Paul and Rita - India and About, 2005/6 - Karnataka


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Karnataka is the 8th largest state in India, in population and size.  

Exchange rate: 1GBP = 78 Rupees


Itinerary - click link to jump to day

27th Jan 2006 - Secunderabad to Bangalore
28th to 31st Jan 2006 - Bangalore
1st to 2nd Feb 2006 - Rita in Bangalore, Paul in Hampi
3rd to 8th Feb 2006 - Bangalore
9th Feb 2006 - Bangalore to Mysore
10th Feb 2006 - Mysore
11th Feb 2006 - Srirangapatnam
13th Feb 2006 - Mysore, a day at the races
16th Feb 2006 - Ranganathittoo Bird Sanctuary
21st Feb 2006 - Mysore to Bangalore
22nd Feb 2006 - Bangalore to Mahabalapuram


Fri 27th January, 2006

Arrived at Yesvantpur Junction on the outskirts of Bangalore at 8:30pm.  Its about 15km to the hotel we're aiming for in the Centre of Bangalore, so we weren't sure how much it was going to cost us.  Luckily, there were lots of autos and taxis, and we were approached by one of each.  The taxi driver came in surprisingly low with an estimate of 300 rupees, so, of course, the auto driver had to go in even lower and offered to take us for 150 rupees.  That'll do!.  

After half an hour, we pulled up at the end of Brigade Road, where the auto driver told us he couldn't take us to the Hotel Vellara as autos were not allowed in to Brigade Road.  Great, strange he didn't mention that when we booked him.  He said it was about 500 metres up the road.  Not a great distance, but too far to walk carrying all our luggage, so we paid him off, no tip though, and lugged our bagged-up bikes and panniers into a quiet spot on the pavement, so we could assemble them.  It started out as a quiet spot, but within 2 minutes we had an audience of 50, and one person was even videoing us as we put our bikes together.  Fame at last. Didn't get asked for our autographs, this time.

We made it to the other end of Brigade Road, only to discover that the Vellara was in the other direction, and that part of the road was open to autos, so our driver could have dropped us right at the front door. Bar-steward.  The Vellara looked a bit run down, didn't fancy the look of the restaurant for a start, but it was 10pm and they had a vacant room for 860 rupees,  

Had a late dinner in a modern restaurant across the road, the Kytoli, very clean and tidy, but the staff were very pushy, telling us where we should sit and rushing us to order. In trying to be ultra efficient and modern, I think they've missed the point of service.  They did, however, let us put the food into our own mouths.  Nice of them.

Karnataka is supposed to be one of the biggest wine producers in India, as is Andhra Pradesh actually but we didn't find any evidence of wine there.  On the way to our hotel, I had spotted a couple of wine shops, and I even thought I saw some wine in one of them.  I went back after our meal and found they did indeed have some wine, a little pricey at 300 rupees, but it turned out to be quite drinkable. They even removed the cork for me, luckily I remembered we haven't got a corkscrew just as I was leaving the store.    Back to Itinerary

Sat 28th January, 2006

We must be gluttons for punishment, as we went back to the Kytoli restaurant across the road for breakfast. It looked very clean, so we assumed the food would be safe. Unfortunately, the masala dosas, normally served piping hot, were only lukewarm, although they were served with two sambas.  Verdict? We wont be back.

We wandered down Brigade Road, heading towards MG Road, stopping to look around some of the shopping centres on the way, and also checking out a few hotels, most of which were fully booked.  The sun was shining brightly and it was another hot day, par for the course around here.  On MG Road though, there was so much traffic  there was a constant cloud of exhaust fumes covering the area, and we soon found ourselves coughing and spluttering.   I don't think we've seen it this bad anywhere else in India, even New Delhi.  We took refuge in a large department store, Bangalore Central, where there is a supermarket on the 4th floor, selling all sorts of goodies like lettuce (first time we've seen it in India), wholemeal bread and various other commodities   I even spotted a jar of Pataks Extra Hot Curry Paste, made in England and imported into India.  Can you believe it?  Talk about coals to Newcastle.  We bought a bag of shopping, enough to make some lettuce, tomato and tuna sandwiches for our meal tonight, just for a change.    The checkouts were extremely slow though, we joined a queue with only two people in it, and they only had a basket each, but it took 15 minutes to get served.  Not sure what the problem was, everything seemed to be a problem really, from credit card validation, no prices, awkward customers, no change, staff that didn't know how to use the till.  Shame really.

Further up east along MG Road, we found the Ajantha Hotel, reasonable write up in the guide book, and they had a room going for 650 rupees.  Not a fantastic room, but a little nicer than our current room, so we said we'd take it.  Walked back to our hotel, stopping at the World Pub for a quick beer on the way. Packed up and checked out, then cycled down some quieter back roads to the Ajantha. 

Made a feast in our room of the goodies we'd bought from the supermarket.  Thought we might catch a moie and have a quiet evening, turns out our TV only has one English language channel, but luckily its BBC World, so at least we can keep abreast of the state of the world.  Sad to hear about the pigeon fanciers in Poland getting crushed in the collapsed building.

Sunday - We had thought this hotel was going to be a lot quieter than the last, but we were mistaken. There was no noise from MG Road, from which the Ajantha is set back by about 200 yards, but the noise came from the other inmates of the hotel, who were banging and crashing about from around 6am.   To make matters worse, we both woke up with a throat infection, probably something to do with all the fumes in town yesterday.

