Pompous celebrations, with oodles of good food run deep in the veins of every Malayali. Whether it is a house-warming or a marriage, no celebration is complete without a banquet of different kinds of meat & some classy, expensive alcohol. After participating in one such joyous occasion of gluttony, gossiping, bitching & amusing drunk dance by drunk aunties & drunk uncles, a group of us relatives decided to go sightseeing the next day. Having come all the way to Bangalore from our homes in Kerala for the function with a weekend to spare, we picked Mysore as our first destination.
It was hard waking up early in the morning after all the eating, drinking & fooling around from the previous night. The adults had no trouble waking up, but the kids had a bloody tough time getting up that early. The noisy complaining bunch got quieter as we moved out of the city, passed paddy fields & tiny hills.
Sholay & the granite outcrops of Karnataka
“Sholay was shot here”, someone screamed from the back of the van as we passed a rocky deserted looking landscape. If you are on highway 17 from Bangalore to Mysore, you will pass this small quiet rocky village called Ramnagara made famous thanks to Bollywood. Contrary to the violence & dacoit invasions depicted in the movie, the place is actually a very quiet & quaint little town in Karnataka. The hills in the area made of granite outcrops, where Gabbar & other characters of the movie once performed were formed during the Proterozoic era about 2500 million years ago when the earth was still a turbulent rocky mass of moving tectonic plates inhibited by bacteria & other microscopic creatures.
We passed the arid rocky hills blissfully unaware of the chaotic past that created them. We saw fields after fields. Located at an altitude of 763 meters above sea level, Mysore has a fairly pleasant weather throughout the year & is considered to be the second cleanest city in India. If you are traveling from Bangalore, you can feel the difference in the air you breathe as you move towards Mysore. Less fumes, less human skin & less dust in the air. Pleasantly, more oxygen in its place. We watched the sunrise. We were in time & had an early head start to start our one-day sightseeing. First stop was Nandi hills.
Pit stop 1: Mysore Bus stand
But before we could make it, a few of us slowly felt the gastronomical discomforts our gastronomical delights of the previous night gave us. Little did we know then that it was the beginning of a gastronomic nightmare that would take us to more places than we planned to visit.
The first loo we hit in Mysore was at the Mysore bus stop. We did have choices for other places, but we did not have the time. Cousin X made that extremely clear. Bus stands always have the worst loos you can possibly imagine. Without debate, the first prize for the worst loo in Mysore goes to the ones in Mysore Bus stand.
We stopped at a hotel soon & were in a dilemma. Should we push on or just head back to our hotel in Bangalore cursing the food we so admired & gorged the other day? Our group had a mix of adults, seniors & kids. The devout alcoholics, the religious vegetarians, the hyperactive kids who had laid off most of the food at the party were spared of the suffering & were bubbling with joy and enthusiasm. “Let’s go here! Let’s go there! Let’s go everywhere!”
The ones who concentrated on the food were not feeling the same. Those bubbly eyes of the non-infected, they had the day, the stay & everything planned out. It just felt plain cruel to head back. Never mind it felt just too embarrassing to tell folks back home how we fucked up the trip. Popping tablets from different purses passed by different aunties, we got ready to take on the trip.
Pit stop 2: Chamundi hills
13 kilometers from Mysore, at an elevation of 1000 meters, Chamundi hills is known for the Chamundeshwari temple dedicated to the goddess Chamundeshwari. On the way to the summit, you will find a big statue of Nandi, the bull cum vehicle of lord Shiva. The hilly roads are very pleasant for bike rides in the evening. A tall statue of Mahishasura greeted us. The temple was super crowded. The litter left by the scores of tourists & visitors had left ugly marks all over the otherwise picturesque hills. The loos had no different story to tell, but the urgency of our needs made us visit them anyways.
The hills are beautiful & the weather is pleasant. From certain vantage points on the way to the summit, you can see the city of Mysore. We were told the view in night was breath-taking. After visiting the temple, we made our way down the hills to our next pit-stop.
Pit stop 3: Mysore Zoo
Spread across 157 acres, Sri Chamarajendra Zoological gardens as it is officially called after the king who found it, houses over 1300 animals & birds. Meant originally for conservation breeding & research, the zoos now looked more like a prison for its unlucky occupants. Kidnapped from their homes in the wild, the poor creatures are doomed to languish forever in horrible cages at the mercy of tailless creatures who walk on two limbs. Most of the birds & animals looked really sad & tensed up. Having spent most of their lives in captivity, the prospect of even rehabilitating them in the wild seemed impossible if, by any miracle, actions are taken to finally free them from the human confinement.
More than studying the animals, most folks who visited the zoo came simply for spending time with their family & friends. The poor animals were probably wondering, when will these stupid people leave us alone? The younger kids in our group were all excited. Our group soon split, like the African wilder beasts of Savanna during their annual migration, searching for the next enclosure to peer at. The jumpy faster ones took the lead. The rest of our heard just tried to keep up with the pace trailing behind, moving from enclosure to enclosure, annoying poor animals who clearly hated their lives behind the bars.
By far, the loos in Mysore Zoo are the cleanest of all the loos we visited in the city. No, it did not have the glam quotient of your mall but it was well maintained much to our relief. If only people would care as much to free & rehabilitate the animals imprisoned in our zoos.
