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Published: February 12th 2017
Chamondi HillIncredible India
The Demon God after whom Mysore is named.
Southern India 1 of 3
Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala
Many of our friends have expressed their frustration with long-haul travel in recent times: the long journey to the airport, exhausting queues at check-in, shoes off, shoes on, belt off, pull up trousers, belt on and empty pockets at security, three-hours of waiting around in that other world of make-believe in the departure hall before takeoff, and then the traumas of immigration on arrival.
Maybe they’re right.
Immigration with the new Indian eVisa at Bangalore was the final straw for us, queuing for ages as passenger after passenger struggled with inefficient fingerprint machines, retina cameras and the like. They do love their bureaucracy: passports and photos on arrival at our hotel too. But then, we British left them with that legacy didn’t we? We also gave them cricket, but we won’t talk about that after our recent thrashing. Suffice to say, we felt the need for a holiday after twenty-six hours of travelling, Emirates, via Dubai.
So, banish for the time-being all thoughts of doing it again in reverse on departure. It’s the bit in the middle
Once beyond the smart new dual-carriageway into town traffic chaos reminds us we’re back in Incredible India: tuc-tucs, cars, mopeds, lorries and motorbikes jostle for priority, coming and going in all directions, belching fumes and politely honking horns, ox-carts run riot against the flow and ladies in saris ride side-saddle on the backs of scooters. 239,000 people lost their lives on Indian roads in 2013 and this figure is climbing as the years and economic growth march on. It’s not surprising; despite annual tests, many lorries have bald tyres, motorcyclists, often more than three or four and more up, flaunt the law with no helmets and every few minutes another vehicle approaches head-on in the wrong carriageway. At least there are no cows and pigs on the roads here in the south, just the occasional dog, a pack of marauding goats around town, or a monkey playing chicken!
We’re not planning on hanging around in Bangalore for too long but we’ve heard there are a few things worthy of a look. The guidebooks suggest the Tudor style Bangalore Palace, built in 1880 with fortified towers, battlements and turrets, was modeled on Windsor
Going the wrong way down the dual carriageway. OMG!
Castle though this is refuted locally for some reason. Every picture tells a story. Recent renovation makes this splendid monument worthy of a visit. You’re certain to enjoy the audio guide commentary in fretfully 1950’s BBC English before heading out of town towards Mysore, stopping off for a wine tasting en-route to break the long car journey (we have our own private car and driver with us for two weeks). The legacy of the years of the British Raj lives on in so many aspects of life here in India as we’ll see over the coming days.
Beer, ginger ale and cider might spring to mind as perfect accompaniments to spicy Indian food, but times they are a-changing perhaps. A visit to the Heritage Vineyard to sample their Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon offerings left us wondering if Indian taste buds will take to the grape as they have the hop or barley. We’ll fill you in with our experiences with ‘English wine shops’ a little later.
Some twenty miles out of Mysore we discovered Sultan Tipu’s Summer Palace, Dariya Daulat Bagh, at Srirangapatna. Poor old Tipu, also known as the Tiger of Mysore, put
up a remarkably strong fight against the British East India Company for many years before finally falling in battle in 1799. This somewhat modest Muslim dwelling, beyond the few remnants of his fort, is understandably shaded from the fierce sunlight with green netting to protect an amazing array of hand-painted murals depicting historic battle scenes against the British throughout the Sultan’s life. This fascinating story provokes strong sentiments of our lasting impact on this spectacular nation. A short drive away and easy to miss, a delightful mausoleum houses his tomb and that of his father and mother.
One might be forgiven for thinking about Wales here in this corner of the Indian sub-continent. For, like Wales, every town appears to have at least two names. Take Bangalore, for example. Bangalore is also now known as Bengaluru. Kochin is the same place as Cochin or Kochi depending on the map or guidebook in your hand. And Mysore could well be the same place as Mysuru. But the real give away is the weather; it’s 30C here - wherever that is. And there are vast paddy fields alongside the roads here in Karnataka, fallow right now and home to
Offerings to the goddess Chamondi
shepherds with their herds of sheep and goats delivering their annual supply of fertilizer between crops.
The cost of living is rather different here too. Our driver pulled over for a lunch stop for us at a smart roadside diner opposite our hotel in Mysore: ‘The Best Food in Town’ the sign said - and tea, coke, starter and curry for three came to an astounding 150Rs, a little under £3.00 in English money. Thoughts of the Marigold Hotel spring to mind given the option of retirement here. Indeed, we were later to meet an elderly Indian couple from Leeds who regularly winter here – not a bad option given the present icy conditions in the UK.
Other surprises awaited us in Mysore. At 1000m, Chamondi Hill towers over the city and the narrow road to the top was crowded with day-trippers. Chamondeshwari Temple, dedicated to the goddess Chamondi, can be reached by climbing the 1008 steps to the top. But don’t worry; your driver will deliver you safely there, gingerly threading his way through the throngs of worshipers and many street-side merchants selling brightly coloured offerings of coconuts and flowers. On the way
The truly magnificent Mysore Palace
up you’ll pass the massive 5m tall black granite statue of the bull, Nandi, the "vehicle" of Lord Shiva
and yet another electrifying immersion into the life of this wonderful devout nation.
But Mysore’s greatest sight was yet to come, that of the magnificent Amba Vilas, Mysore Palace, in the very heart of the city. There are few sights I recall that can really touch the soul. Certainly, many of them can be found in India. The stunning interior of Amba Vilas is truly awesome in its drama, its wealth of space and height, its mind-blowing colours, stained glass, solid silver doors, intricate carvings and statuesque pillars. Designed by Henry Irwin, the palace was built just a little over 100 years ago, incorporating Hindu, Muslim, Rajput and Gothic features and has recently undergone significant restoration. Yes. Magnificent is the word. You’ll shake your head at the cost of entrance; 10Rs, around 12p, but no photos - and take your shoes off please.
There are crocodiles in the river at the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, keeping an eye on people playing happy families in boats and flocks of roosting pelicans, painted storks and spoonbills in the trees.
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary
Crocs, cormorants and spoonbills - and happy families in boasts!
It was a delightful sunny Sunday and the sanctuary was packed with smiling people, many enthusiastically approaching us to take their photograph or be photographed with us! What wonderful, respectful people they all are. It’s truly a joy to be here. This ‘sanctuary’, whilst offering some surprisingly good birding, came with a price tag of 300Rs each for us (£4) and we invited our driver, Kannan, and his pal, another driver, to join us for 60Rs each (75p)! It’s quite usual for tourists of other nationalities to pay premium admission prices in India.
There’s better news of cricket this evening. England managed a knockout blow for India in the one-day series shown on TV in our hotel room. We got lucky this time.
We’re off to the Bandipur/Mudumalai Tiger Reserve tomorrow to hunt down an elephant or two by 4x4. With our luck on our previous visit to India, don’t hold your breath on the tiger bit – goodness knows when the last one was sighted here.
David and Janice
More photos below.
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