2 day trip

Mysore and BR Hills – Of culture and confluence

An easy decision when we want to get away from the city of Bangalore without much of a plan in place, is Mysore. So we drove down there one Saturday morning. Despite having been there before, we headed to the Venugopala Swamy temple in the backwaters of the KRS dam. When we were there last, it was still under construction and now it was fully operational. The original temple had to be submerged due to the construction of the KRS dam and was restored as it is today with the all the slabs from the original temple.IMG_8276.jpg

There are a few small pavilions outside and folks were lying for a bit to relax. I can definitely see why. Due to the open space around, there’s a cool breeze here at all times, which in the Indian warm weather, is brilliant at lulling you to sleep.IMG_8267

For those who are religious – do note that they explicitly insist on no offerings(fruits, flowers) to the temple, so don’t bother carrying any. I particularly loved that they had used the tulsi (holy basil) plants all around for landscaping – it made the perfect choice with its health benefits, mild fragrance, and religious use. Within the temple, the corridor has numerous deities both known and not so well known from Hindu religious references. It makes for a fun story-telling opportunity , if traveling with kids, and firstly if your familiar with their stories yourself!IMG_8264.jpg

We reached Mysore by late afternoon and decided on a place called The Old house –  admittedly because the 2 of us have an instant attraction towards heritage homes and buildings (if anyone reading wants to give one away, we’ll be happy to take it off your hands!).  A pizza later we were ready to go onwards to BR hills – this is one place possibly everyone else we know has been to, but we haven’t. We didn’t know what to expect either.

The Biligiriranga Hills or as commonly known – BR Hills is amidst what is both a wildlife sanctuary and a tiger reserve at the border common to both the Western Ghats and the Eastern ghats resulting in a unique ecosystem of its own. On our way through the miles of lush greenery, we even spotted a couple of very impressive looking gaurs(wild bison).IMG_9293.jpg

Note : In any route that passes through a wild life sanctuary, ensure you do not stop your vehicle (even to take pictures), and definitely do not feed the animals. Also they have right of way, even for the little frogs crossing the road, so keep your eyes open and alert. Ensure you are respectful and keep your distance from the animals. Also keep noise levels to a minimum and avoid honking.

We reached at 4:30PM and the original plan was to return to Mysore to stay the night, but being the monsoons, it had already gotten quite dark so we had to re-plan. There seemed to be pretty much 2 places to stay there- the govt owned Mayura hotel and one more on the same road. Both were full but the gentleman in the Mayura hotel directed us to another place to stay which while in a beautiful space, we aren’t entirely sure was legitimate so we’ll skip the recommendation. On the brighter side, he also invited us for a dance performance at 6pm that evening within the Mayura hotel premises!

Note : Book your stay in advance to BR hills. There are other places to stay but the internet connectivity was also wonky by the time we got there. Alternately, if you leave early from Bangalore and make no pitstops you could still get back to Mysore in time- so plan accordingly. If interested in rafting and trekking do a bit of research but there seem to be options for that too. The temperature is also colder than Mysore so get a sweater at the least.

We quickly found the place of stay, dropped our luggage and made our way up to the top of the hills before it turned completely dark. The top of the hill houses the temple of Lord Ranganathaswamy (Lord Vishnu) where part of the hill’s name comes from.IMG_9287.jpgThe bili(white) is said to come from either the fact that the top of the hill has a lighter colored stone surface or attributed to the mists that cover the hill. We followed online maps and reached an entrance that leads to a few steps up the hill. If traveling with people having mobility issues, there’s also a different entrance with very few steps just a little diversion ahead- so do explore.

