Periyar Tiger Reserve

Tuesday, we set out on an adventure we had been looking forward to since we signed on to work in India. We set out to see elephants in the wild. After a fabulous masala dosa breakfast at our hotel, we were off to Periyar Tiger Reserve, a national park in Thekkady, on the border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu (though all our Keralan hosts would want us to be clear – it is almost entirely in Kerala). We had signed up for a full day trek, part hiking and part bamboo rafting, into the heart of the reserve.

We took a bus ride a few miles in to the park to the boat launch. It took us a minute to make sure we were in the right place – there is also a boat dock for a larger, less trek-y boat ride to see wild life. After a quick cup of coffee, we made our way to our little hut by the river.

Preparation for the trek was both a relief and eye opening. A relief because we met our fellow travelers. It was a very small group – eight tourists and five guides. We were joined by two very eager grad students doing an exchange semester in Gujarat, one Swede and one German; and a family of four Angelinos in Kerala for a wedding. The guides were charming local men who clearly love what they do. They were eager to tell us about everything we were seeing and worked very hard to make sure we had a great experience.

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Our leech booties.

Gearing up was eye opening because of the gear. First, it was a little bit of a relief that they gave us leech-prevention booties to put inside our boots and outside our pants. We’re pretty sure that leeches aren’t fatal, but they’re just unpleasant enough that we were happy to be protected from them. The other eye opening bit of gear was the shotgun. We don’t usually hike with shotguns. We were going to be consorting with some dangerous critters indeed.

We got started with a very small taste of the bamboo rafting to come with a rope-pull ferry of a bamboo raft to get us across a small arm of the lake that would be our host. The first leg of our trek amounted to a nature hike through a beautiful, lush jungle. The two of us kept getting separated from the rest of the group, essentially meaning we had two of the guides to ourselves, who loved pointing out what we were looking at.

The guides seemed to have assigned jobs. One led the procession. Another had the shotgun. One fellow seemed to be the bring-up-the-rear guy. The other two carried supplies and helped us along the way. None of them spoke perfect English, but all of them were super excited to share this beautiful park they had all worked in for years.

They set our expectations early. Not only are tigers rare (about 50 of them in the 975 square km park), but they are nocturnal. The odds of seeing a tiger are almost nil. In 10 years, one of them had seen tigers twice. There are 1000 elephants, so that’s possible but still not likely. They were clear that we needed to be there for the splendor of the place, not to check a sighting off our bucket list.

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The two guys helping us, the shotgun tender and the rear guide, indeed helped us appreciate the splendiferous place. On this leg of our trek, we saw trees – a cobra tree that looked like the hood of a king cobra, a spiny Indian corral tree, and ancient cotton and jack fruit trees. We saw otters, a black monkey, a giant squirrel (the name of it, not a descriptor, though it was indeed giant), and some kind of a lizard. We saw a banyan tree growing over a teak tree, eventually killing it since it will suck all of the water out of it. We saw evidence of the grand animals we were after: the skull of a bison that had been killed by a tiger; a tree where a tiger had “cleaned its claws,” leaving deep marks that reminded us while we would love to see one, we wanted to be no where near it; many trees elephants had rubbed against, massaging themselves; and scratchings in the ground of three kinds, elephants doing something we were never clear of, wild boars digging for roots, and tigers marking their territory.

Another fun element of this wonderland were the wild spices. We started trying to keep track of the delicious things we could make with the spices they pointed out to us: green pepper (the spice not, as they call it here, capsicum), cardamom, ginger, turmeric, curry leaf, cinnamon, and allspice. We’re pretty sure we were just missing hot peppers and cloves, and we could have made ourselves a really nice masala with all of the wild spices.

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Wild boars having their own breakfast as we get ready to have ours.

Just before we stopped for breakfast (or second breakfast in our case), we had our first major sighting. A collection of wild boar (complete with mynah birds perched on top) were digging away for their own meal across the river.

