Today I planned to climb Chamundi Hill followed by a visit to the Mysore Zoo. Pretty casual outing I thought. Turns out, not so.
My lovely driver, Somu, from the other day, was waiting at my apartment for me at 7.20am as promised (for my scheduled 7.30am pick up). Bright eyed and a huge smile on his face, I was so pleased I had committed to traveling with him again. Today, I was headed for Chamundi Hill. 1008 steps up to the temple!
The drive to the summit took about 30 minutes from my apartment. Along the way we stopped for gas, but this only took about 15 seconds to fill the rickshaw with 100 rupees of gas. Mysore was so peaceful at this time of the morning. Although there were still a few beeps around the place (you’re never truly free of noise here), the streets were silent compared to how they normally are. What I thought was interesting was how thick the smog is at this time of day. It’s like travelling in a haze, constantly. Although there are minimal vehicles on the road, the pollution in the air is still so apparent that traveling with my shawl covering my nose and mouth is still necessary. Incredible.
My driver was kindly beginning to drive me up the mountain, assuming I wouldn’t want to walk up, however upon clarifying my intentions, we took a turn and headed round the base of the mountain. Driving through little alleys surrounded by unused scrub, turned rubbish tip, we finally arrived at the base of the stairs. My driver was committed to waiting for me to return, expecting I would take around one and a half hours. (I always feel terrible knowing someone is waiting for such a long time, but I guess they are use to it).
The beginning of the climb didn’t seem too dreadful - for the first 50 steps or so. Quite quickly the walk became steep. Very steep. And the stairs are extraordinarily dangerous. All different sizes (height and width) coupled with being quite slippery due to so much wear, I needed to keep focused on my footing. As I was taking many pictures with my little camera, I was extra careful, holding it close to my chest. (I think I would have broken my arm first before allowing anything to happen to my camera).
The stairs had remnants of coloured dyes, stained from yesterdays Happy Holi Festival no doubt, and rubbish lined the perimeter of the stairs. The stairs themselves, however, seemed to be free it. Quite clean. In terms of people walking up, and down for that matter, there were very few. It appears most people tend to be driven up and down the hill, rather that complete the pilgrimage up. I now understand why!
The steps felt never ending and my thighs were just getting a relentless bashing from the trek. (I know I’m going to feel this tomorrow). I couldn’t help but think about how much more challenging this was compared with a common walk people do back home in the Mount Lofty Ranges. I think I could sprint up Mount Lofty now after having done this. Talk about a work out!
With sweat dripping down my face and back, I eventually reached Nandi the Bull - about two thirds the way up. I recalled reading in my Lonely Planet book that the rest of the climb is more forgiving than the first part, which gave me hope, however they were lying. Yes there were some slightly easier steps, but it is still hike up. Let’s just clarify that right here!
As I was there nice and early, about 8.30am, it was relatively quiet here with only a minimal number of people around. This gave me a chance to actually stop and appreciate Nandi without being pushed aside or have to listen to people yelling at each other in conversation. I found it really relaxing just being there. A lovely man, who I later bought a mini Chamundi brass statue from, offered to take my picture with the statue. I was thrilled. And considering it’s just me in the picture, without having to battle through people to get a view of Nandi, I was quite excited.
After eventually making it to the top of the hill, (another million more steps up it felt like), I was greeted with many market stalls selling the typical touristy items as well as flowers and coconut offerings to take into Chamundi’s temple. Bees were absolutely everywhere because of all the flowers people were selling. It certainly didn’t appear safe having that many bees surrounding you all day??
Leaving my shoes in a monitored shoe stand outside, I tip toed over the cow poo on the floor and headed for the temple. As it was still early in the morning, about 9.00am by this point, I didn’t have to wait in a massive queue to enter, which I understand happens as the day goes on. Walking through the temple, I noticed people were praying at all different areas within it. Some were touching and kissing red dye, which was all over the floor at the entrance to the main section where Chamundi was. Others standing by smaller shrines against the walls and within reach, covered in flowers and money offerings. When it came to seeing Chamundi, about six or so Indian men wearing white robes stood behind a counter which prevented the public from getting any closer to the goddess. About 10 metres further back was the shrine to Chamundi, covered in orange and yellow flowers, with incense and oils burnings around her. People were being rushed along to give their offering and say their prayer before being near pushed out of the temple. I stood to the side of the queue to try and get a longer look (having poor eyesight didn’t help me) but eventually the pressure of people shouldering and pushing past forced me out. I walked through the rest of the temple however there wasn’t a lot to see and within moments I was back out amongst the crowd.
Walking back down the hill, I came across my rickshaw driver! He had decided to start climbing also. (Clearly I was taking too long). He was exhausted by the time I got to him (about half way - we found a carving which said 500 steps not too far from there). I sat with him on the stairs for about 5 minutes while he caught his breath before completing the descent. He is such a lovely man. With two young boys at home, 11 and 13, he offered to take me to his home one day and introduce me to his family and make me chai tea. It’s incredibly sweet. At the bottom of the hill I bought Somu some water before moving on to the next part of the trip. The Mysore Zoo!
Somu predicted I would take about 45 minutes to an hour to look through the zoo. I’m not sure how long it’s been since he went there, but I was at least two hours. It is massive! Three kilometres of animals to look through. This takes a long time. What was funny, and a little annoying in the end, was I seemed to be the main attraction. So many people wanted their picture taken with me! Clearly it’s a novelty seeing a white person walking around.
The zoo was lovely. Very old and in parts run down, but generally speaking the animals seemed well looked after. It’s always sad to see animals in cages, especially those native to Australia (as I know what their habitats look like), but on the whole it was a lovely experience. I was glad to leave by the end of it though. It felt like a never ending maze in there. At 2.8 kilometres to go, I had a break. Taking time to eat my apple, I thought I had been walking for miles by this point. I nearly died with about 45 minutes later I saw there was still 2.3 kilometres to go. The heat, combined with pushy people and constant attention for photos made this a more challenging than normal experience.
I felt terrible when I eventually made it out and saw Somu still waiting for me (as I knew he would be). Considering he thought I would only take an hour or so, I definately felt a little guilty. But of course, Somu was still kind enough to show me another shop I would like, selling all sorts of Indian trinkets, knowing he would need to wait longer. Out of courtesy I had a quick look, but after a scan inside I decided it was time for home. By this point it was about 1.20pm and my feet were tired. I was tired.
Considering Somu committed so much time to me today, I was sure to pay him well for taking care of me. He is such a lovely man who wouldn’t try to rip me off in any way, and is happy to accept what I give him. For that, I am happy to pay him more. Somu is now scheduled to pick me up tomorrow morning at 5.50am to take me to a little town called Bogadi where I will be meeting the “Mother of the World” - Amma. She hugs people, and apparently her energy is like nothing you have ever felt before. So tomorrow I am off to be hugged! As there is such a huge following, I need to get there early to get a token and get in line. It’s going to be a long day.
My afternoon has been spent reading about Raja Yoga, which Hatha is an extension of. Essentially it looks to the science in any religion and talks of the fundamental principles a yoga practitioner must possess / do in order to become a Yogi. I’ve really enjoyed reading this book and it’s been quite enlightening - however something to chat about another time. The learnings are endless.
Off to bed for me now. I have a date with Amma to prepare for!