From the temple itself, there’s a brilliant view of the sea of green only interrupted by a small hamlet of the Soliga tribes who are local to the area.IMG_9281.jpg

We made our way back just in time for the event. A group of the Soliga tribes sang and danced and we watched enthralled at the whole performance. Their voices were clear and powerful, the dance form energetic and with very unique steps compared to other dance forms we’ve seen before. Both children and adults performed and we were lucky to be witness to it all just by a stroke of luck.IMG_9300.jpg

By now we were starving and food wasn’t yet ready in the KSTDC hotel which again is the only option we found. We requested the restaurant manager for some simple curd rice since we were eager to go to bed. He seemed curt and asked us to wait. Some very spicy chilly bajjis later(they were the only items “ready”), we were craving for the curd rice even more. He finally brought out the curd rice tempered with coriander and onion, and came back in a minute asking for how we liked it. We told him it was very nice and instantly his entire face lit up. Turned out that since we were hungry, he had made it himself though he was not the cook and had tried making it for the very first time! Needless to say we were touched and it brightened up our day too 🙂

We got back to the stay and crashed for the night- waking up to a lovely view of the trees around us. A quick breakfast at a small eatery nearby and we made our way to Mysore. On the way back, we stopped on a whim at the Sri Mahalakshmi Gunja Narasimhaswami Temple  at Tirumakudalu Narasipura.IMG_9362.jpg

Legend: A washerman has a dream where Lord Narasimha appears asking him to build a temple. He is also told that below his washing stone he’ll find gold to actually use for the temple’s construction. After constructing the temple, the washer man is offered a boon where he mentions his interest to visit the holy city of Kashi. The Lord then declares that whoever visits this temple will have punya of one gunja(weight of a particular seed) more than that when visiting Kashi and declared this town Dakshina Kashi(Kashi of the south). That gives the temple its name and the idol also is seen holding a stalk of the Gunja plant.IMG_9367.jpg

The commonality between Kashi and this place doesn’t end there. While Kashi is at the confluence of the rivers -Ganga ,Yamuna, Saraswati, this temple is at the confluence of the rivers -Kaveri, Kapila and Spatika Sarovara. Not sure if allowed due to the legend or not, but people still wash clothes by the waterfront of the temple.

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A further way along and we stopped at a large banyan tree for a fun break. Kids were even able to climb into and hide within several portions of the trunk. Some of its branches were so low that they were also enjoying climbing straight up the tree from almost ground level. IMG_9378.jpgWe spent out time alternately watching them, wishing we had a better sense of balance ourselves and watching the parrots flitting into and out of the trees hollows.

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Next, as per what’s become customary for us on a visit to Mysore, we made our way to Karanji lake for a short cycle ride and seeing our feathered friends at the aviary. Unfortunately most of the birds we’d seen earlier seem to have been replaced by only peacocks now. Hopefully not to ill health or just humans’ behaviors. However since it was the monsoons, the peacocks were in the height of their impressing phase and were oh-so-often bursting into dance. The pea-hen seemed disinterested but no matter how many times we’ve watched it, we can’t help but stop and stare at the sheer beauty of the scene.IMG_9426.jpg

I have a special fascination with markets- though I genuinely am not much of a shopper. Just passing through them makes me happy- especially those with produce and flowers. So for no other reason other than to smell the fragrance of the flowers sold in heaps and to just breathe in the ambience of the ancient market ,we made a stop at the Devaraja Market. If you’re heading back to Bangalore the same day you can even use this opportunity to do your shopping for all the produce in neat heaps. The market itself has everything most Indian homes need- from fruits, vegetables, flowers to bangles, kitchen utensils in all shapes, sweets and even items used for poojas.IMG_9454.jpg

After the trip filled with colour and culture we made our way back to Bangalore already wondering where we’d go next!

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 day trip

Mysore – The exquisite arts of peasants and daily lives of royalty

On the way to Mysore we have often stopped at Janapada Loka for a cool green oasis on a regular drive. It being next to an eatery that serves local Karnataka fare doesn’t hurt either. We’d recommend you don’t visit in a hurry…it’s a space to wander around and stumble across something interesting and enlightening at every corner.

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We started off with the living quarters of the people of the Western ghats of Karnataka. It’s ingenious  use of local material and resources to store and treat their food , their utensils and handmade roofs are fascinating windows into their lives.

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The space is sprinkled with ancient artefacts with effortless ease. Whether it’s an intricately carved chariot or a casually placed stone carving that’s gently embraced by the vegetation around.