Had a quiet morning around the hotel, coughing and spluttering, then went for a walk along MG Road.  Being a Sunday, quite a few businesses were closed, and the traffic was considerably lighter.  Tried to find somewhere for a light meal and a beer, but not too many places doing food at 4:30pm, but we did manage to find a rooftop restaurant who served us some beer and cashew nuts.  Wandered along Brigade Road and came across a Pizza Hut. "A Pizza Hut?" I hear you say.  Yes, I'm ashamed to say we went in, but only so Rita could have a nice lettuce salad.  Honestly.  Ok, I did have a little pizza while I was in there, but it would have been rude not to, wouldn't it?  I noticed there was even a salami pizza option on the menu with a little asterisk next to it, which denoted "Due to import restrictions, this item not available".  Why did they put it on the menu then?

Walked back to our hotel via a beer shop on Brigade Road, it was the closest to our hotel that I could find, and I didn't want to have to come all the way back here later.  

Monday.  Throats feeling a little better, spent the day updating the website and sorting out digital photos for the Andhra Pradesh page, they're there now if you want a look.  It's now just over a year since we left to go on our World Tour 2005, and since then we've taken about 19,000 digital photos.  That's a lot.  Especially when you consider that sometime we went for several days without taking any, but not many places.  I bet you lot are not looking forward to us coming round when we get back, especially when I say "Do you want to see our holiday photos?"

We went to the Caesars restaurant across the road from our hotel for dinner.  It looked a rather posh place, especially with the doorman wearing such an elaborate hat.  But once inside and perusing the menu, it wasn't too bad.  And they even had steak on the menu, by which they had steak items listed on the menu, not the remains of somebody's dinner actually on the menu.  I had to go for it, I haven't had any beef since we left England, not easy to get hold of in India, Although the Muslims in India used to be partial to a bit of beef, especially as a celebration after winning a battle, but with time and as a nod to religious harmony, they dont do so much these days.  So it says in our guide book.

I went for the Caesars Steak, described as beef and chicken steaks, and Rita opted for the vegetable cutlet.  When they arrived, they were both served as sizzlers on steaming hot metal dishes complete with a good selection of vegetables.  I think we were both defeated before we started, they both looked like huge meals, but it was more the presentation on the big wooden platter to protect the table from the hot dishes that made them look so big.  The steaks were great, so was the cutlet, and it was nice to have some carrots and broccoli with a bit of crunch still in them. Neither of us managed to finish our meal, but it was extremely good.  And the total bill came to 1200 rupees, very expensive compared with what we would normally spend, but that about 15 quid for the two meals including drinks.  I think we might come back here for another blow out before we leave Bangalore.

Tuesday.  I'm going to pop off to Hampi for a day or two, while Rita hangs out around here to do some work on her TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language).  So this morning we got an auto down to the bus station so I could book tickets on the overnight bus.  I was quite impressed with the bus station, all very clean (well, relatively) and well organised.  They have booking procedures like the trains, where you fill out a form with the details of your trip and hand it in at a counter.  They even let me pick my seat from the available seats on a computer screen.   Only took 2 minutes and 240 rupees, and I had my ticket for the 11:30pm bus to Hospet, the main town near Hampi.  Checked inside the bus terminal to make sure I would know where to go tonight, and was amazed to see it all clearly signposted for the various destinations, in English and various Indian languages.  Got to be the best organised bus station I've seen in India.

Had a quick veg curry in a lovely clean Andhra restaurant in the bus station complex.  I could tell it was Andhra by the beads of perspiration on my forehead by the time I had finished.  Fantastic.  Then made our way over to Commercial Street to look for some silk.  It's so cheap here we're going to buy some for future house furnishings, whenever that might be!  Another rickshaw back to our hotel to cool down, it was getting too hot out in the sun by now.  

Packed up some basic necessities for a couple of days, had a small snack in our room, then set off for the bus station at  930pm.  It's going to be quite strange not having Rita with me for the next couple of days, I dont think we've spent more than 3 or 4 hours apart since we arrived in India five months ago.  It will give Rita unlimited access to the laptop while I'm not hear though.  .Back to Itinerary

Wed 1st February, 2006

Arrived in Hospet at 6:45am after a bumpy ride from Bangalore.  I'd managed to grab a bit of sleep occasionally during the night, but not enough really, so I had a couple of cups of coffee at the bus station to keep me awake, didn't have time to waste sleeping now, I've got Hampi to explore.  Checked out a couple of hotels for this evening,  the Shanbhag Tower seemed quite reasonable at 400 rupees for a single.  The local auto-rickshaw drivers were annoyingly persistent, didn't seem to matter how many time I said I didn't need a rickshaw as I was catching the bus to Hampi, they just kept on. The best offer was 80 rupees, but the bus was only 6 rupees, and I dont think the bus is any less uncomfortable that an auto, so why pay the extra?

The bus took about half an hour to cover the 15km, with only a few stops on the way.  Quite a few interesting buildings on the way in to Hampi itself, looked like it would be a good place to visit.  First stop was a cafe for breakfast and more coffee.  It was still quite early, and I was in no rush.  

Hampi had a settlement back in the third century AD, but is most famous for being the seat of the Vijayanagara Empire and a major centre of Hindu rule for 2 centuries from 1336.  An excert from our guide book: " The city was enormously wealthy, greater than Rome, with a market full of jewels, and palaces plated with gold, having held a monopoly of trade in spices and cotton.  It was very well fortified and defended by a large army. With the defeat in 1565 at Talikota at the hands of the Deccan Sultans, the city was largely destroyed.  Today, the stark and barren area of 26sq km on the right bank of the river Tungbadhambra has the ruins of the great empire strewn across it."  That is why I thought I had better come here to see what was left.

