Temple on Chamundi Hill
Tricia and I were on our own during the day, because Shobhana was attending the South Asian Languages Analysis conference (SALA). First, our guide took us to the temple at the top of Chamundi Hill. This is a structure from the 1600s that is a popular site for pilgrims. To get there, you drive up a winding road with great views of the city.
Near the top of the hill, we had an exciting moment. A policeman stopped us and had a conversation with the driver and guide. The driver turned the car around. The guide explained that a politician was going to visit the temple and therefore, no tourists were allowed to go there this morning. We would have to go back. The driver thought for a few minutes. Then, he turned the car around again, floored the gas pedal, and roared up the road past the amazed and angry policeman. Tricia and I stared at each other, astonished and elated. Sure enough, there were tons of visitors at the top of the mountain and no sign of a politician. Through later conversations with the driver and guide, I came to understand that the policeman probably just wanted some baksheesh. We really admired our driver!
The Chamundi temple area was crowded with pilgrims and other visitors, as well as cows and monkeys. The temple is dedicated to a goddess, Parvati, who slew a demon called Mahishasura. The name Mysore means “abode of Mahishasura.”
On the way back down the mountain, we stopped and took pictures of the view. We also visited Nandi, the black bull, halfway down the mountain. Nandi is the god Siva’s vehicle.
Next the guide took us to the Maharajah’s Palace, a structure that is only about a hundred years old. It is a highly decorated venue. Again, we were not allowed to take photos indoors.
Tricia and I Take Control
Then the guide insisted on taking us to a store of his choice – he persuaded us by saying it had a much nicer bathroom than the Maharajah’s Palace. This seemed plausible, as public restrooms in India tended to be rather minimal in their amenities. By this time, however, Tricia and I recognized what we were in for: another Kashmiri shop where the guide would get a commission. So we “broke the code”: we used the restroom, made some polite small talk with the salespeople, and left fairly quickly. In fact, when we returned to the car, the guide was still in the shop, no doubt getting paid and expecting us to spend more time shopping.
We announced to the driver that we had selected a restaurant from our guidebook for lunch. He tried to persuade us that he had a better idea. We remained adamant. Then the guide returned and we let him know that we had made plans for lunch.
The lunch was at a fun kind of counter-cultural restaurant. Near the end, Tricia noticed that the people at the next table a) had bags from a silk shop in Mysore and b) were speaking German. Msyore is a center for the silk industry. So Tricia asked me to strike up a conversation with the Germans about the store. It turned out that they were yoga students spending three months in Mysore. The store had been recommended by their teacher. They liked it; they thought it offered competitive prices, and they appreciated that the prices were fixed. We decided to go there in the afternoon.
After lunch, the guide took us to a government-run shopping emporium, and then arranged to leave us for the rest of the afternoon. We sensed that he had given up on taking us to more stores of his choosing.
Shopping: Silk Shop and Produce Market
For the rest of the afternoon, we wandered around a prime shopping area of Mysore. First destination: the silk shop recommended by the German yoga students. Score! They had amazingly beautiful products for astoundingly low prices. Tricia and I became immersed in the scarves. I selected 6 and she bought 12 – some as presents, of course. I have been wearing mine back in the US and am getting many compliments!
On our way to the next set of shops, we passed by a mosque just as the call for prayer sounded. It was the first time I had experienced this! So cool.
Then we went to an outdoor produce market. It had a lot of covered stalls, mainly produce but also cheap bangles, incense, kitchen utensils, and so forth. A lot of fun to walk around.
After our afternoon of shopping, Tricia and I rejoined Shobhana at the SALA conference. Together, we viewed a lovely performance of Odissi dance. Then we had an elegant dinner with friends of Shobhana who were celebrating their wedding anniversary.