Introduction to this Blog Series:
7/3/19: It has to be a good year. I’ve already been to India and it’s not even St Patrick’s Day. I’ve walked the golden sands of the Goa beaches, swam in the warm Arabian Sea, felt the wind in my hair as I drove a scooter through the palm forests, smelled the spice and fragrance of Anjuna market and felt Kashmir silk on my skin. I’ve survived crossing the Bangalore roads, dyed my fingers yellow eating a biryani with my right hand trying to act like the locals, tasted the dosas, drank the sugary, milky coffee….
I’m ready, 2019.
My book is not ready, but it’s getting there. It is looking like a novel now rather than a tragic mass of word spaghetti. The mountain with a thousand summits has finally been summited and I am skipping down the other side. Finally, I can use the somewhat regal #amediting hashtag. Boom.
Arriving in India after fourteen years, having just ascended from the e-visa queue I feel right at home. In Bangalore airport, my other half and I are simultaneously trying to get cash out of a stubbornly non-compliant ATM and engage the Uber app for the first time. It’s all fun and games, and we chat to an Englishman who is on a similar mission to us. The bank call to check if I’ve been robbed – I reassure them ‘no – I am actually in India, booking an Uber.’
We’re queuing in the half-light behind a huddle of breakfast bars. We are reassured, our driver is coming, along with a hundred other drivers clamouring their way around a colossal roundabout. The coffee is good. Like nectar. I didn’t have change and so paid way too much for it, but I’ll get more organised as we go along. When we get into our car there are no seatbelts in the back and the driver seems to think I’ve got a screw loose for even asking.
The roads here are not for the faint-hearted. We are straight in at the deep end. Well no, technically that would be actually driving here. But if you’ve ever been to Alton Towers, Drayton Manor or one of those theme parks local to you… think of the scariest ride you ever went on and quadruple it and then you are right there in Bangalore in rush hour traffic. Ironically, I weep tears of joy inside this car. I write in my journal: Hello Mother India. I don’t look very Indian. Big-boned, six-foot blonde with skin as white as milk. But I feel connected. Like I’m returning somehow.
I’m not a city person generally. Give me lakes, mountains, waterfalls, ocean any day of the week. But there is something about Indian cities. Bursting with life and always teetering on the edge of death but with a hearty laugh, or a shout, and inevitably a thousand beeps.
Our first journey in India is this very long drive from Bangalore to Mysore. Mysuru as the vernacular Kannada speakers call it, rolling the ‘r’. Our driver gives each and every beggar that comes to his window a coin. I hold my breath as I watch the kamikaze pedestrians just going about their business. A van is filled with swaying lemons in front of us. On one of the many freeways, he just pulls in, without explanation and jumps out of the car and begins chatting with some men at the side of the road. We hold our breath, brain cogs turning furiously. Another guy then hops in and explains with a smile that the first driver was too tired, working all night, and so he would be bringing us the rest of the way.
Our hotel is an oasis in a busy street where the sun boils above in the sky. I want a coconut. I’m here in India many hours now, I must find a coconut. If you’ve never had one, they’re green and huge, not like the little brown ones we get at home with the not-so-pleasant milk in them. They are full of the most refreshing drink – coconut water. A large knife is used to cut the top off and then a straw is plopped in the top and voila. Some coconut sellers will offer you the flesh for eating afterwards that they scoop out using part of the coconut they just cut off as a scoop. It’s a bit strange, jelly-like. But I like it anyway.
We wander down the road, discovering that uninterrupted pavement is a rare luxury and we watch our step as it falls apart in places. We are asked over and over if we require a taxi. No, just a coconut thanks. No, not a taxi to get a coconut. They’re only around the corner. Eventually, we are brought into a silk shop and before I can say namaste we are being measured for clothes. ‘But I only want a coconut.’
‘Yes, yes, we will get for you. Please. Sit down.’
I get my coconut. But it’s hard to enjoy it now because we are ensnared within somebody’s expectation. And I have no notion of buying a dress or getting anything made. Even though I am sure it would be fabulous and the fabrics are exquisite looking. It’s just not on today’s agenda. He ends up buying trousers for a friend back home.
This first part of the trip is family business. Visiting the workplaces and grave of my husband’s great aunt who gave her life here as a nun. When we finally discover the way into the convent we are warmly welcomed by the sisters, whose lunch we are interrupting (it turns out we are good at that). They generously give us food and fruits we have never seen, less tasted before. Bull’s heart. Jack fruit. They show us around the beautiful garden. The chapel where she would have prayed.
Later they arrange a driver to bring us to the famous Mysore Palace, a three storey stone structure with marble domes and a five storey tower. Surrounded by gardens and facing the Chamundi Hills. One of the most famous tourist attractions in India after the Taj Mahal – we don’t get to see it lit but the lights are turned on Sunday evenings and public holidays.
Around the side of one of the entrances, we stumble upon elephants having a bath with hoses. It’s not really meant for the public, so we don’t stay long.
Afterwards, we are taken to see Karanji Lake. Home to a host of egrets, cormorants, ibis, storks, herons and many more. Here boasts the biggest walk-through aviary in India that includes black swans and peacocks of various sorts.
Then it is time to rest. The incredible journey east is taking its toll. Tomorrow we go back to Bangalore.
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