At the western end of Hampi Bazar is the Virupaksha temple, still fully in use today, with a 9 storey tower over the entrance gate.  Within is a large working courtyard, with laundry and daily chores being carried out, leading on to an inner temple area, but there is a 250 rupee charge to go inside, and I wasn't 250 rupee interested.  I've seen inside enough temples for quite a while, especially if one has to pay.  

To the south of Virupaksha, I saw a group of abandoned temples on what I discovered to be Hemakuta Hill, a large, sloping, plateau of granite, dotted with structures constructed of granite slabs.    The sun was getting fairly hot by now, it was only 930 but it was beating down mercilessly on the exposed granite, so I took my time wandering around the temples, finding shade wherever I could.  I saw a number of colourful and interesting birds around this area, including a fabulous hoopoe, with its huge crest and long downward pointing beak.  It sat posing on top of a granite column for a good 10 minutes, giving me plenty of time to study it and take a few pictures.  Further on , I saw a lovely small green bee eater, flitting from bush to bush, a brilliant green colour with a chestnut head.  By that I mean he had a chestnut coloured head, not that he had a chestnut for a head.  Do try to keep up.

We bought a small book about Indian wildlife when we were in Darjeeling, and very useful it has been too.  I'm not very good at identifying birds, and even animals sometimes, so, although it only has a limited range of animals, birds, and plants, its been invaluable.  Otherwise my descriptions would have been limited to big green bird with small beak, small black bird with two wings, etc, Not very informative.

Some of the temples were filled with fine stone carvings on the walls, but others were quite plain and even crudely made in places, with the stones roughly cut and ill-fitting.  I guess they may have been built at different times and with different budgets,   Some even looked as though they might have been cobbled together from the stones of other temples.  All very interesting to look at though, and with it being so quiet, it was peaceful and relaxing as well.  Except, that is, for one foreign couple, carrying a guitar, and dashing from temple to temple calling out loudly for some lost. friends.  I think if I had been their friends, I might have tried to get my self lost as well!

Back down to Hampi Bazar, stopping briefly for a cold drink, I made my way east up the wide expanse of the bazar, towards some steps up to a small Hanuman (the monkey god) temple.  It's not too clear from my guide book, but I think this main drag was a chariot road, and for most of its length is lines by corridors of granite pillars, topped by granite plinths.  Quite impressive now, it must have been spectacular in its heyday.  The stone steps at the end curled their way up the rocky slopes of the valley, with several small temples at odd intervals.  At the top of the rise, I suddenly came in sight of a large temple in the next valley,  and with nobody else around it sort of felt like I had just discovered it.  The temple is called Tiruvengalanathe, and there is absolutely nothing about it in my guide book so I can tell you nothing more than its pretty nice to look at.  There are two large 4 storey gateways, the lower halves being made of carved granite, but the upper halves are build of small red bricks, which have deteriorated badly over time.  The granite carvings are still quite well defined, but the carvings and moldings on the brick areas are only vaguely identifiable in places.  Maybe this is where the aforementioned gold plated temple were?  Who knows? Not me, thats for sure.

Inside the complex there was one particular building which had a large intact roof supported by many finely carved stone pillars.  The carvings, on all sides of the pillars,  were different on each one, and I soon noticed that one or two of them were positively pornographic.  I spent a few minutes (okay, maybe it was an hour) appreciating the fine detailed work before moving onto the next building within the site.  Some of the building have been partially restored, and in some places, new supporting walls have been built to prop up the old stonework.  Its been done quite well and blends in with the existing ruins quite well.

Walking north now, back towards the river Tungabhadra, I walked along another wide road lined by corridors of stone pillars.  The Archaeological Survey of India are busy at work here, excavating and rebuilding another temple to the side of the road.  It looks like it was a large water tank, and they have already dug down to the stone base, and are in the process of reconstructing the now familiar stone pillared corridors around the edges.  All the carrying work of taking the baskets of waste soil to a tipping site is done by women, while the men's occupation seems to be limited to standing around discussing how much soil needs to be moved, or holding on to the ropes to steady a hoisting operation.  Par for the course in India, I'd say from what I've seen.  

Well, I've managed to drag this on for far too long, so for the rest of the day I walked to a number of other temples and places in the northern half of Hampi, including the so-called Kings Balance, the Vitthala Temple, quite a few interesting birds, and many more long lines of stone pillared corridors, which, in case you haven't picked up on it yet, is one of the main features of Hampi. Well, so far as I see it, anyway.  Oh, and I saw the ruins of the stone bridge across the river, which, unusually, seemed to have been constructed of long lines of stone pillars. 

It was 4pm by the time I got back to Hampi Bazaar, well hot and quite tired by this stage. The rest of Hampi would have to wait until tomorrow morning.  I had a snack of a veggie samosa, (which turned out to be more like a Cornish pasty!). to tied (or is that tide? I dont know!) me over until dinner, then just managed to jump on the bus back to Hospet as it was pulling away.  

There was a different receptionist on at the Shanbhag Tower hotel when I rolled up at 5pm, he looked at me in disbelief when I said I was offered a single room for 400 rupees this morning.  He asked me what time that had been, I hope I didn't get the early guy in trouble when I said 7am, but he grunted a lot and then gave me a registration form to fill in.  I guess I was in.   They gave me a nice corner room on the first floor, a bit noisy with a school playground just outside the window, but I don't suppose they'll be there all night.  After a quick dinner of soup and chicken fried rice, I settled down with a couple of beers in my room and watched Bride and Prejudice, a great film, staring the gorgeous Aishwarya Rae, and some other people.   

