Happy Mid-Year-ish!

Woohoo! We survived half of 2017. And two days (almost). Way to go us!

[I feel like we need to celebrate more things in life.]

Cool. Did I have resolutions for this year? Can’t remember, so obviously I haven’t been keeping up with that. Oh, there was the one about BLOGGING MORE HAHAHAHA sorry if you fell for that; it’s my version of the April Fool’s prank (what did I even do for April Fool’s day this year?) which is maybe not very funny but whatever.

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In Udaipur – Cutest little hostel with the greatest artwork!

So what’s happened so far? Two weeks in Singapore, three months in India, two-ish months in Thailand. Singapore was pretty cool – catching up with friends and family, some of whom I think were guilted into hanging out with me because they didn’t know when they’d see me again, and (mentally) preparing for India. I had no idea what to expect when it came to India, and the mental preparation was worth it.

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Family that probably doesn’t need to be coerced into spending time with me.

Honestly, of the 40-odd countries I’ve been to, India tops the list by a mile when it comes to MOST DIFFICULT. Just the lack of infrastructure for tourists, the language barrier, the bureaucracy, the inefficiency, the men – every. single. day. was an exhausting struggle.

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And can we please get non-child beer??

Sure, there were good times and I met some really cool people along the way, but on the whole, would not recommend. Or would, if you want to test yourself. Lots of people love India (and I was told I would too), but I am not one of those people, thank you very much.

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Exhibit 1298142: Madness in India

And now Thailand. It was such a sigh of relief when I arrived (in the middle of the night, mind you) and everything was so. fricking. easy.

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As easy as a beautiful, delicious, satisfying cup of coffee. Which I (almost) never got in India.

Getting out of the airport. Finding the hostel. Getting to places. Not having to deal with creepy men staring all the time. I hadn’t realized that I’d been holding my breath, but Thailand is when I heaved a sigh of relief.

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The Thai massage also helped in the heaving of the sigh of relief.

Of course, it has its downsides, but I’d much rather deal with Thailand than India. And for the most part, the company here has been outstanding – Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and now my small village Nam Phong. I’d definitely feel much less kindly toward Thailand if I hadn’t met such great people along the way.

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We’re a pretty odd bunch, here in Nam Phong.

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We’re a pretty sexy bunch too, even if I say so myself.

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These housemates. And our cats. ❤

What do the next six months hold? Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I’ll be here in Thailand for the next three months, serving the rest of my time in prison. I mean, my contract. [hypothesis confirmed – do not like children]. After that, who knows. I have absolutely zero plans for the last three months of the year. I kinda want to wander around Asia for a bit more, but I’m also coming to the realization that Asia isn’t really my scene. I kinda want to get to Africa, but the possible lack of decent internet might screw my current earning potential over. I want to go back to Latin America, but what if I’ve built it up to something more than it is in my head? And Europe would be cool too, but I’m too broke for it.

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Take me with you!

Well, since I’m completely and entirely undecided, suggestions and recommendations are welcome! But for now:

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Tiempo para dormir!

  **On a side note, I was going through my pictures the other day, and realized that my pictures from between Kalpetta and Madurai have mostly disappeared – Allepey, Varkala, Kochi, Munnar and Kodaikanal will only ever exist in my memories. Sad.**

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This is my sad face. Do you not see the sadness?

Chennai and the Sru-Kalyanam!

#throwback
Three months late! I’m totally skipping like…weeks of my India trip and all of my time in Thailand so far to write this post about dearest Shrewpa’s wedding! Updates about the other bits in between may or may not follow in the months/ weeks to come, so stay tuned.

Robin (my friend from the UK who really wanted to attend an Indian wedding so I invited him to Shrew’s, with her permission) and I arrived in Chennai from Pondicherry. Pondi is only 150km away from Chennai, but it took almost 5 hours for that journey – don’t ask why; the only explanation is “It’s India”. After Robin dropped his stuff off at his hostel, we headed to meet my mum at her hotel.

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Mum in India!

