HM Ambassador car

A Hindustani Motors Ambassador car parked outside a Mysore house

From Bangalore I decided to work my way back to the west coast via the city of Mysore, renowned for its huge palace. It was a mere three hour journey which I took in relative luxury, travelling by air-conditioned Volvo bus. The road was pretty much straight dual carriageway all the way, and we were only held up by the odd oxen-pulled cart in the slow lane.
The hotel I’d wanted to stay in – The Ritz (not a five-star establishment) – was full, which was a shame as it looked like a pleasantly decrepit place with lots of character and history behind it. Instead I checked into a nondescript budget hotel nearby, acquiring a room as wide as the bed and only a doorway longer lengthways, and returned to the Ritz for a good nosh-up in their restaurant.
Being a prime tourist destination, the touts were out in force on the streets. Rickshaw drivers trailed me as I walked, and I developed a nifty hand-cutting gesture which let them know I wasn’t interested without expending too much effort. It seemed to do the trick. There were also variations on the “pay to see my market stall” scam I’d seen in Bangalore. I navigated my way around these pitfalls as I paced out the streets, getting a feel for the place.
It would be very easy to fall in love with Mysore if you had a bad cold and were partially sighted. It’s a dirty, stinking place and suffers badly from two major afflictions common to many Indian cities.
Firstly, there’s rubbish everywhere. In rotting piles by the side of the road, in the drains, in the rivers. There are very rarely any bins in public in India because to a seemingly large portion of the Indian population, the bin is the ground. On buses and trains you can see kids, students, parents and old people alike throwing their used bottles, wrappers and other rubbish out of the window onto the road or into the countryside. It’s really sad to see, as it detracts hugely from the country’s wonderful beauty. Although the freely-wandering cows make an admirable attempt to polish up any bio-degradable waste, the piles of crap are still a haven for legions of flies and rats the size of small dogs.

Secondly, it seems perfectly acceptable for Indian men to relieve themselves against any wall, any time – day or night. This disgusting habit, coupled with the intense heat, lack of rain and lack of public street cleaning service (save for a few old geezers going round with brooms made of sticks) leads to a horrendous stench of super-concentrated urine overpowering you on a regular basis around town. Next time I come here I’ll be sure and bring my gas mask.
I would encounter these annoyances throughout India, but Mysore seemed to be afflicted more than most. It was an arsehole of a city, save for a couple of sights that pulled it out from mediocrity.
The aforementioned palace was a massive, regal structure, and I walked its huge perimeter to the south gate where the public entrance lay. Unfortunately there was a massive queue, so I made myself content with snapping pics of it through the gates. Later, as night fell, I returned to it to see it lit up by hundreds of thousands of lightbulbs. This not-so-little act, seemingly to subsidise the local electricity company as well as help the tourist industry, was an impressive spectacle.
The next day I decided to set out beyond the palace and make my way on foot to a place called Chamundi Hill, not realising exactly how far it was. I got some odd looks as I marched along Chamundi Road, where people had parked up in the shade for picnics. Making it to the hill, I continued to pick my way up the steep road until I heard a rustling in the bushes, which triggered in my mind a sentence I had read about this area.
“There are cheetahs up on the hill, but they hardly ever attack tourists”.
Hmmmm. Suddenly my plan didn’t seem so great. Luckily, a matter of seconds later a solution came along, as a number 209 bus came tearing round the corner. I stuck my hand out and jumped on to ride in air-conditioned comfort the rest of the way in a cheetah-free environment.
I’m glad I didn’t walk all the way to Chamundi, as apart from being miles further than I expected, it was quite an anti-climax. The hill did have a striking bone-coloured Hindu temple at its peak, which was a fabulous sight, but the queue to enter it snaked round the block and there was little else to hold my interest. I watched the monkeys for a while, who were sneaking raids on a fruit seller who was throwing rocks at them to keep them at bay, took in the slightly misty views from the hill, discovered a huge mound of Mysore rubbish in an otherwise lovely green area just over a wall, and turned around to take the return bus trip back to town.
I had several hours to kill for my overnight bus back to coast and no hotel in which to spend it, so I walked to the Cafe Coffee Day (an Indian coffee shop chain) I had discovered on a random walk to kill a few hours working and watching the evening’s IPL cricket match. At dusk the time came to head back to the bus station, and all around me little bats were flitting around, picking pesky mosquitos and other insects from the air. As I watched them in the sky, I noticed a flock of birds flying steadily in one direction. Hold on a minute… since when do birds have such pointy wings? They were huge fruit bats. The wildlife in India was a delight.
Although I was glad I never saw any cheetahs up close.