Why Lonely Planet is So Wrong on Hospet, India

Hospet has been defined by Lonely Planet as; “Hospet is a dusty, unattractive town with not much going on” 15th Edition, Pp. 903.

Here are a few things on why Lonely Planet is delirious…

I thought that having spent adequate time in Kathmandu would prepare me so much so I would be accustomed to the streets of India, I was wrong. The funny thing is that i hadn’t even touched the surface of India’s chaotic street scenes until I came across the unsuspecting Hosapete. My ears were left ringing for days and my head was in a daze…

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Karnataka is one of 29 states in India and remains to be the 6th largest by size and home to 65 million people. India has a population of over 1.1 billion people and that seriously blows my mind but what blows my mind even more is some of India’s smaller towns like Hospet, a small city acting as a junction to a series of highways in central Karnataka. Hosapete or Hospet has a population of 200,000 which would make it the 12th largest city in Australia and for size and in India, its population would rank it 230th…enough comparing for now.

Bengaluru, Hampi and Vijayapura are great but it quite didn’t cut it when it came to showing me what India is all about, I was looking for something more than just the extraordinary and Hospet was the place that delivered the goods and it all happened on my last day in India.

I had done zero research into Karnataka and the itinerary that I would be on and purposely so. I wanted to experience everything without knowing a thing and when you don’t spend hours on the internet searching for the best things to do or most Instagramable spots you’re guaranteed to have so much more fun!

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OK so we may have asked the hotel manager how to get to the local markets but we couldn’t take the most simplest of directions…take a left, right, left and you’ll be at the markets, instead we took a right, left, right and ended up down a residential street with hundreds of kids yelling HI, HI, HI with the occasional kid asking for 100 rupees.

Hospet’s weather wasn’t at all flash with a storm moving in from the south forcing us to momentarily shelter underneath someone’s awning. Ari however couldn’t escape the hordes of kids wanting to have their photo taken. Time was ticking and my night train to Bengaluru was getting closer and closer so we left the residential street when the group decided that it would be ideal for me to get a haircut. In the past I have had good experiences with haircuts in Nepal where the hairdresser would give me a snip, head massage and a nose trim followed by an eyebrow cut but this haircut was as rough as guts. The hardest part was explaining to the guy what sort of haircut I wanted and with no photos or internet to show the guy what I wanted, a group of kids hesitant to walk into the hairdressers shop stood wary at the door. A young kid, maybe 6 years old had a snazzy haircut so I pointed to him and said I wanted that one…I’m confident the guy had no idea what I meant.

I tend to wait until I am in Asia before I get my haircut as they generally do a pretty neat cut and it’s seriously cheap but not everyone knows how to ace the scissors.10 minutes later and the guy were finishing with a few last touches including using hair clippers to buzz away at the stubble on my chin. 50 rupees was all it cost plus a few razor cuts and hair tugs. Right now I have a fringe straighter than a ruler.

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Hospet’s weather began to clear as the crowds began to gather. A large circular some 20 metres in diameter, with around 300 onlookers wondering what was going on. In the middle of the circle, a young man lay on the ground as a cylindrical stone probably weighing 200 kilograms sat above him waiting to be rolled over his body. The man running the show presented whatever was going on like a TV commercial cross a circus theatrical but the key focus bare on a tiny bottle of coffee-brown tonic. Despite not seeing the 4 men roll the hefty stone across the young man’s body, I have a feeling the tonic is no shield of Captain America.

My Hindi is almost non-existent but I got the feeling this guy was trying to sell this “super-strength tonic” to the people watching. The young man waited and waited for the heavy stone to be pulled across his chest but it kept being put off and off so we ended up leaving only to be chased down by a muscly young man wanting us to rejoin the circle. I was confident that my new haircut would give me all the strength I’d ever need.

Soon we realised that it we would need more than a cheap haircut and a concoction of who knows what to survive Hospet at its peak.

It was now clear that we should have taken a left and not a right as we entered the heart of Hospet, a bustling jam of traffic seemingly moving inches at a time. To make things worse, a tractor came to a halt as scooters and taxis became stuck. In between the vehicles, humans would fill up the gaps making it all but impossible to move. After sometime, we were soon to navigate our way out of the madness and straight into more madness.

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Markets in India pretty much cover all things that you use on a daily basis from vegetables, fruits, rice and spices to the not so everyday items like multi-coloured balloons and pink fairy floss. If you have 200,000 people that all sell the same thing, it’s going to get very hectic very quickly. For a stall holder or vendor to get the attention of a customer, they will usually yell out a few words to sway them to their store or spot on the ground but you won’t need much persuasion for street food vendors as exotic smells swirl in waves, immediately catching the attention of anyone walking by.