Bit of backstory as to why my mum was there – when I told my family that I’d be travelling around India next and that I’d be in Chennai for Shrew’s wedding, they very excitedly decided to meet me there for a few days to check India out (after 20 years) and do some shopping. It worked out perfectly, because I needed to buy clothes for Shrew’s wedding anyway, so they could do the shopping, I could wear the clothes, and then they could take the clothes back to Singapore while I carried on enjoying life. My dad had gone to Thanjavur for a couple of days and my sister and niece weren’t arriving till the next day, so it was just mumsie, Robin and me for shopping day 1 of 1000000 (I kid, but it felt like we spent sooooooo many days shopping).

My aunt who lives in Chennai had invited us for lunch, so after stuffing our faces with superamazing biryani and mutton and chicken and all sorts of other things (it’s definitely a thing: Indian families = eat till you burst), we headed to an 11-storey Pothy’s to get ourselves wedding-ready. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I was overwhelmed before we even began but off we went.

Robin’s outfits were first order of business, and since he’s a guy, he was done with his outfits in about 20 minutes. He hung around valiantly for another 30 minutes or so while mum and I tried to pick outfits out for me, but eventually gave up and went back to his hostel, leaving mum and me to it. Good thing he did too, because we only finished with the shopping about 4 hours after that. x_x

 

 

 

 

End of Day 1 in Chennai.

Day 2 was slightly better – we visited the Kapaleeswarar temple and Valluvar Kottam, before picking my sister and niece, up from the airport. Decently fun, and the heat of Chennai made bearable by the fact that we were ferried around for most of the day in an air-conditioned car (perks of travelling with family)!

 

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Huge chariot at Valluvar Kottam

 

 

The next day was Shrew’s wedding Part 1! The morning was some sort of ceremony for the couple to get blessings from their elders so that the wedding would go smoothly (I think). Robin and I turned up mostly to mingle, to eat and to get some henna done. It was probably the only time I managed to have a conversation with the kalyana ponnu, Shrewpa.

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Kalyana ponnu, Shrew, and me, with a very distracted Shnoo

 

After that, it was back to the hotel to chill and relax before getting dressed for the evening celebrations! The nichayathartham, or engagement ceremony, is basically where the two families officially and publicly promise to marry their kids to each other. We basically spend most of it taking pictures and trying to figure out what was going on (as people usually do at Indian weddings).

 

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Wedding glow.

 

 

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No escaping now.

 

Robin and I showed up just in time for the Kasi Yaatra the next morning, where the groom pretends he’s going off to Kasi to live an ascetic life and the bride’s father stops him by promising his daughter’s hand in marriage. Rather elaborate play-acting which I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

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“Here is an umbrella full of flowers! Marry my sister!” – Karthik

 

After that, the bride and groom were hoisted on their uncle’s shoulders and they tried to garland each other. It looked like fun for the couple, but I can’t imagine how the uncles must have been feeling. (Bursting with joy, of course!)

 

Next was the couple being sat on a swing (that represents the ups and downs of married life, apparently) and fed bananas and milk by the married ladies of the family.

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Shrew’s face – ups of marriage, Ram’s face – downs of marriage.

 

The proceedings after that point were not too clear – some sort of prayers, and then more prayers, and then eventually Sru-Ram were married! Woooohooooo!

 

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But we decided to take pictures anyway.

 

Throughout all of that, there was a ton of food, and one of Shrew’s uncles constantly kept checking in on us about whether we were enjoying the food and festivities. It was good fun and like at all Indian weddings, I ate too much.

After that, it was time for some much needed R&R before I got dressed to go for the evening reception. Robin wasn’t feeling very well, so I didn’t have a date but still, it’s hard not to have a good time when there’s good food. And just like that, it was the end of SruRam Kalyanam! Thank you both for having us at your wedding!

 

The wedding was over, but our stay in Chennai was not. The next day, Robin and I met up with my parents, sister and niece (cute little grub child I want to eat her) to head to Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We tried (and failed) to pass ourselves off as locals, and ended up getting a guided tour around, which was pretty informative.

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With the family at Mahabalipuram.

