February 17, 2008

Mysore to Ooty

Soon after my narrow escape from the clutches of death, my parents decided to drop by to see me. As the elderly are not as suited to handle the rigours of independent travel as our rugged protagonist, I arranged for an organized tour to the capital of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore and to the scenic hill station of Ooty. I avoid these tours as they usually spend more time parked outside of restaurants and stores that paid them for their visitation rather than at actual sites of interest. Before arriving at Mysore, the tour bus we were on pulled into Srirangapatna, the stronghold of the legendary ruler of the kingdom - Tipu Sultan. A temple and ruins of the fortifications were all that remained.

About 140 km away from the hubbub of Bangalore, Mysore is a much more relaxed city with no tall buildings blocking the sunlight and little traffic. The roads are wide and the buildings majestic, especially when lit up at night to recreate its former glory days. Mysore is located at the base of the Chamundi Hills, which has a few temples located at the peak. I was equally shocked to see the gigantic statue of the demon Mahishasura atop Chamundi Hills and the many bottles littering this officially designated "plastic-free" zone. Undoubtedly, what makes Mysore's a must visit is the magnificent Mysore Palace. Completed in the early 1900's by Wodeyar kings, the palace combines many architectural styles seamlessly and is guarded by stone leopards at its gates. Satyam's bitter rival Infosys has a pineapple shaped training centre in Mysore that can house over 4000 employees at a time. It is the world's largest corporate training facility. As Bangalore becomes even more saturated, the IT industry will continue to expand into Mysore, whose relaxed atmosphere now reminds many people of what Bangalore was like 20 years ago. Another highlight was the Brindavan Gardens, situated beside a dam and decorated with dancing fountains and tourists.

A winding trip through some crusty roads, a border crossing between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, some sari shopping, eating of vegetarian food, and an encounter with wildlife at Bandipur National Park occurred in quick succession. Before we knew it, we were some 7500 ft above sea level in Ootacamund, or Ooty for short. Aside from some spectacular views of the lands below, the 'Queen of Hill Stations' offers a cool climate to escape from the summer heat, relaxing walks in the botanical garden, and boat trips on the lake.

The other members of the tour were mainly newlywed couples of different shapes and sizes. About half of them were lost in Mysore, so our tour bus shrank in size into a much smaller one. My head brushed the thoughtfully carpeted rooftop even after I bent down. We were running behind schedule on the return journey. When we had retraced our steps to Mysore almost everyone in the city had fallen asleep and only one eatery was open. Idlis and dosas were eaten. The delay propagated through to our arrival in Bangalore, which was delayed from late night to somewhere around 4 am in the morning. The bus pulled over beside a gas station on the outskirts of Bangalore and an awkward hour was spent in silence on the bus, before it proceeded further into the city as dawn arrived. The passengers were then released into the arms of eager auto rickshaw drivers waiting to take them away.