Tuesday, 19 April 2011

India 2011: Bangalore to Mysore

The dearth of electricity and Internet was not miraculously fixed overnight prior to our departure for Mysore, which was one reason that we were excited about leaving town--we knew that free wi-fi awaited us at our destination. More importantly, we were also looking forward to upgrading our lodgings from "dorm room" to "deluxe," the only class of accommodation that the hotel could book us into when we called for reservations. But first, we needed to hop our train out of town.

If you are like me, then your first reaction to reading "train in India" will be to picture this:

I'm sure this kind of situation must happen fairly often, otherwise I wouldn't have found so many pictures like this on Google. However, this was not at all the experience that we had during our two-hour ride south to Mysore. In fact, our journey was similar in many ways to ones that I have taken in the UK; in fact, in many ways it was better. First of all, when we arrived at the train station we were able to hire porters who, for a ridiculously cheap price (less than $5), carried our huge duffel bags through the crowded station, located our train, and got us installed in our seats. I was glad to have the help because a) my bag was really heavy and b) if we'd had to find the train ourselves it might have left without us, since although we were assigned a platform letter and car number, nothing actually seemed to be organized in a logical alphabetical or numerical order.

Another upgrade from the UK train experience was the amount of leg room we had. Not only were our knees not touching the seats in front of us, but we also had foot rests and cup holders that could be used even when our tray tables weren't folded down. Our car was much more full than British trains usually are (with the exception of maybe one or two rides that I've taken near London during peak travel), and it did look a bit more worn. However, we soon discovered that we were to be given a complimentary bottle of water and two-course meal; had we desired, we also could have taken advantage of the complimentary newspapers. All of this for tickets that cost approximately $6 apiece.

Train tracks inevitably run through the poorer parts of a city, since nobody would choose to live near all that dust and noise unless they had to. Thus, we got a better look at the "real" Bangalore, including a few slums. However, one thing I noticed was that even the most run-down neighborhoods contained buildings with bright, cheerful paint and ornate facades; the inhabitants might not always have enough money or food, but at least they don't have to look at soulless gray concrete walls the way they would have to if they lived in similar neighborhoods in the West. These areas also contained shrines, which sat rather pristinely amidst the everyday squalor around them; the locals clearly placed religious obligations high on their list of priorities despite the fact that it must have required real financial sacrifice to keep those places in such good shape all the time.

Outside the city, we encountered some fairly dramatic habitat--giant rocky hills and cliffs, some of which I would have been tempted to call "buttes" had I been in the Western US. We passed a magnificent building under construction--something that looked like a modern palace or perhaps some sort of important government building. It caused me to remark to my husband that Indians really do know how to do impressive architecture, a statement that would receive further support once we arrived in Mysore and got a look at the palace there.

For a while we passed through countryside that looked fairly similar to what we had seen between Bangalore and the Rishi Valley, but soon enough it started to become greener and wetter. I am not sure what crops were being grown close to the city, but they were all things that could go for a while without water. Further south, however, we encountered rice paddies for the first time, full of egrets and ibises that waded through the several-inches-deep water in search of tasty arthropods. There were many farmers in the midst of plowing their fields the with a cow or two hooked up to a harness. It was extremely muddy work and it didn't look too fun for either the farmers or their livestock. Nor did the farmers' wives appear to be having a good time as they scrubbed laundry by the creek- and riverbanks. However, I would have loved to have been able to stop and take a picture of the clothing they had spread out to dry--no two pieces were the same color, and they formed a dramatic and vibrant patchwork against the bright green background of the grass. We even passed a few people in the midst of bathing, though luckily we didn't catch anyone in the buff.

We arrived in Mysore earlier than we anticipated, which was a nice surprise. We were met by a taxi driver that our hostess had arranged for us, so all we had to do was stand back and let the driver and his assistant pack our bags and usher us into the back seat. In this car, the standard Ganesha decoration had been placed in a surprising way:

(That's Buddha on the left and Jesus in the center, under the rosary. We also eventually encountered a car that featured Ganesha, Jesus, and Buddha; the driver was obviously wanted to cover all the bases. There was also a reference to Jesus on the taxi company's business cards.)

As we drove through town, the driver and his aide--well, mostly his aide, who I assume was there to act as translator--pointed out the sights. The most important two were the palace:

(Photo courtesy of http://www.bloggersbase.com/travel/amba-vilasa-palace-mysore-palace/)

...and Chamundi Temple:

(Photo courtesy of http://www.southdreamz.com/2010/03/some-magnificient-temples-of-india.html)

...with its accompanying statue of Nandi, Shiva's bull:

(Photo courtesy of http://travel.sulekha.com/chamundi-hills-pictures.htm)

It's a good thing we saw these from the car on the way into town, because despite all our plans to see them up close and in person, we didn't. To some extent, I regret this, because my mental image of a trip to India always included a visit to a palace and/or temple. However, that was a mental image I made before I got sick from the most lingering cold ever, and also one that didn't factor in my husband's need to take a "reverse day off" (when you take a break from vacation in order to work, as opposed to taking a break from work in order to vacation). Perhaps most importantly, I didn't envision that these cultural sites would be competing for my attention with the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in:

The truth is, once you check in to a room like this, you just never want to leave it...except maybe to experiment with artsy photography:

(Impatiens at night; I was experimenting with exposure times and aperture settings, can you tell?)