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Breakfast was a chance to start chatting with our fellow travelers and rest up a bit for the next leg of the journey. We took a quick walk to where we got on our bamboo rafts. Eight people could fit on one raft, so we took two: four tourists on each with two or three guides accompanying. The paddle was pleasant and relaxing.  This was the point where we were moving slowly enough that we could realize one of the best parts of the day – no human noise outside of our little, quiet group. No traffic noise, no airplanes, no yelling, no nothing. Just birds, quiet conversation, and the dip of the paddles. It was heaven. We were keeping our eyes on the tree line of the shore for critters coming to the lake to drink. No takers. We had to settle for simply being in a little slice of paradise.

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Fishers hightailing it out of the rainstorm just like us.

Occasionally in the pictures that involve water, you can make out in the background small gatherings of people. Periyar has an interesting and almost tragic history. As the tea plantations, which are everywhere in this district, started encroaching in the late 19th century, the maharaja protected the area as a hunting ground in order to save the forest. Then, as the hunting threatened the existence of the tigers, elephants, boars, sambar deer, and others, the government in 1978 turned it in to a national park. In order to pull that off, the government had to relocate the indigenous communities who had lived there for millennia. In exchange, the communities were given almost free access (they can sleep only one night inside) to the park to continue the fishing they had always counted on. What you are seeing are small groups of fishers upholding generations of experience.

We stopped for lunch on shore. One nice thing about this trek is that they supply a small backpack filled with food for the day – dosas with a curry for breakfast, pulau with an egg curry for lunch, an orange, an apple, mango juice, and a couple of other things we never did really figure out what they were for. The family from Los Angeles entertained us with their first attempts at eating rice with their hands. It was good food, especially for packing it up for a trek.

After lunch, we loaded up for a trek through the jungle behind us. Two of our guides stayed back, so we were able to leave our life jackets and lunch packs behind, allowing us to move a little faster. Just as we were starting, the three remaining guides told us very sternly that this was the silent part of the trip, so we headed off in silence.

The lead guide was on a mission. We started realizing what that mission was when he took off, leaving us between two meadows, to check out an area beyond where we could see. He came back, shaking his head. It turns out he was trying to find some elephants for us. We were told that he had been guiding in Periyar for 25 years, and it showed. We scooted through large meadows, deep woods, and stretches where it didn’t seem like there was any path at all. At every transition he would stop, listen, look around, shake his head, and move on. Once, he even made like he smelled something, but to no avail.

At one point he ran off ahead to check out a meadow, and he looked back with a very different reaction. He looked like a little boy who just scored his first goal. He waved us over, and we were ecstatic to see the back of an elephant in some very tall greenery. Then we moved on and saw a big old tusked elephant in the tree line behind the first. Then we realized it was a mama elephant because the baby elephant was several feet away from her. THREE ELEPHANTS! IN THEIR HOME!

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We made our way slowly around the edge of the meadow, both to get different angles and to see if we could get just a little bit closer without spooking them. The guides were obviously very nervous. Every once in a while, we’d be so distracted taking photos and just generally being in awe of them that we’d get separated from the rest of the group, and the guides would physically herd us back together. Then the elephants started moving. The silence was broken as the guides started imploring us to move now, we have to get out of here. Sure enough, those huge beasts turned nimbly back to the woods and started powering up the hill. They even started trumpeting as they went. We were told later that if not for the baby, the larger elephants probably would have charged, but they had to stay back to protect the baby.

It made our day. Already this was a glorious trip, what with the silence and the peace and the beauty and the nice travel companions. But elephants in the wild? Even our guides kept telling us, “You are very lucky.” Very lucky indeed.

