Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Mysore part 1-- Palaces and Perfume

(Note: as I am typing this my brand new baby niece is working on being born!)

While we had a great time showing Alex around Bangalore we thought it would be nice to see some other part of south India as well. So we organized a trip to Mysore, a city about 150km from Bangalore and known as the cultural capital of Karnataka.

First of all, let me just say that 150km (roughly 93 miles) takes a lot longer to cover here than I'd hoped. There are two main reasons for this: the speed bumps and the towns. Traffic moves incredibly slowly through the larger towns we passed through just due to heavy road use and congestion. And then, on the stretches of road where we could move faster, there are regular speed bumps to ensure you can't go more than a few minutes without slowing to a near halt. Most drivers on the road seemed to regard the speed bumps as a challenge, and accordingly they would drive as fast as possible up to the speed bump, and then apply the brakes very firmly and insistently so that they slowed to about 5mph, move daintily over the speed bump, and then hit the gas so as to get going again as quickly as possible. Between this driving behavior, the somewhat bumpy and slightly curvy roads, plus the fact that he was reading in the very back, Zion threw up after an hour on the road. It was an inauspicious start, but luckily it was also the worst thing that happened to us on the trip!

At any rate, it look us about 3.5-4 hours to get to Mysore. The scenery was pretty cool- lots of dry plateau desert, farming, and villages witha  few larger towns mixed in.

There were lots of billboards for shoes and sandals-- more of those than any other. But the best billboard award clearly goes to this one:

Meety lingerie! Just what I always wanted!

When we got to Mysore we checked into our hotel, Parklane. If you're looking for a mid-range hotel rec in Mysore I was pleased with it. Good central location, perfectly acceptable rooms, and helpful staff. They give you a toiletries kit too, which has everything in it from talcum powder to matches and a  disposable razor. Liel was quite taken with the kits.

Then I called Moula. Moula is the husband of a friend of a friend, and he takes people around Mysore on his off day (his brother is a rickshaw driver, and since he doesn't drive on his off day, Moula uses the rickshaw to get folks around). I cannot say enough good things about Moula! He is super friendly, knowledgeable, patient, and speaks great English. If you, or anyone you know is going to Mysore, I highly recommend giving him a call! His number is 8904025971 (and yes, I asked him if it was OK to post that here).

Ok, so, I called Moula. He was having lunch, but when I asked him if he had a suggestion for where we could eat near our hotel, he sent his brother to meet us and lead us to a nearby restaurant. And that place was delicious! We had south Indian thalis, which are one of my staple lunches here in Bangalore, but which were even better in Mysore. So much deliciousness. My one complaint was that I wanted more mango pickle. When I mentioned this to Robert today he pointed out that I could have just asked for some more, which hadn't occurred to me at the time. Ahem.

After lunch Moula met us and loaded us into the rickshaw. Our first stop was Mysore Palace, the home of the Maharaja of Mysore. Though most of the palace is now a museum, the Maharaja and his wife still live in part of it. It is an amazing place!

This is a temple inside the palace grounds.

Here are the 4 of us posing with a flower garden and the palace in the background.

And, the palace itself.

Zion posing with a mountain lion statue that he was quite fond of.

Then we went in the palace, and pictures aren't allowed inside. But there will be more palace pictures later, as we came back that night.

Oh, here's a random shot of me and the kids. That probably makes up for the lack of indoor palace pictures, right?

Then we stopped at St. Philomena's church, which Moula told us is the second biggest church in all of India (the biggest is in Goa). It was very churchy.

Next we took a brief turn around one of the markets. It was rather like the market in Malleswaram, but older looking, and with more variety. It was very hot, and most buyers and sellers were waiting for the heat to break.

Then we went to this little street near the downtown.

Our destinations was Yam Herbals, a shop that sells all natural incense and essentials oils. The sign on the wall says they've been in business since 1936!

An old woman was sitting near the door rolling incense.

 Ali, the owner, told us how she makes the incense. The base is charcoal, mixed with almond oil and honey to form a very pliable, clay-like paste. This is rolled around a thin bamboo stick, which is then rolled in powered sandalwood. Then the sticks are left to dry in the sun. When they are completely dry they're soaked for 20 days in whatever type of essential oil that batch will be scented with. Then they're dried again, and ready for sale!

Then I got to try making incense!

It was super fun, and not something I ever thought I'd get to do! I'm sure it would be a lot less fun if my job was to sit and roll incense all day, but then again, that's true for many things.

Then we sat down and smelled and tried on a bunch of the different essential oils that Yam Herbals produces, while Ali told us about their various medicinal and cosmetic uses.

I wanted to buy heaps of them, but we didn't have that much cash with us, so I only got a couple, including the most amazing neroli oil I have ever smelled EVER. I love it.

Then we had tea.

Alex declared our visit there, "very relaxing", which it was. It was also one of my favorite things I've done lately! And they even let us refill our water bottles with filtered water before we left.

We went back to the palace that night because on Sunday nights they palace gets lit up, and I read that it was super cool and not to be missed. But first, here are some pictures from around Mysore.

When we first returned to the palace it had some lights on, but wasn't what you might call "lit up". It was really pretty though!

Then, as darkness fell, the real lights came on. The crowd (and there was one!) gasped and then started cheering wildly :)

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