Just 1008 steps....

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).

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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!

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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.

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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??

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Namaste xx

Mysore, India - crazy or not crazy? You be the judge!

Well - words fail me when it comes to describing the chaos of Mysore. I met someone yesterday who told me its easy to get caught in the Mysore bubble and never want to leave. I think she may have meant the Gokulam bubble (my suburb) as the city of Mysore is out of this world. But before I explain why.. some background about my day and how I ended up amongst the chaos.

Me being me, I had to visit one of the main attractions in Mysore - the Mysore Palace. This is for two reasons - one being that I genuinely want to see the palace and the other being that it will force me out of my comfort zone and throw me into the thick of the city. Well - that it certainly did.

After negotiating with a number of rickshaw drivers, all who try to scam the unsuspecting westerner (i do my research and know I should not pay more than 70 rupees for a ride to the city) I eventually found a driver who settled at 80 rupees. Considering I was getting frustrated by this point, I didn’t want to quabble over another 20 cents AUD. This trip alone was enough to shock all the senses yet again - speeding along the falling apart roads, weaving in and out of other trucks, cars, scooters and rickshaws, this experience alone is not for the faint hearted. As we began to near the city the traffic quadrupled in size. Within centimeters of my rickshaw are other rickshaws or trucks - people with claustrophobia may need to think twice when traveling the streets of Mysore. Even if I wanted to get out and walk, I would have needed to wedge myself between other vehicles in order to get through. Amazing.

I was dropped at the palace entrance which is swarming with locals trying to sell everything from incense and jewelry to handbags and thongs. Considering I have gone from ‘quiet’ (in comparison) Gokulam to people getting right up in your face to push for a sale, it can certainly be a little confronting initially. I just learned very quickly to 1) not look at the sellers in the eye (or not for long) 2) be firm with my 'no’ and 3) keep walking (this is absolutely necessary - certainly nowhere to rest here!)

As I am a foreigner I had to pay 200 rupees to enter the palace, compared with the 40 rupees locals pay. After walking through a rather serious looking metal detector which made some god-awful noise once I walked through, I was looking at a beautiful lemon and white coloured palace with stunningly beautiful red domes (not sure of the correct word) on the roof. I followed the crowds and found myself at a entry point to the palace where my shoes were to be left before entry. (As there are no records kept of whose shoes are whose, I was hopeful I would get mine back at the end of the visit - thank fully this was the outcome).

Prior to actually entering into the palace myself and other visitors were harassed to take an alternate route which meant passing through the tourist sales shop. Of course.

The palace was stunningly beautiful. With so many vibrant colours - golds, lime greens, reds.. - surrounding me, one can see why this is considered one of the most beautiful palaces in the world. And the intricate detail in every dark teak wood carving on the wall or door is fascinating. There were flowers, stars, Gods.. It would be impossible to identify all the different carvings throughout the palace.

Gold is a prominent feature of the palace - huge pillars from floor to high ceilings flaunt golden features. The entire front face of the palace is open to the elements, and upon walking into the grand room which looked out to the world, one couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by such magnificence. The natural light beaming into the palace and bouncing off the golden and green pillars made this a room feel like royalty if ever there was a way of showing it. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures in the palace (I got whistled at and told off), so this will remain in my memory only, however it is certainly a place to visit if ever in Mysore - even if its just to see this room.

The palace lights show is every Sunday night at 7.00pm so I will be sure to get myself back there next week to see this. It’s meant to be quite a magical experience. (Aladdin anyone?)

I caught another rickshaw to one of the biggest markets in Mysore - Devaraja Market. Lonely Planet recommended this one. The driver warned me of pickpockets and advised I don’t fall for any child who tries to speak with me as chances are there is a man behind stealing from me. I was glad to have the heads up.

After somehow making it across the main road alive, I walked through a dark entrance into a bustling markets. The first thing you notice are the vibrant dies which are beautifully displayed in bowls at the front of market stalls. The next are the number of people who instantly swarm to you, looking at you like starving dogs ready to attack their prey. I was hounded non-stop walking through this market - it’s incredibly intimidating at first and then it just becomes draining - having to constantly ignore or fend people off. One man in particular followed me around for much of the market trying to sell me anklets, but i just wasn’t interested. I also wasn’t keen on opening my purse in a place like this. Everyone is so jammed up against one another, it wouldn’t take much to steal from you if given a split second opportunity.
I also noticed there was a yellow cow in the market wandering around - yes that’s correct - yellow. Random.

I was a little full up with Mysore by the end of this ordeal and decided to head back to Gokulam where I finally ate something before heading to a local supermarket. Here I managed to get a couple of necessary cleaning products -hand soap and baby wipes for cleaning my feet each night. Thank goodness for them.

Feeling completely overwhelmed with sounds, sights and smells, I’ve decided to spend the late afternoon and evening in my room. After chatting with Owen via Skype for an hour or so I have been writing all the Sanskrit names of the foundation yoga postures. Considering I start training tomorrow at 11.00am, I thought now was an opportune time for brushing up on my Sanskrit.

Hopefully now it makes a little more sense why I think the girl I met yesterday was probably referring more to the Gokulam bubble rather than the Mysore bubble.. Craziness.