Mysore was not in my plans as my intention was to travel to Goa, an area with beaches. But when I started looking at trains, I saw that they were all full and my only option was to take a bus. So we decided to spend the holidays in Mysore in Karnataka. I had heard many things about the beautiful Mysore, a city that treasures a palace of an exquisite and unusual design, and that made me agree to the stories like the one thousand and one nights.
We took the plane from Cochin to Bangalore at 10:30 in the morning. In the airport we find a taxi to take us to Mysore. It's 170 kilometers and 4 hours of travel. On the way, we have stopped to eat a special Diwali thali offer for 180 rupees.
In the evening we arrived in Mysore and as always a Tuc Tuc took us to what would be our new home. We stayed in the most luxurious hotel of our entire stay, with beautiful views of the palace and the city. When I arrived, I was greeted by the rain that had been falling all night. Diwali, the festival of lights was being celebrated and some also celebrate the New Year. People were burning the firecrackers everywhere.
We rest for a while in the hotel and at 6 o'clock we leave for the Amba Vilas Palace. We were expecting a quiet city like Hampi, with gardens, tranquility, yoga centers, peace, and serenity. But, the reality was different and so we returned again to authentic India. For us it was more like a transition destination, close to what everyone considers of the uninteresting Bangalore. However, we would be pleasantly surprised at each step.
Mysore Palace really was spectacular. It was illuminated, with thousands of light bulbs from the palace itself, the walls that surround the square, the three entrance doors and a temple that is in the same complex. Towards 8 we return to the hotel. At the hotel restaurant, I eat the best Biryani I have tried so far, and that is well worth a visit to fill the stomach.
The sunrise in Mysore was special. When I felt that a ray of sun was coming through my window, I could not help it. I jumped from my bed excited. I put on my robe and opened the doors of the large terrace of my room. It was 8 in the morning and there was already an intense sun and a great movement in the city that was sensed by the noise of the intense traffic that reached me. There was no time to lose (I travel every second). So we had a quick breakfast and started our tour in a city that would make me fall in love forever!
We stayed in the theoretical center of the city, near the Royal Palace of Mysore. From here we could move walking to visit the city. Probably after the peace of Hampi, everything seemed chaotic. And Mysore seemed to us the most chaotic city in which we had been. The half-broken streets, the traffic of cars, the noise through the streets, the dust in the air, people everywhere, the Tuc Tuc bent on taking you anywhere. It cost us to find local places with a minimum of condition to eat, and there was no way to eat not spicy or little spicy. On the first few days it took us a bit to adapt to Mysore, but then we managed to reconcile with the place and open our corner of peace in this chaotic city.
We begin by visiting the great Mysore Palace, where the Wydebar Maharajas have lived. This is one of the most imposing royal buildings and one of the most visited monuments in India. The old palace burned down in 1897 and it was the English architect Henry Irwin who took care to finish it as it can be admired at the moment. They do not allow to take pictures inside, a pity because I would have loved to share with you images of the spectacular salons. This is another place where it is not allowed to wear shoes, in order to keep the floor in good condition.
Inside we can see several rooms with impressive decorations. The visit was a little overwhelming because of the number of people there were. We were in a queue and they pushed us to keep going. Then we take a walk through the gardens and it strikes me that they do camel and elephant rides. The elephant is sad because it is loaded with a family and some members are obviously overweight.
After visiting the palace we went to one of the places where I enjoyed the most in my journey. It is near the palace in the famous Mysore Devaraja Market. I remember reading in the India travel guide that this market, that of Devaraja, is one of the most colorful, photographed and picturesque in India. It is famous for its essences and incenses, especially Sandalwood.
I went crazy, not so much for what I could buy, but for the photogenic of what my eyes saw. I found the spectacular tints of bright colors, the garlands of flowers. I see the process of creation of sandalwood sticks, the exotic fragrances, and bangles, that there were thousands. We loved the market full of fruits, vegetables, flowers, colors, people, and stands of incense and essential oils. It was like breathing again.
As it was the time of Diwali, everywhere stalls sell oil lamps or diyas. They are containers made with clay in which oil or butter is made and a twisted cotton thread is placed that acts as a wick. In the Diwali thousands of these lamps are used to light the houses, temples, and altars dedicated to the gods. In one of the stalls, we taste the Jalebi, Kaju Katli, Mysore Pak, dry fruits ladoo and Murukku.
We stand in a basket of essential oils. A very nice guy took care of us and we bought one 15ml of pure oil. There are also sellers of paan, which is a kind of chewed tobacco prepared with betel leaves. These leaves are usually arranged in green piles placed on top of each other. Then we had a good time walking through the colorful and lively market. Another interesting place to leave the chaotic Mysore is to take a walk on the lake. It is a huge park with a lake where we can see even people jogging.
Here we were able to isolate ourselves from the noise of the city and we managed to get in touch with people who did yoga. Mysore is the city of yoga, but it is not easy to find schools, and most offer training courses for teachers.
After a pizza stopover at a coffee shop (Amsterdam style), we go to the St. Philomena's Cathedral, surrounded by schools and children playing.