Thursday - I had intended on getting up early, returning to Hampi for a few hours to explore the rest of the site by bicycle, before catching the bus back to Bangalore around midday.  But I felt terrible when I awoke at 830 after a difficult night, my cold had come back with a vengeance, and I didn't feel up to much at all.  Struggled out of bed some time later, a quick shower helped we wake up, then checked out of the hotel and made my way to the bus station.  Only had time to make a quick phone call to Rita to say I was on my way back, grab a couple of bottles of water and a packet of crisps for supplies, and jump onto the next Bangalore bound bus which was just pulling out.  Another close call.  Actually, it's not a good idea getting on buses just as they are pulling out, because they normally fill up just before they leave, and this bus was no exception.  It looked like it was standing room only, as I scanned the sea of faces looking (some might say staring, but they're only looking) up at me to try and find a gap.  I had just about resigned myself to having to stand, for some way at least, when the driver called me to the front and pointed to a small gap on the end of the seat behind the driver, the two other guys already sat there sidled along a bit and made enough room for a perch for me.  Thanks guys.  And we were off.  

As this was the regular bus, instead of the deluxe bus I had caught out to Hampi, it made a few more stops.  Also, it didn't have individual reclining seats, but it wasn't too bad, and it was only 156 rupees as well.  After an hour, we stopped at a large town and quite a few people got off, but luckily not too many people got back on.  The driver then directed me to sit on a double seat on the other side of the bus, which I then had to myself for most of the rest of the ride.  I felt a bit guilty at first, being given special treatment, but when I looked around the rest of the bus I saw that everyone was fairly spread out now,  The bus sped along fairly quickly, most of the roads were the newer fast expressways, as they're referred to, dual carriageways, but alarmingly, there was still two way traffic on each carriageway at times.  

It was dark by the time we reached the outskirts of Bangalore, and then we hit the traffic jams.  It took another hour before we pulled into the central bus station at 7:30.  There was a long queue at the prepaid auto-rickshaw office, so I flagged one down on the road, a very laid back driver who didn't seem to care how much I wanted to pay to get to the Ajantha Hotel.  The traffic wasn't too bad at this time of the evening, so we made it back in 20 minutes.

Found Rita in our room, still working on her TEFL course.  We were both starving, using the term loosely, so we made for the Caesars restaurant across the road, where I had a fantastic chateaubriand steak (too big though) and Rita had a chicken Dianne.  Ok, I know, its not traditional Indian fare, but you've got to have a break sometimes.      

Back to Itinerary

Fri 3rd February, 2006

After all the excitement and travel of the last couple of days, I was whacked out this morning, and we're both suffering with throat infections, which we put down to the dust and pollution.  Had a quiet day at the hotel.

Saturday - feeling a little better, we were up early and walked over to Commercial Street, a good half and hours walk. This area is a busy shopping area, and also home to the Mysore Saree shop.  We weren't in the market for a saree (I've tried one and they dont suit me!) but they also sell silk cloth at wholesale prices.  We were buying some silk for our friend Anne in England, who makes fantastic pure silk bedspreads that are absolutely unique in design, and which make exceptional gifts.  No, she didn't pay us to say that!  We got a bit carried away, and, because of the reasonable prices, bought quite a bit of material for ourselves.  Not exactly sure what we will be using it for, but at least sometime in the future we wont be kicking ourselves and saying we wished we had bought some silk in Bangalore that time we were there!  Or will we? only time will tell.

Sunday morning saw us heading out early again for a long walk, hoping to avoid the heavier pollution later in the day when the traffic gets going.  Walked around a large lake, looked like it was reserved for some sort of military use, so perhaps I'd better not say anymore about it!  We also walked past some of the posher hotels in the area, including the Oberoi, which, we discovered, has a special Sunday lunch buffet with a wide choice of international dishes.  Sounds great to me.  They said they were fully booked but must have taken pity on our anguished faces and managed to squeeze two more in for 1pm.    I decided I didn't have a thing to wear for such an occasion, so we nipped down to the Central department store and I bought a couple of new lightweight shirts in the sale.  I've only got two t-shirts and one long sleeved travel shirt with me, and they've all taken the toll of frequent mixed colour (no apartheid in our wash) hand-washes, and after 5 months are showing distinct signs of wear.  So now I felt very smart in my new attire, it even went well with my shorts!  Can't let the side down, you know. 

The buffet at the Oberoi was very good, if not quite as international as we had been led to believe.  Included in the 1200 rupees a head was as much "champagne" as you wanted.  It turned out to be an Indian sparkling wine, from the Sula winery, but was quite drinkable.  I wasn't surprised it wasn't champagne as I had seen bottles of the French stuff in a wine shop, and the prices started at 3000 rupees, so they weren't going to be giving that away.  There was a wide selection of starters, with various cold meats, fish, salads and vegetables.  The main courses appeared to be mostly curry based, and on further investigation we found they were indeed, curry based.  However, there were several cook-to-order sections, where we could order tandoor oven cooked goodies (yes, curried), a grill serving small steaks of beef, chicken and mutton, and even a pasta counter with assorted sauces available on demand.  The deserts were something else though, an astounding range of at least thirty mouth watering, colourful, delicate, chocolateey, tempting, creamy......need I go on?  Our plan of attack was to concentrate on the wide range of starters, especially the salads, which are very rare in most parts of India,  Then we would sample some of the main courses, and finally the desserts.  The buffet closed at 3pm, so we had to plan our time carefully, not rushing too much but also making sure we would have time for the sumptuous desserts.  By 2:30pm, I had managed several plates of various starters, followed by a main course of grilled steak and curried vegetables, but Rita had blown it, she had got stuck on the starters, especially the salads, and now didn't have the appetite for a main course. Never mind, we still had time for an assault on the desserts table, so I led the way.  I wont go into too much detail, but I can say it got messy.  