DSCF0518Our trek back to the boathouse was a bit quicker. After a break back at the lunch spot, we got back on the rafts for an occasionally rain-spattered paddle. Then the rain became a downpour. We high-tailed it out of there. The guides took us through several short cuts, making it clear that the first leg of our day really was all about pointing out the natural splendor of the place. Our soaked sprint home was only interrupted by a huge herd of bison, big enough that our guides also seemed impressed.

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What a great trekking crew. Four of our five guides. Swedish and German young men in the back. Family from Los Angeles to the right of Melissa.

Drenched and ecstatic, we arrived back at the boathouse and met the bus to go home. This was exactly what we had hoped for. It would have been enough to be able to take a hike and a boat ride in a beautiful place. Even better that the people we travelled with were charming and had the same priorities for the trek. Even better that it wasn’t simply peaceful; there was no traffic noise at all, not even airplanes. Even better to do this all with the knowledge that we are walking in the homes of some of the most powerful, impressive animals in the world, and if they didn’t want us there, we were in trouble. And best that we saw what we came for: elephants in the wild.

 

 

Chapter 11: An Amazing Weekend in Mysore

We spent a glorious 4-day weekend in Mysore for Mysuru Dasara.

We spent a glorious 4-day weekend in Mysore, about 95 miles southwest of our home north of Bengaluru. This was a true weekend of firsts: our first India train travel, our first public bus, our first rickshaw rides, our first experience with elephants, and (our main reason for being there) our first big, city-wide Indian celebration event. We crammed in as much as we could while ensuring daily relaxation time, fabulous meals, long walks, and lots of sleep. OK, we didn’t really worry about cramming everything in. We focused more on having an enjoyable weekend and getting to know more about a lovely city that we look forward to visiting again.

Mysore is the historic capital of the state in which we live, which also used to be called Mysore. For 600 years it was ruled by the Wodeyars, interrupted only briefly by Haidar Ali and his son Tipu Sultan. After independence from the British, they ceded their rule to the new Indian state (as did all royal families across India), but retained their titles and government involvement until Indira Gandhi ended royal status in 1971. Even then, they continued to be among the wealthiest families in the world and the city they created and lived in is full of the gorgeous buildings and monuments they created.

With independence, Bengaluru was named capital of the soon to be formed state of Karnataka. To us, this looks like a blessing for Mysore. While Bengaluru continues to grow exponentially with each year, with all of the challenges brought by a rapidly swelling population, Mysore’s population is only about a tenth that of Bengaluru. There is less visible garbage, more manageable traffic, and easily walkable streets. Given the crowds of a festival weekend, we expected issues with all three of those things.

We took the train back and forth (see Our first Indian Train ride), visited the temple of the Goddess Chamundeshwara (See Chamundi Hill), took a tour of the central core (see Royal Mysore Walks), attended the Jamboo Savari and Bannimantap Torch Light parade (see Mysuru Dasara Events), had wonderful meals (see Kamat, Southern Star, and Tiger Trail), and visited the Mysore Palace where we got up close and personal with elephants (!) (see Mysore Palace).

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We also visited the famous Mysore Zoo where we were most excited to see giraffes, hippos, rhinos, and a baby elephant sheltering between his (her?) mother’s legs. We were a bit overwhelmed by the crowds at the zoo, but managed to find some quiet spaces where, bafflingly, no one else seemed to go. The crowds seemed to instead cluster densely around the reptile houses where people waited in long lines instead of taking a turn to the unvisited arbor lined promenade where they could watch the baby elephant. Strange, but definitely our gain.

DSCF0419From there, we found a  brief air-conditioned respite at the lovely bar in the Radisson Blu before heading for a walk around Karanji Lake, a beautiful, quiet, forested bird sanctuary that we sincerely hope is the model for the renovation of Lake Yelahanka near us. Again, lots of people were there.

 

Our next visit to Mysore will definitely be timed for a less crowded experience, but oh, how we loved it!