 

The rest of the time my sister and niece were there were spent shopping and eating for the most part, so I’ll skip over that to the other interesting thing to happen in Chennai.

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I was squashed in the back with all the shopping. -_-

My sister and niece had left, and my parents wanted to do more shopping (surprise) before they left, so Robin and I bailed to go to an amusement park instead. It was quite a hassle getting there – for some reason, some of the buses on that route said they wouldn’t stop at the amusement park, so we ended up having to wait ages to get the right bus and it was all very annoying but finally we managed to get there. The entrance fee wasn’t cheap but it was worth it. We were expecting to have a laugh at the lame rides, but it ended up being pretty fun. We went on a few of the major rides (not the scariest one though – who knows when the last time was that the rides had been serviced), and had a pretty good time! Not a must-go, but decent enough to kill a few hours.

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Check out the tacky dragons at the amusement park – Dizzeeworld!

Then it was time to say bye to the parents before their flight, and that was about it for Chennai! It was fun (minus the shopping bits) but I must say I’m not dying to go back again. Still, worth it for the time I spent there.

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Bye parents!

Another month goes by, and I finally muster the energy to write another blog post. Obviously, I’m not too good at keeping to my new year resolutions, but to be honest, who is?

Where am I now? Thailand. I got here almost three weeks ago but haven’t yet mustered any energy to write anything about it. Not because Thailand has been awful – on the contrary, it’s been quite lovely and I’m enjoying how easy everything is in this country. No, I think I’ve pretty much just been recovering from India, which was an absolute…I don’t even know how to describe it.

Anyway. I’ve fallen sick, I think, so I’m not very motivated to gush about how wonderful Thailand is, or whine about how awful India was (broad generalizations). I just got back to Chiang Mai after spending five wonderful days in Pai, a small little town in the middle of a valley, surrounded by mountains. It was absolutely incredible place, and I spent most of my time there not doing much apart from wandering around the town, and eating all the delicious street food (of which there are no pictures because I ate everything before I remembered to take pictures). And obviously, because I gave my body time to relax and decompress, it kinda just went kaput. Hopefully, that will blow over in a few days because interesting times await. You’ll have to stay tuned for the next blog post to find out what’s cooking in crunch-land because I have work to do, and I also want to take a nap before dinner, and everything.

And to make it worth your while for coming here, some random pics from the last….forever long (to be honest, the last proper travel/destination related post was…Kalpetta, and that was some time in February, so). Enjoy!

 

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A kid peering out of the stained glass windows at Udaipur Palace.

 

 

 

So, that’s that. There are tonnes of places I have stopped at along the way since I left Kalpetta, but that’s gonna have to be saved for another day. In the meanwhile, I’m going to sleep off this cold. Toodles!

No Phone, No Photos :(

My phones have died. Yes, you read that right. Phones, as in more than one. More specifically, two. They have died. Well, one really has, and the other is almost at the grave, so just as good as dead.

To be fair, they are both crappy phones. One is a 50$ phone I got in Costa Rica that has served me well for the last 10 months, but now can only survive for about 2 hours after being unplugged before it gives up the ghost. It also has a 2mp camera (who even makes phones like that any more?) which makes for terrible photos. The other is my mum’s HTC something, but it’s over 2 years old and has just suddenly died and refuses to turn on unless plugged into a power source. It was the primary source of all the pictures I’ve taken in India so far.

But anyway, now that both my phones are dead, I do not have any way of taking amazing pictures! Woe is me. And you, if you like reading my blog for the amazing (yarright) pictures and videos I put up. I’m going to try to buy myself a new phone, so any recommendations on what I should get for cheap with a decent enough camera would be recommended! Leave your comments! Also, if you’d like to contribute my phone-buying fund (or my next meal or my flight to the next cool destination, I’m not fussy), you can do so HERE and have my eternal and undying gratitude.

Well, till I get my new phone, lots of love everyone!

Kalpetta! Land of (failed) treks.

[I’m awful with updates – this happened maybe two weeks ago. I’m in Kochi about to head off to Munnar soon now.]