In the debrief we decided that I had probably had too many desserts, but they were really good.  We'd managed our fair share of bubbly, but were shocked to find we were charged an outrageous 80 rupees for each bottle of mineral water we had, we should have skipped the water and just had bubbly.   Needless to say, we didn't do much else for the rest of the day.

Monday - Oh my stomach.   I think it was the piano-shaped chocolate cake complete with cream keyboard that finally did it for me.  Actually, not feeling too bad considering.  Managed a bit of a walk, and even looked at some cakes in a bakery without feeling queasy.   Found a pub near Brigade road called NASA, where the interior is decked out like a space ship, and the waiters wear pilots uniforms, and most importantly their happy hour runs from 11am to 6pm.  That's a long 60 minutes! They also have more than one 20 watt bulb turned on, so for an Indian pub, it's remarkably light in here. A pitcher of beer is 170 rupees during this time, so we felt it would have been rude not to try one.  Or two. 

Tuesday -  Another long walk this morning, this time we headed out south then east, and did a big loop.  The main roads were thick with exhaust fumes, so we tried to keep to the quieter back roads where we could, walking through some well-to-do areas, as well as a few not so well off ones.  Came across a typical South India style temple, dedicated to Siva, partially hidden behind a line of shops.  The figures decorating the entrance tower are brightly coloured and very detailed, not sure what they are made of, it might be carved stone or maybe plaster.  But the whole effect is quite startling, especially against the bright blue sky.  For a change we went inside this temple, leaving our shoes with the chappel keepers at the gate.  We were accompanied by several people who claimed to be temple security, pointing out the various altars to the different gods, then wanting some baksheesh for their efforts.  Difficult to avoid sometimes, and this was one of those times, so we gave them 10 rupees each, which they were sort-of .  Had to give another ten rupees each to the chappel keepers as well. 

We've got to send a couple of parcels back to England, unload some of the stuff we're carrying so we're not carrying too much on our flight back home in three weeks time.  Best to start early, and we've got the silk to send back too.  Spent a few hours going through our possessions, deciding what we needed with us, what we could chuck out, and what we should send back.  We checked out the post office on Brigade road to find what the procedure is here, turned out to be the usual, parcels must be wrapped in white cloth bags and sealed with wax.  We were too late to do anything today, so we checked to find where we could get the sewing work done, then planned to come back tomorrow morning.  Had a nice evening meal at a restaurant called 20 Feet High, I had a great chicken fajitas, and Rita had a great Caesar salad.     


Thought for the day:  Age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill

Posted our parcels back to England, yours should be with you in 7 to 15 days Anne.   Linda, if you read this, expect a parcel in a similar time scale, although deepest darkest Devon is not served quite so quickly as Exmouth, so it might take a day or so more before the donkeys make it out to you!

Made our escape plan today, we're off to Mysore tomorrow.  At last.  

Back to Itinerary

Thu 9th February, 2006

Packed up and checked out of the hotel, we'd been paying some money every few days, at there request, so we had nothing to pay this morning.  Set off towards the bus station, about 6km east of our hotel.  Hadmeant to check the map before we left, but now it was packed I couldn't be bothered to dig it out.  But having taken the route a couple of times in a rickshaw, I was quietly confident that I could find the way.  Traffic was quite heavy, and lots of exhaust fumes as well so we used scarves as mask to try and cut out the worst of it, not sure how effective that is, but it made us feel better.  On the way we passed a few things we hadn't noticed before, including a South Indian style temple with a huge statute of a parakeet as the centre-piece. Rita tells me they, the temples, are called palavers, I wonder if that's where the saying "What a palaver" comes from?  With the help of a few friendly locals we found the bus station and  survived the ride reasonably intact.  The express non-stopping bus to Mysore, allegedly only takes 3 hours, doesn't have a roof rack for our bikes but does have a large luggage boot, which is where we put them. Comfortable, individual reclining seats, and only 250 rupees for us and our bikes to Mysore.  The bus was empty when we got on, but within 10 minutes it had filled up and we set off.  

After a couple of hours the non-stopping bus stopped for lunch.  Mmmmm, I gues thta means we've got another 2 hours to go, as meal breaks are usually taken halfway through a journey.  Never mind, 4 hours is not too long.  Arrived in the main Mysore bus station mid-afternoon, drew a crowd of 20 or so as soon as our bikes emerged from the luggage compartment.   We had planned on checking out the grand sounding Bombay Tiffany Hotel, but while we try to figure out where we were on the map, we saw the Ganesh Palace Inn, and as Ganesh is supposed to be lucky and the place looked reasonable, we gave it a go.  600 rupees for the good sized room with large windows overlooking the scene in front of the hotel, which included the Wesley Cathedral, a small public garden area, another church, and several busy roads.  Might not sound too impressive to you, but its one of the most interesting views we've had from a hotel in India.   

We stayed in Mysore 9 years ago,  at a hotel called the Mannars, which turned out to be only a hundred metres from our current hotel.  I passed it on the way to have lunch, but it looked as though we must have stayed there in its heyday, wouldn't like to stay there now.  Went to a rooftop restaurant that we also went to 9 years ago, and I think they still have the same surly waiter they had back then.  Food was disappointing, and they obviously didn't want me to stay as they brought me the bill soon after the food!.  I wont be back.   Back to Itinerary

Fri 10th February, 2006

Planning day, lunch at Ritz.  If you've been to the Ritz in Mysore, you'll know it's not a grand place, but the food was okay and they have a shady outdoor eating area.  Got pestered by a lot of young blokes who said we had to go to the incense making competition up by the big church.  Couldn't work out what their angle was, but they were all most insistent.  So we didn't go.   Back to Itinerary

Sat 11th February, 2006

Cycled to Srirangapatnam, about 12km north of Mysore.  Took a wrong turning on the outskirts of Mysore, on the advice of a group of locals Ended up skirting the edge of Mysore for 4 or 5 km, stopping at junctions and asking for directions again and being told to carry on in the same direction.  I think it was one of those cases where they don't really understand what we're asking for, so they just point in the direction we're already travelling in, not wishing to offend and trying to be helpful.  We don't need help like that.  Finally, outside  bus station, one person finally understood our pronunciation of Srirangapatnam and told us to go back the way we had come and take the Bangalore road.  Oh well, we need the exercise.