Pit stop 4: Yay! We found a Kerala hotel in Mysore
It was midday by the time we were done with the Zoo. Dehydrated & famished the sick ones soon got really bitchy & started complaining. Part of the Mallu pride also comes from our virtue by which we always end up looking for other Mallus & Mallu hangouts to chill, unwind & in this case, eat. Never mind that you had to walk for miles asking locals in terrible Kannada “Kerala Hotel, elli?” We did find one & the Malayali owner realizing the arrival of the big famished Kerala contingent, quickly found us seats & helped us pick the least troublesome & freshest of the offering from his kitchen. With our bellies filled, we soon dozed off as we headed towards our next destination. A window seat is always a blessing whether you want to sleep, get away from people who annoy you or just do nothing but gaze & let your mind wander.
The Kingdom of Mysore that now houses Mysore University was once one of the favorite destinations of Malaylis who came looking for opportunities in education & trade. Once known for its military stronghold, territories as far as Calicut were invaded under the rule of Mysore Hyder Ali. The invasion in the 17th century helped gain access to the Indian ocean ports, later it helped the English East India company conquer the feudal principalities of Malabar. Farooqabad, (now called Feroke), near Calicut was the local capital of the Mysore-ruled Kerala. His attempts to capture Travancore, a British ally state however failed. And in the years that followed, by the treaty of Seringapatam, his son Tipu, handed over half of his territories including Malabar to the East India Company. By 18th century, Kerala was part of the Madras Presidency under Lord Wellesley.
Now Mysore is the third largest city in Karnataka with a growing tourism & IT industry. The Mysore Sandlewood oil factory that produces their famous sandalwood soap is one of the many industries in Mysore.
NH 766 connects Calicut in Kerala with Mysore. It passes through Bandipur National park & other forest reserves & hence night traffic through the forest is banned between 9pm & 6 am to protect unsuspecting wildlife from becoming local road kill.
Pit stop 5: Mysore Palace
The official residence of the Maharajas of Mysore, the palace of Mysore is the most famous tourist attraction after Taj Mahal attracting nearly 6 million visitors annually. The Palace was built & demolished multiple times, occupied by different Kings at different times. The architecture has influences from Hindu, Muslim, Rajput & Gothic cultures reflecting the artistic tastes left behind by the previous rulers.
The Palace in itself is beautiful. Artefacts from the past are neatly arranged inside for visitors to view. There were pretty mirrors on the ceilings, beautiful paintings & intricate designs on the walls. The majestic & beautiful palace had enough wow factor to make our noisy herd, shut up & just appreciate the beauty of the art around us.
The palace is decorated with lights & abuzz with performances by artists during the Mysore Dasara festival. The complex also includes 12 Hindu Temples. Even by the day light, the palace is worth a visit. Some of us nearly forgot the complaints made by our bellies. The loos in the Palace are actually outside the building & it was a far cry from the peaceful & clean loos that we visited in the zoo.
Pit stop 6: Brindavan Garden
Moving on with our tight scheduled, one day trip, we pulled away members lured into bargaining and striking deals with vendors selling high-priced souvenirs outside the palace. The trip from Mysore Palace to the gardens in Srirangapatna took nearly the entire afternoon. It was close to sunset when we spotted the dam. The garden is built alongside the Krishnarajasagara dam. As you walk over the dam, on one side you can see the water surging out of the reservoir. The other side that’s raised held the water. We felt like tiny ants as we made our way past the dam & reached the garden.
Spread across nearly 60 acres of land the garden is maintained by the Cauvery Irrigation Department. It is adjacent to a big fruit orchard & 2 horticultural farms. Anticipate a lot of walking, if you are visiting. There is a lot to walk till you reach the musical fountain at the end. The walk is worth it though. Laid out across 3 terraces, the garden has a variety of flowers, trees & shrubs shaped like animals.
We did not expect the long walk & were soon searching for the elusive Musical fountain. Some of us even felt that it was a myth, a hype created to get higher entry fees. We trudged along. Belly ache or no belly ache, by the time we got to the fountain all of us were famished. They said the water would dance to the music. It did not exactly match the expectation that my childish over imaginative mind had. But it is worth a watch. The show timed post sunset had attracted spectators who watched the water splash from various nozzles of the fountain at varying lengths, creating some sort of weird artistic pattern. Our entertainment was abruptly interrupted as the youngest of the group wailed for a loo. I rate the loo in the gardens a 5 out of 5. It was everything you could ask for in a loo, clean, peaceful with a little back-ground music thrown in.
Pit stop 7: How do we get home now?
As the last song was played & jets of water splashed out of the fountain, we all felt happy as we ticked off everything on our list except Tipu’s palace as we had lost time at the zoo. As we headed back to Bangalore, the gentleman who put up with our noisy bunch had some bad news. He would drop us off to Mysore Bus stop & would resume his journey to some place urgent & something -something in Kannada. We need to figure the rest of the way home on our own. The last-minute change of plans left some of us really grumpy. Throw in a few screaming kids with tantrums & soon you will get adults who are having tantrums. We made our way back to Bangalore by bus & crashed for the night.
”How was your trip?” enquired a curious relative, the next morning. Without skipping a beat one of the kids blurted, “It was great! We visited all the loos in Mysore”.