Friday, September 25, 2009

Three Weekends Ago...Ooty and Mysore

Hello Friends and Family!

I hope that you are all having a wonderful week and are looking forward to the weekend! Mine has been good so far, with lots of work and also some fun with friends. Many of you may have already gotten this information via email so feel free to skim or skip at will. With this post, I am going to try to give you all a taste of Ooty and Mysore, two cities that I had the privilege to visit with 9 other students.

Several weekends ago myself and six other students headed out for the train station at about 9:30 p.m. Our train departed at 11:00 and arrived in the small city Metapallayam at about 6:00 a.m. This was my very first experience with an overnight train...well with any train in India. The trip itself wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as I imagined it would be and I was even able to get some sleep. There were a few memorable quirks though. The first was the man who came by and told us that we were not allowed to play cards on the train. This is apparently a rule for all of India, which we found quite amusing. Secondly, there were the men who started walking up and down the hall at about 5 a.m. shouting, "" and "Tea...tea...tea...." repeatedly. Not exactly what we wanted to wake up to. Anyway, after arriving in Metapallayam, we met up with three other students and rented two taxis to take us to Ooty. The drivers initially claimed that all 10 of us and all of our stuff could fit in one jeep, but we weren't going for it. The ensuing two hours in the taxi were incredible. We drove through the Nilgiri mountains and saw huge tea plantations and towns just clinging to the mountainside. It was also a little tense as our driver was quite fond of passing other vehicles...even on blind curves. There may have been a couple close encounters with cars coming the opposite direction, but thankfully we made it safely to Ooty.

My first observation upon arriving was that it was cold! Cold and rainy and for most of us, this meant that we did not have the appropriate clothing. We quickly went from being perpetually hot, to completely frozen. It was a bit of a shocking change. Despite the weather, we decided to head out and explore Ooty. All 10 of us spent some time wandering the streets and the marketplace and several of the guys bought these ridiculous woolen sweaters. After concluding our shopping, we spilt into two groups. I joined 5 other girls for a 2 km walk to the Ooty Lake and boathouse. Our goal was to go horseback riding around the lake and up into the hills. When we arrived at the boathouse, we were basically mobbed by men with horses, all trying to convince us to go riding. There was some chaos in regards to settling the price and to the fact that we wanted only one guide, not two. After some frantic shouting and haggling, on their part, and a bit of pushing and pulling, we were all astride a horse and ready to go. The ride itself was about two hours long and the scenery that we were able to pass through was definitely awe-inspiring. It would have been a really ideal ride, except for the intermittent rain and the fact that the horse I was given was a bit temperamental. Overall, despite a few bumps in the road, it was a great ride. We made a large loop up into the mountains and then back down to the lake. On our way down, we rode through this residential neighborhood that was quite the sight to see. Its hard to put everything into words and unfortunately I wasn't able to take pictures since I was a little busy trying to control my horse, but I'll just say that it was in many ways picturesque.

By the time that we finally returned to the boathouse we were completely soaked. After escaping from the mob of men and horses that was still there, we slipped into a restaurant for tea and pakora in an attempt to re-warm ourselves a bit. At this point, the guys were waiting for us at a second restaurant, so we crammed all six of us into one auto-rickshaw (quite the feat) and sped off. At the second restaurant, we all ate again and had some awesome chocolate cake. The afternoon concluded with more market wandering and a trip to a historic church. We returned to the hotel and after finally getting out of the rain, none of us could bear to go out again, so we just had dinner there, played some cards, and then headed to bed.

The next morning we departed Ooty on a five-hour bus ride to Mysore.
Distance wise, I think that it is only about 150 kilometers from Ooty to Mysore, but the roads and traffic move a little bit differently here. We pulled into the Mysore City Bus Stand at about 4:30 in the afternoon, hopped off and headed out to walk to our hotel. We were instantly surrounded by rickshaw drivers all offering rides and hotels and everything else. They just didn't seem to want to accept the fact that we were walking, we already had hotel reservations, and we actually did know where we were going. Once we escaped the mass of drivers, it was a short walk to our hotel - Hotel Dasaprakash. At this point, none of us had eaten since breakfast, so we relaxed in the hotel for about an hour and then went out to dinner. Along the way, we found the Devaraja Market - a marketplace that Mysore is famous for and so we of course had to spend a little time browsing the shops. I was again wowed by the aisles of produce and flowers and jewelry and cooking wares and just about everything else that you could imagine. Particularly impressive were the vendors of colored sands (not sure of what they are called exactly). This powder is used for celebrations, body and street art, and offerings at temples. Mysore is also famous for its silks, sandalwood carvings, and mineral oils, amongst other things.

