The alarm vibrating from under the pillow stirs me from sleep way earlier than I want to wake up. I'm still in a haze of jet lag but force myself to get up as I will be joining Amanda & Pat, friends of the groom from Boston, on a day trip to Mysore, an ancient city with a 600 year legacy of royal heritage. I'm not certain how prepared I am for the 3 hour drive to and from Bangalore but adventures are not had by sleeping in.
We arrive in Mysore at 1/2 past nine, our first destination is Chamundi Hill where the Sri Chamundeswari Temple sits at its summit. The temple comes into view way before we reach the top, a quadrangle structure that most resembles a cross between a pyramid and a pagoda. It's buttery gold tower is covered with detailed carvings and contrasting white goddess statues, alternating between seated and standing position.
The temple is an amazement but nothing inanimate can compete with the color and playfulness of the people swarming around us. The temple is active and many a family has made a pilgrimage to make an offering to be blessed; the queue itself is 5 lanes deep (think Radio City Music Hall at Christmas) of barefooted worshippers. A procession makes its way through the sea of people, carrying a miniature float (made of flowers) of the temple as two men move it from the chariot into the temple. There are numerous distractions including live chanting, a dog and owner playing catch, and our quartet of 3/4 Caucasian and 1/4 African-American clearly stands out among the crowds. A rare combination for these parts, we are approached incessantly by peddlers, beggars and curious onlookers wanting to take photos.
On the way down the hill we stop at Nandi, a 5m high statue of the goddess Shiva's bull carved out of solid rock (c. 1659).
Next the Maharaja's Palace, the grandest of India's royal buildings once ruled by the Wodeyar maharajas. After purchasing our tickets, hoodwinking (or so we thought) the security check about our cameras and checking in our shoes, we proceed to take a self-guided tour of the grounds and palace interior. The concrete is surprisingly not hot and the tiled floors are smooth from all the wear and tear of walking feet on ceramic. At the entrance to the palace building we pass through a metal detector where a security guard threatens to confiscate my camera unless we tip him. Not surprising he directs all talk of bribery to the sole male in the group, and after we slip him some cash we are encouraged to pass through, camera and all.
The magnificent opulence of the palace interior (photos here: http://www.esamskriti.com/photo-detail/Mysore-Palace.aspx) is mesmerizing. I am most impressed with an interior room with intricately painted stained glass windows depicting peacocks and feathers. The adjacent hallways and rooms offer a kaleidoscope of color from palettes of red to shades of blues, accented in white and gold. One courtyard in particular features a pair of bronze cast panthers at its entryway and an intricate spiral staircase on its exterior leading up to what might be considered royal box seats.
As we pass through an interior hallway, one of the patrol guards approaches and asks where I am from. Once I share New York, his eyes light up and he leans in to tell me about the secret chambers that lie behind the locked doors in front of us. According to lore, the royal family would use the rooms to gut animals they had hunted and prepare to mount them. He conspiratorially adds that if we wanted he could arrange access for us, for a price, of course. Touring the palace is a lot like practicing magic in Storybrooke, everything comes with a price. We passed.
After collecting our shoes, we make our way back to the closest of the four gates that guard the grounds to exit. It is amusing how many times we are approached (or nonchalantly included) about having our photo taken. The Americans are seemingly a better attraction than the palace structure itself. At one point, Venus laughingly demands 30 rupees for the opportunity. No one concedes.
We conclude the outing with a buffet lunch at La Gardenia, Hotel Regaales on the outskirts of Mysore.