It was very early in the morning as we wound our way through the hills away from Hampi, India. It was 5am in fact and the pre-dawn light glowed lovingly and blue on the temple ruins and palm jungles that lined our rickshaws route and surrounded us everywhere. The monsoon season air was cool and moist as it breezed against our open eyes and it smelled like fresh rain. In the twilight, dozens of wooden ox carts rolled past us on the road making their way to distant sugar cane fields for the days work, as they’d done for decades if not centuries. Their riders holding the reins and standing upright or sitting cross-legged on the wooden platforms, barely visible in the increasing glow of the morning sky. Rounding a bend we passed the stone ruins of a massive bazaar where 500 years ago traders hawked gold, silver and precious stones, fruits and vegetables and of course the all important spices, which India is still known for today. A columned temple looked down from a hill above. We had been in Hampi for four days now and had spent them walking amongst its other worldly boulder covered hills and exploring the seemingly endless ruins of this great lost civilization. The “Forgotten Empire” as they called it. Massive ornate temples rising out of the jungle, stone palaces, structures and aqueducts throughout the hills and giant monolithic carved sculptures of Ganesha and other Hindu god figures lined the swollen Tungabhadra river. The river that has brought fertility and life to this plateau for millenia. We took probably hundreds of pictures of the incredible ruins of the city and the massive temple complexes that dot the vivid landscape. However as we reviewed the photos in the evenings, a familiar feeling repeatedly crept over me. One which I had only felt after visiting Machu Picchu, Tikal and other ancient civilizations we’d visited on this journey. Pictures just cannot capture in the slightest bit what it feels like to actually visit these places. There is something unique about standing amongst the crumbling remains of a society that thrived long before my great great great great grandparents even existed on this Earth. Something very different than visiting any natural wonder, amazing landscape or historic active city, no matter how old. Your imagination is unlocked and set alight with day dreams of what could have been. It’s an amazing and visceral experience. As you look at what is left behind you can feel, hear, smell and see in glimpses what it must have been like in its time and things momentarily can somehow transform around you. You can feel the energy still permeating the places where so many people lived, felt and died. As we walked through the palace courtyards and past the empty public bath pools I had visions of the pools and moats filled with water and hundreds of people around us going about their daily lives. I could hear the frenetic sounds of countless conversations and the splashing of water. I could smell the royal elephants walking by on their way to the palace stables. As we walked through the massive stone bazaar complexes I could briefly see the bright colors of precious stones, fruits and textiles all around me. Hear the hawkers hawking. Smell the incense and spices everywhere. And as I entered the massive temples covered with carvings of gods, animals and the stories of these peoples past I could almost feel a divine presence, a sense of solemnity and the importance and reverence with which the people of this community must have looked upon their spirituality and these places. A photograph cannot capture that. Not even close. It’s a realization I’ve had so many times on our travels and it was at these times that I had to put down the camera to truly embrace our surroundings and the experience of the moment. In this era where everything we own has or will eventually have a camera on it and people can “live” entire lives vicariously through YouTube and the internet, it’s important to remember that there just is no substitute for the real thing. Experience. Photographs and videos capture such a small piece of the story of life. It’s so important to get out there explore and truly be a part of it. It’s interesting that it took a 500 year old dead society to fully teach me that.
Daniel, your descriptions are so vivid and have transported me back to similar feelings I had in Israel. Thank you for your sharings.