Five Nights (or less) in Mysore
11.22.2007 23 °C
The famous dyes at the Mysore market
"Canadians who don't speak Kannada"
Paradise Lost! One minute we were poolside, the next we were sweltering in an airport departure lounge with no AC or fans. Spice Jet, however, eventually did the job and delivered us to Bangalore. We were delighted to see our (unconfirmed) airport pickup to take us to the hotel. It was nothing special, but not horrendous, and it had a nice Indian buffet breakfast included.
Then we were off again, by train, to Mysore. This train, and train station, made for a much nicer experience than our Agra to Delhi trip. In Mysore, we even got a tuk-tuk to the hotel (with a proud driver who crammed all our luggage into his new - "six months!" - tuk-tuk). So that was all very simple and pleasant for traveling India independently.
We should have known better. Perhaps it was our good mood, or our reluctance to offend, but we said "yes" to a cheap hotel room (Hotel Dasaprakash) that bordered on appalling. Within a few minutes, we said "five nights here?" Then we walked around downtown Mysore. Within a few minutes, we again said "five nights here?" We went back to the hotel and informed the clerk we'd only like three nights. "No problems," he said with the standard head bobble. We hadn't paid anything yet anyway.
The problem was that Mysore looked like Agra but without the famous monuments. Or Delhi without the modern conveniences. Sure, Goa was different, but here was our first south Indian city and it had all the worst features of the north: dirt, smoke, dust, public urination, hawkers, aggressive people, stray dogs, and...more dirt. Many people said the south is different, but I guess this isn't south enough. What drew us to Mysore, originally was the image of the famous market with the brightly coloured dyes. So I guess that's a pretty stupid plan for five days: stare at brightly-coloured dyes, but we also read about the palace, and the "grand, leafy avenues" making it "pleasant to stroll around" (Rough Guide). You have to read between the lines and use a LOT of imagination to get that out of Mysore. But they couldn't just write "EEEEEEEEWWWWW" and fill a thousand-page guidebook.
So then we started thinking: where to go? Eventually we settled on not changing our flight from Bangalore, and going back there for three nights instead of a one night layover. Jenn was at a low point for the trip. We were only halfway through India, and only two days out of Goa, and she couldn't bear the thought of another month if it was going to be like Mysore. Certainly, wherever we went, we'd have to be in a better hotel. We'd paid $37, ironically the same amount as Hotel Orchid in Hue (Vietnam), which was our favourite place to stay on the whole trip. Anica and I were feeling a little more upbeat, and Jenn plugged away at the choices both online, and in the Rough Guide, lining up some good options. She is amazing, though, because I know she was pretty down about how things were heading, but she worked through it. She came up with a whole bunch of new options to add variety and comfort to our remaining month in India. At one point, Anica said "but we have a nice hotel" in response to something we'd said, and we just stopped and stared at her. I think she meant: we were together, and there was a TV, and she was getting to watch an 8:00 movie every night. It couldn't have been the cockroaches she liked, or the bucket shower, or the peeling paint, or the buzzing flourescent tube-lighting, or the bathroom window open to the street or the...hmmm, why had we agreed to stay there? One lesson is this: India is not cheap. It can be, but you get what you pay for. In Vietnam and Thailand, you can get gorgeous, clean accomodations in any price range.
So, as I quoted once before, "other than that Mrs. Lincoln, did you enjoy the play?" We did have some fun and saw a lot in Mysore. On the first night, we were lucky that it was Sunday, the only night that the Maharaja's Palace is illuminated. If you've ever seen Harrod's department store at night, picture an Indian palace lit up like this (or, for Torontonians, picture Honest Ed's).
Sunday Night Lights at the Mysore Palace
It's a lovely occasion, where the gates are opened and all are welcomed in for free. Local families sit around on the lawns and stone piazzas, waiting for night to fall, having snacks, and chatting. Then, right at 7 PM, all of the 5000 lights come on. We looked at it from all angles, and also the other buildings and gates that comprise the Palace, also lit up, then walked back to our hotel. That was the only problem with that evening: the hotel.
Earlier in the day, we'd gone through the market, and seen the famous dyes, which were indeed quite colourful. On the second day, we spent even more time in the market. I found it fascinating. Along with Qingping (China) and Karauli (Rajasthan), this was the most vibrantly exotic market I've seen anywhere in the world. In particular (no, not the dyes), the flower-selling got my attention. The flowers are sold in garlands, out of raised, unlit stalls. The whole process seemed to be men's work . Most of the stalls had men of all generations plucking the flowers, stringing, and selling the garlands. And with all the goods sold, there was a rhythmic singsong chant to go with it, often a call and return between stalls.