With a festival dedicated to Ganesh due to begin the next day, Hospet was raging with frantic buyers looking to snap up miniature statues of Ganesh most of which were spray painted with pinks, greens and yellows as trucks carried human sized statues of Ganesh supported from tipping by 6 or so men. Vast lengths of marigolds were coiled amid the dusty grounds of Hospet in the hope that someone would buy them to give as offerings to the life sized Ganesh. The only part of the grounds that weren’t occupied by stalls and vendors was the middle of the roads and even then, a man would push his food cart over the potholed street tapping on his pots and pans seeking attention for his items.

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The best way to describe what it’s like to walk into Indian market is a bit like in the movie Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter in Diagon Alley. One moment you are leisurely making way down a street with nothing more than a few park rickshaws as the drivers nap on the back seats and the next a whirl of sound, sights and colour swirl before your eyes.

A traditional dress for women in India is a sari which is defined as; a garment consisting of cotton or silk that is draped around a body. I knew I had to catch a train that night to Bengaluru and had anticipated on buying one for either my mother or sister only to find out that you can buy the materials for the sari but making the headpiece is a whole other thing…good attempt anyway.

The first time I came across Pani Puri was in Nepal a few years back while wandering around the stairs of Swayambhunath. Pani Puri is a simple street food dish that consists of a round, deep fried crisp which is hollow in the middle so onion, chickpeas, chaat masala and potato can be added with a soup mix (generally green) is added on before consumption. When eating, it’s best that you eat it in one bite! Pani Puri is delish and will set you back 10 rupees for six pieces and I’ve gotta say, Karnataka you do a fine job when it comes to Pani Puri.

Kids in India love foreigners and maybe a little bit too much. We had already spent enough time taking selfies with a group of kids in the opposite direction to the markets but when we had entered the realm of chaos, the kids had changed and ran riot like they were in gangs and these kids were only 7 to 10 years old. A group of kids walked up to my friends and I as we looked at materials for sari’s, danced and danced then proceeded to stick up their middle fingers at us with cheeky grins acting like they were doing a good thing.

One of the crew had been lost in universe of Hospet while the rest of us just managed to stick together. Hospet had begun to draw out my energy as there was so much going on. There wasn’t a moment in my mind or a corner which I could fall back onto for a slice of quite.

 

Scooter horns echoed.

Bulls carted loads of chopped sugarcane through the confined streets.

Vendors screeched for sales.

Gangs of kids yelled.

‘Strength’ tonic been rubbed into an onlookers skin.

The sound of scissors slicing hair.

Locals clicked away for selfies.

The cracking of Pani Puri’s.

Rustling of Fairy Floss bags.

Dogs growled as they protect their territory.

Auto Rickshaws revved for a sale.

Scales screeched as vegetables were weighed.

Chai, Chai, Chai Masala! Yelled from a young Chai Walla.

Ringing of temple bells.

The lighting of incense sticks.

Monkeys shaking wires as they traverse from being chased.

Prayers echoing from a busy mosque.

Slurping of India’s no.1 beer

Train doors whisp open with a struggle.

Whisped onto a train and out of sight.

 

Hospet had my head buzzing.

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With my departure to Hospet Station and onto Bengaluru getting ever so closer, we took a last walk to our hotel and things for the night were just getting started as our hotel manager thought it would be a good idea to show off his brand new karaoke room and his singing skills, unfortunately his glow in the dark seats weren’t working but he progressed to finely deliver a few Indian classics.

30 minutes before my train was set to leave, I took my last gulps of Kingfisher beer and said my goodbyes to the loveliest of groups and made haste to Hospet Station only for my taxi driver to go the wrong way and pull of an insane 5 point turn in a place you wouldn’t even consider turning a car.

I stood on the platform of Hospet Station and waited for the delayed arrival of an Indian Railways train which gave me some time to reflect on my visit to Karnataka. Moments before I boarded the train to Bengaluru, a pair of stray dogs came up to me, ears pricked, listening and full of energy. Each of the dogs were very similar in looks, one bigger than the other but so happy despite the fact they lived amongst the chaos of commuter trains and freight trains that would honk their horns each time they passed through the station. The dogs got a bit aggressive when another stray rocked up to their territory but that was a sign of them showing them that this is their place and they are so proud of it.

The next moment I find myself in the wake of an Indian Railways Train as a rush of people make way for the narrow train doors, creaking as they open. With it being my first time on a train in India, I am pointed to where I will be for the next 9.5 hours. I throw my camera bag along with my takeaway paneer, mutton and rice to the top bunk and wait for the train to depart Hospet it’s more than clear my time in Hospet was over.

Hospet is far from a “dusty, unattractive town with not much going on” in fact it was one of the most vibrant corners of India. One of the first things we are taught as children is to not judge if you do not understand.