Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mysore (butt)

Tea covered hills
Since all good things must come to an end, we left Ooty for Mysore the following morning.  Ooty is one of the most comfortable places in India to me.  The weather is great, it's not too big, there isn't nearly as much traffic, and it's quiet (for India).  I could move here.  When Colin and I sat at the Botanical Gardens, we discussed the possibility of moving someplace like this and opening our dream business.  But, we must keep moving.  So, on to Mysore we went.  

Western Ghats
The ride was even more beautiful, with very little traffic.  We rode through huge cedar forests, past terraced tea plantations, groves of huge bamboo (I thought of a new way to die in India that's not traffic related- being skewered by a loose piece of bamboo falling from the sky.  No really, there were huge pieces dangling overhead, caught only by friction amongst the branches, ready to drop in a gust of wind).  The road also passed through two tiger preserves, but alas, we saw no tigers, only spotted deer, elephants, many birds, and a mongoose.  But it was a pretty ride, and we made it to Mysore by mid-afternoon, found a nice room (warmer here, so no heat needed) and walked to the main bazaar. 

The bazaar (market) was, by far, the nicest one I've been to, anywhere.  The aisles of shops in the main building were filled with fresh produce of all sorts, baskets of colorful, aromatic flowers, people making floral garland offerings, and assorted small housewares.  We slowly made our way through the building, stopping to look and sniff as we moved along, and bought a delicious watermelon to snack on later.  Since neither of us was particularly interested in hunting for dinner, we opted to order room service from the hotel's restaurant.  As usual, we ordered too much food, ate what we could, and then surfed the internet on the complimentary wifi the manager set up for us!

Austin modified for the rails
The next morning, we walked a couple miles to the Railway Museum.  It's next to the central station and has a bunch of steam engines, of different rail gauges, dating from the 1800s through to the 1950s.  They also had a 19th century crane car that was used to offload cars, an old Austin that was modified to run on the tracks, and various and sundry other rail-related brickabrac.   

It's good to be the Maharani
The most impressive car by far was the Maharani's Saloon, which belonged to the wife of the Maharaja.  It was outfitted in the late 1800s for her personal travels, in dark wood with carpets, curtains, ornate light fixtures, with a beautiful bed, writing desk, dressing table, and bath.  Included in the exhibit were the cars for her cook and staff.  They weren't nearly so grand, but it was interesting to see the kitchen with a big cast iron stove and clamps to hold the pots and the separate room with all the gigantic cooking pots.  Since we had food on our minds after looking at the kitchen car, we walked back via the market and each had a vegetarian thali lunch.

The front of the Palace
The big thing to do in Mysore is tour the Palace, so that's where we headed after lunch.  The Mysore Palace was built in the early 20th century to replace the previous one that burned to the ground.  It's an amazingly grand, sprawling building, with manicured lawns and gardens surrounding it.  It's unfortunate that cameras are forbidden inside the building, because some of it was unbelievable.  The marriage hall had a domed stained glass ceiling in a peacock theme, with intricate mosaic tiled floors, huge columns, and murals all around the perimeter depicting scenes of royal festivals.  All the doors were heavily carved wood (I don't think there was an undecorated spot on any of them) throughout the building, and in some rooms, the floors and archways were marble inlaid with colored stone floral motifs.  Every surface in the palace was decorated in some manner.  It was all pretty over the top, but impressive, nonetheless.

Mysore seems to be more of a tourist destination than many places we've been in India, and as a result, has more scams aimed at gullible tourists.  We've read about them, seen the touts in action, and been the targets ourselves in other parts of the world.  But Mysore was the first place we've encountered blatant scams in India, and today we saw two.  #1 As we walked to the Railway Museum, we noticed a man trying to match our pace, to “casually” run into us.  We've seen this plenty of times (it makes us change our pace, walk in another direction, stop, whatever it takes to make the other person do something really obvious) and were ready for the guy when he caught us.  Sure enough, he began a casual conversation, asking where we were from, and where we were going today.  When we said the Railway Museum, he shook his head and said it was much too far to walk.  We assured him it was a nice morning and we could do it, and he then said the museum was actually closed.  We both laughed and continued walking, and the man stopped smiling and went the other way.  #2 When we were walking from the market back to the hotel, an autorickshaw pulled to the curb next to us, and a young man hurriedly jumped out to talk to us.  He seemed very excited by our presence and also wanted to know if we'd been to the market.  We said yes, and he told us that if we liked that market, he would take us to a “special, government-sponsored” market where they sold handmade incense and other handicrafts that was “only open today.”  I actually guffawed when he said this, because we heard exactly the same thing, time and time again, in Indonesia, but there, they were batik stores.  We kept walking, and he got back in the autorickshaw and rode away to look for a more gullible chump. 

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