Chamundi Hill

When in Mysore for Mysuru Dasara, one must visit the temple dedicated to the goddess for whom the celebration exists, the goddess Chamundi, slayer of Mahishasura. Tom is not a big fan of religious tourism, but Melissa loves a good temple, so we dressed in our knee-and-shoulder-covering clothing and asked the concierge for some advice on how to get there. We had assumed that we could just call an Ola to take us, as we would when going anywhere in Bengaluru, and just asked for advice on where to have the car drop us off. It was a good thing we asked, because we were told that during the festival weekend, we’d have to take the bus rather than a car. The incredibly friendly concierge told us how to get to the bus terminal just a 20 minute walk into town, and told us that the bus would be free today.

Once at the bus terminal, Tom asked for guidance and was told the bus number we needed at the far bus stand. The bus was there when we arrived, nearly ready to leave so we were gestured on quickly. Turns out it wasn’t free, but it only cost 20 rupees each (about 30 cents), which was only an issue because our supply of small bills was much smaller than it should have been. Tom had to ask the bus conductor for change once we were underway.

This bus was an adventure all by itself. It was jam-packed and we were standing, Melissa with her head in the armpit of the man holding a handle above her and Tom glaring to fend off a would-be-pick-pocketer fondling his phone in his pants pocket. It was hot and sticky with no apparent air movement given everyone pressed so tightly together, and people continued to get on at subsequent stops. Finally we got to a stop near the zoo where lots of people got off and we were able to grab seats, albeit not together. Sitting was an entirely different experience; no one else was touching us, and we could feel a clear breeze from the low windows. Aaaah. The other part of the adventure was the driver. We’re used to the craziness of Bengaluru drivers, but we didn’t expect it from a bus in Mysore. Wow, was this bus driver aggressive, constantly honking his horn and speeding around the narrow winding road up the steep hill. Miraculously, he didn’t hit anything, and we got off at the top with great relief.

In this weekend of firsts, we knocked off our first bus ride. Sure, it wasn’t ideal, but it also wasn’t as intimidating as we expected. It probably won’t ever be our first choice for travelling about town, but at least we know we can handle it in a pinch.

We’d expected a solemnity to the temple area, but this felt more like a carnival. There were little booths set up everywhere with either food or plastic tourist junk, so many in fact that we couldn’t find a place to see the view from the top of the hill. We decided to venture through the archway toward the huge temple and discovered a long winding line and people milling about everywhere. While tickets were required for the temple, our Gold Cards purchased in advance covered our admission and expedited our entry. As we were trying to figure out where to enter (there were no signs or officials anywhere), we were approached by a young man telling us that we needed to remove our shoes. And of course we did – we knew that, but just forgot in all the hubbub, and clearly walked right past the shoe check. He said we could leave them with him and the three men standing there with him and gave us offerings of flowers, incense, and idols to take into the temple. It was definitely a risk to just leave our shoes with a stranger, as we would have been very unhappy to have lost them, but we took a chance (Tom was assuming that eventually there would be a fee once our shoes were delivered safely back to us) and it worked out fine.

We entered a short line that went almost directly into the temple, separated by a rope from people who had stood in a line that wound around the temple. It made us feel a bit guilty and added to our frustration with the people in our short line who were pushing or obviously cutting. While there was little solemnity outside the temple, we expected to find it inside ­– but didn’t. There were clearly people there for whom this was a religious experience, bowing their heads, and finding meaning in the steps along the way, but it really seemed more like a social, habitual rite for the majority of people there. And the pushing only intensified as we moved through the temple. We couldn’t look around because we needed to focus on maintaining our footing and moving forward. We passed the priest with incense and waved it over our faces , we passed the priest with the holy water which he spooned into our hands to drink and then sprinkle on our own heads, we passed the priest who put vermillion dots between our eyebrows, and we paused with the priest who received our offering and returned our idols with vermillion dots on their brows (and then looked annoyed until we gave him money as well). We pretty quickly made our way out of the temple and breathed a sigh of relief as we headed back to where we left our shoes.