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Not a real person

We’d strongly recommend waiting a while outside the museums in different buildings spread over the space- someone usually hurries over and opens it up so you can walk in. While a guide gave us an overview of each exhibit, he requested us to pause for a minute while he sang for us. Taken by surprise but curious we did so- and he started….we were taken aback by how enthralling his booming voice was! He needed no mike/instruments to let his clear voice ring through the museum.Even for someone who has lived all their lives in Karnataka – the sheer number of tribes, their vivid and intricate outfits, dance forms each with their own impressive costumes, jewelry and handicrafts will leave you spell bound. We’d recommend picking up a piece of pottery from the lady who makes them on a wheel in the premises- it’s inexpensive and beautiful.

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Buy from here! They’re pretty as can be and very inexpensive

We couldn’t decide if we’d go to Somanathpura or Talakadu first but at random headed towards the latter. We almost got there and saw swarms of people on foot walking towards what seemed like a village festival. As it turned out, the road towards Talakadu was blocked to accommodate the Ugadi festival celebrations. So we had to turn back disappointed towards Somanathpura instead. We were however starving by now and there weren’t any restaurants in sight. We finally found a small yellow door by the side of the street that claimed to be a hotel . As it turned out it was a tiny place frequented by the locals that served good home cooked vegetarian meal with an extra touch of hospitality urging us to eat more. Satiated, we headed off to the 12th century Chennakesava temple at Somanathapura. Despite it being a second time for us, it was still charmed us with its intricate carvings on the temple we well remember as resting on the star shaped base.

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The outer walls have several layers each with a rough theme, the lowest with playful elephants in myriad poses, above that the camels, horses and armed riders, above that flowers , fruits and wildlife and yet above that entire stories from the Hindu epics that one can see in order on walking clockwise. A closer look and one would find several avatars of the Lord Vishnu to whom this temple is dedicated along with many other powerful Gods and Goddesses too.

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We spent a while strolling through its long corridors and admiring the large but smooth lathe turned pillars too.

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One should not miss looking up the ceiling despite the barely lit interiors cause they are a delight in themselves. On our way out we were enthused to see the numerous butterflies flitting about the well kept garden around the temple too.

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Our next stop was the Ambavilas palace, more often simply known as the Mysore palace. It is the geographical center of the city of Mysore and one simply cannot not-pass by it even on a casual trip to Mysore.

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The Ambavilas palace with the backdrop of the monsoon clouds

The insides of the palace are luxurious and opulent- no two ways about it. The colorful, gleaming tiles, polished and gilded pillars, elaborate chandeliers, the mindfully painted ceilings with each mural competing with the other on elegance and its sheer scale leaves you fascinated.

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Stunning symmetry

One can only walk by and marvel at the life and times of royalty holding court and just going about their day in its premises. One can also drop into the smaller palace beside the Ambavilas palace to see displayed toys and memorabilia from the royal families daily living.

 

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The palace complex itself has 12 major temples dedicated to Godesses Bhuvaneshwari, Gayatri and different avatars of Lord Shiva and Vishnu each with its own allure.

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If lucky one might see the royal elephants shuffling about the place too. The Palace is illuminated in the evenings all sundays, public holidays and during the festival of Dasara.

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After dinner, we drove up to the Chamundi hills for a view of Mysore while spotting the lit up landmarks awarding points to ourselves for the right ones. [Do note : earlier vehicles used to stop at several points along the way up the Chamundi hills. Now there are designated spots patrolled by staff in plain clothes so do ensure you find one and stop accordingly to stay safe.]

 

The next morning we headed off to what’s become a staple of our visits to Mysore– a cycle ride around the Karanji lake checking in on our feathered friends at the aviary too. We’d highly recommend this even if you’re on a short trip to mysore- it’s an oasis of calm and green that lets you forget the world for a bit.

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Looks like it takes a lot of preening to look as good as they do

A peek at the local market later, we headed off to Melkote- we’d been there once before but it had been a hurried pit stop.

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We first encountered the Akka-Thangi Kola (sisters’ pond) which are the adjoining ponds one slightly larger than the other with potable and brackish water in the Thagi Kola and the Akka Kola respectively.

