A Travellerspoint blog

Never judge a book by its cover nor a city by its name.

We cruised into Mysore in the early afternoon having enjoyed the three hour drive though the lush jungle and fresh countryside of the state of Karnataka.  Mysore is in south southwest India and is such a pleasant city as the weather is hot without being oppressive, the people are friendly without being pushy and there is so much to do without being hectic.  Mysore was to be just a short stopover before heading to Goa and part of us is regretting that we didn't stay longer than two nights.

On our first morning we stepped out of our hotel and straight into Asif's auto rickshaw. Just in case you don't know, an auto rickshaw is a three wheeled covered taxi about the size of a golf cart but powered by a two stroke engine. We were Asif's first customers of the day and the incense from his morning pooja was still smoking in his rickshaw as we piled in and took off to explore this city of 1.5 million.  

We drove but a kilometer as we hadn't had breakfast and Asif recommended a place just around the corner.  It turned out to be a roof top terrace overlooking Gandhi square.  The sweet lassi (a yogurt milkshake) was made just right and was the perfect compliment to chai, eggs and toast.  

But we were determined to see the town and not squander the day relaxing on a sunny rooftop with cool drinks so we piled back into the rickshaw and started for Chamundi hill. Solstice, Manas and I even took a turn at driving the rickshaw on the road up the hill. Our first intention was to climb all 1001 steps to the top but thank goodness we took Asif's advice and started 300 steps from the top where a giant statue of Nandi was carved in 1659 from the solid rock of the mountain.  Nandi is giant bull and is the god Shiva's vehicle/pet/companion. 

After 300 steps and a visit with Nandi we summited the hill to arrive at the Sri Chammundeswari Temple complex. After a look around and a couple of coconuts we were back down the steps and with only a brief pause for a fresh pineapple break we were back in the rickshaw.

We didn't go far as the next stop was Karanji Lake Nature Park. We strolled around the lake enjoying birdsong, butterflies and poinsettias commenting how the park was exceptionally clean and well managed.  As Manas wrote in his journal, "I wish my lungs could expand so I could take in more of the fresh air." Aleix came back with a trophy of collected feathers bit without the one he coveted most - a peacock's.

After the park we toured the Mysore Palace with every other tourist and local within the near vicinity and as it was almost time for supper Meera and
The kids went back to the hotel while I dashed off for a shave.  Getting a shave is one of my favourite things to do in India because for less than a dollar I get half an hour of peace from the world and a chance to recharge - plus a great shave complete with aftershave!

Supper was at a rooftop cafe where the only thing tastier than the food was the cool evening air and recalling the events of the day in this lovely
town of Mysore.
Manas trying his hand at the auto rickshaw

Manas trying his hand at the auto rickshaw

Nandi, Shiva's bull

Nandi, Shiva's bull

Climbing up Chamundi hill

Climbing up Chamundi hill

Chammundeswari Temple complex

Chammundeswari Temple complex

Mike having a rakhi tied on outside a temple

Mike having a rakhi tied on outside a temple

Holy cow

Holy cow

Manas and Aleix sipping on coconut water to quench their thirst

Manas and Aleix sipping on coconut water to quench their thirst

Solstice lost in the poinsettia

Solstice lost in the poinsettia

Maharaja Mike

Maharaja Mike

UploadedFile9.jpg

UploadedFile9.jpg

Posted by The Flying Five 04:14 Archived in India Comments (1)

Elephant camp

As the sun rose this morning over the mist covered Nilgiri mountains, as the birds began their morning songs and as the chai was steeping we arrived at an elephant camp in  Mudumalai  National Park.  The Mudumalai jungle is lush and green, abundant with teak, acacia, bamboo and rose wood trees.  The elephant camp is a centre for orphaned and abandoned elephants as well as a rehabilitation place for dangerous elephants.  We were the only tourists to arrive so early and were therefore allowed to peek at the baby elephant, just 124 days old.  We had a playful time with her and she seemed quite pleased to have early morning visitors as she awoke.  She came to the centre as a new born orphan and requires a lot of love and attention from her caregiver. She needs to be fed a milk formula every hour!

After saying goodbye to the little elephant we had a visit with an 18 month old elephant who had been rescued by villagers from the jaws of a crocodile!  He has recovered from his injuries and is a very curious fellow.  He wrapped his trunk around our faces and necks.  At one point he got ahold of Manas' ear and wouldn't let go!  Manas had quite a red ear afterwards but I don't think he minded one bit!  The little guy also got a hold of the zipper on Sol's sweater and tried to open it!  He had us all laughing!

We bonded most with a 5 year old elephant named Maseni.  She came to the centre as a baby and has every need taken care of by her Mahout.  A Mahout is an elephant's caregiver and trainer and he looks after every need of the elephant: the feeding, the bathing, exercise and stimulation.  They communicate very touchingly with each other; it is an extraordinary bond.  Elephant, Mahout and the 5 of us went down to the river for bath time.  We were able to bathe, splash and caress Maseni as she lovingly wrapped her trunk around our faces, ears, necks and hands.  This was an incredibly special experience for us and one that we are not likely to forget!

