Mysore Sunday 7 – Wednesday 10 June 2009
Hitting Mysore early on Sunday evening we were in a bit of a rush. We needed to get somewhere to sleep that evening sorted out but at the same time we were very keen to see the lights of the Mysore Palace by night. The palace is lit up - with a total of 97,000 light bulbs - for one hour a week on Sunday evening between 7 and 8pm. It was now 7.20pm and counting - but luck was with us we scored a camping spot left the car jumped in an auto rickshaw and got to the palace with 20 minutes to go!!
It was certainly spectacular - lit up with a real carnival atmosphere. We wandered around taking pictures of the palace buildings, the Shweta Varahaswamy temple and the bronze tigers, all in all very impressive.
At 8pm on the dot the lights died and it was all over for another week- other than at Dussehra a festival in September /October when the palace remains lit. It was definitely worth catching.
Mysore has 99 palaces and amazingly whilst we had already seen the main one we were camping at one too!
The Green Hotel is a beautiful building which is over 100 years old and was once a country retreat for the Wodeyar (the family the Maharaja hails from) Princesses. It adjoins a film studio once owned privately by the Maharaja - now run commercially. The Green Hotel is owned by an English lady & has won numerous awards for ecological awareness - using solar energy and having fans rather than a/c and hand washing rather than using machines. They also positively discriminate to assist those in society who most need a helping hand and train them in a career. Most impressively the entire profits after locals' wages are paid go to locally based charities. As well as all this the hotel is set in gorgeous grounds has beautiful old rooms and a restaurant serving delicious food. We'd really recommend it - have a look at their site to see more on www.greenhotelindia.com
The green uninformed staff were really helpful and all were fascinated by the car so we gave a guided tour! They had had other overlanders stay there and allowed us to camp in their grounds for a charitable donation only. It was truly one of our best camp spots so far - especially as the food was so good!!
Mysore is blessed with a comfortable climate being sunny in the day and pleasantly cool at night so we had a good night's sleep before hitting the tourist route the next morning. First we hit the palace once more. On the way in you have to dodge loads of touts trying to sell carvings and various tat. Mercifully they're not allowed in the palace grounds (we later saw one who had snuck in getting a belting from one of the security guards which seemed a bit harsh!)
The original palace was burnt down by accident in 1897 and rebuilding of the present one began immediately but wasn't completed until 1912. It was designed by British architect Henry Irwin in the then popular Indo-Saracenic style - a mixture of Indian and Moorish styles with a bit of Victorian English thrown in. The building was absolutely amazing -we did a self guided tour with audio head phones - foreigners have to pay 200 rupees to get in the palace but these come free as part of the deal - which were really informative. Sadly no cameras allowed inside but it was truly magnificent- the craftsmanship was superb with great detail everywhere you turned - marble floors & inlays, teak carved ceilings gorgeous painted murals on the roofs depicting the Hindu gods. There is a great deal of stained glass and many portraits of the Wodeyar family. Some of it is a bit OTT but very beautiful. You can really imagine the glory days here with the Maharaja holding court on the balcony.
He ruled until 1947 when independence came but in the 1950s he was voted in as governor of the state. The Wodeyar family still live in a palace in Bangalore.
We had a wander around the grounds - they were offering elephant and camel rides and Andrew got blessed by the resident elephants! Dodging a shower we had a look around the Residential Museum. This was full of personal effects of the family and had a bit of a chaotic "garage sale" feel to it- consisting of old toys books and sundries. A lot of the photos were the same as the ones in Fernhills Palace in Ooty mentioned on the previous page - the Maharaja's summer palace. For more information about the palace and to see some of the pictures we couldn't take check out their web site on www.mysorepalace.in
Nearby is Chamundi Hill which affords good view over Mysore from its 1062m summit. There is a huge temple - Sri Chamundeswari - at the top with a 40m high gopuram - and various stalls and numerous sacred cows wandering around.
