notice), and we have to pay cash even though the listing said they took cards. A nearby restaurant (the only one in walking distance) had a closed kitchen. So we ended up having protein bars for dinner!

The hotel is in a side street near a busy, polluted, noisy crossroads, so first impressions of Badami aren’t good. Well, you can’t visit India without a few good hotel stories …

(When we got home, an Indian friend of Carol’s said to her “you stayed overnight in Badami? No one stays in Badami …”)

17th February

We were pretty grumpy last night, but in classic travel form, today has been great. After an uncomfortable sleep on a rock hard mattress, the noise and lights of the main room keeping us awake (our room has upper windows that open onto the main space, for some strange reason), we had a breakfast of milky coffee, biryani, toast, jam, and watermelon, and headed out just before 9am. A short walk took us beyond the dirt and chaos of the main street intersection nearby and into some quite picturesque side streets with small white-washed buildings, and eventually to the striking red sandstone escarpment called South Fort. Here we paid 300 R each for a ticket and walked up stone steps and past terraces to a series of stunning rock-cut cave temples. The carvings in the first three (the fourth is a later Jain addition) were spectacular – very deep reliefs of Vishnu, Krishna and the usual wide variety of Hindu deities and attendants. At one terrace Carol was completely mobbed by a crowd of laughing young schoolgirls for a group photo (I was soon dragged in too). Very few other non-India tourists about.

The view over Agastya lake – a huge tank of green water – was spectacular, with ruined fortifications and Chalukya-era (6th – 8th centuries CE) temples crowning the North Fort outcrop opposite. Wide ghats (steps) for washing led down to the water. We walked back down to them and around the tank to the other side, and after buying some chips from a tiny hole-in-the-wall stall, went to the small Archaeological Museum to look at some pieces of sculpture nabbed from temples in the area.

Behind this, steps led up to the top of North Fort, through some spectacular natural canyons perfectly used as defensive structures, various gates, past some Chalukya temple ruins and granaries, and eventually to the summit and the ruins of a 7th century temple. This temple’s roof was home to a large group of squatting monkeys. Carol has been telling me of her fear of monkeys but I was surprised to see her be very careful to keep quite a distance from them!

It was very hot, but thankfully there was a breeze, and several shady spots during the ascent. Very few people about, and no other non-Indian tourists (which is how we like it).

Back down at the Museum, we continued on around the tank, past women knee-deep in the water and beating clothes against the stone steps, to the Bhutanatha group of temples on the eastern side of the lake. This spot was the subject of iconic views of Badami in photographs we’d seen online, so it was strange to be finally sitting there. While we snacked on our chips Carol pointed out a money running along the ghat steps some distance away, warning me that it was coming to get our food. It couldn’t possibly see that from that distance, I said. But it was! It suddenly appeared next to us and Carol jumped out of her skin! I shooshed it away; but we learned a lesson about the incredible eyesight of hungry monkeys!

Back towards town and through the interesting side streets to the very busy main road, we walked for a while amidst the chaos, getting lots of curious looks, often having to move halfway onto the road when what passed for sidewalks disappeared. At a relatively modern supermarket we got some drinks and snacks. Then we walked back to the hotel, stopping twice on the way so I could buy cheap sunglasses (the older pair had broken, and I preferred the second pair I found on this occasion) from very friendly, smiling stallholders.

We were very hot and tired when we got back to our room – which may be dirty and rundown but is at least air-conditioned – and very happy about the day’s expedition.

We had quite a lot of time to kill, but after going out to find an ATM, I was reminded why it’s pointless to expect to do much in the afternoons. It was HOT! It felt like about 38ºC/100ºF to me, and with the noise, pollution, smells and crowds it quickly became very uncomfortable. When I found a group of ATMs they weren’t dispensing cash. In the bank, a guard with an assault rifle slung over his back directed me to the bank manager, who ignored the couple sitting in front of his desk to tell me they’d be refilled in an hour. When I returned an hour later, the bank was closed and the ATMs hadn’t been refilled. 

Thankfully our hotel caretaker directed me to the only other ATM in a wide radius (and not listed on Google Maps, so I wouldn’t have found it), and I finally got enough cash to pay him, and a driver, tomorrow. India is no longer cheap, that’s for sure. This rundown place is NZD$170 for two nights. On my last trip I would have paid about NZD$20 a night for a place like this.

After all this Carol and I killed some time by listening to podcasts and playing a card game I’d brought with me called Archaeology. At 7.30pm we got a very plain but satisfying meal of dhal, yogurt, roti and rice for dinner, cooked by the hotel caretaker. After dinner he introduced me to our driver, who will take us to Hampi via Pattadakal and Aihole for 5200 R.

Well, despite the rough start, the noisy room and the poor sleep, Badami’s attractions have impressed.

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