We stayed for feeding time and witnessed the colossal amount of food it takes to feed an elephant and the energy and dedication it takes to prepare the food.  Each Mahout prepares the food for his own elephant.  Elephants at the camp eat millet, rice, lentils and other supplements.  For the adult elephants these kilos of food are a mere snack and they soon head off in to the jungle to chow down on 350 kilos of vegetation each day. The young animals are not permitted into the jungle yet and the adults return before night fall.  Elephants require a great deal of exercise as normally they walk about 40 kilometers a day.

At our jungle retreat the kids' imagination is on fire!  They play in a 4 story bamboo tree house   perched up high in a massive rosewood tree.  We all
swim in a beautiful pool that mimics a natural watering hole.  We have spent countless hours playing badminton and carrom. All around this beautiful campus we can see white spotted deer lazily and happily grazing.  This reminds me so much of Jasper and waking up to all of the elk gathered around the campsites.  We have taken an interpretive walk around the campus and have identified more than 20 species of trees and have learnt about the properties of local flora.  We picked fruit, berries and spices to tempt our palette.  With the help of our guide, Raj Kumar we identified a sandal wood tree and found a star fruit tree!

We have taken several safaris into the Mudumalai jungle and our must successful one by far was the evening safari we took on our final day.  We saw wild elephants, gaur (wild bison that look like they are wearing white tube socks), sloth bears, sambar deer and dozens of spotted deer.  The elusive tiger and leopard evaded us again!  Manas and Aleix say that next time we visit the jungle they will build a camouflage where we will remain until we see a tiger!

It is almost time to celebrate Christmas but there are no signs of the holiday down here.  Solstice did, however, give us all a treat last night and
played Christmas carols around the bonfire.

We hope that you are all having fun singing carols, putting up decorations, baking cookies and playing in the snow!  We wish you all peace and love this holiday season.
Jungle retreat

Jungle retreat

30 feet high and flyin' high in a bamboo tree house

30 feet high and flyin' high in a bamboo tree house

Happiness in the water hole

Happiness in the water hole

Hungry tusker!

Hungry tusker!

Elephant babe!

Elephant babe!

Bonding with Maseni

Bonding with Maseni

Beautiful Maseni

Beautiful Maseni

Bath time!

Bath time!

Mama in bliss land

Mama in bliss land

Mahout and Maseni

Mahout and Maseni

Mahouts lovingly preparing their elephant's 3 kilo snack!

Mahouts lovingly preparing their elephant's 3 kilo snack!

How to eat elephant food

How to eat elephant food

Back to the jungle

Back to the jungle

I can see your peacock ...

I can see your peacock ...

Wild gaur

Wild gaur

Posted by The Flying Five 07:09 Comments (0)

Rocking it in Tamil Nadu

We just ate a deliciously scrumptious lunch at la Maison Rose in the French quarter of Pondicherry.  One of the pleasures of Pondichery is enjoying one of its many restaurants, whether in a courtyard or garden.  We have also enjoyed walking down the wide seaside promenade, exploring the many shops and relaxing in the beautiful city park.  Tamil Nadu is full of vibrant, colorful temples that have intricate, whimsical gateways leading to each extraordinary temple.  

We had the good fortune of visiting the town of Auroville.  Auroville is the brain child of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.  A vision come reality, a town and its people existing in harmony with nature.  Since 1968, over 1 million trees have been planted on what was once barren land.  The geographical centre of Auroville is an ancient Banyan tree that is at once awe inspiring and humbling.  It is simply a magnificent sight!  Auroville is a self sufficient, international community that lives without religious or political doctrine in the spirit of human unity.  It is a superb example of living in balance on our beautiful planet earth.

Before visiting Pondicherry we spent 4 days in Mamallapuram, an age old centre for stone carving.  We visited a shore temple and wandered around the many rock temples and rock reliefs.  We admired Arjuna's Penance, an outstanding rock relief.  Our guide, Shiva talked us through many hindu epics as told on the rock.  We were so overwhelmed by legend, nostalgia and admiration that our guide, Shiva managed to convince us to purchase many over priced rock carvings. 

Enjoy the photos ... I have tried to write less and allow the photos to express more.

