Rickshaw Riding in Mysore

To say Mysore Palace by night is beautiful is an understatement. It is probably one of the most terrific spectacles of light I have ever seen, and being there with thousands upon thousands of local natives for the Bengalaru Film Festival was an experience I won’t soon forget!

img_8892But before I take you to the festival, I need to give a little explanation for how we got there, which is really much more of a story than being at the palace.

Here’s where Samee comes into the scene. Just like so many other drivers, Samee walks right up to us and asks where we we are going. We explain that we need a bit of dinner and then are going to the palace for the evening. “I have just the place for you!” He says excitedly. His enthusiasm and smile are infectious, and we jump in yet another tuk tuk and embark on a journey. Samee promises to get us to food (once again we haven’t eaten since breakfast on Chamundi Hill), then show us around the markets by night, and finally get us to the palace by 8 pm for the festivities. Just as a side note, Mysore Palace is only illuminated on Sunday eves, so we were originally bummed out to miss the famous lights; it was our tour guide at the palace yesterday who gave us the head’s up about this special event we just happen to be in town for–our timing is perfect!

Samee drops us at Shanti restaurant, and we order almost immediately: Gobi Manchurian, which is the cauliflower variation of buffalo wings here, dosa (we must try it everywhere we go), and another curried vegetable dish. We share tidbits and tea, and before long we are out the door, but not before Annie and I use the restroom. A real toilet! No TP, but I knowingly have a wad in my bag, as most public bathrooms neither have a toilet nor the toilet paper. Did I mention toilets are really just a glorified hole in the ground with a hose to spray wash your netherlands? Yep. I carry TP.

Back to Mr. Samee, crazy chauffeur and happy madman! We scream through the streets in his tuk tuk as the sun sets over Mysore. Is there another word for magical? Samee swerves through multiple lanes of traffic, squeezes his horn gratuitously, and even reaches out his doorway to pretend push a bus that is in our way. We are all laughing so hard, there are tears in my eyes! Out of the clog of traffic, we enter a roundabout at such a speed, I am certain we are going to capsize in a sea of tuk tuks and motorbikes. Samee leans heavily side to side like he is in a race. We laugh with our eyes wide open, jaws agape! I swear we are on two of our three wheels most of the time. It is the most unsafe fun I have had in a very long time! I only have movies of this experience, as all the pics are blurry, so you’ll just have to use your imagination!

He takes us down a smaller road which becomes a lane, and before long the traffic is gone and we are really on the backstreets of the city. Hmmmm… remember that earlier mafia warning? I sense my counterparts are thinking the same thing, but we bounce along as Samee squeezes the big green horn on the right of his door.

Our little yellow rickshaw comes to an abrupt stop on a side street, and Samee says here we are!” The street is dimly lit and pretty quiet, until our guide cuts down a tiny lane that open up into a vegetable market where people are still selling spices and crops of every color. He knows everyone and picks up herbs from this basket or that and asks us to smell: mint, cilantro, cinnamon. Everyone knows Samee. He has clearly offered this tour before, and although the three of us feel he is truly enjoying every second of leading us around, we get the feeling he must get a few rupees from anyone who sells something to us. The moon is waxing over us in the open air, and the smell of chappatis and smoke and curry blend into a happy blanket under which we roam.

After a few more stalls, we pop out of the market into another street where children play under an old lamp post. Earlier in the day, Annie had stopped at a post office to mail a few letters, and while there bought a package of pens. Again, a side note: everywhere we were yesterday, the children asked us for pens for school. After so many encounters, our postmistress gets the message! This time she is armed and ready with writing utensils and when she asks who would like a pen, it is like a birthday party for every child there! She is quickly engulfed by joyful kids who literally smile from ear to ear. I snap a picture of her moment as the hero. Imagine being so excited just to have a pen…

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Samee walks us through more alleyways and into the woodworking district where we watch men in shops carving tables, making inlays, and sanding wooden chair legs. In another shop a white-haired man rolls cigarettes called bebes (bee-bees), then he reaches into the man’s basket and lights one up. He offers but we decline, and again Samee springs up and out the door. “One more special place,” he says as he laughs out loud. My cheeks hurt from smiling.

A short ride to another bustling street brings us to “the best place” to buy essential oils. Samee doesn’t know we bought elsewhere yesterday, so we go through the motions and enjoy samples of oil on our skin. The owner, M. K. Pansari, asks if I know this famous person or that (I do not), as they are his regular customers coming from the States who only buy from him. He offers testimonial letters from his phone texts and emails (which take ages for him to find as he scrolls through his messages), and he points out a photo of some famous yogi I have never heard of, who visits him every year to buy his sandalwood.  He is nice enough, and his oils smell great, but then I break the news that we have already purchased oils yesterday. Immediately he asks who we bought from and how much we paid. I refrain from sharing the finances, but he has some choice criticisms of our dear Ali who treated us so well in the funky green room with the yummy chai. When he asks the name of our driver yesterday who took us there, I lie and say I don’t remember. Mysore mafia for sure, I think. We leave rather quickly, and just before Samee pulls out, the owner runs after us with my turquoise phone case, which I must have left on the bench in the oil room in my hasty departure.  I am thankful and shake his hand before I turn to go.

A few more hairpin turns, playful zig zags, and boisterous laughs later, and Samee squeals to a stop at the palace. It has been a thrilling evening and we have seen what so many tourists miss by being open to a mystery ride in the hands of a silly rickshaw driver. I can’t remember what we paid, but it was too little for the memory of one of the most thrilling two hours of my life!

Ahhhh, the palace. It is surely the queen of the city with its thousands of lights glowing in the sapphire night. I am so light, I can no longer feel my feet; we are floating among the saris toward the lit gate. Words and pictures, I am afraid, do not do justice, but it’s all I can share:

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We wander aimlessly taking in the light and the people. There are impressive dance performances on the tremendous stage, and in between an emcee who tells jokes and regales the crowd in half English half Kannada, the dialect of Mysore. We pick up every few words, but I kind of like not understanding the language; I feel more connected as a human this way. People give up their seats to us, despite our refusals. We sit and watch the performances on massive movie screens. It is an astounding event full of laughter, dancing, cheering, and basking in the glow of the palace lights.

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