The road from Mysore to Bangalore is being upgraded to a four lane super highway, as they call it here, a dual carriageway as we know it.  Working is progressing well, but the bridge building bits seems to be lacking behind the rest, so at every stream and river the road is reduced to one carriageway.  The traffic here doesn't seem so bad, and the buses and trucks seem more tolerant of cyclists, which is especially welcome when we are cycling on one of the contra flow sections and there is nowhere for us to escape due to the foot high curbstones in the central reservation.

Srirangapatnam is a fort built on a island, formed by two rivers.  Originally built in the 10th century, it has been rebuilt several times, and is even being repaired today by the Archeological Survey of India.  There are the remains of three lines of fortified walls, surrounding a large area of the 3km long island.   They were badly damaged in the battle between Tipu Sultan and Colonel Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington.  Actually, I think it wasn't a battle just between those two, they both had big armies helping them. I thought I'd better clear up any misconception there. 

There is still a town within the fortress walls, and being a bit worn out by the cycle ride in the hot midday sun, we found a chai stall and sat it the shade to recover for a while.  We were frequently approached by groups of schoolchildren demanding school pens, no beating about the bush, they didn't even ask us which country we were from, the compulsory first question to ask any foreigner when you first meet them.  I think its written in the constitution.

After drinking lots of water and Sprite, we cycled through the small town to the Jama Masjid, Tipu Sultan's palace, with its two tall minarets.     A kilometre down the road we found the Daria Daulat Bagh, "Splendor of the Sea",  described as a lovely garden, but it seems to have been all ploughed up, although it is still laid out as a formal garden with rows of low hedging along the pathways.  Rita went in for a closer look, the museum had lots of paintings of battle scenes between British, French and Mysore armies.  I stayed outside, guarding the bikes from the marauding monkeys looking for mischief.

Another couple of kms down the road is the Gumbaz, Tipu Sultans mausoleum, a quiet and peaceful place, once you get inside anyway.  The name doesn't quite have the same mystical ring, to it, does it, Gumbaz, compared with that other famous Indian mausoleum, the Taj Mahal.  Quite a few hawkers and beggars outside, making the approach hazardous.  Rita watched the bikes this time while I took a gander, the central building is quite ornate, with carved wood and ivory inlay.  Cycled back around the north side of the island to see a few of the other sites to be seen, including a stone marker on the spot that Tipu Sultans body was found after his last battle.  That was exciting.  The 8th century Ranganatha temple apparently has the second largest reclining Shiva statue in the state of Karnataka, but the temple was closed so we didn't see it. There was, however, a very large ceremonial chariot/trailer parked up outside, with ornate wood carvings huge wooden wheels.  It had scaffolding around the upper parts, so I guess it was still being worked on, but at this tie it was at least 30 feet tall.  It'll be nice when it's finished.

The temperature drops slightly after 3pm, and it was just bearable for the cycle back to Mysore by 3:30pm.  It didn't take as long on the way back, as we knew the way and didn't give the locals a chance to give us duff directions.  We arrived back at the hotel hot and sun burnt, but both agreed that it had been an enjoyable ride overall.

Went to the Parklane restaurant for dinner.  The place is very popular with foreigners and we saw more there than I think we've seen anywhere else in India.  No quite sure why Mysore is such a popular place with foreign tourists, there's the Palace and some nice gardens, which we will visit in the coming days, but there are equally interesting attractions in many other towns and cities in India.  And I dont remember seeing many tourists at all when we were here 9 years ago, although we were here at the beginning of December that time, a little earlier in the tourist season   The restaurant is nicely set up, with a balcony area overlooking the enclosed courtyard garden. The food was quite good, if a little difficult to get hot and all at the same time.  They seem to have their own opinion when certain dishes should be served, not matter what you request, so finger chips always turn up ten minutes before any other dish, because that's the way they do it!

Sunday.  Had a lazy day after yesterdays exertions.  In the evening, we went to see the Palace lights being switched on at 7pm, all 50,000 bulbs, or so they claim.  Actually, I saw 3 bulbs missing, so I think they should amend their claim to 49,997.  Despite that disappointment, it was actually a fairly impressive sight, with the building, spires, and domes outlined with bulbs. There were hundreds of people there, a lot of them tourists, and a great time was had by all.   Back to Itinerary

Mon 13th February, 2006

A day at the races - a great day out.  Mysore racecourse is a smaller affair than Hyderabad, but quite quaint.  We'd been told the racing started at midday, so arrived just before, only to find that the first race was at 2pm. We looked for, but couldn't find, the entry stalls, but somehow managed to wander into the paddock area, unchallenged.  There were a few people hurrying about their business, but nobody looked at us twice, so we sat in the paddock stand for a while, then wandered over to the plebs side of the stand, where someone in authority spotted us and kicked us out the main gate.  At least we knew where it was now!  A few minutes later, after purchasing our tickets at an exorbitant 20 rupees each, we were allowed back in. At least the tickets gave us a free entry into a prize draw, with a stunning first prize of 5000 rupees.  The canteen was a little basic, but having not eaten so far to day, we were basically hungry, so we sampled a few of the simpler dishes, i.e. dhal and roti. I spotted someone eating what looked like a tennis ball sized lump of chocolate sponge.  I'll try some of that, looks exciting.  It wasn't.  I was warned to chew it well, so after studying the technique used by other punters, I broke off a piece of the doughy substance, soaked it in dhal, then started chewing. It didn't really taste of much and took a little chewing, but wasn't too bad.  I gave up after about a third of it, too much like hard work.  They said it was made of some sort of wheat, and would make me strong.  I think they meant it would make my jaw strong.

