Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bangalore and Mysore - March 2013

"It's a dangerous business Frodo, going out your door.
You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet,
there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."

             -  Bilbo, in Lord of the Rings

We had to get up and out the door early in order to catch our plane to Bangalore. Our guide wasn't kidding when he said the trip would take an hour and a half! Morning traffic was horrible - everybody and his dog was on the road; the sidewalks, roads and buses were loaded. At times like these, I'm very happy we're being ushered around by experts who know precisely how to manage timing for the inter-country Indian flights.

 Spice Jet was the carrier and the flight was uneventful. We were surprised though to be asked for our boarding passes as we left the plane. That was a first! Afterward we figured it was probably because the flight went on to Goa...perhaps they've had problems with people disembarking at the wrong spot?

The Bangalore airport is modern and up to date. A guide took us to our van, took care of our luggage and sent us on our way with our new driver, Boob. Honestly...Boob. We asked him his name several different ways to be sure. Finally we just accepted it. 4 hours chugging along the road with Boob was pretty much an endurance exercise, except for the coconut depot which was interesting. Hundreds of trucks were pulling in with coconut loads for distribution around the country. We passed a Muslim funeral. At about halfway we stopped for a coffee at a road exit which was designed very like an American road stop with a fast food cluster, gas station and a small grocery store.

En route, we visited the fort, palaces and mausoleum of Tippu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, at Srirangapatnum. The romantic palace is constructed of teak, raised on a platform with open corridors and wooden pillars on all four sides. Floral patterns are painted on the ceilings and every inch of the interior has been covered with floor-to-ceiling murals depicting courtly life and Tippu's campaigns against the British. Zouka felt a sympathy for and connection to Tippu.  She's not alone as the figure of Tippu Sultan has dominated Indian and British imagination for over two centuries, as the endless flow of scholarly works, ballads, plays and novels about his life and tragic end testifies. An aside:
Wilkie Collins, the great English writer, began his famous detective story "The Moonstone" (can be downloaded free at The gutenberg project )with the battle and looting of Srirangapatnum. Collins is attributed with creating the first "modern" detective story and such literary devices as : the "inside job"; the bungling local constabulary; the "least likely suspect", the "locked room" murder; the gentleman detective; the final plot twist. 

 These quotes attributed to Tippu Sultan, give you an idea of the man:
  • It is better to die before you bend your knees before your enemy.
  • One day of lion is better than the hundred days of jackal
  • Save me from friends, I will defend against my enemies
  • The real joy of life is to combat difficulties and miseries with firm determination



Tippu Mural - allposters.com

From the front of the palace

There's a small museum in despicable condition; once again, a third grader could do a better job of displaying the items.  Ancient coins are glued clumsily onto cardboard. It's very frustrating to see antiquities treated in this manner. They just don't have the funding to adequately preserve and display these treasures in an appropriate manner and to protect them for posterity.

 The worst hotel of our stay, the Wildflower resort looks great when you pull into the attractive driveway and lobby. Behind the scenes, the rooms were shabby with broken tiles, hacked up furniture, lizards and bugs. D and Z changed rooms a couple of times and finally just gave up. The dining room was surrounded by a moat of still water, murky and full of mosquitoes. It looked like a water feature gone terribly wrong.  We asked for a coil, which they lit;  half-gassed but bite-free, we choked our way through dinner. The staff was very pleasant and accommodated us as best they could but we had many complaints from the bugs to the wine list to the actual menu content. I guess we were getting grumpy.




Dining Room Wildflower

Next morning we drove to Somnathapur thirty miles from Mysore along the banks of Cauvery river through lovely fields planted with sugar cane and vegetables and dotted with haystacks.



Oxen, their horns painted bright colors, pulled loads along the roads; school children pedaled their way to class and ancient trucks, spewing smoke and loaded to the gills with various crops, huffed and puffed their way along. Every once in a while, we'd hit a stretch of road with grain spread out on the surface. The farmers who can't afford to have their grain milled get the chaff removed by having it run over and pounded by tires and oxen feet for a day. 


Somnathapur is a small village on the banks of the river Cauvery that was founded by the commander of the Hoysala army, Somnath. The village is famous for its splendid and grand Kesava temple built in the Hoysala style which is renown for elaborate and intricate sculpture. The temple, built on an elevated star shaped platform, is enclosed by a wall and looks stupendous with the simple village a backdrop. The sides of the raised platform are decorated with richly carved friezes, portraying rows of cavalry, elephants and scenes from the epics.

The temple is an example of the grand and glorious temples built by the Hoysala rulers who ruled Karnataka from the 10th to the 14th century. The beauty of this temple stunned us and that fact was in itself surprising as we'd seen too many ABC's (another bloody church) at this point. The Hoysala, vigorous temple builders,  constructed over 1500 temples; 400 or so have been salvaged.  The temples fulfilled a number of needs - centers for social, cultural and religious activities as well as contributing in a big way to their economy. Construction employed architects, tradesmen and artists, creating and maintaining a rich artistic tone to their civilization. The Hoysala, talented administrators, had a far-reaching tax system which financed the temple building; they slapped a tax on everything: land, professions, marriages, goods in transit, domesticated animals, commodities, produce.  The names of the sculptors are inscribed on their works, which was a common practice during the reign of the Hoyasalas.
Kesava temple

Carving on Kesava temples

One of the frustrations of being a tourist in India is that you couldn't possibly learn enough about the history to be evenly remotely satisfied with a particular period, like this one, the Hoysalas. A fascinating culture, you could spend a lifetime studying the temple art. Just the art. So we took our little peek and moved on, back to Mysore for an over-priced lunch in a hotel dining room, the temperature of a meat locker.