Real pilgrims are supposed to walk up the 1000 steps but we cheated and drove up! Chamundi was a goddess - who was the deity worshipped by the Wodeyar family. Sitting on a lion her image is depicted throughout the palace and the temple is built in her honour. At the top is a statue of the demon Mahishasura whom she successfully defeated. There was also the Godly Museum - run by some very friendly ladies - this was a free exhibition intended to guide you back to the path of righteousness! Believers in a special sort of yoga through which you attain enlightenment they have numerous branches all over the world.
On the way down we stopped off to see the 5m high Nandi. This is the god Shiva's Bull Vehicle and this one is one of the largest in India being carved out of a single rock n 1659. The bull's black coat is a mixture of coconut husk charcoal mixed with ghee. Many pilgrims come and bring offerings of food.
Whilst camping at Green Hotel we got to know quite a few drivers and as ever they were a wealth of information. One advised us to take a trip out to Somnathpur. This was easier said than done as we couldn't find the road and drove around for a while getting conflicting instructions! Thankfully we finally found it and drove the 33km out of town. Again we were struck by how quickly you leave the town behind and become rural - quickly we were back amongst village life with bullock carts everywhere.
Somnathpur itself is one such peaceful little village made particularly interesting only by the Ksehva temple. This was built in 1268 by the Hoysala kings and (maybe as it is so hard to find!!) remains largely intact. The Hoysala Kings ruled the area between the 11th and 13th centuries. Initially Jainist they converted to Hinduism so images of all the gods exist in their squat star shaped temples.
The carving was exquisite depicting day to day life in the area - times of war and peace & a few quite risqué carryings on! It was really interesting and worth the trip.
For our final morning in Mysore we went to the Devaraja Fruit and Vegetable market. We were a bit unsure whether to bother - we had heard it was really good but by the same token we have seen so many markets on our travels. We were really glad we went as this one was truly spectacular.
A kindly policeman helped us park as the roads were chaotic- incidently the police in Karnataka wear slouch hats very like the Aussie ones in Darwin - and we went for a wander. The markets were an amazing sea of colour, as well as fruit and vegetables there were flowers, and brightly coloured vegetable colours. These are mixed with water and used to paint either on the skin or to decorate homes/temples. The colours were incredibly vibrant.
Mysore was the big centre for sandalwood and whilst now little remains they sell the incense and scented oils. Much of it is watered down and cut with coconut rather than being neat oil as claimed - but it still smells pretty good! In fact the whole area smelt wonderful a mixture of tropical fruit scented oils and flowers.
As mentioned before flowers are used in copious amounts here for any celebration and the smell hits you from yards away - there are 200 flower stalls in the market.
The markets were the best we've seen to date and we're glad we went- we also liked the mobile pest control man with his home painted sign!
So finally we hit the road to Bangalore. On the way we saw a mechanic's sign and decided to just check the differential's oil - the mechanic was all of about 10 years old!!- he seemed to be running the place alone and he did a good job - though Andrew had to assist with the spanners to undo the nut as he hadn't the strength!!
We had another diversion on the way (another driver's tip) when we stopped off at Srirangapatnam. During the 18th century for a brief period the Wodeyars were usurped by Hyder Ali & his son Tipu Sultan Muslim Kings - until they were overthrown by the British. Srirangapatnam was once their capital and a lot of the ruins of these days are here.
We had a look at the fort ruins and the dudgeon where some British officers were once held captive by Tipu but we didn't get to look around the temple or the palace. We arrived at 1pm in the middle of the long 3 hour lunch break so had to keep moving as we didn't want to wait until 3pm to get in!
As soon as we started the drive on to Bangalore we got a flat tyre - first one in India. Weirdly this happened right outside a mosque as did a couple of the previous ones! - this is only the 6th one of the trip. It was a bit of a performance getting everything off to get to the spare tyre but we soon had a lot of willing helpers! There was a college of engineering nearby and all the students came down - many of them were from Kerala - Cochin and Calicut - and had seen our articles in the Malayalam papers whilst home on holidays so they were interested in our trip.
The plan had been to hit Bangalore in the daylight with plenty of time to find Nandi Toyota where the car is booked in for its service but as often happens our plans had gone awry and dark was falling as we hit the cosmopolitan metropolis of Bangalore.