Outside that market, one man, who worked at a movie theatre that showed movies in Kannada (the official language of the state of Karnataka), suggested we go see the incense makers in the other craft market. Then we were chatted up by another man, who was on his day off from selling "eight to twelve kinds of bananas". He took us directly to a traditonal incense and oil makers' shop, the kind of quasi-ripoff "help" that comes in the guise of a new aquaintanceship. But that's fine, because it was an interesting process, and the man who explained aromatherapy oils was quite a character. We managed to exit having only bought a tiny, overpriced bottle of water lily oil, which is supposed to ward off mosquitoes. Anica was fearlessly taking pictures of everything and everyone with her new camera, and seemed to enjoy her first days in Mysore for that reason.
To get out of walking around central Mysore, which we figured was the busiest, dirtiest part, we booked a full-day's sightseeing with a car and driver for our last full day. It turned out to be a good move, because they had a whole list of things, and we just said yes or no to whatever the driver suggested we see next. A couple of the places were many kilometres outside of Mysore, so the car was really worth it. There was the Chamundi Hills, with its winding road up to it. It is the 3400 metre hill that is visible even from the middle of Mysore. Although shrouded in fog, we enjoyed the ride. On the way down, we saw the black Nandi (bull). This is a 5 metre high statue of a bull 500 years ago carved from a single piece of black granite, and a shrine. I accepted the blessing (or in this case...bullseye?). Even farther out of town was K.R.S. Dam and Brindavan Garden, where there was a children's playground and many water fountains. Not fantastic, but pleasant. It also meant driving through towering fields of sugarcane, and intensely green rice paddies. The countryside, then, was nothing like Rajastan.
A couple of the other stops had to do with Tippu Sultan, the most famous "Tiger of Mysore," who defeated the British twice, before losing in the 3rd and 4th Mysore Wars. He was killed in the last one, and we saw his tomb (called Gumbaz), where he's buried with his mother and father in a domed vault painted in a variety of tiger-striped motifs. We saw his summer palace, where every inch of every wall is (was) painted. The grounds are kept very nicely there. We saw where he was killed in battle. The driver, who didn't speak much English, pulled over, showed us the plaque, said "ok?" and then started driving again. He was right; there wasn't any reason to stay longer to look.
As for the city sights, we'd got to see the Maharaja's Palace on the inside. It's well-preserved, and very beautiful, particularly the stained glass, and the wall murals showing a procession from 1931. The palace was rebuilt after fire from 1897 to 1912, so it's not too old. There are many European elements to it. Speaking of European influences, we also saw St. Philomena's Church, which is impressive enough for being a novelty in India.
So that was quite a full day! We just kept going and going, from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM until we finally said: take us to "Pizza Corner," (an uninspired, but safe choice - Mysore had good prices for food, but nothing great - we had all Indian cuisine, except for Pizza Corner here) and then told the driver we were done for the day. We would be out of Mysore in the morning. One more night in Hotel "Disasterprakash!"
Nov 17-18 "Bangalore one day and Mysore the next"
Today we got up and had a very yummy breakfast of toast with nutella and a hot milo. Then watched amazing race on AXN (very enjoyable). Then we went swimming for 2 hours! (we also read two chapters of Harry Potter non stop!) Got changed and did my diary. Had lunch of grilled cheese sandwich and one bag of chips and a wowie (diffrent choco bar with disney characters). played nintendo, did my homework, watched tv, then took drive to airport. (very hot). We got on a (delayed) spice jet flight to Bangalore. We got to bangalores airport and saw our driver got to hotel checked in and went to bed.
Nov 18 "Train from Bangalore to Mysore"
Today we went to the train station and got on a train to Mysore. When we got to our hotel checked in and saw our room. very nice. Had ice cream and walked round Mysore. we walked down to a pizza place, had a yummy dinner. went to city palace and saw pretty lights. Good night. (I swalled a pill because I was feeling sick!)
Nov 20 "A Tour of Mysore"
Today for breakfast we had two butter plain dosas, two pinapple juice and one coffe. After that we got in a SRS tours car to the Chamundi hills. When we got up to the hills we took pictures of a temple and statues, walked around the temple, and saw some cows. After that we went to the Nandi Big Bull! (and daddy got blessed!) After that we went to the Jagon Mahan palace and museum very nice even though a man patted me on the head! ("Hey stop it!") After that we went to the mysore palace. the things I Liked about is was it was very pretty because the walls had pretty carvings and the things I diden't like was the pic of me with girls (who tried to charge us money!) and the costs for leaving your shoes. No pictures! After that we went to a church (nice) After that we saw Tippus palace and tomb. After that we saw the krs dams and a garden. Then we went home and had dinner. Good night