A short stop at Chamundi Hill to visit the Chamundeshwari Temple was fascinating. We parked and walked into a square crowded with people, cows, bicycles, motor scooters and stands selling all kinds of stuff - mostly offerings and food. We were surprised to see a monster, Disneyesque statue of a pirate or so we thought. Turns out to be the God Mahishasura, who is actually a demon. It's another long, complicated Indian story full of crazy characters, puzzling motives, lack of redemption, unrequited love, Gods, Devils, incarnations, hallucinations, faithless wives and mystical animals. Impossible for us to follow but everyday fare for Indian kids accustomed to these legends.
Mahishasura


You can walk up 1000 steps to get to the temple if you are doing penance or grieving or just want to suffer for some reason. Our guide led us over to the shoe station where you surrender your footwear; walking around barefoot was gruesome with garbage and cow dung everywhere. There's a sign posted as you approach the temple optimistically saying "No Plastics" - good luck! Plastic bags have blown up in a heap around the sign and juice boxes, plastic bottles and all manner of detritus is piled up on the road side. We joined the line to enter the temple where we were seriously jostled around (elbowed once) by worshipers straining to get to the front where they give their money and offerings to the priest who swipes it by the golden Vishnu, hands the offering part back (the money is squirreled away) and away the worshipers go, happy as larks.  A coconut breaking area is situated at the back where people take their expensive coconuts purchased in the square and I guess they're blessed. A priest breaks the coconut on the edge of a big vat and hands the pieces back. Couldn't figure this one out. We passed a lively sari auction going on in the square. People donate saris to the temples where they are kept, just as purchased, wrapped in their plastic bags, for a couple of months, after which they're auctioned off and the same people who donated them buy them back for 10 or 20 times the cost...because now they are Holy Sari's having been "owned" by the Gods for a couple of months.
Chamundeshwari Temple


 

On the way back down  we stopped to see the colossal statue of Nandi, Shiva's bull,  one of the largest in India; carved out of a single piece of granite. Debra waited in line to make an offering, get anointed with Holy Oil and have a string bracelet placed on her arm. At one time, the bull was covered daily with a sticky substance, probably tar, and visitors pressed rupees onto it for luck, fertility, virility (on the testicles). Now, the bull is fenced in for protection. There are warnings posted around the area that women shouldn't walk the paths alone. Women and men are separated on buses.

"Visits to India by female tourists dropped 35 percent in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India. That three-month period came after the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi in December, which brought protesters to the streets and shined a spotlight on the harassment and intimidation women face every day in India." New York Times, June 10, 2013. 

When we returned to Bangalore on a city tour we visited another famous bull temple. Built in the 16th century, this crouching bull is also built out of a single block of granite.  The story has peanut farmers in the area outraged by a bull who ran all over their crops and ruined them. One of the farmers smashed the bull's head in with a stick, which promptly turned to stone. Terrified and worried, the farmers built the temple to appease the bull of Lord Shiva, Nandi. The local farmers, to this day, offer the first crop of peanuts to the bull. Debra decided we needed some peanuts for sustenance and bought some from the street vendor outside the temple. Boiled peanuts, they were delicious. 

Buying boiled peanuts

Mysore palace
The grand finale of this sojourn was the Mysore Palace, considered by many to be second only to Versailles in the Palace grading world. It was splendid and our imaginations ran wild thinking about Rajahs parading around on elephants.  In the interests of time, we were swept past some of it too quickly. It's the kind of place you should visit in two days: one day for the once over and the second day for contemplation and closer examination of the parts you like. Fortunately the maintenance is a little better here than many of the other sites although parts of it are pitiful, in particular the museum. I tried to buy a postcard because you can't take pictures inside. The bored and unengaged postcard seller would have been at home in Kiev when I visited there shortly after the Wall came down. Someone should hire the guy to model the antithesis of customer service. Think of it...no pictures allowed. You'd imagine there would be a huge display of postcards and art books for sale and they'd be raking in gobs of money, money which could be invested in maintenance! But no, none of that. Just one disheveled guy looking like he just got out of bed.

Indian tourists at Mysore palace
Wizards of outsourcing their own skills, you cannot imagine why the Indian government doesn't outsource management of the countries treasures. Somebody or something could whip that postcard seller into shape - perhaps a small commission?
Horse patrol at Mysore Palace

I purchased a pashmina scarf in the Mysore market for $40.00.  The sales demo was mesmerizing. Back home I found something similar online for $10.00. I knew I was over-paying at the time but the Indians are very good at making you feel obligated once they've invested time in a pitch.  I'm such a sucker. I would have been better off buying $40.00 worth of good luck in the temple or buying a Holy Sari! Two things I'm sure of: I'll never buy another pashmina and I'll never again attempt to bargain with a Kashmiri. They are too good. You don't stand a chance.


2 comments:

  1. I'm going to set aside a couple of hours tomorrow to read these latest posts. They look real interesting.
    Barbara

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  2. I've sure bought my share of overpriced things for pretty much the same reasons.
    I love your travel stories. This was really interesting. You could compete with Paul Thoreau (sp?) if you were a little crabbier.
    Barbara

    ReplyDelete