But not really. Ehh, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

Bus from Mysore to Kalpetta – a direct bus from the KSRTC bus station for 143Rs at 7am, and I arrived 4 hours later. Absolutely brilliant ride: I fell asleep part way, but woke up as we were driving through the nature reserve areas, hoping to see some wild elephants. No go, but it was still lovely scenery!

Reunited with Anna (from Germany/ Bangalore) in Kalpetta! So good to see her again – such a great girl. And she had a friend with her, Yossi from Israel. Cool cool cool. First order of business was food! Woohoo! Obviously I had the fish curry thali. Delish.

After that, we accompanied Yossi for a beard trim, and then Anna and I went wandering around the back streets of Kalpetta. It was lovely walking around the quiet streets and soaking in the atmosphere, and of course catching up with Anna!

Eventually, we headed back to the hotel to chill and discuss plans for the next day. We settled on hiking Chembra Peak (2100m, highest peak in Wayanad, 2nd highest in Kerala), so got our provisions for what was supposed to be a 6-8hour hike round trip. We also joined forces with a German couple who was also heading on the hike, and made plans for a 6.30am departure from the hotel the next morning.

It was all clouds and fog as we set out early the next morning, but undeterred, onward we went. First a bus to a neighboring village, Meppady, then breakfast there, and we got in a jeep (900Rs, round trip) to the forest ranger office to buy our tickets.

At the office, we were told in no uncertain terms, that we were not allowed anywhere near Chembra peak. Apparently, as of 4 years ago, authorities had ruled that the last section of the trek was out of bounds, and the highest we could get to was the heart-shaped lake, but Lonely Planet didn’t get the memo. Since we’d already come all that way, we coughed up the 1500Rs Group Entry fee and headed off on our trek with an unsmiling fellow, the mandatory local guide. The trek was fine, not really as easy as it’s made out to be (kinda steep in some places), but completely worth it for the great views enroute. Well, the great views we would have seen if everything hadn’t been shrouded in a blanket of mist.

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“But I swear in the days still left, we’ll walk in fields of gold.” – Sting

Still, the lake was lovely (not really heart-shaped, unless you’re somewhat creative in your interpretation of shapes), and we hung out eating the ton of food we’d bought in anticipation of an 8-hour round trip hike.

The views on the way back were much nicer, and seriously, Lonely Planet, if you’d updated your info to include that bit that the last segment of the hike is closed, we’d have gone later and caught some other incredible views. In any case, Trek 1 semi-failed, but it was still a great day.

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Anna was a little confused about where the scenery was supposed to be.

Deciding that it would be prudent to inquire with the local tourism office before heading out on any other hikes, we headed out to do exactly that the next day.

After much back and forth and explaining over and over again that we wanted to hike and not just walk to someplace for 20 minutes, and having the official there call the forest department for us (he had no idea about opening and closing hours or anything, really), we were finally told that no, it was not possible for us to do any hiking because all the parks/ reserves were closed. “Dry season, ma’am. High chance of forest fires, ma’am.”

Well, fancy that. With not much else to do , we started back toward our hotel in town but hang on a sec! What’s that building on top of that giant boulder? A temple?! Let’s get there!

We headed off in search of this mysterious temple on top of a boulder, after asking several passers-by (who were convinced that the 2.5km was far too long to walk and that we should take a tuktuk instead). Obviously, we ended up walking straight up some jungly path and over bare rocks and lost the non-existent path for a while before we finally arrived, in a less conventional way, at the temple. Gorgeous views, and totally worth it.

 

Two random local guys who were hanging out by the temple told us (well, me. In Malayalam, no less. Gonna add that to my ever growing list of languages) that there were some caves down another tiny path. Our original trekking plans may have been foiled, but this sounded even better. The caves were pretty cool, except for the part where the two guys decided they would follow us around, but Yossi’s presence was useful in deterring them (somewhat).