Happily our shoes were waiting right where we left them, and so were our shoe-protecting, offering-providing new friends who (no surprise to Tom) requested 200 rupees from each of us. We paid up, realizing we should have suspected something of the kind. The one we’d spoken with most was very friendly and introduced himself. Melissa thinks he said his name was Lavi, but Tom thinks he said Ravi because Lavi is not a name. He offered to take us to another temple right next door, but we weren’t really into it after the shoving match we’d experienced in the Chamundeshwari Temple. We did ask him where we might find a view, though, and he walked us to a lovely spot from which we could see all of Mysore below us. Lavi/Ravi kept pushing this other temple, the Mahabaleswara Temple devoted to Shiva, explaining that it is the ancient temple of the hilltop village where he lives, that this temple is 2000 years old where the Chamundeshwari Temple is only 800 years old, that it is peaceful inside. Melissa was finally sold and Tom agreed to come along. We were glad we did. There were only a couple other people inside and it really was just lovely. After walking us to another viewpoint, Lavi/Ravi asked us for money “for the children.” We gave him 200 rupees which he did not seem to find satisfactory, but accepted nonetheless.

We decided that we’d had enough of Chamundi Hill and now just wanted to leave, but didn’t know how. We couldn’t call a car, we didn’t want to get back on the bus, and we were having difficulty finding a path to safely walk down. And then we bumped into some Americans who animatedly asked if we’d come up the 300 steps. We hadn’t, but only because we had never heard of them. We were suddenly very eager to go down them, and they weren’t that hard to find once we knew what we were looking for (and Tom found them on Google maps). The walk down was great. It was frequently shady with stunning views off to the left, and a slow but steady procession of people walking up the steps. Most of them were alone, but some were in small groups, and as they walked, they stopped to put dots of turmeric and vermillion on the face of each step. This was the focus and solemnity we’d expected to find at the temple. We both agreed that it felt like more than 300 steps going down, and the faces coming up made it clear that they would have agreed had we asked them. With shaky legs, red faces, and a serious consciousness of our own dehydration, we began the walk back toward town, looking for a place to stop for water, food, and a little relaxation (see Kamat).

Review: Tiger Trail

Our first night on our vacation, we had snacks for dinner on the train. Our first night in Mysore, we had snacks for dinner during the tour. On our second night in Mysore, we had snacks and hotel sandwiches for dinner while waiting for the festivities to begin at Bannimantap Grounds. On our last night in Mysore, we went for fancy dinner at Tiger Trail, specializing in North Indian food.

Tiger Trail is in the hotel right next door to the Southern Star where we stayed, but has an entirely different feel. This heritage hotel was built in the 1920s by the maharaja as a guest house for distinguished British guests. It was built to impress, and we definitely responded appropriately. We also had plenty of time to explore since we weren’t sure what time our reservation was so showed up at 7, knowing that we might not have a table until 7:30. In fact, the restaurant was still being set up at the time, and doesn’t open until 7:30. No problem – there’s a bar right next door where we could have a lovely glass of French burgundy while we waited.

In an ideal world, we would have been seated outside in the gorgeous grounds next to the outdoor kitchen. In the real world, with a sudden ill-timed downpour, we were happy to be inside near the window. We were also all alone in the dining room for at least half an hour. We’ve noticed before that dinner time is later here, but didn’t take that into account when planning.

