Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mysore - Of Palaces, Fountains and Gardens

Mysore, India - Greedy auto rickshaw drivers would usher me to an early day in Bangalore. The hotel concierge told me it would cost me 50 rupees to get to the KSTDC's Badami House (accent on the first syllable) near N.R. Square (a 10 minute ride from Brigade Road). I was supposed to be at Badami by 6:30Am for my full day, 16 1/2 hour tour to Mysore. The first two rickshaws asked for 200 rupees, the next one 150. Despite common sense, I took the third rickshaw. But as I'd learn later, 50 is really the asking rate to Badami. I am pretty familiar to such practice where foreigners are asked more than triple the usual. I guess the Indian transport society has accepted this as well. I heard an American tourist say, "Let's ask the Indians $500 when they visit our Disneyland!" Haha. I mean no disrespect to my Indian friends, one of whom is one of my best buddies, but this practice is just preposterous and is a critique on the system, not the people. It's just the way they roll here. Indian tourists are asked for 10 rupees while foreigners are charged 200; and I am talking about government installations like museums, palaces and forts. The taxi drivers and rickshaw drivers are a different population altogether, as I have experienced so many times before.

Anyway, my Volvo bus would be 2218. And I would be one of the only two foreigners (the other one was an American guy being accompanied by his Indian wife).


Two hours out of Bangalore, I couldn't help but notice the stack of litter - papers, fruit peelings, plastic cellophane - scattered by the roadside - and this runs the stretch of our destination (all 360 kilometers as I was told). Bangalore doesn't seem to have a rational garbage disposal system. Litter is found just everywhere, there's a sinking feeling the whole city would eventually drown in their own garbage. It's scary. I'd have thought that a city known for its manicured lawns and well tended gardens and I.T. acumen couldn't be more aware of proper garbage disposal. It's a jarring reality.

We passed by Channapatna, home of a military training school, and a site filled with undulating hills and picturesque slopes. The tourist guide was annotating in Indian thus I could only get words like "shooting" - a film? I can only guess. Sixty kilometers from Bangalore, our first activity of the day would be a 20-minute stopover at a toy factory called Sri Lakshmi Venkateshwara (SLV) Toy Factory. Great! Did I really sign up for a "cultural tour"? There is nothing in the itinerary that included wooden toys and trinkets. Or is this going to be an orgasmic journey into silk shops and sandals and garments? I shuddered at the thought.


My stomach was rumbling. I didn't have breakfast. Where would I get one before 6:30? Yet, I was to happily roam around a toy factory at 8:45AM? I could only offer my thoughts that if your tourists were fed well before taking them to a bazaar, they'd have the propensity to dispose of their hard earned money, right? I saw a stall selling biscuits beside the toy factory (just a shop really) and bought one. The biscuit was called "50/50" which is ironic under this situation which didn't improve when I saw the menu at the drive-in restaurant (it read "Kamat Upachar") where we were going to have breakfast.

"I am in trouble," I told myself!

Much as I wanted to be hip, intercontinental and otherworldly, my tongue disagrees with Indian cuisine and spices. My Kashmiri friend is too aware of this, he used to force me to "Come on, eat some more!" But you see, it is my problem. Some people would gladly trade places with me for getting exposed to the exoticism of Indian cuisine. From the menu, I ordered vaguely familiar terms - few things I've encountered in Tamil Nadu. I had to tell myself - Whatever it is I'd order, I'd consume, regardless of them being spicy or not. I ordered onion rava dosa and ghee plain roast and found out later, both were a variety of roti. Like I originally planned, I consumed every bit and rushed back to my seat.

Some 140 kilometers later, we were snaking through Srirangapatna. For 100 rupees (while the rest paid 10, I felt like the richest human being in the bus), we went inside Daria Daulat Bagh which was undergoing renovation, thus the view from outside isn't as pleasing as the one inside - bearing chipped paints and dusty crevices. But I find that despite my precarious position as a foreign tourist, I couldn't even get back home to show how Daria Daulat Bagh looks! No photos were allowed inside - a practice that's curiously common in this Bangalore sojourn! Are we really stealing a piece of tradition and the grandeur of thee chipping-off structures if we were to take photos? Much like the ethnic Zulu tribes who wouldn't allow their photos taken, lest we steal their souls? How quaint, right?

There were a few other temples we visited - Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple, which didn't particularly strike me. The Lal Mahal Ruins were, well, ruined! Nothing but a piece of protruding stones.


I perked up when it when we were to visit St. Philomena's Church, standing majestically at 165 feet. The stone engraving says it's actually a St. Joseph and St. Philomena. We were to spend 15 minutes before hopping on to the next site. There was an on-going mass, and once again, photography was not allowed. I guess we all have to make do with "mental snaps" to remember that we once were inside this Roman Catholic church in Mysore. But what really made me snicker was when we were taken to our next site: Kauvery Silk Arts and Crafts. "Mysore Silks are the best in the world," annotated our guide. What becomes of Kashmiri silks? My friend Junaid would absolutely disagree. How long were we to roam the silk factory? A leisurely 40 minutes!

