Sunday, October 12, 2008

What not to do at the Mysore Dasara

Dripping wet with sweat, sweet sugarcane juice on your tongue and the throng of thousands all around. The Mysore Dasara isn’t just a parade of elephants and the Chamundeshwari goddess. It’s a show of cultural splendour, and to be bang in the center of it all is something you wouldn’t want to miss.
People from across the country come in droves to be a part of the festivities and to witness the famous jumbo savari. It’s a time to knock shoulders with your country brethren and feel the spirit of Dasara.

Still, to be a part of this joyous occasion, there are some things you really mustn't do.

Booking: Don't ever be the last to book, either your tickets or your hotel room. There's no way you want to land up in Mysore without a place to stay. People book well in advance, so if you want to get a good hotel room, call in early. You might even get a bargain.

Try too hard: Don't bother with tickets for the street parade. Just go early and plant yourself at a good spot on the sidewalk. Carry a bottle of water and munchies and you're geared up for the 2 hour walk-by. The parade has bits of many things - from folk musicians and dancers in their colourful costumes drumming their hearts out with every beat, to floats with social messages.
Acrobats performing the peculiar kannadiga routine of dancing with a masthead on their heads and climbing a tall ladder without dropping it. Your mouth will drop at the sight of the royal elephants bearing the Mayor and the Devi, draped in kingly purple robes and adorned with colourful patterns. It's a great time for the army too. Latest defence weaponry and proud men sit astride their tanks soaking in well-deserved glory.

Pack too much in one bag: Security is tight at the torchlight parade, so to avoid getting frisked everytime a copper spots you, don't put too much in your back-pack. Just throw in a sweatshirt (the nights could get chilly), something to munch on, a bottle of water and your tickets. It's all we needed to enjoy the nerve-wracking daredevil display. They were truly amazing.

The palace: Whatever you do, don't miss the palace - the one thing you go to Mysore for. It's a creamy melange of royal purple and rich off-white. The Islamic touch to the architecture is accentuated by the domes, cherry-like on butterscotch towers. And later at dusk when the lights come on, it's a gem with a million facets each twinkling in golden splendour. You can't stop looking at it.

Trust people: As much as you'd like to believe in the goodness of all humanity, don't. People aren't as they used to be in 'the good ole days'. Unless travelling penniless and singing for your dinner are your ways to enjoy the Dussehra, hold on to your wallets. Your vacation really does depend on it.
Rickshawwallas in Mysore don't seem to understand the meter system either. They will charge you a ridiculous amount for a very short distance. I suppose a bit of haggling will be in order.

Public transport: Chuck the rickshaws and the horse-cart and jump onto a public bus. Conductors roam the bus-station selling daily passes. For Rs 30, it's not a bad idea to travel where you want, when you want. The government made it cheap to travel in comfort with a Rs 10 to anywhere by Volvo for the nine festival days. Bus conductors and passengers are very willing to tell you where your stop is if you make a sufficiently confused-tourist face.

Food: You shouldn't roam the whole of Mysore looking for posh places to eat. The idli-vada at the inter-city bus station is soft, white and perfect. Have it steaming hot with sambar, chutney and very sweet coffee at the self-service restaurant. Their dosas aren't that bad either. If you insist on high-street meals, try Hotel Parklane and the rooftop restaurant next to it. I couldn't vouch for them, though. I had no money to try them out. Most of these restaurants are within walking distance from the palace, spotting the area around the clock tower.
You can't leave Mysore without gorging on Hotel RRR biryani. They serve meals there too, but judging by the number of people with biryani on their banana leaves, there's certainly something to it. There's a waiting list, but don't worry. Sit where you find place. So what if you're sharing the table with a family from half-way across India? That's the fun. You can see what they're eating (out the corner of your eye, of course), and eavesdrop on their conversation (if you understand the language). Partake in their Dussehra dinner!

Go only for Dussehra: No, there's more to see than the parade and the palace. Spend sometime with the wild at the zoo. They've got the only gorilla in the country (so says the signpost) and the chimp will entertain you with his antics. You might be lucky to witness the peacock boast his beauty in the pen, or the free bird fly into a tree nearby. Loads of visitors ignore the signs, but do point out the 'Do not tease or feed the animals' board to them. It's time we learned to grow up.
Chamundi Hills is another place you should visit, with its temple and famed sunset sights. Romantic, you think?
Despite being a little way off from the city, Vrindavan Gardens is something you cannot miss. It's clean, for one. And when the lights come on at 7pm, they light up the reds and greens, yellows, and blues and purples while the sound of gushing fountain water simply adds to that breathtaking feeling. Loads of stalls sell what-nots, and you'll get a decent fruit salad and boiled egg. Avoid the fried fish, though. It's dripping oil.
Top off your trip with some quiet time at St Philomena's church. It isn't old. But it's majestic, defined by tall spires in brown stone styled with strong Gothic influence and a make-shift catacomb tomb housing a relic of the saint. Names of the faithful are inscribed along the walls of the catacomb in black stone.

So when you've had your fill of quiet spirituality and overwhelming devotion, colourful Yakshagana troupes and mighty royal elephants, gardens, hills and food, you will know it is time to leave. Only to come back again, next year.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I love the sound of home

I waited days for it. And still couldn't believe it was coming. Dad kept sending messages - docket number so-and-so, dated so-and-so, weight so-and-so - and a litany of instructions on connections and the mysteries of electronic equipment.

Yet, on the 28th, I went to the ATM and withdrew some money. And waited on the edge of my seat on the 29th, subbing stories mechanically till the call from security came in. Three parcels, 21 kgs in all. I couldn't wait to rip them open and set it up. And when Vikas, Namitha and I carried them home, thoughts ran through - 'If anything's wrong with it, I'll never forgive myself for letting it lie with security for so long'.

Smooth, black and shiny. Amp, speaker, speaker. Wires. I'm challenged here with no idea what goes where. I've carried dad's little instruction sheet with me. Despite the funny names and elaborate explanation, I still had to call him at least 5 times before anything looked remotely connected. I had to wait hours before I could hear anything. We went shopping for the missing cable, Vikas and I.

In the auto, I cried a little. For dad to send a custom-built XX grand music system just so I could listen to good music, something had to be wrong somewhere. Or right. Maybe the fact that it cost more than I earn made it look so sanctified. How was I going to repay him, not in cash, but in a way he felt what he did was amazing? Yes, I would listen to music everyday; I did that at home and I love doing it. I will keep it clean and safe; and I am, if not completely, but just a little possessive about it. That doesn't seem enough. How do I do enough to mean "Thanks. I love you"?

I came home after dance class that day, plugged in my player and listened. It doesn't matter what I listened to, but I do remember Metallica, Elton John, and Eric Clapton (not in that order). I sat on the floor near the shoes, in the heat because our hall has no fan, hugged my knees because I missed my home. And then I closed my eyes and heard the same sounds I hear at home, the same timbre and volume, depth and quality I live with at home. I realized I wasn't too far away.

My family sent me something that can bring me home in a flick of a switch. I couldn't ask for anything more. Not now, not ever. Thank you, daddy!!