India is a country of contrasts. The rich, the poor. The schooled, the uneducated. The glamour, the squalor. And as we found out in Mysore, India is also the place of emotional dichotomy, a place where you can experience the lowest lows followed by the highest highs. Mysore gave us our first taste of this. And we learned that what goes down almost inevitably comes back up.
At times it felt like fights with auto rickshaw drivers dominated our time in Mysore. “The palace is closed for lunch!” said one driver, who hoped to rangle us for his own tour of the city. (Note: The Palace doesn’t close for lunch.) And there was the guy who knowingly took us to the wrong entrance for the Palace. And the other guy who agreed to our price, then demanded a higher price for no apparent reason. And somehow, taxi rides, something that should occupy maybe 10% of our day, seemed to occupy a much larger chunk of the day. It left us tired, frustrated and completely wary of any taxi driver. Even the nice ones. Sorry, nice rickshaw driver!
But just as you’re beginning to question why you chose to travel there in the first place, India has a way of turning the tables. That’s when the highs kicked in.
For starters, Mysore Palace, the city’s crown tourist jewel, is really beautiful. There’s not much interior proof I can show you because cameras are forbidden inside, but I did sneak a few pictures on my phone. When the security guards caught me, they scolded me, threatened to take my phone for two days and hung a 500-rupee fine over my head. But traveling through India as an Indian has its advantages. I busted out my Kannada, and, so impressed that a child of their country who was born and raised in the U.S. could speak their mother tongue, they let me go. They did want a tip, but Eaman and I just walked away.
A gloomy day.
We just so happened to be there on a Sunday, the one night of the week that Mysore Palace is lit up for 45 minutes. (Other nights, it’s lit for just a few minutes.) And since this was just a couple of days before Ganesh pooja, there was a procession of musicians, camels, elephants, cows and a Ganesh idol.
When the city’s frustrations got the better of us, we retreated to our guesthouse, a home in the ‘burbs belonging to a UK expat who has called Mysore his official home for three years. Mysore Bed & Breakfast is a home away from home, where we had a big, clean room, WiFi and hot showers. And though our host Stephen had to fly to England for a family emergency, we were in good hands, those of Manjula, Stephen’s maid and cook. She speaks English very well, but I opted to converse in Kannada since it was my last chance to know the local language before we left for other parts of India. She seemed more comfortable speaking in Kannada anyway.
Stephen has a wonderful set-up where Manjula can cook us lunch or dinner, and we just have to give her a little tip; he covers the ingredient costs. At this point in our travels I really just want home-cooked food anyway — except for our Domino’s Pizza/Pizza Hut cravings every now and again — so we were happy to eat with her. It gave us a semblance of routine and normalcy anyway.
We forgot all about those awful taxi drivers when we headed to the Devaraja market, which has been around for about 125 years. Not once were we prodded to buy something — an Indian miracle! People were so geuinely kind (and photogenic), that we ended up making friends with a perfume stand shopboy, who invited us to sit inside his tiny shop for chat and chai. See how India has a way of turning things around?
The pictures from this market visit were so beautiful that I’ll include the full set in the next post dedicated just to the market and its people.
But perhaps the biggest turning point, the highest high was meeting a playful group of kids. Stephen had recommended getting lost in a section of the city with a lot of tiny, windy streets. This is our favorite thing to do while traveling, so get lost we did and what we found was a peaceful labyrinth of real India. We also stumbled upon some kids playing with tops. Their enthusiasm when they saw us and proceeded to teach us how to play was infectious.
The kids asked us questions about America, played with my pen, we talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up and they invited us to their home for the following day’s Ganesha pooja. (We were so bummed to be leaving the next day.) We’ve come across a lot of little kids in our travels, but we both agreed that this was the most memorable experience. I’ll never forget waving goodbye to them and then seeing them run down the busy main road to catch up to us and say goodbye again. And just like that, we completely forgot about whatever it was that had gotten us down. We left Mysore with huge smiles on our faces.