 

 

Cave exploring done, we decided to find an alternative route back to town and started off on a rather tiny, probably animal-made trail. It might not have been that smart in retrospect, but after quite a bit of slipping and sliding and swinging and swiping through the forest, we emerged right by….someone’s backyard. She must have been quite startled at the sudden appearance from three random foreigners the forest, as was her mother. They stared at us as we walked by smiling quite happily, pleased with having survived our forest trek. The mother inquired (in Malayalam) where Anna was from – her blonde hair and blue eyes are a constant source of amazement to the locals, and she seemed quite pleased that we were well and healthy.

Forest adventure over, we started making our way back to our hotel, smiling and waving at the locals to whom our presence was most unexpected. Some of them called out greetings which I tried to reply to (probably not very successfully), and as we were checking out a really cool tree that was growing out of the rock at an impossible, a middle-aged couple passed us by, bickering. They were speaking in Tamil (a language I am marginally better at than Malayalam), so I said hello to them.

 

The change in the lady was remarkable – she broke into a huge grin and came over and grasped my hand exclaiming “இது நம்ம ஆளு, நம்ம ஊரு பொண்ணு!” (She’s one of us, she’s from our land!). It was absolutely adorable, and although I had to correct her misconception that I was from Tamil Nadu, she was absolutely thrilled to find someone who spoke Tamil and besides, she was fascinated by Anna and Yossi. She asked us a bunch of questions in usual Indian fashion (Where are you from? What are you doing here? How old are you? Are you married? Why don’t you want to get married? Are they married? Do they have children? Why don’t they have children?), and invited us to her house for tea.

 

We didn’t have anything else to do, and she seemed really keen on having us visit her (she actually said come again tomorrow and I’ll prepare lunch for all of you, but when we said we might be leaving the next day, she insisted on tea), so we followed her to her house. Along the way, she asked more questions and I translated for Anna and Yossi and we all gradually learnt her life story – From Pondicherry, but moved to Kalpetta about 40 years ago when her father passed away (her mum passed away when she was born), because she had no other family. She had six children at a young age because she felt lonely, and she worked as a cleaner at several banks in town. She’d saved up money little by little over time to buy the plot of land where her house now stood and had finally finished building the house just a year ago. Her name – Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.

 

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Her house, nestled on top of a boulder too.

 

We arrived at her house and she immediately called out to her daughters to prepare tea for us while getting us chairs to sit on. She disappeared for a while, leaving us to sit in the sparse living room and attempt to cajole her granddaughter to smile at us (baby Gayathri started bawling instead). When she returned, she served us tea and vadai, and she sat down on the floor to ask us more questions and tell us all about her children and her life.

 

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Baby Gayathri was not impressed by us.

 

Thinking back on it fills me with a warm sort of happiness, at how she didn’t even think twice about inviting three complete strangers into her home and sharing the little that she had with us. All three of us may be richer than her in terms of the amount of money we have in the bank, but truly, she is a goddess of wealth. Eventually, we said our goodbyes, and as we were leaving, she told us that we would always have a place in her home in Kalpetta, should we return. Many people may say thing like that, but there are few who actually mean it, and I know that if I do one day return to Kalpetta, she would welcome me to her home like a long lost daughter.

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The delightful Lakshmi and her family.

 

We spent the rest of the day chilling at the hotel, the next day, I decided to leave Kalpetta and head to Alleppy for some backwater exploration.  I booked myself on a RedBus sleeper bus and made arrangements for my hostel in Alleppey, and off we went to spend our last day together in Kalpetta by the Pookot Lake.

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We decided to investigate an abandoned property nearby. Just because.

 

 

It turned out to be much nicer than any of us expected it to be, and we spent a blissful few hours hanging out in the shade of some trees.

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Very chill lake.

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That’s actually full of water lilies.

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Minions.

After that, it was lunch, a rest and all too soon, time to say goodbye to Anna and Yossi. 😦

 

Some friends you meet on the road become friends for life, and I knew I would miss these guys dearly. But such is the traveller’s life, and Alleppey awaited!

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Mysore, The Sequel!

I’m writing this post from #Kalpetta, in the #Wayanad district of #Kerala! But today’s post is going to be about #Mysore, in #Karnataka and the rest of my adventures there!