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Further on, one can walk to the Rayagopura which is what would have been the entrance to the town- but was however unfinished.

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Climbing atop it provides a view of the surrounding villages.

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While the Yoganarasimha swamy temple is atop the hill, we instead dropped in to the Cheluvanarayanaswamy temple which is right at the center of Melkote town. It is believed to have been worshipped by both Lord Rama and those of the dynasty of Lord Krishna and is therefore accorded a special place in religious lore. While the temple itself is simple for the most part, it is worth a visit just for its pillars- ornately carved with hollowed out areas lets us truly appreciate the artistry, skill and attention to detail from the eras gone by.

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We ended the trip the same way we had, one to Melkote several months earlier, at the main temple pond- Kalyani/Pushkarni.

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This one is truly an amalgamation of the town that is Melkote- a group of priests performing prayers, shepherds with their frolicking goats, children playing around the ancient pillared corridors, families resting after their pilgrimage to the temple, and some locals diving into the familiar waters of the pond.

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While we rested at the octagonal shaped Bhuvaneshwari mantapa recapping the past couple of days and enjoying the view- the spot itself was a reminder on what was perhaps the kindest way to let history survive- by letting it be an active part of the present.

2 day trip

Mysore and Mandya – of purple bicycles and temple ponds

Continued from here

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The next morning we headed off to Karanji lake after checking out from the hotel. This is a place we’ve visited twice before just because it’s quite a lovely space and doesn’t take much time to stroll around either. This time, however, I was most excited about this part of our trip- cycling in the park! With me not owning a cycle as yet, we had never done something so simple, together ever before.

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Thrilled to bits with my purple cycle and his yellow one, off we went. It’s the perfect place to cycle- not too long a path to be exhausted peddling and yet much more fun than just walking around. Also the trees all the way provide ample cover to make sure you aren’t bothered by the heat either.IMG_0658.jpg

Just when we were disappointed that the lake was not full of water, we noticed the silver lining. At one point the parched earth under the lake allowed one to walk over it. There were sunflowers bordering the place and the dried up area meant that one could get a closer look at the beautiful birds that had come visiting. IMG_0852There were beautiful painted storks, egrets, ducks, eagles and other birds our limited knowledge of them prevented us from naming. Though not keen on boating with the low water levels, we sat there and had a perfectly glorious time of zoning out and watching a paddling of ducks with lustrous pearl-like feathers, fast asleep with their heads cosily tucked under their wings while still standing. (did you know that was the collective noun for ducks if they’re in water – yes, paddling!).

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A paddling of ducks fast asleep

We didn’t have too much time so we just spent an hour at Karanji lake but it was everything we wanted it to be. Making sure we visited our feathered friends at the aviary, we then left from there.

 

We had seen a board to the Regional Museum of Natural history on our way around Mysore and decided to head there next. It’s a really excellent place to have several flashbacks of your lessons from school on everything from the food chain, to the evolution of man and the formation of our planet.IMG_0858 Also fascinating to learn were sea-life at different depths in the ocean. It also has exhibits of the biological diversity in rainforests, wetlands, and mangroves. We’d highly recommend it to children and adults to re-kindle their interest in our oh-so-wonderful world.IMG_0874.jpg

In our urge for visiting places we hadn’t tried on our previous trips to Mysore, we headed next to the Melody Wax museum. Be warned it’s more an exhibition of a very large number of musical instruments than any extraordinary wax figurines. Nevertheless, it’s inside a lovely old-style house which was a bigger draw for us. In the same building is also the House of horrors equivalent. It’s mostly pitch dark and sufficiently startling. Makes for a fun outing if that’s your thing 😉

After an immensely forgettable lunch, we started towards Melkote.

 

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Just another pretty sight on the way

 

On the way, we took a diversion to Nambinarayana temple on seeing a board.pointing us towards it. It was quite an unexpectedly nice place and not even crowded considering the relative popularity of the Melkote temple.It had endless pillars at the entrance too. While being plain and austere it still had the feeling of comfort you get amidst strong structures made of stone that lasted since the 12th century!

