Melissa likes tours when an expert can provide information and context. Tom prefers to explore and figure things out for himself, though he’s starting to be sold. In a new city, in the mad crush of a holiday weekend, we agreed that it might be a good idea and were ultimately very glad we did.
It had already been a very full day with our DC Office visit to get our Gold Cards, our bus ride to Chamundi Hill, our walk down the 300 plus steps, a great lunch at Kamat, and the walk all the way back to our hotel so we were glad we got a bit of a rest before heading out for our walking tour.
We decided that it was time for our very first rickshaw ride so that we wouldn’t further wear ourselves out before the walking tour. No one wants to be the cranky person on the tour! Not knowing what it should cost but knowing that we were likely to get ripped off if we didn’t have a price in mind, we stopped off to chat with the men at the concierge stand. They said it should cost 40-60 rupees to get to the town hall. The rickshaw driver thought it should cost 80 until we told him what the concierge had said and he then agreed to 60. Rickshaws are kind of fun. They are 3-wheeled vehicles so very nimble in tight spots and pretty zippy. They also provide a view unobstructed by dirty windows. We wouldn’t want to take one a long distance or sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic breathing fumes, but for a few kilometers of dense-but-moving traffic, it’s great!
We arrived at the Town Hall, a beautiful late 19th century building, and found our guide for the evening, Kainath. Over the next 20 minutes, the rest of our crew gathered: a man from northern India and woman from southern India who have lived in Bengaluru for 8 years (and are dismayed by the changes they see), two brothers from Assam (one of whom has lived in Bengaluru for a number of years), and a trio from San Francisco on a 3-4 day visit to India for a friend’s wedding.
Kainath was charming and knowledgeable, with tons of stories about the origins of Mysore, the origins of Mysuru Dasara, and details of life in this lovely city. She started out by telling us about the Wodeyars who have been the royal family of Mysore since the 1300’s, briefly interrupted by Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan. During our previous tour in Bengaluru, we learned about what a good and respected leader Tipu Sultan was and how prosperous this region became under his leadership. During this tour, we learned about what a tyrant he was and how glad people were when he died and the Wodeyars returned. Interesting how the stories shift with different perspectives – we imagine the truth to be somewhere between.
Kainath led us on a walk through the central core of city, pointing out significant landmarks as we went, before taking us into the market. The Mysore market is quite a bit less chaotic than the KR market in Bengaluru, and quite rigidly organized. Apparently, the king was very involved in the organization and detailed it very clearly – fruits are in a single aisle with the exception of bananas which get their own aisle, vegetables are in their own aisle, flowers are in their own aisle, coconuts have their own section of an aisle, etc. It would be so much easier to do your shopping here! Plus, it was much less smelly than in Bengaluru.
As we walked, she periodically stopped to get us bits of tasty things to eat:
- The famous Mysore Pak is a dessert made primarily from ghee and sugar, invented for the king and highly prized. We found it to be a bit like biting into a very sweet, gritty piece of soft butter; it wasn’t our favorite.
- The banapple is one of 47 kinds of bananas grown in India. While we certainly wouldn’t mistake it for an apple as suggested, it was a very tasty little banana with green apple hints.
- Melissa is weird about yogurt so wasn’t crazy about the lassi, although it was tolerable with its hints of vanilla (the secret ingredient). Tom liked it pretty well.
- The masala dosa at Dosa Point was absolutely delicious. We’re developing quite a passion for them.
- The dessert that consisted of a layer of ghee, a layer of rose jam, a scoop of butterscotch ice cream, and some fruit was good, but somehow a strange combination. It was fun to order it from the stand in the oldest part of town, however.
It was interesting to note that each time Kainath stopped to tell us a story (perhaps about the statute of king that had its head chopped off (the statue, not the king) by the newly widowed queen in a rage about its poor likeness so a new head was crafted in marble that doesn’t quite match; or perhaps about the king who believed that seven was his personal number, requiring that he have seven of everything included Rolls Royces), a crowd of men would gradually assemble, eavesdropping on her story. She was never interrupted and they were never a problem, but it was interesting to just watch it happen every time. This happened on our tour in Bengaluru with Tej, too, but there they did interrupt and tried to either add to her story or correct something she said. Her response was always amusingly dismissive – either that part of the story was coming, or he was the one who got it wrong. Back to Mysore, Kainath was interrupted only once, by a very drunk man who pointed at her and yelled at us all in Kannada to not believe anything she says.
A highlight of the tour occurred while standing on the sidewalk waiting for our dosas, when we spotted elephants walking down the street at the next intersection. We all raced off to ogle these incredible creatures who we assume were practicing for their starring roles in the next day’s procession from the palace to Bannimantap Grounds. We’re pretty much in love with elephants now.
For most of the tour, our group was marveling at the lack of the crowds we’d been warned about. Sure, there were people there, but it didn’t seem so different from downtown Bengaluru on a random Wednesday. And then we approached the palace. Wow. We suddenly confronted the “crush of humanity” as we called it, and the group had a very difficult time staying together across streets of honking horns and plazas of dense people. But it was worth the effort to cover those last few blocks and get there. Mysore Palace was lit up by 97,000 lightbulbs, as it is every Sunday evening and every holiday. It was truly a spectacular sight.
At that point, we all said our goodbyes, and wandered off to admire the beauty on our own. We thoroughly enjoyed this tour.