And as I am one of those who like to squeeze the day to the fullest, to enjoy the sunset, we climb to one of the sites with the best view of the city. It is the Chamundi Temple where lies the famous statue of Nandi (bull of Shiva) of 5 meters high and carved in rock. To get there you can take a bus that takes you to the top of the mountain, and then you can go down to Mysore by more than a thousand steps. Once we arrived at the esplanade of the temple, we took off our shoes. We finally entered the temple that was really very small. We begin to turn around, unlike the people.
While returning back for the last time, we arrived at the Royal Palace. There are hundreds of people walking briskly towards the main facade. Suddenly they light it with thousands of light bulbs. Not only the palace, the whole square and the entrance arches. It is a show that seems unreal. It seemed like Christmas. We toured the entire area to admire everything that was illuminated. Many take selfies and some ask us to take their family photos.
For dinner we visit a popular restaurant, located in the hotel where we can enjoy a fun atmosphere and an exquisite Indian food at a good price. I would never forget the naan and the gulab jamun. Outside is the hotel pool illuminated by a blue light, but we do not give up. It is time to sleep.
What exactly is celebrated during Diwali? It is an Indian festival that lasts five days and marks the start of the Indian New Year. The third night of the festival is one of the most important. During the festival, the people clean their houses, buy new clothes, and share sweets with everyone and there are always fireworks shows. For several days, the houses and shops are cleaned in a special way and decorated with flowers and candles, called "diyas", which are lit at dusk. Fireworks and firecrackers transform the streets into a burst of lights and sound.
Do you think Diwali is celebrated in Gokarna in a big way? I asked my friend as we bought the train tickets that would take us that same morning from Palolem in Goa to the coastal city in the state of Karnataka. I do not know for sure, but Gokarna is one of the sacred cities. I wanted to enjoy Diwali in some of the offbeat destinations to enjoy the festivities.
During the train journey, we looked at the map and saw that there were five beaches. There is the central beach of the town, Om Beach, Kudle Beach, Half Moon Beach and Paradise Beach. Then I saw another beach on the map, a little further away from the rest, which caught my attention because of its name: God's own beach. But that was ruled out by time and distance.
I read in Gokarna there are lot of accommodations. They are cheap and, in addition are close to restaurants and bars. But I wanted a less crowded beach. We came from the tourist beaches of Goa and opted for Om Beach.
From the train station, we take a bus and then two rickshaws to the entrance to Om Beach. There are a restaurant and a parking area for rickshaws and as it has enough vegetation it is not uncommon to see many cows roaming the area. From there we had to descend more than 100 stone steps that made their way through the thick vegetation to touch the sand. The sun began to hit hard and the backpack became increasingly heavy.
Om Beach owes its name to the shape of the beach seen from above, which they say has the shape of "Om". So after following the foam on the seafront and delineating the first part of the "Om" drawing, we found some rocks that divided the beach in two and we had to cross them on foot. The tide was low, so it was not a problem to get to the other stretch of sand where two or three lodgings can be seen and very few people on the beach.
We consulted prices in all the hostels and opted for one that was just half way. After leaving the belongings in the rooms we sat in the hotel restaurant, facing the sea, and while we ordered our food I asked the waiter if that night Diwali will be celebrated on the beach. The boy told me that in Om Beach it is hardly celebrated.
There are few people and the few who spend the night there are mainly foreign tourists. The locals stay in Gokarna beach. So our only option to live that experience was to go to the city that same night because it was the last night of celebrations!
A little disappointed by his response, I asked how we could get to Gokarna from there or better yet, how to return at dawn. The only option was to go by rickshaw and return by taxi at an astronomical price, of course. My colleagues at first were enthusiastic about the idea of going, but with the passing of hours the fatigue and laziness (yes, there is also laziness in travel) won the pulse and, the truth is that I was myself hesitant to go. Actually, I was more worried about going back alone at night to this area, that I had to go down some dark stairs, to cross a dark beach and then half of another one.
That's how I was left wanting to enjoy the Diwali festival in Gokarna. However, there was a rumor through the outdoor corridors of the hostel that many tourists, especially a large group who had the hotel and part of another that was a few meters away, had bought kilos of fireworks. They would make them explode that night on the beach. I settled for that. We had dinner and we all went to the beach. There were two fires burning, several meters away from each other and around each one there was a group of travelers.
Suddenly we hear the first roar. It's already beginning! Most were quite drunk and that made them little agile, and uncoordinated with kilos of fireworks. Then I saw the attempt to light another two firecrackers that did not explode, another one that ignited and shot off to the side, near where I was. This night of fireworks was a real fun. After a while, after bursting a lot of firecrackers, I went to bed.
The next day we went to spend the day in the city of Gokarna, that owes its name to the shape of the ear of the cow formed by the confluence of two rivers that mark Gokarna. We could still see the remains of the festival of the previous night left behind. We saw cows painted, marked and adorned with colorful flower necklaces. Locals were in a festive mood with many enjoying a day at the beach. There were more people than usual and offerings and flowers decorated the small temples.
I was about to return to the hostel when a torrential rain began to fall with great force. It fell with such intensity that I decided to wait for it to subside. Others also did the same. The rain seemed to give no respite. A middle-aged woman sat next to me and offered me a sweet. She was curious. Happy Diwali! She told me. And before I could realize it, I was with that woman buying other sweets and snacks for what seemed like a special celebration.