The first night bus I took in India was from Palolem to Hampi. All of the people waiting at the bus stop were backpackers and I started talking to a Brazilian girl, Deborah. Like me, this was her first night bus in the country and we had both been cautious in booking seats rather than beds.
However, when the bus arrived, we discovered it was entirely comprised of double beds. There was no allocated bedding so we agreed to share a top bunk for the night. The beds were built into the wall, with curtains you could pull across for privacy.
“I feel like I’m in a coffin!” Deborah said, once we had assumed our positions for the night. We laughed. It was true that the berths were small – there wasn’t enough room to sit up straight. We were lucky we were both small and fit on the narrow mattress.
“Aren’t you going to take off your shoes?” she asked.
“No they’re my only pair, I don’t want them falling out of the bed.”
Fortunately it was a smooth ride and I got an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Although my travel agent had obviously lied, trying to sell me a single bed, I’d saved some money by insisting on a seat and it had all worked out fine.
It was early morning when we arrived in Hampi. A large group of rickshaw drivers had assembled outside the door of the bus, blocking our exit. Still half asleep, I was one of the last to file out of the bus but I could hear the rickshaw drivers working themselves into a frenzy.
“Where are you going? Where are you staying? Have you booked a hotel? Are you going to the temples today?”
Stepping off the bus, I realised we had been dropped off right outside some UNESCO listed temples. It was a bizarrely serene backdrop to the throng I had found myself in. I pushed past the crowd and joined Deborah.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said. “And I’ve been travelling India for a while.”
“Yeah it’s crazy. Do you still want to walk to the river?”
“Yeah it’s not far. Let me look it up on my phone.”
Luckily for us, most of the drivers had honed in on a Russian couple who were on a day trip. They trailed the four of us as we walked into town, but they mostly directed their sales pitch to the couple.
“Yes we’ve already booked a guesthouse,” I lied when they turned their attention to us.
“If you don’t go away, I’ll call the police!” said Deborah. I laughed, not sure whether she was serious or not.
Although it was still early, the streets were lined with locals in simple dress, mostly headed in the opposite direction to us. After spending the past week in Goa where you could almost forget you were in India, Hampi was intoxicating.
We reached the river, which is where I saw my first ghat. We were greeted with the peculiar sight of men and children stripping off to bathe in the river. The women remained fully dressed and mostly helped with scrubbing the children. Later I learnt the river was a pilgrimage site for Hindus and bathing in the river was thought to be purifying.
A boat took us to the other side of the river, where most of the accommodation was situated. We found a cheap guesthouse and had breakfast. I was glad we were staying on this side of the river; it was quiet and tranquil.