Short hop south

Trip Start Dec 30, 2006
Trip End Jul 27, 2007

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Monday, April 30, 2007

Mysore is only a three hour train ride from Bangalore but is well removed from the hustle and bustle of Bangalore.  Still a decent sized city at 750,000 people but it feels much smaller than that.

The hotel I had wanted to stay at, unfortunately, was booked up.  I had a momentary lapse of judgment and let the taxi driver take me to a place that he knew.  375 rupees a night but I'm sure that price was jacked up to pay the driver a commission.  On first glance the room looked OK but after a couple hours I had lost track of the number of cockroaches and other bugs I had killed with my shoe. 

Obviously this was not the first place I have stayed at on the trip where I have shared a bed (and parts of my body) with very small 'friends' but this place was probably the worst of the trip in terms of number of bugs.  That said, it was in a central location, I had already paid for the room, and it was (relatively) cheap.

A lot of cows in Mysore.  Maybe because of the area of the city I was staying in but I saw more cows per capita (is that a legit measure?  Cows per capita?) than I had in Chennai or Bangalore even though all three have cows wandering the streets.  Someone in Chennai told me the cow is revered because unlike a mother, who can feed her child, a cow can feed an entire village with its milk.  I was going to tell him it could also feed that village with its succulent meat but I thought better of it.

The city of Mysore was the seat of the Maharaja of the princely state of Mysore, which included about 1/3 of the present day state of Karnataka - home of Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore and many other cities.  The Maharajah's Palace is a large reminder of that legacy.  The Maharajah's ruled the area until independence in 1947.  The palace is very large and very extravagant.  It takes up a major part of the city center.

The enormous grounds in front of the palace, within the palace walls, are home to at least ten different temples.  Needless to say there where a lot of people here to visit.  A lot of large rooms with very opulent decorations inside but large crowds so you couldn't really see too much or stop for too long to see anything.  Plus, no cameras inside...could only take pictures from the outside.

Chamundi Hill was interesting.  I took a public bus to get there.  Bus #201 is the only route that goes to the top so that was the bus I was looking for at the sprawling city bus stand.  However, everyone kept pointing me towards the 'red' bus, that had a big sign saying #161.  Enough people pointed me that way so I just rolled with it.  When I asked the driver he looked at me like I was stupid and said, of course, this was Bus #201.  I guess someone forgot to change the sign or the red bus is always on route 201 because half an hour later I was at the top of the hill right in the center of a glut of souvenir stands catering to the pilgrims and tourists who had come to see the temple and other attractions on the hill.

The temple was impressive from the outside but it looked like there should have been more than there was on the inside.  I walked around the inside twice just to make sure I hadn't missed a secret passageway.  The most striking aspect was the 7-storey gopuram at the entrance...and the monkeys.

Outside the temple, on the top of Chamundi Hill is a statue of the demon Mahishasura, said to be the inspiration for the name of Mysore.  Behind the statue are the steps.  Apparently, exactly 1000 steps, or so the story goes.  I didn't count them to verify this myself.  Next time.  Maybe. 

It is custom for pilgrims to the temple to climb the stairs at least once to gain a religious experience.  Not being a Hindu myself (or, for that matter, very religious in general) I wasn't in search of such a karmic boost.  I did descend the hill though as about half way down is a famous 5m high statue of Nandi, the vehicle for the goddess Shiva.  It was carved in 1659 which is very impressive - I'm not sure how they where able to do that back then and make it so smooth and intricate in its design.

I figured descending the stairs would be easy.  An hour later I was at the bottom of the hill with some rather rubbery legs.  Hot weather meant I had worked up a good sweat too. I was feeling good about my sweat at the bottom of the stairs when a boy and his father came down a few minutes after I was sitting there and we began talking.  They had just come up and down the half-way mark (where the bull Nandi is) and had nary a drop of sweat on them.  They make the trip up and down the stairs every day. 

Mysore is famous for its cashew nuts, silk and incense.  I was walking around the very large fruit market, which sells much more than just fruit.  A couple brothers brought me to their family stand so the youngest (about 10) could show me how to make incense.  The kid could name any capital city of any country in the world.  I tried to stump him but I soon realized I don't know that many myself.  Outsmarted by a ten year's the story of my life.
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