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Mysore Palace by day!

Sundays are a special day in Mysore. First, because you can great some great Mutton Pulao at Hanumantha Hotel, a serious hole-in-the-wall, that serves some of the most amazing pulao I’ve ever eaten. The rice was light and fluffy but bursting with flavour, and the mutton was cooked to an incredibly tender state where it practically melted in your mouth. Thinking about it is making my mouth water, but here’s a picture instead.

My walk to Hanumantha Hotel also brought me to a really old-fashioned market selling veggies, fish, and meat.

Goat intestines are somewhat of a delicacy in India, and I’ve had it before (super yums!) but this was the first time I’d seen someone actually in the process of cleaning the innards. He blew into the pieces to expand them, filled them up with water and repeated this process a few times before emptying out all the water. It was gross (raw innards O_O) but also really cool.

Second reason why Sundays are special in Mysore is because the Palace, the historical residence of the Wodeyars, gets lit up from 7 to 7.45pm with almost 100,000 light bulbs. I spent most of the day in my hostel apart from going out for pulau (teaching online does require one to be present in an area of decent internet connectivity) so I was quite excited to see the palace all lit up that evening. I started my evening with some Mangalore bajji and filter coffee at Cafe Aramane (literally, Palace Cafe), right across the street from the palace.

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Cheap thrill: Eating Mangalore bajji while eavesdropping on some old men.

At about 6.45pm, I headed over to the palace and I was quite disappointed that I had missed the actual lighting of the palace, because it was already rather well-lit, and hundreds of people were milling around taking pictures. Still, it was a gorgeous sight to behold.

I decided to hang around for a while anyway, and wander around the ample palace grounds for a bit since I’d decided to skip the actual tour of the palace. And suddenly, out of nowhere, the 100 000 bulbs were lit and the palace was illuminated like something out of a fairy tale! It was super bright (and probably a huge waste of electricity), but very impressive nonetheless!

After the palace light-up, it was off to meet some of the lovely Couchsurfing ladies of Mysore for dinner. Wonderful girls and great conversation at a pretty cool cafe in Mysore! That’s why I absolutely love Couchsurfing – it’s such a great platform for travellers and locals to get to meet each other and have a great time!

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Couchsurfing crew – Pavna, Laura, Anna, Spoorti, Anjali and Amanda!

The next day’s itinerary was to go to Srirangapatna, a town on a small island in the middle of the Kaveri river. I took bus 307 (again based on the information of the helpful front desk guys) and had a nice chat with another traveller on the way there. He was going somewhere else so I arrived in Srirangapatna alone. Upon my arrival, I was immediately accosted by an auto rickshaw driver who insisted on taking me around to the main sites. Since his fee was only 250Rs and the places to visit were at some distance from each other, I agreed and off we went.

First stop: Sri Ranganathaswamy temple from which the town gets its name. Home to one of the largest representations of Sri Ranganatha (Lord Vishnu) reclining on Adi Sesha (many-headed serpent), the temple was crowded with devotees doing penance. I took a nice walk around and the architecture of the temple was really cool too. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed within temples, so you’ll have to check it out for yourself. Fun fact about this temple – It is the temple featured in the song Oruvan Oruvan Mudhalali in the film Muthu!

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The gopuram is quite a sight to behold (and the only part of the temple that can be photographed).

Second stop: Colonel Bailey’s Dungeon. This was where Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in the 1700s, imprisoned all the British soldiers but Bailey died there, so it was named after him. Pretty cool, and there’s a view of the Kaveri river from there too.

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But I can’t imagine being shackled to the walls like that. :/ Cruel.

Next, a brief stop at the place where Tipu Sultan was killed in battled by a bullet to the head, and then we passed by Jamma Masjid, a beautiful mosque.

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“The body of Tippu Sultan was found here.”

Daria Daulat Bagh was next, Tipu Sultan’s summer palace. Entrance is 200Rs for foreigners, but only 15Rs for locals, so I told them I was from Chennai and paid only 15Rs. :/ Maybe that’s awful, but maybe not. Anyway, it’s a beautiful place, with luxurious gardens and remarkably well preserved detailing on the palace walls. I could totally imagine life in the palace 400 years ago.

