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.

Our First Train Ride

We’ve heard lots of intimidating stories about Indian train travel and seen the trains speeding by with people practically falling out the doors and windows of the second class cars that confirmed those stories. Yet we also knew that an Indian train experience was a must, so we decided to get our feet wet on the relatively short trip to Mysore: just under three hours from downtown Bengaluru on the way, and only two hours on the express train home. While we could have opted for a first class car which would have given us our own little room, that didn’t seem so interesting. We also could have selected second class for an authentic experience, but that seemed a bit scary. We chose the AC Chair Car, which has assigned seats, no standing, and air conditioning (as you might have guessed).

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The bustle of the chair car.

When we got to the station about an hour before our train, we were feeling pretty uncertain of what to do. Our tickets weren’t what we would identify as tickets – they were just printed confirmation of the ticket purchase that didn’t state the type of ticket purchased or provide any other clear guidance. There were lots of people gathering on the platform, and we were concerned that if we didn’t act quickly, we might not get seats together. As the train pulled in to the station, we saw cars that said “Chair Car” on the outside. With nothing else to go on, we hustled ourselves onto the nearest chair car and got ourselves seated on a bench seat with space for three to sit. We noticed fans above us rather than air conditioners, but thought maybe “air conditioner” was a euphemism for “fan”. With Tom by the window, one of the last seats taken was the open space next to Melissa. We suspect that most men were reluctant to sit there, and the car was 2/3 male. Once all of the seats were filled, people just kept pressing on until every bit of space was occupied. At this point, we suspected we were in the wrong place, but we didn’t have time or confidence to do anything about it then. No one ever checked tickets, so there was no one official to ask. Despite the crush of people, the tone of the car was happy and friendly. Young men walked through constantly, hawking delicious-smelling food that people gleefully bought and ate. A woman standing in the aisle with her 8-year-old son asked the man next to Melissa to allow him to sit on his lap to eat his samosa. The man agreed, and the child didn’t get up again until the man was ready to get off. The woman then eased into the newly vacant seat and made small talk, including an invitation to her house, while noticeably encroaching on our space. While a bit annoyed by the crush, we were pleased to have Ranganathaswamy, a huge 10th century temple to Vishnu pointed out as we passed. Finally arriving at the Mysore train station, we were happy to find an easy exit and a short walk to our hotel for the weekend.

On the way home, we wanted to try to find our proper seats. While we were proud of managing and enjoying second class seating, we had paid for something else (260 rupees for the AC Chair Car rather than 75 rupees for Second Class) and wanted to experience that too. The problem was that we still just had these uninformative print-outs and no idea how to find out proper car. Problem solved when we spotted the ticket inspectors office. Melissa wandered in and sheepishly mumbled that we didn’t know how to find our car, and the ticket inspector graciously explained that the random-seeming numbers on our print-out actually indicated our car number and our seat numbers. We had actual seats waiting for us! The trip home was an entirely different experience in comfortable seats with plentiful leg room and powerful air conditioning. It was also different in terms of the human connection (people chatted with the people they knew) and the food (we were given water and mango juice, but no food vendors wandered through our car at all). For that short trip, the difference in price is just $1.15 vs. $3.97. We’d probably opt for the AC Chair Car again for a longer trip, but good to know that the second class option is entirely tolerable, if a little crowded and smelly.

Royal Mysore Walks

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 20170929_163719-11074996404.jpgour 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.

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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.

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Market stall with an assortment of the 47 kinds of bananas

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.20170929_190734428578884.jpg
  • 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.

20170929_185926-11063408233.jpgA 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.

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At that point, we all said our goodbyes, and wandered off to admire the beauty on our own. We thoroughly enjoyed this tour.

Mysuru Dasara

The reason we were able to take a mini, four-day vacation was for Dasara, celebrated in style in Mysore (traditionally and again known as Mysuru, but called Mysore by the Brits who couldn’t seem to pronounce it). Melissa got us set up to experience it fully with Gold Cards, which serve as admission to several events and cultural venues and also allows for a common folks’ version of a VIP experience for the main events. After many warnings that we were going to be facing crowds like we’ve never seen before, Melissa spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to best do this amazing celebration. This post will be different than the others — we’re going to describe what we did, and, in the vain assumption that anyone will care, we’re going to share thoughts on how we think we might have done it even better for other future potential Mysuru Dasara celebrants who google like we did.

First, we had to pick up our Gold Cards on Friday morning. Melissa very cleverly found us a hotel across the street from the District Commissioner’s (DC) Office. While Tom was disappointed that Batman and Wonder Woman were not going to be there, it turned out to be a lovely old Colonial building. We were there early, so we explored the grounds a little, grounds that mostly included a lovely rose and dahlia garden. After finally figuring out where we were supposed to pick up our passes, we were off to Chamundi Hill.