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Just opposite the Nambinarayana temple, is a Gopala Krishna temple. The huge door to the temple was opened by an old man and the place was completely empty except for us. It was possible to go up to the terrace of the structure too.  It was picturesquely bordered on all sides by crowns of coconut palms.IMG_0928.jpg

Driving through the village we next reached Melkote. IMG_1001.jpgJust as we walked ahead a bit we were invited into a temple for prasad and realised it was a whole meal of bisibelebath and pongal. Though delicious, we were already full from our meal just an hour or 2 ago, and just about managed to finish it.

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Pillars of time

It was early evening and instead of exploring the whole place (that has lots to see) we instead chose to spend the little time we had by my favourite place of all, the huge temple pond/kalyani. IMG_0971.jpgAnd it was well worth it. Choose to come here if you’d like to end your day at a lovely spot to watch people, the priest taking notes in his little book, the water with gentle ripples and the occasional birds flitting across your view.

 

 

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The moon on the way back wasn’t half-bad either

 

Up next : China : Beijing – Of forbidden cities and welcoming people

1 day trip · 2 day trip

Mysore : The one not-on-a-package tour

CaptureThis trip started non-typically. As an extension of an office trip to Bandipur.There I took the safari and saw the Malabar squirrel, spotted deer in plenty strolling nonchalantly, and birds including the kingfisher. The other bus of people were luckier to see a snake(looked like an Indian python) and a couple of them the next day were even able to sight a leopard at close quarters.

On the way back I got off with a friend at her hometown, Mysore. Anand was to join me there, from Bangalore, for an extended holiday in Mysore. However, her family kept me busy and constantly fed after which she was sweet enough to take me for a view of the Lalit Mahal Palace. Since we didn’t want to have a meal there at the time, it didn’t justify the Re.100 per head redeemable entry fee and so we made do with a view of it from the helipad beside it. A stroll in the gardens there gave us a good view of the outside of the place too. An older gentleman walking 2 gorgeous dogs – a pug and a St.Bernard, also made our day by letting us pet them.

On our ride to the next stop, she was a fun guide and we saw a bunch of things a few of which I can recall now

  • Dodda gadiyara (with numerals in Kannada) and chikka gadiyara that were the big and small clock towers of the city
  • The lovely conifer bending in front of the university that locals liked to point out as a cheeky indicator that everything bows before knowledge!
  • The horse-shoe shaped entrance to the Mysore (Horse)Race club
  • The entrance to the  University and several other beautiful governmental buildings on our way.

She next took me to have yummy Bangarpet pani puri  – the spicy-paani that was inexplicably as clear as water, crispy puris and a south Indian filling of fresh onions, carrots, coriander leaves and cooked peas, and dry gobi – chutney served with deep fried cauliflower florets without the typical gobi manchurian masala. After thus being fed to the gills, she dropped me to the hotel where I was joined by Anand. After a quick dinner for him both of us quickly dozed off to rest for the next day.

 

We slept in a bit and then left the hotel after breakfast heading straight to Balmuri falls. This was a typical school outing location in our childhood that both of us had managed to never visit. We reached there to see a very tame water-spot that had rice fields on one side and a bridge across it on another.

 

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Simple and idyllic

 

Nevertheless, the water level near the weir is only up to waist level and so there were folks having a gala time playing in the water.img_4869

We walked over the weir though there are warnings around not to do it presumably when the water is forceful. We then reached the other side with vast rice fields in a stunning shade of yellow-green. While Anand was clicking away, a farmer even came over to us on his bike and struck a conversation chatting about the place and his own son in Bangalore. It’s quite a nice place to relax and watch the water go by with no agenda.img_4866

 

Tip : Maps may take you to a mud-road, avoid it and take the alternate one. There is also another waterfall called the Yedamuri waterfall that we weren’t aware of. It may be worth a peek too.

The birds just hanging around the place.