The racing went well, we used the bookies instead of the Tote, getting better odds.  I had a couple of winners in the first few races, then managed to pick complete donkeys for the rest.  Rita had better luck, and had quite a few winners. After one race, when we thought I had won on an each way bet but Rita's had come nowhere,  the bookie gave me my 600 rupees, but then gave Rita 800 rupees!  What for?  We couldn't figure it out, perhaps he'd made a mistake, or perhaps he'd misheard the horse Rita had bet on.  Never mind, we wont complain.  

Our methods for picking winners varied enormously, from how pretty the horse looked to whether it walked nicely.  I even bet on one horse who I swear winked at me as it went around the paddock, a tip straight from the horses mouth, I thought, or should that be eye, but it came nowhere.  I thought I'd found a surefire way to success when I spotted one horse in the paddock relieving himself at length. And I mean at length, he had an enormous tadger, I see what they mean now when they say hung like a horse.  I figured after such a length pee, it would be greatly relieved and be able to run better, and it did, coming in first.  I knew I should have bet on it.  Unfortunately there were no more horses relieving themselves in the paddock after that, although I watched very closely, so I couldn't put my theory to any further tests.  But next time you're at the races, check out their toilet habits in the paddock, you'll probably spot the winner!

Tuesday.  Cycled out to a lake and park in the west of Mysore, don't know what it's called as there were no signs in English.  Which is also the reason we did not know we were not allowed to take our bikes in, but we found out that fact a few minutes of cycling down the lake perimeter path.  They allowed us to walk the bikes with us though, which was nice of them as we didn't want to leave them outside.  The park is very peaceful, and we saw a lot of birds, including some fabulous painted storks.  No, they weren't actually painted, that's just their name.  They are quite a striking bird, standing a metre tall, with a heavy yellow bill, bald pinkish head, white plumage with black bars, and pink patches near its backside, a bit like a nappy rash, I thought.   We spent twenty minutes watching a group of three or four through a break in the trees lining the lake, but when we moved on a few hundred metres we cam across an island in the lake, close to the shore, where the trees were populated with hundreds of painted storks.  It was fascinating watching them launch from their nests, swooping over the water and disappearing into trees along the shore, to return a few minutes later carrying nest building material.  The landing at the nest was most ungainly, involving much flapping of wings and dangling of long legs seeking a purchase. They make an interesting sound, possibly for mating, by snapping their beaks shut, sounding like two halves of a coconut shell being banged together.  Their was also a bit of syncronised dancing going on, also to do with mating I'd guess.  We also saw some Coucal, a large black bird with chestnut brown wings and a beady red eye, and plenty of the blue tailed bee eater.   Its a 4km walk around the lake, which takes quite a while when you're stopping to watch the birds.  We made it over half way before a guard with a big stick kicked us out through a side gate, saying "No bicycles".    Never mind, it was getting hot, so we cycled back to our hotel.

Wednesday.   Temperature is definitely picking up, its in the mid thirties by midday now, and staying warmer atnight as well.  Had a day chilling out and making some plans.   Back to Itinerary

Thu 16th February, 2006

Day trip to Ranganathittoo Bird Sanctuary.  Cycled out to the bird sanctuary, starting at 8:30 to try to beat the heat.  Its located 5km further on on Srirangapatnam, where we cycled the other day, so we didn't have to rely on dodgy local directions this time and made it there in under an hour. 

What a fantastic place! Clean, well kept gardens, with nicely laid out footpaths, benches, shelters, shaded walkways. The lot!  There is also a new, clean and airy cafe, for snacks and drinks, and several kiosks selling cold drinks, ice creams and snacks.  But of course, the main attraction is the riverside, from where you look out over the river Cauvery and the islands where the birds nest. There is a good riverbank footpath that runs for a few hundred yards, but has limited views in several places, so you really need binoculars to see anything from there.  The best way to view the birds is to take a trip on a rowing boat, at 20 rupees a person, or you can, as we did, have a boat and oarsman to yourself for 200 rupees for half an hour.  

We had an excellent ride (or should that be cruise, voyage or sail?) being slowly paddled around the islands which were heavily populated by a dozen species of birds, and the occasional crocodile, Quite big marsh crocodiles, at that.  Without wishing to bore you too much with the details, we saw: painted stork, open billed stork, black crowned night heron, Eurasian spoonbill (with lovely fine feathers dangling from their heads like a wig), cormorant, pond heron, Brahminy kite, river tern (as opposed to a river bend?), darter (aka snakebird), black billed ibis, and probably some more we've forgotten.  We also saw a colony of large fruit bats, most of the time just hanging around, but fortunately for us they were disturbed by a troop of monkeys at one point so we got to see them flying around, a rare sight in daylight.  Fascinating creatures.  

Our half hour was all too quickly over, and we found ourselves back at the small landing dock, surrounded by a group of around 40 people, who turned out to be a large family called Patang, on holiday from Tamil Nadu.  After much hand shaking and big smiles and hellos, we finally escaped to the relative quiet of the cafe for lunch. Later, we mooched around the shady pathways of the sanctuary, until mid afternoon, after the hottest part of the day, then set off back to Mysore. 

