Yesterday we had a precious day off, as Vijay had his engagement party – quite a big deal in India, involving the priest chanting mantras for a good hour or so and a detailed look at the couple’s joint astrological outlook (in order to determine the most auspicious date for the big day).
To make the most of the free time, Prasanth took four of us out on a day trip, to get out of the city and see some of the local sights. We made quite a convoy – three mopeds in a row, with Chris and I on our rattly TVS firmly bringing up the rear (Mysore bum indeed…). It was a good test for Chris’s road trip and the mighty steed did well – I only had to get off and walk once, up a particularly steep section! Leaving Mysore, the roads were pretty crazy, but it’s amazing how quickly you adjust to the madness. I felt pretty relaxed and even started to enjoy being repeatedly catapulted into the air as we flew over all the stealth speed bumps that the Indians seem to love installing so much.
It felt wonderful to leave the honking traffic behind and breathe cleaner air. Green fields, whispering reeds and swaying coconut trees lined the country roads as we overtook lumbering white Indian cows pulling wobbling carts of vegetables and sugar cane. People walked more slowly than in the city and the sound of revving engines was replaced by the busy hum of cicadas.
We took in ancient Hindu temples, ornate mosques and summer palaces, a dungeon with a lingering sadness and a traditional Brahmin village. As well as learning some of Mysore’s bloody history under the reign of the still-revered Sultan Tipu (much of which was at the hands of the British, as we were repeatedly reminded), above all the day offered the chance to embrace the potent spirituality with which this country is infused. You cannot help but sense and feel bouyed by its energy, which has the collective power of being generated by the masses and being truly engrained into everyday life.
Here are a few photos of our magical day:
Sri Ranganathaswamy temple at Srirangapatnam – an ancient Hindu temple with a dark, sprawling interior full of black deity carvings hidden in alcoves – there is usually a queue of prostrating Hindus at each one, awaiting their blessing from the holy man in attendance. No photos were possible inside, but it becomes darker and darker as you penetrate deeper into its centre. I almost felt like I was inside the body of a giant deity itself, going further inwards to its core. Slightly disconcerting yet also comforting being surrounded by all the serene priests in their white robes, with their round, brown bellies proudly protruding.
Colonel Bailey’s dungeon – a sad place where British prisoners were kept during the Tipu-British battles. Colonel Bailey was in charge of one of the main onslaughts of the Srirangapatnam settlement, but ended up being captured and eventually died in this partially underground prison. You could still see the stone blocks where prisoners were chained up. Apparently lots of yogis take photos in the atmospheric light – perhaps it helps bring a positive energy to its melancholic history?
Ornate detail from the Masjid-E-Aska mosque, next to Sultan Tipu’s mausoleum. He is still worshipped by muslims and Hindus alike as a great leader of his time who did a lot for poor families.
We visited the ruins of an unfinished temple on a peaceful hill at Melkote in the mellow evening light and I just couldn’t help myself…
Inside another ancient Hindu temple, this time in the eminently spiritual Melkote, a town which is occupied almost exclusively by Brahmin families, many of which share the Iyengar family name. We were there at dusk and it had a gentle, welcoming vibe, with priests meandering through the streets along with the cows and sleepy dogs, pottering about with various holy duties. And look, I even found the frond logo in the temple… 😉
We climbed bare-foot up a long flight of steep, stone steps, still warm from the day’s sun, to reach Melkote’s precarious temple, which teeters on the edge of a rocky outcrop, 1700 m above sea level. After hearing some impromptu kirtan (celebratory call and response singing and clapping) amongst the worshippers, we were just in time to catch a pastel sunset from the hilltop.
And finally, like all good days, we ended with a good feed, sampling some of the Iyengar thali specialities, eating with our hands off plates made from woven together banana leaves – the perfect way to steel ourselves for our night-time 1.5 hour drive home on dodgy roads with no light from the new moon in a country notorious for its road accidents, gulp…