Mysore – Finally in Karnataka
Mysore marked the end of our cycle tour through South India, we rode a total of 1228 km (763 miles) in around 5 weeks.
We both had expectations for Mysore, it is called the “City of Palaces” and we had practiced Mysore-style yoga back at home, but Indian cities aren’t always the most pleasant places to spend time. Mysore pleasantly lived up to expectations. It’s a sizable city but with enough quiet alleyways to make it feel walkable. We stayed at the dirt cheap but perfectly acceptable hotel Sri Ganesh Prasad.
We were hot and tired when we arrived, after too many days on dusty/ under-construction roads, so after we checked into the hotel and paid our bill (less than $25 for three nights), we headed to one of the fanciest hotels in town for a giant lunch buffet and the coldest beers we had in South India (more than $25 for one meal). But sitting in the courtyard, with a full belly and a cold beer, I felt fully civilized in a way that I hadn’t for a while.
On our first full day in town, we went on a 3 hour walking tour booked with Royal Mysore Walks. Despite universally glowing TripAdvisor reviews, it was a mixed experience. The tour was just the two of us and Alex and Jane, well-traveled American retirees from Washington state. After leading us around a couple of the main central sites (clock tower, Mysore Palace), our friendly guide took us to the famous 125-year-old Devaraja market – a fascinating and active covered market largely devoid of tourist-oriented shops.
From the fruit and flower sections, it was on to an incense and perfume shop that our guide just happened to know, where the owner took a couple of minutes to show us how he used fine powders and water to make incense sticks. It was a pretty neat thing to see.
Prepare for a shock: Having taken the time out of his day for the demonstration, the young proprietor thought we might like to buy something. Did we want some incense? Or some perfume, which he dabbed on my forearm, ensuring that I would remember him with resentment every time I caught a whiff of myself for the rest of the day. No one in our group wanted to buy any incense or perfume. – nor had we asked to go to an incense shop on our walking tour of Mysore.
I left feeling slightly peeved at being thrust into an awkward sales pressure situation. But we were just getting started. The next stop on our walking tour of Mysore was a district of artists and woodworkers. We were ushered into a cramped little shop where an artisan showed us his skills, expertly sawing a little elephant out of a thin plank of wood. Neat! On to the showroom, where the shop’s owner described the methods used in their admittedly impressive inlaid woodwork creations – 15-20 different kinds of wood of many different colors, arranged into intricate designs like impossible jigsaw puzzles to form and decorate card tables, mirror frames, coasters, and the like. See if you can guess if the owner thought we should buy something? He did! Though he was too well-mannered to ask outright. Instead he talked about the process. We nodded. Then he started pointing to things and saying how much they cost. We nodded. Very nice. Then he took a photo album with pictures of more stuff and let us know how much THAT cost.
It was awkward, it took too long, and by the time we left emptyhanded, we’d sunk about 1 hour out of the 3 hour tour into awkward sales pitches. We rarely do guided tours, and this experience unfortunately reinforced the reason why.
So for the rest of the time we showed ourselves around.
Right behind Mysore’s train station is a small rail museum where the kid inside of you can scamper aboard different engines and cars from India’s century and a half of train history.
The next day, after breakfasting on Mysore’s distinctive masala dosas (not thin like we’re used to but puffy like a pancake, with a pat of butter) we visited the zoo, which was a pleasant surprise. A well laid out green space with healthy-seeming animals. We were there around 10am, which is EARLY by Indian standards, so for an hour we got to visit the monkeys, jackals, elephants, hippos, and big cats largely on our own.
Mysore was also where we finally tried Indian McDonald’s. Dmitry went for India’s non-beef version of the Bic Mac: the Chicken Maharaja Mac; Mila opted for the McSpicy Paneer (which may have been the source of later issues). Ashamed to admit it, but after almost 2 months in India, there was something seductive about the smells and trappings of crappy American fast food culture.
All in all, Mysore left a pleasant impression. The next morning saw us riding to the station before dawn – we had a 23 hour long train to Mumbai to catch.