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Next, we went on to the Venugopala Swamy Temple on the backwaters of the KRS dam passing by a village that couldn’t choose between Hindi and Kannada to pick its name – Basti Halli! The older temple had been submerged and was only visible during the summer and so this new one was reconstructed like the older one and is quite stunning. img20161119111901

It is still in the process of construction and even in its current state is one of the rare “new” structures that has been made retaining the essence of the old.  One can see individual sculptures The idols yet to be installed were stored in iron boxes filled with paddy. We weren’t sure of why it was so. Do let us know if you’re aware of its religious/practical significance.img20161119112531

 

Caretakers everywhere meanwhile, seem to specifically view Anand with suspicion as they coolly allow others to click on with their DSLRs in the premises. One of them even wasted 1/2 hr of his own time following us as we admired the temple since he was sure we’d criminally click away the moment he had his back turned on us! Ah well, it felt like a guided tour with a silent guide.img20161119112731

 

We enjoyed taking pictures on our phones itself and it’s perhaps one of those spacious spaces without too many tourists (as yet) that feels like a calm, cool oasis on a sunny day. There is a pleasant, beautiful breeze all around the temple because of the water nearby despite it being quite hot otherwise. Pictures of the place when the water is at its peak are much more beautiful with the water levels coming up to the temple barriers. There are also stone seats around the temple that make it a tempting spot to come during the evenings and watch the sunset. We plan to visit this place again to enjoy both of them.

 

The next stop was Meenakshipura that was just on the other side of the Kaveri river but had a circuitous route passing by fields of rice, tomatoes and seafood stalls shaped like fish.

 

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Anyone know what these are called?

 

There was no one around but we did manage to spot a few of these birds nonchalantly pecking on the ground. There also seemed to be a moat-like formation between the water and land presumably to reduce the incidence of erosion(?) This was yet another place that would be perfect in during early morning or at sunset with a picnic basket and a mat. Calm, undisturbed and un-spoilt.

 

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Meenakshipura 

 

 

We were recommended Anima Bhavan for our lunch and went ahead to this place we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. We reach there through a narrow staircase and were pleasantly surprised to find meals served on banana leaves while we sat cross-legged on the ground. The food was simple vegetarian fare cooked without onions or garlic. It was a satisfying meal and their payasam made with poppy seeds, Anand warned, was very sleep-inducing too! Despite it being November, we Bangalore-spoilt tourists were already feeling the heat of the Mysore and after a quick stop for ice-creams decided to take a nap before tackling the rest of the day.

 

There are few places we re-visit, mostly because there’s always so much more new to see. But we had to drop into the aviary at Karanji lake that we fell in love with. Ignoring the lake, we headed straight for the lovely aviary and returned as before with a little more love for the birds and a little less for humans who annoyed them.

 

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Just one of the beauties at Karanji lake

 

 

Since we had come just post Dasara, my friend recommended trying out the Dasara exhibition near the Mysore palace.

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The city all decked up even post the Dasara celebrations

At first, it looked like just another exhibition since we decided to go around the edge of the space- cotton candy, stores selling every kind of bauble, carousels and Ferris wheels, small shows of stunts and funny mirrors, food stalls with every imaginable food and crowds, lots of crowds.

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Ferris wheels are pretty much the logos of fairs

 

We even against my better judgement, paid Rs.50 to see a show called Amarnath yatra. It was hands down the weirdest experience I’ve had after paying! Just as we thought it was over, we got to the area we should have started with. Every district in Karnataka had a display area there. It was interesting to see what they chose to focus on. Some on the how developed the district was, some of the produce and handicrafts, some on the clothing, and some others on the lesser known tourist places there. Since it was the fag end of our walk of the whole area we were tired but egged on by curiosity and managed to see all of them.

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Hungry anyone?

We quickly shared some Mallige idli also recommended by my friend and resisting the urge to have dinner there, headed off to Metropole for a meal.

 

Anand had been wanting us to visit it since long since he was certain I’d love the ambience and I did. It’s a charming heritage hotel that was once the King’s guest house. A meal under the open sky with tinkling old lanterns hanging from a tree like oversized fire-flies made up an ending to a busy day with just the right amount of magic in the air.

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Up next: Srirangapatna, the island town