There are two sorts of images that come to my mind when I think of a package City tour in India. It is either a bus full of devotees and elderly crowd on a mission to visit the holy grails of the religion or it is a band of foreigners who are out to see the land of snake charmers and elephants. So when we(me and my friend and colleague hereafter referred as SD) booked a ticket on Friday on a one day package trip to Mysore, the latter image was on top of our mind. But one look at the people waiting to board the nice Volvo and we understood that it was neither. The crowd was an eclectic mix of elderly, families, newly weds (who incidentally were finding it extremely difficult to get their hands off each other through the day), group of men who seemed to be out on a mission and of course foreigners. Anyways having met with a bit of disappointment at lack of interesting people in the bus, nevertheless we started on what promised to be a visit to the city of palaces or "palices" as our tour guide Ravi would keep pronouncing through out the day on the audio system.
Our first notable stop was at Seringapatnam, which incidentally was the capital of prince Tipu Sultan. We visited Tipu Sultan's summer palace which is also known as Dariya Daulat Bagh. The palace is internally made of wood and is remarkably cool even in the blazing sun outside. The wall has exquisite paintings depicting the 4 Anglo Mysore wars that were waged by Tipu Sultan and his father Hyder Ali against the British. The palace is actually quite small but has a very intricate feel to it and one cannot help but wonder at the time gone by.
Having visited the summer palace we went to the Seringapatnam fort which is supposedly on a natural island on the Cauvery river. There is not much of a fort now with it being completely razed to the ground by the British in 1799 when it fell. The only notable structure standing inside is the famous Ranganathaswamy temple which is more than 1000 years old. Built of solid stone, you cannot help but wonder how it was put together in that era without the modern help of science. Everyone on the bus was specifically told to get back in 30 minutes but a couple of people were found missing. A small search and wait of 5 minutes revealed that one of them had bought a Texas style cowboy hat. Now who would think of buying a cowboy hat from a stall in front of a temple in middle of Karnataka. Apparently there are and we decided that during the course of the day we would borrow his hat to take a couple of pictures ourselves.
The first stopover at Mysore was the St.Philomena's church. It was a lovely church with an unique underground altar. It was pitch dark down there and just had a bunch of candles burning. You stand there and have a feeling of serene calmness. It is a different thing that on our way out in a dark passage I could not see a thing. And I was really struggling had it not been for SD who apparently was comfortably able to see everything, I would literally have to grope and feel my way out. A detailed discussion about this difference between our level of night vision revealed that SD indeed had the traits of a night predator with wider than average aperture in his eyes.
Lunch time and the topic of discussion and debate for us was whether the restaurant would be vegetarian. While I am a strictly non-veggie like SD, I am veggie on Saturdays at the behest of my mom. So while I was praying for the lunch place to be veggie, SD kept insisting that if it were a non-veggie, he would order extra plates of chicken and mutton just to keep it in front of me. And so it happened. While I had to make do with gobi manchurian and naan, SD feasted on mixed fried rice and chicken. Thankfully the chilled beer to go with lunch was at least vegetarian.
Mysore "palice" was really one of the best palaces we have seen. As our guide Ravi repeated probably 10 times on the intercom that all the materials in the palish was imported and only labourers were from India. Even today morning when I was attending a teleconference, I could not but remember that we still are the "labourers from India" even though I might be working in a sophisticated environment, moving in a comfortable car or flashing a blackberry. Anyways back to the palace and the grandeur impressed everyone. Whether it was the beauty of the Belgian glasses, the fusion architecture styles of Saxon and Persian or the elegance of the Diwan - i - Khaas. The Durbaar hall is wide, open, sweeping and overlooks the huge courtyard and garden below. Standing there you imagine the amount of power the king would have experienced being surrounded by his ministers and royalty and with thousands of commoners down below. No that is real POWER.
Anyways we visited Chamundi hill next and it really provides some breathtaking views of the Mysore city below. We came down the winding roads and made our way to the famous Vrindavan gardens in the evening. We had heard so much about this place but to be honest it did not live up to its reputation. The garden is nice but there are two basic problems. The maintenance really sucks and one can see plastic bottles floating in the fountains, dysfunctional fountains and moss and dirt in the structures. The second problem is that it has way too many people. I mean if you follow the TV series Big Bang theory and you really feel like agreeing to Raj's statement from a couple of episodes back - "I tell you there are way too many people there(India)....and dude they are everywhere". The fountain light and sound show was also a dampener. So all in all a nice place but needs some serious thoughts on maintenance and crowd management.
The trip back was largely uneventful apart from this incident at the place where we stopped for dinner (thankfully this was a pure vegetarian place). I was looking at the menu thinking what to order and an elderly person from our bus sits down besides me and just takes the menu from my hand (and I mean literally from my hand while I was looking at it), calls the waiter and orders. I mean how rude is that???? I was speechless for a couple of seconds and even SD who saw it was in awe. Unbelievable people there are!!!!!
Anyways a very enjoyable day overall...A day we enjoyed thoroughly and we have decided to plan for a bigger trip in the coming weeks.
PS: I will post a photo blog of the trip soon. So watch out for that.