This morning after a quick breakfast at the hotel, we checked out and met our driver and guide for the next three days – Mujib (I am guessing that is the approximate spelling).
He looked in his forties, tall, very dark and unfortunately not handsome. He had buck teeth, pot belly and carried a sombre expression. We found out that he isn’t very chatty but through the trip, he kind of grew on us and we began to actually feel comfortable around him.
Mujib drove a Tata Indigo hatchback – a small enough car to weave through city traffic and sturdy enough to endure the pot-holed road south. The car is visibly used but otherwise suitable for our needs and the air-conditioned worked fine. However the ‘stereo’ system was slightly faulty and the volume of the Hindi music automatically kept increasing till we couldn’t even hear ourselves talk.
It took us a full hour to actually leave Bangalore proper. We passed many construction projects of which most notable is the extension of the MRT track within the city. The current one only covers a short section of the MG Road.
The estimated travel duration to Mysore is 3 – 4 hours including the journey out of the city. However we had requested for a detour to Somnathpur enroute to Mysore to see a 14th century temple.
The detour extended our journey by another 2 hours as we had to leave the two lane highway to travel on a dusty one lane village road which was dominated by bull pulled tractors and carts carrying tower high piles of hay. Many of these tractors were not even driven by anyone.
We stopped at one of the towns for lunch in a neighbourhood canteen. I was a little apprehensive about eating here with all kinds of fears about food poisoning and what not. But whatever fears I had vanished with the first bite of the very crispy, oily, spicy and tasty masala thosai. It was so delicious I even finished Theo’s share. All that for about SGD 3 including Mujib’s meal.
Somnathpur is smacked right in the middle of a small village with no touristy signboards and a lone peddler in sight. The entrance is free but unless you know what to look out for, the temple is just another ancient stone relic. One of the free lance tour guides approached us and offered to guide us through its history for Rs 250.
Of all the facts that was shared to us, the one thing that struck me was that the Hindis believed that once an idol of the gods is defaced or broken, it is no longer effective. So this temple which took 60 odd years to build was abandoned after only 50 years when the Mughals raided it and destroyed parts of the idols.
Of another interest is learning about the names and functions of the various gods – Ganesh, Krishna, Shiva, Lakshmi, Brahma to name a few. I have always been quite disturbed by the appearances of many of these gods – blue skinned, elephant head and fearsome features. But after this cultural immersion, I’ve become a bit more enlightened and curious about the many stories where these gods personify human traits.
Before we completed our guided tour though, throngs of students arrived for their excursion/field trip and they were really amused to see us there. They kind of treated us like ‘superstars’, surrounding us, shaking our hands and speaking to us in English. I think they must have thought that we weren’t conversant in English because most looked shocked and shied away when I replied to them in English.
After that, we headed back up the bumpy one way road and onto the highway into Mysore. By the time we arrived in Mysore, it was close to 6pm. Mujib told us to check in and take a short rest and to come back down by 6.45pm as he wanted to bring us to another hot spot – the Brindavan Gardens. We ended up staying in Hotel Sandesh the Prince for about US90 a night.
I read that the gardens was a famous local hotspot for its water fountains and Bollywood music but nothing prepared me for the spectacle when I arrived after a 45 minutes drive. The place was teeming with locals of all ages cramming to get inside the gardens for the last show of the evening.
We paid our entrance fee of Rp15 and then began our ‘migration’ from entrance to the amphitheater a good 500 meters away. This was reminiscence of the crowd in Chinatown the night before Chinese New Year. Other than us, we only spotted another Caucasian couple so you could imagine we got quite a bit of attention from the locals, who kept teasing us in English, thinking we were PRCs.
The gardens was dimly lit in the night so I inadvertently bumped into quite a few locals to their chagrin along the narrow paths flanking the lake. I am sorry I have a little night blindness. Finally after a 20 minutes push, we arrived at the highlight of the gardens which is a lone water fountain in the middle of a mini theater.
We waited till about 7.45pm for the show to begin. At the first sounds of Bollywood music, the crowds went hysterical and they began to dance, clap and sing along around the fountain and on their seats. As I gazed at the water performance and the myriad of lights dancing along with the rhythmic Bollywood music, I couldn’t figure out which was the bigger entertainment.
Theo and I decided after 15 minutes to begin our departure so that we need not squeeze with the crowd back. Paying 20 Rp each, we decided to take the ferry that would take us across the man made lake. Outside the gardens there were some peddlers selling different local handmade memorabilia and I got us here mini umbrellas.
After that, Mujib brought us back to our hotel to retire for the night.