We headed to the Tipu Sultan Gumbaz after that, a mausoleum where the remains of Tipu Sultan, his father Hyder Ali and mother Fatimah are interred. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place, if somewhat somber.

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The resting place of some lesser relatives.

Our final stop on the tour was the banks of the Kaveri river. A sacred river that flows through a large part of India, dipping oneself in it is supposed to absolve you of all sins. I dipped my feet in it, so…I guess my feet are free of sin now. It was beautiful anyhow, and I spent a while chatting with an old lady who was there to do some prayers with her family.

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It’s lovely, although somewhat sullied by trash. 😦

Having spent my morning very fruitfully, I returned to Mysore by bus and met up with Amanda, a Mexican girl from the Couchsurfing group the night before. We walked around the city for a bit and got lunch before I rushed off in an attempt to make my 4pm incense-making, beedi-rolling tour, but that was when I fell and hurt my ankle, so that didn’t happen, and kept me in bed for most of the next day too.

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But even peasants can have Hyderabad biryani and palak paneer 🙂

But! The next day, I got to go on the tour after lunch, so that was fantastic. (So was lunch.)

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Tomato rice bath, vadai, and coffee. YUM.

This tour was organized by my hotel, Hotel Maurya, for a mere 25Rs. The guide, Zabi, picked me up at the hotel and off we went in a little auto rickshaw. Incense-making was the first stop. We stopped by a nondescript little alley, and Zabi brought me into what seemed like someone’s house, pointing out various things used in the incense making process. We climbed a flight of stairs, and ta-dah! There were 5 women hard at work, deftly rolling sticks of incense at an incredible pace with their nimble fingers. It was mesmerizing to watch. Did you know that one of the ingredients in incense sticks is …honey? Mad.

After that, we headed to someone else’s house to see how beedi, a traditional Indian cigarette is made. We settled ourselves on the living room floor of the beedi-rollers house, and he set to work. Made with only a sindhoor leaf and tobacco, beedi has zero preservatives or additives, making it a much healthier alternative to cigarettes…but then again, is it really?

Last stop on this tour was a place selling essential oils. The owner Sageer talked me through the various properties of some of the oils he had to offer and was such a persuasive salesman that I eventually bought a tiny bottle of water lily oil, supposedly useful as a mosquito repellent. I’ve been using in here in Wayanad, and I must say it’s pretty effective, and even if it isn’t, it smells amazing.

I had some real street food for dinner that evening, which was excellent and cheap – Masale Poori, a typical Mysorean dish. I returned to my hotel after that, where I spent the rest of the evening packing my stuff up.

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Masale poori in process!

Mysore had been wonderful, but it was time for a change of state. Up next, Kalpetta in Kerala, God’s own country!

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Ciao, Mysore!

My-sore ankle

Ha lame pun. My sore ankle is the reason why I’m writing today’s post about…Mysore! I crack myself up sometimes…

Anyway, no big deal about my ankle. India’s pavements are kinda crappy and full of random potholes / loose slabs of concrete / bits of wire waiting to trip you up and yesterday, while walking around, I stepped on a loose block of concrete and fell, hurting my ankle (same foot as the one I sliced open in HK) in the process. It’s kinda swollen from the impact and it hurts to walk (too much) so I’ve decided to be productive in other ways by updating my blog about Mysore!

Mysore is India’s heritage city, and supposedly India’s cleanest city. I took the train in from Bangalore, thankfully managing to get tickets directly at the train station after a slight panic attack that the train was fully booked when I couldn’t get tickets online. The train turned out to be massive (and late, as usual) so we only got underway at about 3.30pm.

