KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
What an enchanting city! I know that I haven't seen all the cities of India, yet, but I would have to say that Mysore is my favorite. I can't wait to tell you all about it and for you to see the photos I took.
The bus dropped us off near the city bus terminal and our guidebook listed several hotels nearby. There has been quite an explosion of mid-range hotels being built in India so we hoped that we would find a relatively new hotel in Mysore. We were able to leave our suitcases at the bus booking office and set off to see the rooms on offer before selecting one for our stay. We have found that unfortunately, once many hotels get a good recommendation in the Lonely Planet, they seem to rest on the positive review and let things slide. This certainly was the case in Mysore, but we persevered and finally found a nice room, at a good price in the Hotel Roopa. The hotel had the added benefit of a simple vegetarian restaurant on its main floor so we didn't have far to go to get a decent meal.
We had an interesting experience at the Hotel Roopa. We spoke to a woman at reception about the room and the rates. As this is not a busy season, we asked for a discount off the rates quoted in the rate sheet she gave us. We had seen the rates drop dramatically at the other hotels we had just seen, and expected that she would lower the rates as well. When she told us the rate was "fixed". We spoke of the lower rates at the other hotels in the area. It was then that she pulled out a second-rate sheet with rates about 50% higher. She said that the other hotels have two sheets as well, probably showed us the higher rates to start with and then dropped the room charge dramatically when we appeared uninterested. She said she knew her hotel was superior to the others and had "sized" us up and judged what we were willing to pay, so she didn't play games and gave us a fair price. I liked her honesty and we took the room. It turned out to be a pleasant place to stay, not perfect by any means, the air conditioner could use a tune-up, (editor’s note: and a new muffler!!) but for the most part, it was comfortable.
We decided to go for an evening walk to scope out the city and locate the Reliance Cyberworld to check email and upload some pictures. The streets of Mysore are wide and relatively uncongested and there are large green spaces and lovely parks to make the walking pleasant. We walked down the main shopping street and the sidewalks were in pretty good shape and the crowds manageable. At last we found the internet cafe and after checking for emails we continued along the street to the Karnataka Tourist Development Corporation office to book a city tour for the following morning. With that task accomplished, we headed back to our hotel. We walked for over two hours, and Anil chuckled, telling me that if I had suggested a two hour walk that evening after the long bus ride, he would have surely rebelled. For some reason, he seems to think I had used subterfuge to get him out of the hotel. Could this be true...
We don't usually take tours but the Mysore city tour looked interesting and included places outside of the city. The bus picked us up at our hotel and the first stop was the Mysore Zoo. I have seen a couple of zoos in India and wasn't keen on seeing another one, but we were chatting with a Dutch girl on the bus and we decided we would all go together. It was a wonderful experience. The zoo is beautiful. The night before I was re-reading The Life of Pi and had just finished the section with the description of what makes a great zoo, and here I found all the features that were outlined in the book. I really enjoyed walking through the exhibits and would recommend the Zoo to anyone who visits Mysore.
The next stop was the Jaganmohan Palace and Art Gallery. This palace was the home of the royal family until the new palace was completed in 1912. There is an impressive collection of paintings and artifacts here - it's another place I would probably not have seen if it was not part of the tour.
Next we were taken to the summit of Chamundi Hill, overlooking the city of Mysore. A flight of one thousand steps built by the Maharaja Devaraja in 1659 leads up to the summit of the hill which is at a height of about 3000 feet. Chamraja Wodeyar IV is said to have worshipped here in 1573 and was miraculously saved from a lightning hit. We avoided the 1000-step climb and ascended on the bus. There is a beautiful temple at the top but what made the experience memorable was the decorated wooden chariot beside the temple. There were two priests in the chariot and worshippers were giving them offerings to have blessed by the sacred fire.
After lunch and the obligatory stop at a Mysore Handicraft and Silk Saree shop, we visited the truly amazing Mysore Palace. Unfortunately, everyone is required to check in their cameras as photographs are not allowed of the interiors. The original palace burned down and was rebuilt in 1912 by a British architect. The interior decorations are a little over-the-top but, if each feature is taken separately, the craftmanship and colours are beautiful. This is one of the most imposing structures in Mysore and has to been seen to be believed.
Our last stop was out of town, Srirangapatna, built on an island in the Cauvery River, to see the Maharajah Tipu Sultan's summer palace and the ruins of an old fortress that was decimated by the British in 1799. After the beauty of the Mysore Palace, we decided to give the summer palace a miss. Sometimes, the difference between the local fee of Rs 5 and Rs 100 (for foreigners) can be annoying and we decided that the description in our guide book didn't warrant paying the entrance fee for this palace.
