I’m not exactly sure if many people know where Mysore is, but it’s this “very typical southern indian town that you just have to experience…” as most of the travel guides will tell you. I would say I agree with them, but I’ve only really been able to experience TWO southern India towns…One, a huge, jumbled up city that doesn’t know whether it is western or eastern or just somewhere in between, and the other one is now, Mysore. Which is most definitely similar to Bangalore, but just not as much a mess and has a white yoga person every 20 min. This is actually somewhat of a surprise to me. In Bangalore, I’ve found myself to be a very very very small minority called: white person. This happens to be because I’m in a nice, not touristy, neighborhood, where few foreigners would travel. Reading the guidebooks on India, I flip to the section about Bangalore and read: “You can skip this one mate, nothing but a change over station on your way to Mysore, or temples, or anything else”…So, because of this, it’s been left relatively less tourist-anglo-cized. However, westernization has creeped in perhaps more than other cities around because of the high amt of engineers and techies that have made Bangalore their home in the past 10 years. Westerners are here on business. Rarely for pleasure.
Where in Mysore, it is really about the infusion of tourist yoga-types and techies, and the old way of life. The yogis are drawn to the Yoga schools and the deep history and prestige in yogis that the area holds. It even has a yoga type named after it. Yoga Mysore.
It’s easy enough to spot the yogi in their non-native habitat. A golden tanned woman with bare shoulders, driving her moped to class with the yoga mat strapped behind. It’s incredibly disconcerting when you’ve been looking at usually modestly dressed, sari strapped women. It’s like they’ve crossed a line. Maybe it’s me and my approach. I just can’t imagine being stared at more than I already am. Then add to that stare — more men and women and even a reproach couched in that stare. I wear fairly conservative clothes, depending on what’s dirty in my hamper and what matches. I’ve got my western plaid button down with some black pants, an Indian tunic my old colleague got for me when he came over last year, and a wool short sleeve tshirt. I’ve additionally bought a couple long loose cotton pants and a couple loose tunics that make me feel mildly more invisible than my western shirt and jeans.
Oddly enough, I had a facebook message a week before, where a travel acquaintance I met in Port Douglass Australia 3 and a half years back, inquired about my India travels because, as luck/fate/stars would have it…HE was in India too. Traveling for the past 5 months from the Northern states near the Himalayas and had just arrived in Mysore to begin some studies in Yoga Science. Rock on Daithí! So, we exchange plans/numbers/facebook messages and he’ll meet me at the bus station.
That is one of the good things about being a minority. I am very easy to spot. It works out grandly when getting off the bus and Daithí and I are coordinating our meetings at a large, seething bus station with food and bits stalls everywhere. I look for the tall, skinny bearded white man, while he looks for the blonde white girl looking lost. We hug and immediately fall into conversation about life and what we’re doing here, where we’re going and how that magically crazy this is that friends can meet up and be friends instead of facebook avatars. He takes me to the Green Hotel restaurant, a famously beautiful hotel that is surrounded by gardens and seated areas for food and languishing foreigners. It was rather nice being quiet and surrounded by roses and grass. I feel that in Bangalore I havn’t quite found that place. My favorite place so far that gives me breathing room from the honks and sidewalks and exhaust fumes is a cafe across from my yoga studio that is 5 stories up and overlooks the city. But this Green Hotel is a perfect haven. We energetically decide on the “Western Breakfast” that’s a smorgasborg of egg, porridge, fruit, coffee and toast. I’m in heaven. Though, I don’t quite really know why it’s so comforting…because I usually make my own breakfast at home instead of eating indian out, it must just be the idea of toast! and porridge! and a fried egg! haha!! Brilliant!
The weekend flies by with visits to Charumbi Hills which is a big ole temple on top of the hill. Long line and hesitancy makes me decide against it. I’m hesitant because I’m not really sure how to proceed with me being a non-hindu going into a hindu temple. Is it rude? That I don’t know the gods, the Puja (rituals) and am just a sightseer, a voyeur, a tourist. The next day when we went to the Maharaja’s Place I dragged Daithí into a mini temple along the tour…and felt a little out of place, but since it was already tourist infested (mostly Indian tourists) I didn’t feel like we were unwelcome…People prayed and dipped their finger in a red dust and thoughfully smeared above and between the eyebrows. Mother’s dutifully do the same to their children and everyone comes out artfully painted and devout.
That evening we go to a rooftop restaurant where we look over a center square and order a beer to take in the day, the sunset and the bug like maneuvering of autos below us. Daīthi shows me his party trick of draining the Kingfisher of Glycerine. Yes, it’s crazy. Because of the Indian climate, beer makers started putting in Glycerin as a preservative for storing. But, who wants to drink that? So, Daithí would turn the bottle upside down in water and then we would watch as the Glycerine (heavier than the beer) would drain down into the water. The table beside us with two young Indian guys were bemused and curious and struck up a conversation about WHY we were wasting our beer. This led into an in depth conversation throughout the evening of the differences in Indian culture in Mysore, pointers of how to eat with our fingers (only in Mysore was I called out in my eating habits, where in Bangalore, I think it’s ‘whatever goes’ mentality – my colleagues say Mysore is more traditional that way, and other ways).
The Maharaja’s palace! Huge. Beautiful. You have to take off your shoes to enter – give them to the man outside with tokens. You cannot take your camera into the palace. Go back outside and give your camera to the guy at the entrance (thus you will need to get your sandals to walk over and then give the camera for a token, then take your sandals back to the man that takes sandals and then re-enter the palace). It was beautiful. The colors of tiling where fantastic and inspiring my next graphic design project ;) Daithí and I would imagine it was our house and what we would do in each room. The sprawling tiled, stainglass surrounded room with hand painted art on all the surrounding walls was Daithís living room. The upstairs open air greeting space was his bedroom. I wish I could show you pictures, but it’s not allowed. Grr. You will just have to visit it yourself. ;)
The weekend was stupendous. I gained a better friend than the one I had known before and I hope to run into him again on some travels in five years. When I left I had that feeling that you get when you leave your family after christmas holidays. You know that one where you spent every waking moment with people you cared about and there was always someone to talk to about whatever you were thinking of that moment…and then you say goodbye and close the car door and wave out the window and then everything is silent. And you wonder how the world could have ever been that silent and you are lost in your own thoughts again. And don’t talk for three hours, or until you have to get an auto home. And then it becomes normal again.