Wednesday, January 15, 2014

India Adventures: Mysore

The week before Christmas Sowmya, Maddie and I attended a Santa Clara University alumni event held at an alum from the 90’s house in Bangalore. Sowmya and Maddie were two of eight alums at the party. It was fun to learn more about the university’s interests in India, to meet the alums – most of whom work in IT, and to get to experience another university’s international alumni program.

Santa Clara alumni gathering.

The next day Sowmya, Maddie and I baked Christmas cookies. We were joined by their Taiwanese colleague, Winnie. Winnie is studying art therapy in Bangalore for a year, and does art therapy with the special needs youth that she, Sowmya, and Maddie work with. They went Christmas caroling around the neighborhood the next day, but I missed it because I took a day trip to Mysore.

Winnie, Maddie, Sowmya baking cookies.

Admittedly, the Mysore Palace has been a point of interest since I arrived at the Delhi airport, and was greeted by a huge poster declaring the palace a must-see tourist attraction. My Rough Guide to India backed this up, proclaiming it “one of south India’s more appealing cities” and the state’s “most popular tourist destination by a long shot”.

I spent 6 hours in Mysore, traveling down from Bangalore via a 3 hour bus ride, and back to Bangalore that same night via an almost 5 hour bus ride. (Same route, so maybe there was traffic on the way back. I didn’t look into it. Just go with the flow.) The buses I took to/from Mysore were like Greyhound buses, but in Bangalore buses the front of the bus is reserved for women (to keep them safe when the buses are very crowded) and the back of the bus is reserved for men.

Bangalore city bus ride.

Upon arrival in Mysore I went straight to Ghandi Square to use the bathroom and eat lunch at one of the restaurants recommended by my guide book.

Ghandi Square in Mysore, India.

I then meandered around town, exploring the city that was rebuilt in 1763 by Muslim rulers Haider Ali and son Tipu Sultan.

Mysore central business district.
I was approached by an Indian fellow who informed me that the city’s main attraction, Maharaja’s Palace would be closed to visitors for another two days. I had heard a member of a royal family recently passed away, but had forgotten to check to see if the was still closed, as a result. I headed over to the palace anyway, and saw as much as I could from beyond the palace walls. Built in 1912 for the 24th Wadiyar raja, it sits on a huge piece of property in the middle of the city. Its lavish interior is supposed to contain an extraordinary collection of styles from around the world. Oh well. I’ll see it some other time.

Maharaja’s Palace.
I also walked by the Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery, housed in the former Jaganmohan Palace. Built in 1861, it was used as a royal residence until 1915, when Maharaha Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV turned it into a picture gallery and museum.

Jaganmon Palace.

The highlight of the day trip was a visit to Chamundi Hill, which was a 30 minute public bus ride outside of Mysore. The bus traveled through beautiful countryside, and then up to the top of the hill, where I exited the bus at the base of the 12th century Hindu temple.

Chamundi Hill temple.

The solid gold deity housed inside of the temple, goddess Chamundi, is the chosen deity of the Mysore rajas. Hindus purchase offerings of flowers from vendors outside of the temple.

flower sellers.

You then must take off your shoes and leave them in the care of a shoe attendant outside of the temple.  After passing through the metal detector inside of the temple, I passed by this offering. After taking this photograph I learned that photography was not permitted. The interior of the temple was one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring that I have seen. The deity sat at the far back of a series of three rooms. The doorway to each room was surrounded by a frame of shining, decorated silver. I was there during the height of the afternoon, when bright sunlight was streaming into the temple and lighting up the silver and gold. It was lovely.

Inside of Chamundi Hill temple.
After exiting the temple and collecting my flip flops from the guard (for which I paid 2 rupees), I went to the courtyard to see the brightly colored statue of the demon Mahishasura, who had been slain by Chamundi.

statue of Mahishasura.
I then walked down Chamundi Hill, more than 1,000 steps, past a temple where I received blessings from the priest, to a five meter high statue of Nandi the bull.

temple on the steps going down the hill, where I received a blessing.

Walking down the steps. The red dot (bindi) is part of the Hindu blessing I received. It covers and protects my third eye.
Nandi was carved from a single piece of black granite in 1659, and is tended by his own priest, who was there when I visited. Like my visit to the temple, I removed my shoes and walked around the deity counter clockwise.

Nandi statue.
It was a fun day outside of Bangalore, and my last big sightseeing adventure in south India before I left for Calcutta on January 6.

Before leaving Sowmya, Maddie and I had lunch at the well-known restaurant MTR, where we sat next to a young family where the man was wearing a San Francisco Giants #1 Dad t-shirt (I’ve learned to presume that Indians I meet know the US well). We received these after-meal refreshments wrapped in green leaves. I put the green leaf in my mouth and chewed – it was bursting with sweet and savory tastes, but I absolutely had to spit it out shortly thereafter. Take care if you attempt to eat one.

MTR. Man with Giants shirt is at cash register in foreground with the two little boys.

Skeptical about putting this into my mouth, having heard it has an interesting taste.
After lunch we visited one of Bangalore’s beautiful parks, which is home to trees from around the world.

beautiful park.
We played with sweet street dogs that must call the park home.

Maddie giving a belly rub to one of the street dogs we met in the park.
One of the dogs followed us for many blocks after we left the park, probably hoping we would feed him. We bought the best of what we could find from the shops in the market, but he wasn’t that interested in the food. It is so hard, knowing that there isn’t much you can do for any particular dog.

our new friend, watching to make sure the busy street was safe to cross.
I hadn’t wanted to take any short trips outside of Bangalore because I was afraid I’d miss an opportunity to catch the injured street dog that’s often seen on Sowmya’s street after dark. I took the trip to Mysore on a day when I knew we couldn’t try to catch the dog. Sowmya’s friend Shilpa organized a team of CUPA dog catchers, who helped us try to catch the dog before Christmas. The first night, the dog wasn’t seen. The second night, the dog escaped through a hole in the dog catcher’s net.

The injured dog is sleeping underneath that car. Those are the dog catchers, standing around the car.
The dog catchers were committed to catching the dog. Please send your best wishes that he is caught soon. I learned a lot from this LosAngeles dog catching team – they give me hope.

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