After sorting through the different bits of advice we got on how best to both navigate the crowds and have the best experience with the parades on Saturday, we decided to skip the start of the Jamboo Savari parade in the Palace in favor of making sure we got to Bannimantap Grounds to see the end of the parade and get great seats for the military parades and the Torchlight Parade. As a result, we had a completely free morning for just relaxing. Boy, did we need it. We ended up relaxing by the pool for a good long while. Melissa still couldn’t stop googling for advice on how to make the most of our Gold Cards, though, and finally found a blog post that suggested it was worth it to go to the palace. We quickly shifted gears: We had plenty of time; let’s just head to the palace, and if we aren’t having an incredible time, we can always leave early with plenty of time to still get to Bannimantap as planned. So we mobilized.

On our walk there and outside the gates leading to the Palace grounds, we experienced a couple of instances of what we started just referring to as “the crush of humanity”, when many, many people are all funneling into a very small space, and each one has to be first and is trying to push his/her way to the front of the line. We had found our way behind a single file line of women snaking their way through the crowd, through spaces that didn’t really exist but were simply between people who weren’t crushed up against each other quite as densely as in other spots. By the time we pushed our way out the other side, we were overheated, exhausted, and a little bewildered. This experience of being stuck in the middle of a crowd of people, pressing against you from all sides, while you just barely inch forward through tiny crevices in the crowd is unlike anything we’ve experienced before in the US. It’s a wee bit panic-inducing at times. Thanks to our Gold Cards, when we found the right gate, not only did get through without having to trample anyone to get there, but a couple of very nice fellows were waiting with bags of water, nuts, and mango juice for us. We agreed that our Gold Cards had just paid for themselves.

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We found what looked like great seats in the 4th row of the second tier of the Gold Card section, not far from where the parade would start and with a good view down a plaza underneath the real VIP section where the Maharaja and other super-VIPs would watch the parade, just in case special stuff happened there. And special stuff happened indeed. We had our first sighting (of the day) of the elephants, all painted and jeweled-up and accompanied by some stately camels, as they delivered a man we assumed was the Maharaja to the viewing area. We started to get the sense for the frustration to come as the crowd around us built. Chairs were loosely in rows, but people started grabbing extra chairs and stacking them to sit on, which not only blocked the view of the people behind them, but also took chairs out of circulation for others. More chairs came, and people took them with no regard for the original concept of rows, continuing to stack them on top of each other and filling in the aisles where they found it convenient to do so. Our seats began to seem less wonderful.

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Finally, the beautiful elephants returned. This time their mahouts (handlers) put up their parasols, and the parade was off. It was amazing. There were fabulous dancers, fun bands, and floats that clearly told a story. The only problem was that we didn’t understand the story the floats were telling, and between people standing to take pictures, and other people (including chair stackers) yelling at the standers, and the fact that the view wasn’t so good after all because even in the good moments, Melissa could only see the tops of the dancers’ and bands’ heads, we decided we indeed were not having the “incredible time” that was the bar that would mean we stayed. So, having gloried in the elephants, we decided to leave before the crowd with plenty of time to go back to the hotel, reset, and get a rickshaw to Bannimantap in time to see the whole parade.

We decided we were glad we went to the Palace, even if just to see the elephants those couple of extra times. If we had it to do over again, we’d go a bit earlier. The parade started at 1:30ish. We got there at 12:30ish. If we had gotten there at 11:00 or 11:30, maybe we would have gotten seats in the front row that would have made irrelevant all the chair-stacking and jockeying for position behind us. On the other hand, we wouldn’t have had that incredibly relaxing morning, so we didn’t exactly regret our choices; we just wish we’d done the parade better.

We also could have done our drop-off in Bannimantap better. First, the rickshaw driver basically headed straight for the venue, after telling us we’d have to pay extra because he was going to take the long way around. Hmmm. When the crowd ahead looked like it was getting too dense, we asked him to stop and let us out. Realizing what we were looking at was the parade route, Tom had the brilliant notion that we could get through the crowd and follow the route to the venue for the evening activities and what we thought was the parade’s end. We tried both edges of the crowd, trying to get through. The first was impossibly dense, like the gates earlier. The second was even worse and intensely smelly. Melissa began to panic. Bad idea. Somehow we managed to push our way backwards out of the crowd and got advice from a woman to go down to the next road. Now that we were again overheated and a little agitated, we found our way around the parade route entirely, approaching the Bannimantap Grounds from the backside. We were fixated on getting to our gate and into the grounds in order to get better seats than we had at the Palace. We went where we were told and ended up again on the parade route. This time, though, the crowd wasn’t so dense. We got out on the street and made it a little ways up the road when a phalanx of local police ushered us out of the street and on to a sidewalk with other parade watchers.