The waiters were charming and helpful, and clearly wanted to order for us. This seems to be a frequent issue when dining in nicer restaurants, and we’re learning that we have to clearly express our desire to order for ourselves or we end up with enough food for a ravenous family of four. We attempted to order a bottle of montepulciano d’abruzzo which would have been practically our first non-Indian bottle of wine since the move, but they were out of it. Although they suggested Australian alternatives, we opted for ournew standby, Sula cab/shiraz. Our waiter couldn’t resist throwing in one extra starter, which Melissa thoroughly enjoyed: cucumber rounds topped with chopped tomato, grated carrot, peanuts, crispy vermicelli, and a delicious green chutney. Tom enjoyed it, too, but for the cucumber. That was followed by three tandoori grilled types of paneer: one with spicy tomato, one with cream, and one with mint, all served with some roasted peppers and onions. It was all lovely, and we agreed that the tomato one was our favorite. Then came the main course: saag paneer and chana pindi served with garlic naan and paratha (we let the waiter choose our breads). While everything was lovely, it was also clearly spiced for a delicate foreign palate. Not surprising, but we kind of wish we’d said that we enjoy some spice. For dessert, we ordered the payasam, a South Indian name for kheer, or rice pudding. This version was served chilled in a little clay pot and was a perfect end to the meal.

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Overall, we had lovely service and a delicious meal in a beautiful setting, but didn’t leave feeling so loyal that we wouldn’t choose a different place to try next time we’re in town.

Review: Southern Star hotel

The Southern Star hotel is a 4-star hotel in Mysore that had two important things going for it: it is only a 10-minute walk from the train station (which felt important when arriving after 9 pm in a strange city) and it’s very close to the DC Office where we had to pick up our Gold Cards first thing on our first morning. It also had good reviews on tripadvisor with many mentions of both cleanliness and good food – two essentials, as far as we’re concerned.

Our fifth floor room was quite nice, definitely clean, and had a delightfully powerful shower. It also had a comfortable mattress that actually allowed us to sleep in one morning! If you know us, you know what a big deal that is. Of particular note were Kumar and Pooya, the concierges who were there with a smile and a genuine desire to help every single time we popped up in front of their desk. It was a great comfort to feel like we had people to turn to for any questions we might have while exploring this new city. (It was a little disturbing to realize this was true both early in the morning and late at night. At some point we’ll write about the work days people face in this economy.)

Also of note: the breakfast.

Hotel breakfasts included in the price of the room can sometimes be iffy. We would not have been surprised to find dry cereal and boring pastries and fruit as the only offering, in which case we might have sought breakfast elsewhere. As it was, we looked forward to breakfast each of our four mornings there. It was great. Yes, there was dry cereal and boring pastries next to toast and fruit, but there was also a varied array of delicious Indian breakfast foods every day. We had a different sweet pudding each day, different kinds of idli (steamed rice dumplings made plain or with lentils or veggies), different kinds of paratha (wheat flat breads stuffed with onions or cauliflower or potato), dosas (fermented rice and dal flatbreads with tasty things cooked in or on top), sambar (a sort of spicy tomato broth with veggies to put on your idli or other things), vada (delicious little savory lentil donuts), coconut chutney, different preparations of potatoes, and masala omelettes. We could have requested our own masala dosa or visited the made-to-order omelette station, but were so happy with what was in front of us each day that we just didn’t bother. This was all accompanied by sweetened milky tea or coffee – the only thing Tom could have done without, as a fan on unsweetened black coffee.

We hope this is a sign that Indian hotel breakfasts are different from American hotel breakfasts. If other hotels don’t match up, we’ll be back to the Southern Star!

Review: Kamat Lokarchi Pure Veg Garden Restaurant

You know those times where you just kind of stumble upon great food? We did that at the end of our walk down Chamundi Hill. We hadn’t planned to walk so far, so we went and got ourselves a little dehydrated, and we were looking for somewhere to get some water. Google maps had one restaurant relatively close along the way, and seeing as how we were also super hungry, we thought we’d stop in for a bite. It was to be our first truly Indian family restaurant that we hadn’t researched before our experience. We were so glad we did.

We really had three important observations:

1.  The service was fantastic. As with so many places, our servers and a gentleman we took to be a proprietor or manager were crazy eager to please. Unlike so many other places, they also gave us space to talk about what we wanted to order without pressuring us uncomfortably.

