I visited the Mysore palace (pronounced my sore) in Southern India. It is one of the largest tourist attractions in India and second only to the Taj Mahal. The palace was originally built in the 14th century and fell into dis-repair.
The current palace was reconstructed beginning in 1897 and completed in 1912. From a historical point of view it is not really very old but I was excited to see what this was all about. I got in the car with my faithful driver, Ravi, for what I
thought would be about a one hour trip from Bangalore. To my surprise Ravi said “no madam; it is 3-4 hours”. I said, “Oh well, let’s go Ravi, I have nothing else planned today and I did not come to India to spend
time at the hotel. “ Ravi is a good tour guide and directs me to points of interest along the highway. We pass sugar cane fields and coconut groves and vendors selling coconuts all along the highway in ramshackle huts. These would be like
an American fruit stand but far more modest. I witnessed a man standing under a tree for shade cutting open the coconuts wielding his machete with precision and then placing the coconuts in a pile for sale.
I also saw a man at a table with
a machete with a pile of fish; gutting them right on the road. Nothing is on ice. This was right out on the highway and it makes me think very hard about eating fish or meat. A great deal of the Indian population is vegetarian, and I understand why.
The refrigeration is limited and what is butchered is eaten immediately or preserved with salted methods. The trip is long and I decide it is not a good idea for me to eat in restaurants along the highway. I have a few protein bars stashed in my purse
and decide I will survive on that for the day. I ask Ravi to stop for a bathroom break and he finds a McDonalds. I have to say McDonald’s holds up to their clean standards in India. I am incredibly grateful for the western style toilets.
Since the cow is sacred in India, I was curious what they served. McVeg is the mainstay on the menu and most of the other items are the same, french fries and sodas. I purchased an iced tea for Ravi and one without ice for myself and headed
out the door. I remembered that the ice is probably purified water. I am pretty certain the tea is made with boiled water. This is very third world and while I am traveling, I am very cautious. I don’t want to get sick. Antibacterial lotion is
In Mysore, Ravi took me three places. He stopped at St Philomene church, and gave me strict instructions.” Go in and spend 10 minutes and come directly out. No more.” It was a gothic style Catholic
Church. I love visiting churches and temples wherever I go places because I find them to be so descriptive of the culture and surrounding areas. In this church, I loved the statue of Mary with a sari draped around her. It is so interesting to see familiar
icons through a different lens.
A couple of young school boys see me in the church and are so excited to see me wandering around. It startles me when they practically run over to say hello. They practice their English greeting skills
when one boy suddenly sticks his hand out so I can shake it, his friend immediately follows. I look into their excited faces and the delight in their deep brown eyes and continue talking for a few more moments. They asked me straight out. “Are
you an American?” I answered “yes” and they started giggling and grinning ear to ear. I conversed for a few minutes longer with them before I was on my way. I realized they don’t see many Americans and saw me as a bit of
a celebrity. I found them adorable and enchanting in every way. I smiled as I realize it made their day to talk to me that morning but I am sure they never thought about how much they made by day.
I stuck to Ravi’s rule and I was back
to the car in 10 minutes and we were on our way to the next stop
At the Palace: Drivers generally stay in their cars at the destination but I asked Ravi to join me on my tour. He was a delighted person and I knew it would be more fun and
more interesting if he came along. Before we left the car, Ravi again gave me strict instructions. You buy nothing madam. Keep your money quite. All kinds of vendors are here will be following you and wanting you to buy. I keep my head down and
walk with purpose to the ticket booth. The ticket was 40 rupees for an Indian native and the foreigner price was 200 rupees. The exchange rate equivalent for me was $4 and less than $1 for Ravi. It was pretty inexpensive. Before you enter the palace it
is required that you take you shoes off. I was allowed to wear my socks so I took advantage. The grounds are lavish and massive and there are large impressive gates surrounding the walls. It is modest by my comparison to my other palace experiences in
Europe. The ceilings are elaborately carved with some stone work and large intricate paintings. The floors and walls are mostly smooth cement. Although the palace has many architectural influences including Hindu, Muslim and gothic, in my mind
I tried to place to the time in history. The palace was actually built after the British occupation ended with the Indian revolution about 1857. It took quite a while for India to extract itself from British rule and. Gandhi played an important
role using his nonviolent methodologies. Queen Victoria was on the throne in England until 1901 and was succeeded by King Edward. The British influence is still evident in the architecture culture and in daily life.
Temple: This building is an elaborately carved obelisk shaped temple. I really want to see the temple and I find it fascinating that this is where I get tested with the grit of everyday life. This time, I was required to remove my shoes and socks before entering
the temple. Normally I would be fine with that concept and I am not really a germ-a phoebe but I do have an auto- immune deficiency so I am careful. The area surrounding the temple and the guide rails for the queue are not clean. As I walked into the
temple grounds I saw a man urinating on the walkway, There are all kinds of wild monkeys, a few cow droppings and I can only imagine what else. I really did not want to do remove my socks but I concede because I know the temple is important. I watch
my every step while in the line and I touch nothing. It is crowded and Ravi guides me through. I am so glad I went into the temple. It was an otherworldly experience. All the different gods and goddesses on many alters, many different
rituals, and beautiful colors and flowers. As we exited Ravi put yellow powder on my cheeks and red powder on my third eye point and told me that this was typical for Indian women after visiting the temple.
After leaving the temple
Ravi went to get the car and told me to wait right where I was and not move. A young girl approached me and asked me for money. I cannot tell you how hard it was for me not to oblige. My mind goes back to Ravi’s warning “You do not give your
money to anyone madam. Please understand me.” Just after the young girl walked away 3 men came over to me and I turned around just in time to face them. They abruptly stopped walking toward me and started to talk to me. Instantly I knew they
had intention of taking my purse until I had faced them. I made direct eye contact and talked for a moment and they walked away. Ravi arrived a moment later with the car and I jumped inside. As I get inside the little girls stares me
down. Her gaze still haunts me even now. If I had this to do over again, I would have quickly rolled down the window and given her money. How can we understand the cultural divide? She needs money and I need to remain safe. It is
not explainable to a starving child.
The bell captain greets me as I arrive at the hotel; He opens my door and asks,” Did you have a nice day mam?” “Wonderful” I reply. “He points to my forehead, AH, TEMPLE”
I smile and say “yes”. He looks at me proudly and I feel like I have been officially initiated somehow. Before going inside I have my picture with him as he stands so straight and tall, dressed like a palace guard,. He is dressed in
white and gold cloth with a turbine style hat on his head.
I thank Ravi for his excellent driving skills and tell him he was a wonderful guide. He is completely embarrassed and smiles shyly at me. “Thanks mam. Take a rest now.” We
make plans for the next day and I go into my hotel. It is truly an oasis. As I reflect on my day over dinner, I believe westerners stay in places like this in India because the outside world is so brutal by our standards. The poverty is bone chilling.
The cultures are vastly different. I have to recoup to go back outside and do it again. I retire for the night. My resistance is wearing down I have come down with a cold.