Arrived in Mysore without incident (I even fell asleep part of the way – there’s something quite comforting about riding in a train), and found the hostel a guy in Bangalore had recommended me. At 200Rs / night, Hotel Maurya is a steal but duh, some drawbacks. Must have been a legit hotel maybe 50 years ago, but now wouldn’t count for even a motel I think. No hot water, an old-school squatting toilet and a mattress about an inch thin. Still, the price was a huge factor for me, and besides – they have (intermittent) Wi-Fi in the lobby! Someone once joked that backpackers don’t need anything more than a roof and Wi-Fi when looking for a hostel…I’ve come to realize it’s not too far from the truth. Moving on. Hung out that evening with an international backpacking bunch (2 Germans, 2 English, 1 Canadian) which was fun.

Next day, it was off to Chamundi Hill! According to legend, Chamundi Hill is where the goddess Chamundi slayed the demon Mahishasura. Mahishasura (literally buffalo-demon) had asked for a boon of being invincible from Lord Brahma, but Brahma said dude no. So Mahishasura said okay, give me the boon of being killed only by a woman. Stupid stupid stupid demon. Boon granted, he started waging war against all the Devas (angel equivalents?) with his demon army and nobody could do squat to stop him, till BOOM Goddess Chamundi (aka Mahishasura Mardini – also the reason Mysore got its name) appeared and killed him on the hill that is now named after her. How many men get a hill named after them for killing a demon, eh? (Don’t answer that.)

Hoping to beat the traffic, I left pretty early (8am is early by India standards where things only get going at 10 or 11am) and on the advice of the hotel guy, I took bus 201 from the City Bus Stand all the way up to the top of the hill. They have a giant statue of Mahishasura where the bus drops off. Nice touch, getting the dead demon to welcome people to the hill.

There was a nice view of Mysore and the temple was pretty cool too. Not that many people were there yet, so I got a nice look around the temple. Pretty standard stuff.

Wandered around for a bit and then decided to look around for the huge Nandi (Shiva’s bull) statue that was supposedly around there somewhere.

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Not Nandi, but maybe a reincarnation of Mahishasura?

Asked around with a few people (Pro travel tip: People don’t often know where things are but will direct you anyway. Ask 3 or 4 people and if most of them point you in the same direction, you have about a 73.4% chance of getting to where you need to.) and eventually found the Nandi, 300 steps down from the Chamundi temple.

More photo ops, and a quick refuel with some chai and I had to decide if I wanted to walk the remaining 700 steps down, or walk back up to where I’d started. Since I’d initially wanted to walk up the steps to get to the temple anyway, I decided it would be cool to walk down instead of just taking the bus. As I was walking down, I came across several devotees on their way up, stopping at each step to adorn it with turmeric powder, vermilion and flowers.

The steps are a gorgeous pink/ yellow/ red because of those powders and make for a wonderful sight. But also, much respect for the devotees – it’s intense, back-breaking work to do that up 1000 steps.

I eventually made it down and caught a different bus back to the city (again by asking several different people where the bus stop was) and had lunch before heading off to the Government Silk Factory to see silk being processed and woven into beautiful saris. The guy at my hotel had mentioned a bunch of buses I could take to the silk factory from the City Bus Stand, but apparently those buses don’t exist, but several different buses do pass that way, so just ask around till someone points you to the right bus. A giggling group of school girls who barely spoke any English helped me out and I made it to my destination without much mishap.

So the silk factory is free of charge to enter and walk around, and if you stand around watching intently for long enough, one of the workers will call you over to show you what exactly it is that they’re doing. It’s a really long, complicated process that involves winding and unwinding and rewinding the silk thread collected from the cocoons of silkworms before the silk is ready to be woven. The weaving is also done in the old school method, and I do believe that each weaver is responsible for the designs on the saris he makes (didn’t see a single female weaver).

 

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Not a sheet of material, but individual strands of silk! Madness.

 

It requires a lot of attention to detail and incredible amounts of precision to make sure each strand is perfect. I would go crazy after just a day of trying to do that.

 

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When the silk runs out, the weaver has to manually attach each strand to a new one. A painstaking and time consuming process.

 

It’s been great so far and I like Mysore quite a bit. That’s all about Mysore for now. Stay tuned for Mysore part 2, where I talk about my visit to Srirangapatna, incense-making and beedi-rolling!