2.  Almost all “Indian food” in the States is North Indian food, so that was the food with which we were familiar. We have been so intent on trying new things, we have tended to steer away from the North Indian food. We just wanted something familiar in that moment, so we ordered a North Indian Thali, with familiar dishes such as channa masala, saag paneer, biryani, raita, and some other bits of deliciousness. It was delicious. However, seeing as how everybody else was ordering it, they clearly specialize in traditional South Indian meals like the one we described on Onam, served on banana leaves and with folks circulating with metal pails full of food. Next time we might have to go that direction.

3.  We were reminded of how wonderful it can be to simply take a chance on a place we walk by that might look tasty. We have tried to maximize our deliciousness factor by researching good food before going places. It has yielded great food, mediocre food, and a couple of clunkers. Sometimes, you just have to roll the dice.

 

Mysore Palace (and elephants!)

Mysore Palace is a must visit while in town. We knew the crowds would be difficult, but hoped that waiting until Monday morning to go would make it a bit easier. We’d learned the day before that our Gold Cards were no longer any use, but also knew it would be worth the price of admission. The palace opens at 10, so we got there a little before and were amazed to see that there weren’t as many people waiting as anticipated. Kainath, our tour guide from Friday night, had told us we’d have the place to ourselves on Monday morning and we wondered if that might feel true. It didn’t.

There was a bit of a crush to get in. There’s no such thing as an orderly line here ever – everyone just pushes their bodies into the available space, no matter that you’re all just trying to get through the same archway and it would be no slower to walk through it without pushing. Once through, we saw that there really were quite a few people there and decided to try to go quickly to the tour of the inside of the palace, then take our time with the exterior. As is so often the case, we couldn’t wear our shoes inside and had to check them, which turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.

The shoe check was a 30 foot counter with two men behind it. The first section was for getting a numbered shoe bag, which we missed as we tried to make our way into the line for shoe drop. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as an orderly line so people are constantly running up and pushing themselves into tiny spaces at the counter, rather than waiting their turn. Also, keep in mind that there are only two men there to deal with over 100 people trying to drop off shoes. Happily, a woman noticed our lack of shoe bag and handed us one she didn’t need. Tom pushed forward while Melissa moved out of the crush to wait. During Tom’s 15 minutes standing at the counter, he was pushed, ignored, and witnessed an argument between the two men working there that brought the little progress they were making to a complete stop. Melissa spent that time fending off a group of 20-something  men who were desperate for photos and finally just started photographing her until she walked away trying not to draw a crowd.

With that bit of trauma behind us, we entered the palace. While much of the palace is not open for viewing, what was open was incredible. Every single inch of the palace is carved, painted, and decorated, from the floor to the ceiling. It was awe-inspiring. And it was a little frustrating to be constantly moved along by the hundreds of other visitors, but in every room we wanted to, we found some space to take it in.

After leaving the palace and going through the stress of retrieving our shoes, our intention was to find some outdoor spaces that everyone else wasn’t crowding into. But we were thoroughly distracted by the camel and elephant rides, just like everyone else. We didn’t go on a ride, but really enjoyed watching.img_2168-1img_2169-1

 

 

 

 

 

We then headed off to admire the beautiful grounds and discovered the elephant area! All of the elephants from the parade and a bunch more besides were clustered in a section of the grounds, some getting baths, some walking with their mahouts, and many more standing in place enjoying a meal. It was a bit sad to see the stationary elephants chained and made us more excited about the chance to see them in their native habitats at some point. It was also a bit troubling to see the hastily constructed, windowless, metal buildings that house the elephant keepers and their families. We can’t imagine how hot it must be in there, which probably explained why everyone was out and about, with kids running everywhere.

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The grounds and temple were lovely, but marred by all of the structures built for the previous day’s festivities. For that reason, and because of a desire to experience it all without crowds, we will definitely be returning to Mysore and its lovely palace.