HCMC Dining Guide

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A quick ramble through Mysore

I couldn't wait to get off the plane once we landed back in Bangalore, since about half of the passengers were squalling babies. We hopped into a taxi and an extremely aggressive, but very helpful, driver had us into the city in record time. We had a few hours to kill before our night bus to Mysore, and we had picked a restaurant out of the guide book to try. The cabbie asked multiple people where it was, and he dropped us off right at the door. We enjoyed another thali meal and discovered from the owner that the bus station we had to get to was about 45 minutes away, thanks to traffic.

That worried us a bit, so we finished up and got into another taxi. The guy wasn't kidding: traffic on the dusty highway to the station was appalling (this was at 10 at night), and once we arrived confusion reigned. There were dozens of buses to choose from, and every person we asked pointed us to a different one. We finally found someone who knew what they were doing, boarded the bus, and were in Mysore by 3am.

Mysore is a city of about 900,000 located south of Bangalore in Karnataka state. It is a major center for the production of silk, sandalwood, and incense, and was also the historical seat of the Kingdom of Mysore, which existed until 1947, when India gained its independence. We were all exhausted after the bus ride and the flight, but we only had one full day in the city and we didn't want to waste any time.

So, we were up for an awesome breakfast of vada and dosa, classic South Indian dishes.

 The major attraction there is the Mysore Palace, which hosted the Wodiyar family, a dynasty that ruled the area from 1399 to 1947. As we were walking towards the palace an auto driver pulled up along the sidewalk and beckoned us over. We told him where we were going and he said, "Ah, the palace doesn't open until 11:30 (it was about 10:15). I'll take you to a silk emporium, a market where no tourists go, and then the palace." We had read that the palace opened at 10:30, so I was a bit skeptical right off the bat. My bullshit radar lit up like a Christmas tree when, after we asked how much he would charge for all that, the driver replied with "I don't care about money." Perhaps traveling in Asia has made me jaded, but whenever someone says that you should immediately walk away.
 Jobie was more trusting though, and he agreed to the driver's tour plan. I reluctantly hopped into the front seat with the guy, expecting to get ripped off at some point. Although he did let me drive his auto for a few blocks, which was cool.

The first stop was a government-run silk shop, which held my interest for about 10 minutes, but Ryan and Jobie perused the goods for a solid hour. As I wandered around the store bored out of my mind I noticed that an Indian boy kept glancing at me. He finally worked up the courage to say hello, and we started talking. His name was Krishna, and he was 12. His little brother Vishud ambled up as we were chatting and we all found out a little bit about each other. Krishna then entered my email address in his phone and asked his mom to take a picture of us, which I always get a kick out of.
 The driver then reappeared and kept babbling on about some market, but we told him we just wanted to go to the palace, since we were pretty confident that it was actually open. He pulled up outside of one of the gates and said, "See, it's closed." I could see crowds inside.
"Um, there are people in there."
"Oh...uh...those are people from the morning."
"What? Look, we're going in. It's obviously been open for a while. Thanks anyways."
Surprisingly he asked for a small amount of money, so there was no rip-off, but he was still a liar.

This gate isn't actually an entrance.
 As we admired the above gate, a couple of workers approached us and asked if we would like to see some elephants. We said sure and they led us over to a group of four elephants chained to trees. I've seen enough sights like that in Vietnam and Thailand, but I guess it's still pretty cool to see such majestic animals.
 After that we finally entered the palace, where a small temple sits just inside the main wall.
 The palace itself has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times, and the bulk of the current version was completed in 1912, while one wing was only finished in 1940, in the waning years of its use as a seat of power. The building is massive, and stunning, truly a sight to behold, although the acres of concrete surrounding it combined with the clearing skies made for a viciously hot late morning.

 Visitors are allowed inside, but there were tons of domestic tourists in Mysore for the weekend, and the line to get in was biblical. We were not in the mood to shuffle through a grand palace with 26 million other people, so we decided to leave. Although it was funny to watch people attempt to surreptitiously take pictures of us white guys, instead of the actual palace. I still wonder what people do with their pictures of white people. Do they print us out and make collections as if we were baseball players? "I'll give you two pale 2008 Russians for one tan, hairy 2001 Italian."

Outside of the entrance dozens of hawkers selling various souvenirs swarmed us, and Kevin made the mistake of buying something from one in full view of all the others. As we began walking down the street towards the city's main market, two budding salesmen attached themselves to Kevin's hip and desperately tried to get him to by whatever it was they were selling. Kevin kept saying 'no', but they would not listen. After at least a mile of "Sir, please look, very nice. Five for 500 rupees. No, 400. Very cheap!" I was amazed that he hadn't punched someone in the face. We had nearly left the palace area altogether when they finally relented and left us alone.

We reached the main market and ducked in to check it out. It was fairly similar to ones I've seen here in Southeast Asia, although the produce was a bit different and there is no Hindu paraphernalia for sale at markets here. As we wandered through the aisles the haunting call to prayer from the mosque next door boomed across the neighborhood.

 By this point the heat of the day was peaking, and it had sapped both our energy and our appetites. We decided to head back to the hotel to relax for a few hours before going out for dinner. As we walked down the alley our hotel was in we passed two men shooting heroin in a ruined brick building.

As I sat in my room reading, a racket of drums and trumpets flared somewhere outside. We later learned that this was a Hindu wedding procession. Shortly afterwards the afternoon call to prayer emanated from the nearby mosque, and I was once again reminded of how multicultural India is.

We went to a 'beer garden' at a hotel before dinner, and were greeted with this sign:

Tip #6 would have been useful in Anjuna.
 We ate dinner next door at a restaurant where the place mats were huge banana leaves. I had a mutton biryani, which was fabulous. And very messy.
Afterwards we returned to the hotel and Kevin and I turned on the final of the Indian Premier League, the hugely popular cricket league that began a few years ago. Cricket is a religion in India, and everyone was talking about it. The teams from Kolkata and Chennai, both of which featured players from the West, were battling for national supremacy, and the hotel staff kept peeking into our room to check the score. They didn't speak any English, but there wasn't any need to communicate verbally; the connection was made in mutual interest. (I understand the basics of cricket, but don't ask me about any of its nuances.) Kolkata won in the end.

Mysore roars to life at dawn, and since our windows were open in the non-AC room we did too. Dogs were barking, birds were chirping, the horns and drums of another procession were clattering down the alley, and an absurdly long call to prayer ensured that there would be no sleeping in on this, our last morning in Mysore. We had a fairly ealry bus to catch anyway, so I suppose that wasn't that big of a deal.

We walked to the bus station and, as usual, had no idea where the hell we were supposed to go. After milling about for a while an Indian man started talking to me. We were heading to Ooty, and it turned out that he was on the same bus, so we simply kept an eye on him and went wherever he went. The bus showed up 30 minutes late, and we were then on our way.

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