...lounge on your porch:

...have a shower in your private outdoor garden:

...or enjoy some Ayurvedic spa treatments:

(The statue of Buddha that welcomed guests to the spa. Can you guess what type of flower was floating in the pool at his feet?)

When I say "some" spa treatments, what I really mean is "three." I originally only scheduled two, but then they were so nice I had to indulge in a third. All three began with the singing of a prayer/chant and involved the most wonderful-smelling massage oil, which had been prepared right there at the hotel. The first treatment was supposed to lessen lower back pain; it began with a massage, after which a (wet) clay ring was fixed to my back so that hot oil could be pooled inside it. The second treatment was a head/shoulder massage, which I left looking like someone who'd been electrocuted, since my hair was sticking out at all angles thanks to the massage oil that had been liberally rubbed into my scalp. The final treatment was a foot massage, which, to my surprise, also involved my legs. During all of the treatments I was dressed only in my undies and an oversized bath towel; on the whole, it was not the sort of experience that would be good for people who have much modesty, because the masseuses (all female) end up seeing pretty much every inch of you in the course of flipping you over and bending you into various positions. Being a prudish American, I was, at first, a bit shocked and uncomfortable, but after breathing the relaxing scent of the oil for a while I decided I just didn't care.

The restaurant at the hotel could only have been named by someone who had been to the US, or had at least done research on American establishments. Not only was it named "La Olive Garden," but it used pretty much exactly the same logo as "The Olive Garden." The food was excellent, but the portions were huge and the waiters insisted on dishing out your meal for you, so I ended up feeling rather stuffed pretty much the entire time we were there. During breakfasts, we encountered some of the local wildlife:

(If you look closely, you can see a bonnet macaque sitting on the corner of the roof, letting its tail dangle down into the dining area below).

The menu had some interesting things on offer, including "tit bits," "ice cream with leeches," and this:

("Tit" bits and "leeches" were obviously typos; but this...?)

I have no idea what that means, but I do know that the waitstaff were anything but "idle," both in the restaurant and when delivering room service, which they did quite frequently to our room. Usually when I order room service, it is in the context of some sort of horrific disaster and results in my paying an exorbitant amount of money for a tiny amount of food--for instance, when I went to New Orleans during the middle of a hurricane and had to order room service after all the restaurants in town closed because the streets flooded, or when I was at the Balmoral in Edinburgh and had to order room service because I was so sick I could barely get out of bed. It was nice to finally have it the way it's supposed to be done--in a spirit of fun and frivolity and in a context that actually allowed me to enjoy it (time after time).

When I wasn't eating or receiving a massage, which admittedly wasn't often, I spent quite a lot of time lounging in our massive bed, reading and doing research for a freelance writing project. We also watched some of the World Cup cricket matches, and even got to view quality English films like "National Treasure."

All in all, our experience in Mysore sounds like the kind of thing that obnoxious and culturally-insensitive Westerners (let's face it--mainly Americans) do when they go somewhere interesting in another country--hole up in a nice hotel, ignore the local culture, and indulge. I do hate that we appear to fall into that stereotype. But sometimes you're sick and/or you're tired and/or you have to take some time off vacation in order to get something done from work, and when that's the case you might as well find a beautiful and comfortable place in which to do it. When we stepped into the taxi to leave the Windflower Spa & Resort after 2 days, I finally felt rested, and relaxed, and semi-weaned off the tissues, and that was way better than touring a palace would have been.

Coming up: encounters with Indian wildlife


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Just in case you never did end up solving the "idly" conundrum...


    I'm off to stay at the same resort in November, and chanced upon your blog - makes for nice reading!

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  4. Indulge in a blissful affair with forest isolation only at Nijaguna Residency – The Resort and spa the only decision you have to make is to wake up for an early morning wildlife safari into Br hills resortWildlife Sanctuary or Bandipur resort National park to the or lounge lazily with sounds of the birds and a rejuvenating Spa Massage. Discover the wild side of southern part of karnataka that you have never experienced before. An Adventure of a lifetime awaits you at Nijaguna Residency - The Resort and spa

  5. Nice blog.last vacation i have been there its nice Resort and spa i njoyed being there Br hills resort is one of the site seeing place around the resort

  6. hiee..frndzz..really dis is the best blog to share my feeling..i visited bandipur resorts last weekend.It is very interesting,enjoyable place with families..Another interestng thing in that is Wildlife Safari ,i enjoyed a lot a lot..u 2 visit and njoy d weekend.

  7. Hi,very nice an intresting blog,thanks for sharing wonderful information..im looking out for such kind of day out for a resort in Bangalore