OR "MYSORE FEET!"
14.06.2011 - 16.06.2011 28 °C
As a final farewell to Hampi before boarding an overnight bus, I spent Tuesday walking around and across the ruins and boulders that surround the main village. The most striking thing about these monuments is the sheer number of them. And I don't mean little artifacts that you might stroll right past if you didn't know it was there; no, these are proper building-sized wonders, and literally hundreds of them! And due to the abundance, you'll almost always be the only person there.
After a very sudden thunderstorm blew out the electricity to the village, I took a pretty hairy tuk-tuk ride through the dark, wet lanes to a major bus terminal, Hospet. Despite the terrifying nature of these free-range bus 'farms', a couple of traffic shepherds provided me with some light entertainment as I waited. As none of the buses are labelled or numbered, it is up to them to inform everyone of where each bus is going. As one of the shepherds announced that a destination was 'BANGALOREBANGALOREBANGALOREBANGALORE', the bus next to him was bound for 'MANGALOREMANGALOREMANGALOREMANGALORE'. The two men were oblivious to each other, but when their choruses coincided, they made quite a duet.
9 hours later and I was in Mysore, the second cleanest city in India. Either this is a massive lie, or I just caught Mysore having a particularly bad week. My bus ride in had reclining seats, so I was allowed a little more shuteye than my first ride. After trying out the hostels recommended by a Lonely Planet guide I picked up in Hampi (one cost 600 rupees a night, a staggering 9 pounds, and the other didn't have a shower) I stumbled across a very pleasant hotel which put me up for 250 a night. The room was nice enough, but I later found out the catch: in order to reach the room, I had to cross a roof terrace which was major Mysore monkey territory.
Now I'm not particularly good with cities at the best of times, but this one was absolutely crazy. Apparently as the only white person in the city (I haven't so much as glimpsed a Western face in about 3 days now!), I was a natural target for hawkers, rickshaw drivers and 'guides', the people that say local information at you for about a minute and then demand cash for their services. So far, I've found that the general rule with locals of all places is that if they start talking to you, they usually want something but if you start talking to them, 99% of the time, they will be entirely genuine with you and offer you all their knowledge. Of course, this is a very big generalisation and I have found quite a few exceptions already.
So with the whole city as my oyster, I went to the zoo.
The entry fee was 5 times higher for foreigners, something which seems to be commonplace in India, but it was worth every rupee. I stood watching a family of monkeys for what must have been half an hour trying to work out who wears the trousers in this dynamic (turns out its the mummy). The signs dotted around the zoo were an attraction in themselves, depicting very graphically what will happen if you climb over the railings of each animals enclosure (Tigers bite off the arms first, but bears prefer to claw at the face).
I had planned a walk around a nature reserve right next to the zoo, but the bus ride once again caught up with me, so after a lunch of several Onion Pakodas (similar to Bhajis) I retired from exploring for the day.
Some elements of life in India that I have been struggling with are toilet-related. It is pretty uncommon here for toilet paper to be available, or for that matter, a toilet that will actually flush paper. Thus, I have had to begin splashing out on a fancy meal any time nature calls. On Wednesday night for instance, I dined at the Park Lane Hotel, a couple of doors down and a couple of stars up from my particular lodging. It was with great relief to find that the men's did indeed have a door labelled 'Western Comfort', toilet paper and all!
Something I haven't commented on yet, but is long overdue, is the driving here in India. I admire anyone who could drive in both countries, because from what I've seen so far, a Western driver simply would not survive in India and vice versa for that matter. Most of the developed world has very strict traffic regulations, nicely labelled roads and a clearly defined system. While India doesn't have any well observed rules, there does seem to be an unspoken code of conduct. When someone beeps their horn in a Western country, it is usually a sign or irritation or anger. In India, it actually serves as a warning. It can mean 'I'm about to overtake you' or (if the horn is held down) 'I'm about to do something REALLY silly'. For the most part, it actually works quite well. Because our traffic laws are so stringent, driving from A to B in the UK is quite processional and doesn't require much creativity. Because of this, it is easy to just switch off and almost put yourself into 'autopilot'. If you do this in India, even for a second, you, a cow or the guy trying to overtake you may well have just perished.
Because of this environment, it actually means that anyone driving in India is very switched on to their surroundings. If you step out in front of a car doing 30 in the UK, it's a tough call as to whether you'll make it or not. In India, because cars, vans, mopeds, rickshaws, bicycles, cows, dogs and pedestrians all share a wide unmarked piece of tarmac, drivers have to be prepared for every eventuality at any time. As a Western pedestrian, you have to just think 'Sod it' and step out. You'll get some beeps, but instead of irritation, the driver is just doing it to warn everyone around him that something unusual is happening. As someone who is comfortable with just aiming his car between the two white lines and letting the Highway Code do the rest, I hope never to have to drive like an Indian has to!
On Wednesday morning, after a very long sleep, I wandered towards Mysore Palace. On weekend evenings, the Palace is illuminated by over 10,000 lights, but for me, I had to make do with the standard view. And just like every world famous landmark I've visited so far, it was deserted!
Next, I made my way to yet another chaotic bus station and caught a 17 rupee bus the half an hour journey to Chamundi Hills. Atop this famous landmark that dominates the Mysore skyline was the Chamundi Temple. It would be nice to be able to retain the 'Wow' factor for every time I step into one of these magnificent structures, but the truth is, once you've seen one..