The Amazing Race: India, Luxury Style
Faced with the prospect of spending the entire Saturday in Bangalore with hardly anything to do and a late flight to Hong Kong (11 pm), we decided to take another road trip instead. The destination: Mysore, the cultural capital of the state of Karnataka, and a city known for its palaces and temples.
We dubbed this Amazing Race: India, Part 2, but it really didn’t compare to our Jaipur jaunt. First of all, our group was much bigger – 23 out of the class of 60 or so people decided to join in. We even managed to negotiate a bus with the travel agency that was transporting us around in Bangalore, so we didn’t have to go through the train experience again. This also allowed us to load our suitcases on the bus in case time got short and we had to go straight to the airport for our Hong Kong flight.
The ride to Mysore took about 3 hours. Our first stop was the Mysore palace, one of the most popular tourist attractions in India after the Taj Mahal. The palace in its current form was finished in the early 20th century. Parts of it are closed off to the public because they are still in use by heirs of the royal family. The palace has several temples on the grounds and but its also magnificent on the inside. Although I wasn’t able to take pictures myself because photography is prohibited inside the palace, I was able to download some from the official website of the palace so make sure to check those out below.
Once we were done with the palace, our tour guide surprised us with elephant and camel rides that were available behind the palace. My team had already done elephant rides at Jaipur but the rest of the people were super excited, as elephant rides are apparently a common item on people’s checklists when coming to India! 🙂 I personally was happy that I could ride a camel, since we contemplated doing that in Jaipur but in the end decided to send more time in the palaces. The camel ride was a bit scary at first as the camel’s gait makes you rock back and forth a lot, but I quickly got used to it.
I also got to experience an elephant trick we missed in Jaipur. Apparently, this elephant was trained to accept tips from us, pass them on to the mahout (the person who controls the elephant) with his trunk, then “thank” us by laying its trunk on our heads. I don’t know who figured this out and how but once we saw someone in our group do it, several of us tried it out. Of course, all this was well documented below. 🙂
Next on our list was a temple high up in the Mysore Hills. The temple was very similar to the one we saw on the grounds of the Mysore palace, so for me personally it was a bit disappointing. However, the drive up the mountain provided beautiful birds-eye view of Mysore.
In addition, the Mysore hills are home to another, more interesting temple we visited next – the Bull (Nandi) temple. Nandi is the bull that serves as the mount of Shiva and as Shiva’s gatekeeper in Hindi mythology. The Nandi shrine we saw was carved out of one huge piece of granite and was very ornate.
We ended our excursion at Lalitha Mahal Palace hotel. As the name suggests, this was originally a palace that was built by the Maharaja of Mysore to house his most important guest – the Viceroy of India (the head of the British Administration in India while the country was still a British colony). It has since been converted into a hotel. We grabbed lunch there and headed back to the Bangalore to catch our flight to Hong Kong.
The drive that tooks 3 hours in the morning took 5 hours in the evening. Bangalore is notorious for its bad traffic, a result of its incredible growth. According to the census India just completed in 2011, Bangalore grew by 46% compared to last census – more than double the next largest growth of 20% in Delhi. We lost most of our time at three intersections, one of which was congested because a fight had broken out between drivers in the middle of it. The bus driver’s co-pilot had to get out of the bus and get people off the intersection so we can keep moving. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare but we were all on edge because we could have easily missed the plane if we had hit more traffic.
India was a unique, mind-boggling, humbling experience. I definitely made the most out of my visit and I am glad I was able to see all the things I did but by the time I got the airport on Saturday night, I was ready for Hong Kong. One has to go slightly crazy in order to cope with India and I was looking very much forward to gaining my sanity back!