When Shiva sleeps all the lights come on!
Trip Start Mar 03, 2008
10Trip End Mar 31, 2008
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I got to the train station a few hours before the next train to Mysore and fought my way to the front of the queue with my little form (now I know the bureaucratic system to book a seat here!) to get my train reservation
Arriving at the station we all marched down the platform onto the tracks to cross over to the exit and I got a tuk tuk to a hotel recommended in my book. Dasaprakash is large basic hotel opening out onto the courtyard. I was given a cell like room with a hard single bed (all beds in India are rock-like), off-white walls with lots of dirty marks on them, a table and chair and a tiny bathroom area with a shower that drizzled hot water from 7-9am every morning. It was pretty standard and with a door that I could lock from the outside with my own padlock and lots of Indian families in surrounding rooms usually 3-4 to a room (Indian families travel or make pilgrimages in large extended family groups), it was quiet enough and set back from the busy street
My first stop, as I surveyed the usual chaotic streets, was to a fabric shop with reams and reams of every colour of sari you can imagine. Mysore is known for its silk production as well as sandalwood and incense, but my mission was to get a salwar kameez made from the cotton samples they had - these are usually ready for stitching by a tailor. I love the synthetic and silk salwars but as a sweaty Westnerner I knew from experience that I'd suffocate in one of these and cotton was the best route to go. I chose a green one with gold trimmings and the in-house tailor measured me up and I was told to come back the next morning to pick it up. This is one area where Indians do work with speed!
Hanging out in restaurants is not really an Indian thing, they just tend to eat and go even if it's a family meal in a restaurant. You also would never see a woman eating alone in a restaurant or even a snack place. As it was getting dark, I thought I'd find a place to eat with a family section, which is less intimidating and came across Indra Cafe's Paras which was heaving with locals and always a good sign of good, safe food. Upstairs in the family section, I ignored the stares and two Indian ladies beckoned me to sit opposite them as there was no table free
I met with Fabrice at 7am to take the bus to Chaumundi Hill which towers 1062m above Mysore with a Shiva temple at the top with a seven storey gopuram. There were lots of monkeys swinging on the electricity lines and steps preening themselves and each other or cuddled up in pairs asleep. There were already a lot of people up at the temple and as it was a special holiday, the children were all off school
Exhausted in the heat by the time we got to the bottom of the hill, we got a rickshaw back to town and had a south Indian thali at the restaurant at my hotel
In the afternoon, I went to the beautiful and vast Maharajah's Palace. The old one had burnt down in 1897 and this one was designed by an English architect with lots of stained glass, mirrors and mosaics much of it sourced from Europe. As I wandered around the palace, I came across a big group of girls and teachers from a college near Madurai in Tamil Nadu, they said hello and urged me to sit with them and then we spent half an hour doing group pictures which they begged me to send to them as having a picture with a Western lady was somewhat of a novelty. They were lovely and wanted me to go on the rest of their trip with them!
My next stop was the large Mysore market and I wandered along the rows of fruit, flower, vegetables and bangle stalls, past the vendors of coloured powders used in pujas and at Holi and the aluminium pots and cooking utensil section. I love markets and this one was especially vibrant.
I met Fabrice for dinner and we stopped en route by the palace which as luck would have it was all lit up for Shivaratri, which made my day as normally they only light it up on Sunday evening for an hour. It was magical
The drumming in the temples went on all night for Shivaratri and that along with a mozzie which decided to have a snack on my back, I got up in a ratty mood. I made up for this with a lovely breakfast of Pongal which is a mushy rice type thing with curry leaves and mustard seeds, spring onions and spices - along with Upma which is a similar thing made from wheat kind of couscous substance, these are my favourite Indian breakfast foods. With only two changes of clothes still, luckily it was so hot that my clothes had dried within a few hours overnight in the bathroom and I made an early start finding the bus to Srirangapatnam. This fort area is on an island in the Cauvery River and was home to Tipu Sultan and his father Hyder Ali, who ruled much of South India during 18th Century
Another hot bus ride back to Mysore and a few hours later I took a bus to Brindavan Gardens. The 45 minute drive nearly sent me over the edge, despite the freezing air-conditioned luxury bus, as with luxury you get speakers and with speakers you get ear-piercing Bollywood music. The gardens awash with numerous fountains and water features are set below the River Cauvery dam and used as a backdrop to many Bollywood movie musical numbers (ironically after my little bus ride). After a juice in a very posh but deserted hotel, I made a swift exit before they piped in film tunes to accompany the illuminated fountains at dusk. On the way back the bus stopped at an Infosys office in the middle of nowhere and suddenly everyone was talking English around me instead of the local language of Kannada.