St. Philomena Church - 15 minutes! Mysrore silk factory - 40 minutes! Toy factory - 20 minutes! There is a degree of disconnect here; an incongruence of priorities, don't you agree? Culture is henceforth more equivalent to toys and silks.

By the time they took us to Mysore Zoo, I was adamant and took my solitary walk. One hour to watch animals compared to 15 minutes to check out a structurally superior catholic church. I headed at the back of market, through winding little alleys until I found myself on a dirt road. From a distance. I saw majestic arches and cupolas of the Mysore Palace. I know we were to visit this palace later so I just took snaps from outside the compound. I made my way back while the sun was bearing its heat. A cup of sugarcane juice (10 rupees) didn't suffice so I bought myself a small bottle of Sprite (12 rupees). I waited at the bus stand as the Indian tourists gradually came back in trickles.


But what I learned from this experience was the way the locals stick to their own time schedule. In every single place we visit, a group would always find their way 30 minutes later than the appointed time. It's not that we were being rushed, but most of these sites supposedly had a 4PM closing time, and if we lose enough time from all the tardiness, we end up missing some of the places. The local tourists probably don't care much since they can always return to Bangalore, but some idiots who hail from America or the Philippines cannot always commute that easily back to India - just to check out some sites they missed because some people didn't feel compelled to follow a schedule. "We cannot scold anyone," said the guide. I wasn't going to complain, but am not gonna shut up about it either. If there is a so-called Filipino Time, Indian Time as it turns out takes a longer, more leisurely demeanor. As a result, we weren't able to stop by the huge Nandi statue by the hill sometime later in the day!


Lunch would be at Hotel Mayura Yathrinivas. I ordered boneless chicken with plain rice and a coke (160 rupees). I sat alongside a charming young Indian couple and their nauseous girl friend. They offered their insights on places like Munnar and Kochi, and we exchanged stories about local travel; something that I appreciated since it gave me pointers about places.

Infosys Campus

Mysore Palace (shown above) set me back by 700 rupees (that's close to 700 pesos) while the locals paid 100 rupees. Once again, cameras weren't allowed inside - because just maybe our cameras were going to siphon the beauty of such place? Anyway, the compound grounds was grand, I couldn't help but snap away like crazy. The whole grandeur was even more emphasized at night when hundreds of lights (100,000 bulbs to be exact) bathe this majestic palace. There were statues of black panthers (or leopards) guarding corners of the compound, a favorite site for the cam hoggers.


After the palace, we moved on to a temple by Chamundi Hills, rising 3,300 feet above sea level. Chamundi (Chamundeshwari) is a mythical god who killed a demon called Mahishasura. Ironically, this demon (not the God) gets immortalized at a roundabout enroute to the temple.


But saving the best for last was precipitous for this trip. Having missed a good 2 1/2 hours from all the delay caused by tardiness, we were to view the grandiose beauty of the Brindavan Gardens in stark darkness and downpour! It was a garden indeed, not of plants but of cascading fountains, the water was supplied by Mysore Dam just beside the compound. I expected a show of lights but there was none. People were just hovering all over, in some of the most congested sites I have ever been on. I swear, in every site, people don't get late for just 5 or 10 minutes. My tourmates were happy ridding us of 30 minutes every darn site, and I am not quite pleased with it. It's like living in a civilized world where people cannot fathom the essence of time and order.

In my book, human beings were given the "will" because it imparts logical reasoning. It allows us to choose right from wrong. And if tardiness were a sin punishable by death, we would have left with half of the bus population dead!

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Brindavan Gardens illuminate festively at night. This photo only courtesy of Flickr's Velachery Balu.


Siddhartha Joshi said...

I personally feel so bad about your experience buddy! I have never really done any guided tours here, but I guess its much easier to be on my own here...

Hope the rest of your India experience was better!

eye in the sky said...

It's not as bad as it was on writing, really. There were fascinating things about the tour that took the backseat from the obvious. And while I am on the road and loving every second of Munnar, I am thankful of so many things in South India other than tardiness. :->

Siddhartha Joshi said...

So are you in India right now? I thought this was from the past...and guess even I am in South India currently, in Chennai, but purely on work...

eye in the sky said...

Yes, I am in India right now. I guess I am "cheating a bit" with the dates but I wanted a chronological narrative but could not write it as fast as I wanted to. The posts are probably late by 2-3 days. I am in Munnar now, but about to leave for Kochi... in an hour.

Have a safe one in Chennai.

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eye in the sky said...

Thanks, Nishitha KM. I do miss India very much and I promised myself I will see india for the 4th time when I can. :)