That fixation on getting to our gate meant we missed out on fully appreciating what was happening around us. There were very nice folks, including one of the policemen who was trying to convince Tom that Obama loved Modi, and an older gentleman who was quite taken by Melissa, insisting that she reminded him of his mother who was also named Melissa, even though that’s a name we haven’t come across, nor have we come across many Indians outside of the school who can pronounce it. The kids around us fulfilled our growing stereotype of Indian kids as being just wonderful, happy people. But we kept eyeing what we thought was our gate just past that phalanx of police and scheming ways to get to it.

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And then the parade showed up. It turns out they were so militant about keeping the area clear next to us because that was where the elephants turned in to finish their day! So the huge, beautiful beasts passed feet from us. They were incredible. We loved them. A few more dancers danced their way by, and then it stopped. By the time the crowds started rushing the street and closing off the route at the road where we entered the parade route, we realized the rest of the parade wasn’t going to get to us. Rats. Also, it was past the time people kept telling us that the gate for the Gold Card holders was going to open, so we found our way into the street and walked briskly past the police, very intentionally avoiding eye contact. We got to our gate, into the venue, and to our seats. And what seats they were! Because the venue was practically empty. It turned out, we got there an hour earlier than we really needed to.

On further reflection, we should have gotten the rickshaw driver to somehow drop us off on the east side of the parade route and found our way to the hotels on Bannimantap Road, like Hotel Athithi, where we could have seen as much of the parade as we wanted and still had plenty of time to get in to Bannimantap Grounds for great seats.

The event at Bannimantap Grounds was crazy. It started verrrrrry slowly. In fact, a good amount of the crowd, clearly the ones in the know, waited until later to even arrive. It started with a long, drawn out military procession. The band played the national anthem a few times, for which we all stood each time. The governor of Karnataka was there, so he not only was driven past the troops, but the troops then marched by his reviewing stand. Tom admitted later that he might have dozed off at one point.

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Then the fun finally began. An army unit of motorcycle stunt men performed some pretty amazing stunts. There were 20 motorcycles in all, and they would speed toward each other in formation, just barely avoiding collision. We joked that they were just replicating Bangalore traffic, but it really was quite impressive. They also jumped up to stand on the seats of the speeding motorcycles or drove with multiple people balanced on the motorcycles in crazy acrobatic poses. It was great. That was followed by a lavish, incredible dance with about 100 dancers in costumes, moving in sync. The final act was the torchlight parade. We hadn’t known what that meant exactly and were delighted to see that it was precision marching and artful torch wielding we had never imagined. It was incredible and beautiful.

With our spirits buoyed after a frustrating series of choices, we decided to walk along the parade route back toward town and our hotel. It was just simply a lovely evening for a walk, and a pleasure to out amidst the happy people surrounded by tinkly lights on every surface and building. Bannimantap Road is a lovely neighborhood (and at this point we realized the above advice about where best to view the parade). About half way back we decided to take a ride with the next rickshaw driver who asked. One hundred rupees later, we were home in the safety of our comfy hotel room.

We knew the day would be like this. Everyone we told about our trip to Mysore for Dasara all said the same two things: It’s going to be incredible, and it’s going to be more crowded than anything you’ve ever seen. It was both of those things. Maybe we could have had better seats at the Palace. Maybe we could have avoided the four or five instances of soul-sucking crushes of humanity. Maybe we could have done things better at Bannimantap. But in the end, we saw the elephants three times, including once at a distance of about 15 feet. We saw great dancers, fun bands, a torchlight parade we couldn’t have imagined, and experienced one of the most important festivals in Southern India. It was a very good day.

Summary of advice for future gold card attendees:

  1. Make the most of your Gold Card (we learned the next day that it is valid through the holiday, not through the holiday weekend)
  2. Go to the palace for the Jamboo Savari – it’s worth it – but go early and get yourself into the front row of one of the risers. The front row is very long and anywhere in it will be better than any other option further back. The very front section is for white gold cards (invitees) rather than black gold cards that can be purchased – they are on a lower riser so no worries about being behind them.
  3. Go from there directly to the southern edge of the Bannimantap grounds along the parade route. You might just tell your driver to take you to Hotel Athithi or National Residency. You might even consider staying at the National Residency or any other hotel along the parade route if you could get a room with a street-facing view. In this case, a fancy view might trump an otherwise fancy hotel.
  4. No big rush to get yourself to Bannimantap grounds for the evening. The stand is steeply raked, so your view is unlikely to be obstructed anywhere unless you end up in the seats on the ground in front. There is no reason to be there before 7, and 7:30 would be just fine.
  5. You’ll be given water, mango juice, and snacks at the palace and the Bannimantap grounds. No need to carry more unless you’re concerned about dehydration (Melissa prefers a little dehydration to public pit toilets shared by a million people).
  6. Expect the crowds and don’t get freaked out. They’re all there to have the same good time you’re seeking. No matter how much you are expecting the crowds, there will be moments that are beyond your expectations. It might be easier to not freak out if you know all of your belongings are well secured.