Friday. I've got a fever. Started out with shivers and shakes, feeling cold but high temperature.  Could it be bird flu? No reported cases in India, yet, but we did go to a bird sanctuary with a lot of migratory birds yesterday.  By mid afternoon feeling a lot better, and by 7pm well enough to go out to the Parklane for a meal and a couple of beers. (Well, I'm always well enough for a couple of beers)  Nurse Rita did a wonderful job, although she could have worked a little harder on the uniform.

Saturday.  What are we going to do next, after India?  A question constantly on our minds.  Spent the day doing research on the internet.  We'll let you know when we've decided, but I'll give you a clue.  It might involve travel.

Sunday.  Up early for a nice early Sunday morning walk for an hour or so, exploring some of the previously unseen areas of Mysore.  Passed the train station on the way, so we checked out trains to Chennai.  8pm, we were told. "Are there any other trains?" Shake of the head, which is not always easy to interpret . Further delving required. "Is there a train in the morning?" "Yes, 2."  "Two trains or 2am?" "2pm."  !!!!!

Heard on the news this morning that India has just had its first confirmed case of the H5N1 strain of bird flu.  I immediately thought of my brief fever on Friday, but I've had nothing since, so I wont worry too much.  An hour or so later, BBC World reported that there had been a human death from bid flu.  Already?  Obviously it's been around for a while before they detected it.  Then we heard that there were 50,000 dead chickens they were investigating!  50,000? Should that have rung a few alarm bells somewhere a bit earlier?  We're a long way from the area where the bird flu has been confirmed, but I have a feeling that it is going to turn out to be far more widespread that currently reported, although I really hope not. 

Back to Itinerary

Tue 21st February, 2006

Time to move on, checked out the hotel by 9am, cycled the 200 yards up to the bus station.  The buses to Bangalore are very frequent, one every 15 minutes, so it didn't take us long to find one.  The bikes and a couple of our panniers went in the luggage compartment, which were empty even though the bus was almost full, and we just managed to get a double seat at the back.  Bit of a bumpy ride, especially being near the back, but it was a bit quicker than the ride out to Mysore because we didn't stop for a meal break.  Arrived at Bangalore at 1pm, and immediately checked in to the Mahaveer hotel near the bus station.  Compact and bijou room, but we're only staying one night. It's another 8 hours to Chennai, so we had decided to split the journey up and have another night in Bangalore.  Had an excellent masala dosa at a multi floor restaurant down the road from the hotel, recommended by the guy on reception, which I thought was very nice of him especially as they do food in the hotel.

Rita went off to find an internet cafe, I went back to the bus station to book tickets for tomorrows journey.  This shouldn't take long, they've got an efficient booking service here.  Or so I thought.  I checked the list of departures and spotted a 9am departure to Chennai, an Ultra Deluxe service.  Ultra deluxe? There was also a deluxe, super deluxe, and a video service.  I noticed there was no standard service offered.  The Ultra Deluxe service is operated by the SETC bus line, and scanning the array of booking windows in the hall, I spotted the SETC counter with one window.  The clerk was serving somebody else, so I waited patiently, and when he had finished, I started asking for two tickets to...., but was cut off as he said "No, no, no, wrong window, you must go to the next window." How does he know, I heven't told hime where I want to go yet! Then he turned away and started watching a tv.  The next counter was for the KSRTC line, and they didn't have any service to Chennai, so I asked a friendly looking local and he pointed at the SETC counter.  I'll try again.  I tapped on the window to draw his attention from the tv, he didn't look best pleased to see me again.  "I want to go to Chennai".  "No, no buses, you must go to next window."  Me: "What do you mean no buses, is there a strike?  Are there any buses tomorrow?". Annoyed clerk: "No, no buses" and waves his hand dismissively to the next counter.  I retreated again, surely there must be an easier way.  Perhaps we should just turn up in the morning and pay on the bus? But there is only one deluxe, sorry, Ultra deluxe service in the morning, most services seem to run overnight. I regrouped, )if one person can regroup) and attacked again.  "I want two tickets for the 9am Ultra Deluxe service to Chennai tomorrow" I blurted out before he could interrupt me. He paused.  "Only one bus, 9 o'clock in the morning".  "Yes, I know, can I have two tickets please!"  He handed me a form to fill out.  Progress. Two minutes later I was the proud owner of two tickets to Chennai on the 9am Ultra Deluxe service, seat number 1 and 2.   Back to Itinerary

Wed 22nd February, 2006

Not sure why its called an Ultra Deluxe service, it doesn't look any more flash than the other long distance buses around the station, in fact its not half as flash as that big Volvo over there.  Never mind, the seats are fairly comfortable, but we are disconcertingly close to the tv screen at the front.  What chance do you think there is of having a nice, quiet, gentle comedy, preferably with English subtitles?  I'll give you a hint. Absolutely no chance.  It's masala movies all the way, played very loud.  For those not familiar with the term, a masala (a spicy mixture) movie is a little bit of everything, i.e. love, dancing, murder, dancing, humour, drama, dancing, murder, and oh, did I mention, lots of dancing with big syncronised groups of men or women, rarely mixed, doing big pelvic movements and quick hand motions. Get the picture.  There's also the big fight scenes, some of which even make the fighting in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon look reasonable.  

We had stocked up with water and fruit at the bus station, so we didn't sample the delights on offer at the lunch stop at 1pm, although the establishment looked quite good, and a meal was only 15 rupees.  Back on the road soon after, another film came on, louder than the last. Rita had her ear plugs in, and I have an MP3 player, but I could barely hear my music even on full volume. Oh well, only another 4 hours to go.

Continued on our Tamil Nadu page

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