After browsing for a while, we continued on our way. None of us were exactly sure where the restaurant was, so we just wandered and eventually found it. Dinner was at the Tiger Trail, this amazing restaurant in a large hotel. And despite the quality and beauty of our surroundings, the price was good and the food was incredible. Especially the Tiger naan.... which seemed to be one of their specialties. Everyone had a huge meal and lots of good conversation and when we were done, I decided to head back to the hotel with the other girls. The guys went for a drink in this pub that was in the basement of a construction was a little too sketchy for me. As we walked back to the hotel, we stopped and bought fruits - pineapples, papayas, custard apples, mangos - all of which we ate once we were at the hotel. Fresh fruits and vegetables are definitely not a staple of menus around here, so I have come to treasure the times that I can have them. And, I have also stopped worrying so much about eating fresh things and started buying them in the markets. Our fruit party was a nice way to end a long day.

The next morning, we had dosas in the hotel restaurant, and then walked through the city. Our next stop was the Chamundi Hill where there is a 2,000-year-old temple to the goddess Shiva. Next-door is a relatively more modern temple to the goddess Durga (I think). Legend says that she killed the demon bull god in this spot. The temples were very impressive, although we were held up slightly by a rainstorm that forced us to take shelter in a small coffee and teashop. In the 2,000-year-old temple, we were given powders to use as an offering and colored dots were applied to our foreheads. A man took it upon himself to act as our guide. We let him and then, of course, he asked for money afterwards. Oh well... From the temples atop Chamundi Hill, we walked down 1,000 steps. At about step 300 there is a massive statue of the demon bull god Mahishsura (not sure about spelling). This was carved from only one block of stone. Although we only went down, traditionally pilgrims to the temples must walk up all 1,000 steps. We didn't attempt that feat.

At the bottom, we continued our whirlwind day by hopping two rickshaws to the Mysore Palace. This palace was the home of the Mysore Maharaja and is an interesting mix of Indian and European architectural influences. The palace itself is gorgeous and is surrounded by something like 7 temples. Before entering, you were required to check your camera and to remove your shoes. To me, it seemed strangely reminiscent of the palaces that I walked through in Europe. Intricate carvings, massive balustrades and columns, and just the sense of history all around you. It was extremely impressive. Dad has been there, I'm sure that he will tell you the same. After the temple, we again split up. Two others and myself did a little shopping outside the temple, which was good, but what followed was the one truly frustrating part of the day. Sarah (my friend from Germany) and I were surrounded by vendors - after we had already bought our gifts. They literally had us trapped and were pushing and shoving and trying to get us to buy something. They refused to take no for an answer and we just could not escape. Finally, I basically shouted at one who had grabbed my arm and Sarah and I shoved our way out. We were just not willing to tolerate it any longer.

All three of us had lunch in a small Indian restaurant afterwards, and the good food and relatively relaxing atmosphere did a lot to help calm our annoyance. After eating, we returned to the market, since we hadn't had much time the night before. I bought some souvenirs and we were entertained by a friendly mineral oil and incense seller. He invited us into his shop and showed us how he hand rolls all of his incense sticks. Very cool. What was also interesting to see were the books of photos that he had. Each book was labeled, US, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Korea, etc... These were all foreigners how had come to his shop and bought things. Most of them had come more than once and left their pictures, names, purchases, and often a personal note. For me, it was incredible that this guy, Quarram, working in a tiny little shop in the market in Mysore, had met all of these people. He even spoke some German, as well as English, which my German friends appreciated.

As evening rolled around, we all met up back at the hotel and then decided to return to the palace. On Sunday evenings and on holidays, the palace is illuminated with thousands (or millions) of lights and we had been told that it was a sight that we could not miss. And it definitely was amazing to see the entire palace and the surrounding temples and gates light up. Although you have to wonder what that does to the electricity for the rest of the city, since they already face daily shortages and power outages. Well, to wrap up the weekend, I grabbed a quick dinner with three of the guys and then raced to the train station, getting there about 10 minutes before our train was set to depart. We pulled out of the station at about 9 p.m. and at 7:30 a.m. the next morning we rolled into Katpadi Station here in Vellore. Ten hours for 370 or so on the ground is definitely not the speediest here!

And so, that was the end of our journey. Sorry that it has taken me so long to get this posted! I promise to be a more frequent poster in the future!

I just want you all to know that despite the incredible adventures that I am having and the sights that I am seeing, I still miss you all! Over the past few weeks, I have been struggling with some bouts of homesickness and knowing that there are people back home that are interested in what I am doing and in how I am doing really helps. I am sure that some homesickness will come and go for the rest of my time here, but I think that I am coming to realize that being here, living here for nine months really is possible. This is something that I can do! So, basically, keep in touch, because every time I here from one of you it is a friendly voice in my ear reminding me that I am not so far away…


1 comment:

  1. Sarah, I have no doubt you can do this. You are a remarkable girl gaining remarkable insight and experience. I love following your blog/adventures, thanks for posting. Love you. Kathy