The famous Brindavan Gardens is usually included on this city tour, but the gardens are closed at this time of year as they prepare them for the summer season. As it was, we didn't return to Mysore until almost 6:30, it had been a long, hot day and we had seen plenty of interesting places and were ready for a shower and a rest.
The next day we decided to head out of town to see the unusual temple at Somnathpur. This temple is a beautifully preserved example of Hoysala architecture, similar to the famous temples at Belur and Halebid. We didn't have enough time to visit Belur or Halebid, so Somnathpur was more important to see. The town is only 33km from Mysore so we decided to take the local bus. The bus stand was very near to our hotel and the bus was just beginning to take on passengers when we arrived. We found seats easily and before long we were on our way to Bannur where we would have to transfer to another bus for the last 10 km. We arrived just before noon to find the bus-stand in Bannur teaming with people who had just finished their marketing and were scrambling to board the bus. The bus was already crammed to the gills and there were at least thirty men sitting on top of the bus with all their purchases. We didn't even consider attempting to board, but stood with a group of women to wait for the next bus.
We didn't have to wait long but then the chaos started all over again. The women around us started scrambling to board the bus and the passengers trying to get off had to fight their way through the melee. I pushed my way to the door and then with my superior size, (editor's note: superior as in lake superior) held back the men and allowed the women to get on first. As soon as the last woman was on the bus steps, the men surged forward, but I managed to get on next and found that one of the women had saved a seat for me. International Women's Day had just been celebrated and here we were looking out for one another. I looked to the back of the bus just as it was starting to pull away and assured myself that Anil had managed to get on the bus too. I don't know how I would have been able to get off if he was still standing beside the road!
The fare for this second bus ride was only Rs 4.00. A small sum to pay for such an exciting ride. In short order, we arrived at Somnathpur, a very simple village built around a most beautiful temple. The grounds around the temple were planted with trees, flowers and green grass. There is a mail box on the tree at the center of the garden and if you put stamped-mail into it, the sign tells us that it will be cancelled with an image of the temple itself. Unfortunately, we didn't have a letter to send, and I don't know if I would have bothered anyway as two of the three cards I have sent from India never made it to their destinations. If you don't have the stamp cancelled in front of your eyes, the stamps are often stolen to be used by someone else. The rate for an international letter is Rs 15, a sizeable sum, for many of the workers in India.
The temple itself was wonderful as you will be able to see from the photos. We have seen a lot of different temple styles during our tour of the south, this one has a unique style and lovely carving. One of the most impressive things is the fact that many of the pillars are turned on a lathe. Hard to imagine how this was done so long ago with such huge pieces of soapstone.
As we were leaving, we met a group of children from the village. It was a Saturday and it seems the most interesting thing for them to do is to talk to the tourists at the temple. The girls were sweet, the boys, rowdy, so I separated them in order to take their photos. They didn't even ask for "school pens", "foreign coins" or money. A refreshing change from all the children we come across elsewhere. While we waited for the bus back to Bannur, we sampled some of the fresh watermelon at a roadside vendor. Watermelon has just come into season here and it is sweet and refreshing on a hot afternoon. The return trip was less stressful but I took a picture of the bus just after we alighted, and you will see that it was pretty crowded as well, with people in the air-conditioned seats on top of the bus once again.
That same evening, Sunday night, we learned that the Maharaja's Palace is lit up between 7:00 and 8:00 pm so we made plans to visit the grounds and see the palace at night. We asked about the lights at our hotel reception desk and they told us we could see the palace from the fifth-floor terrace. We arrived on the terrace just as the lights were turned on, what a delight to see the palace appear suddenly out of the darkness. We walked the several blocks to the gate, watching the lights from every angle, and then entered the grounds for a closer view. Apparently, there are 97,000 lights used to create this spectacle. The lights are turned on every Sunday and also for the ten days of the Hindu festival of Dusshera. There were hundreds of others on the grounds creating a party atmosphere but we left before the lights were turned off so that we could keep the memory fresh in our minds.
For our last day in Mysore, we set aside time to visit the Devaraja Market in the heart of the city. It was a wonderful experience and I took so many photos that I decided to give the market its own journal entry. The following day, we arranged a taxi to take us to Bangalore with a detour to see the "naked man" at Sravanabelagola along the way. Stay tuned for some pretty incredible pictures of the man in all his glory...