Blessings and love to all of you this holiday season.
The shore temples of Mamallapuram

The shore temples of Mamallapuram

Mike at the shore temple

Mike at the shore temple

Life imitating art, art imitating life

Life imitating art, art imitating life

The kids with a stone cut elephant at the 5 rathas

The kids with a stone cut elephant at the 5 rathas

Manas and Aleix in their happy place at crocodile bank

Manas and Aleix in their happy place at crocodile bank

A sleeping crocodile at crocodile bank

A sleeping crocodile at crocodile bank

Lakshmi the elephant

Lakshmi the elephant

The children enjoying their blessings from Lakshmi

The children enjoying their blessings from Lakshmi

Meera being blessed by Lakshmi the elephant at the  Manakula Vinayagar Temple

Meera being blessed by Lakshmi the elephant at the Manakula Vinayagar Temple

An elaborate and colorful gateway to one of Tamil Nadu's many temples

An elaborate and colorful gateway to one of Tamil Nadu's many temples

A moment of peace

A moment of peace

Mike under the protection of a cobra

Mike under the protection of a cobra

Ganeshji

Ganeshji

A welcome to one of the many vibrant temples of Tamil Nadu

A welcome to one of the many vibrant temples of Tamil Nadu

Life in balance in Auroville

Life in balance in Auroville

The Banyan tree and biographical centre of Auroville

The Banyan tree and biographical centre of Auroville

Enjoying the shade of the Banyan tree

Enjoying the shade of the Banyan tree

The Matrimandir of Auroville, the symbol of divine consciousness

The Matrimandir of Auroville, the symbol of divine consciousness

Posted by The Flying Five 03:33 Archived in India Comments (1)

Wedding bells in the Punjab

We are waiting to board a flight to the south of India.  It is with mixed emotions that we fly south.  On one hand we are very excited to explore the state of Tamil Nadu and on the other we are very sad to say good bye to our amazing Indian relatives.  We have been incredibly fortunate to attend not one but two family weddings.  The most recent wedding took place in Jalundhar city in the Punjab.  Meera's cousin's daughter, Priya, was a beautiful and stunning bride.  We were treated so well by the Jalundhar families that we were very hesitant to head out on our own again!  The wedding celebrations took place over 3 days and began in true Punjabi fashion with a late night feast!  The following day we attended a mendhi ceremony. In The evening we got dressed up in our finery and attended the Sangeet. The boys ran wild with all of their Indian brothers.  They made up games and when the rules became complicated the boys had to rely on translations from English to punjabi, punjabi to English.  Solstice danced with her cousins and played her violin for everyone.  Her music was very much appreciated and people even got up to dance.   We continued to dance to loud, distorted music all evening long in an attempt to build up an appetite for another late night feast.  

The following day we arrived at Meera's cousin's home for the sacred  ceremony.   The yard was beautifully and tastefully decorated with colourful flowers in intricate designs.  Later that day we dressed up again for the actual hindi wedding ceremony.  The groom arrived at the hotel on a white horse accompanied by drummers and dancers.  The bride's side welcomed the groom, Karan, and he was slowly escorted inside to a magical setting where he waited for the beautiful bride.  Priya arrived escorted by family and was decorated with beautiful clothes and jewellery.  The wedding ceremony took place around a fire and lasted approximately 2 hours.  Once the ceremony was complete the guests feasted and listened to live, dreamy tabla and violin music while the bride and groom patiently endured a long photo shoot.

Perhaps the most emotional and touching part of the entire wedding took place much later after the festivities were complete.  It is traditional for the bride and groom to go to the bride's house and await the groom's family.  As Priya left her family home she threw puffed rice over her shoulder to bless them with abundance.  After a tearful goodbye, her brothers, father, uncles and cousins slowly pushed the bride and groom's car away from the home.  The emotion felt by all was completely overwhelming and Priya's departure from the family home was a tearful one.  

A trip to the Punjab would not be complete without a trip to Amritsar and a visit to the Golden Temple.  We also visited the Pakistan/India border where every evening there is a ceremonial closing of the gate.  This ceremony is part military formality, part nationalistic hysteria and part American
cheerleader as soldiers strut, civilians wave flags and a specialist in a track suit exhorts the crowd to higher levels of excitement.  We were privileged enough to see it all from VIP seating in the foreigners gallery.  

Amritsar was a whirlwind and all too soon we were at Amritsar airport and winging our way south to Tamil Nadu.  
Priya's beautiful Mendhi pattern

Priya's beautiful Mendhi pattern

The sacred Chura ceremony

The sacred Chura ceremony

Blessings

Blessings

Maneesha and Meera showing off their Jaipur shopping!

Maneesha and Meera showing off their Jaipur shopping!

The groom arrives

The groom arrives

The leader of the band

The leader of the band

And the feast goes on ...

And the feast goes on ...

Rajesh with two lovely ladies

Rajesh with two lovely ladies

Bo under, Ringo and Mike

Bo under, Ringo and Mike

Bride and groom ... Forever

Bride and groom ... Forever

Forever the symbol of India

Forever the symbol of India

Running with the flag

Running with the flag

Customs check

Customs check

Border patrol at its best

Border patrol at its best

Happy boys

Happy boys

Mike and Rajesh

Mike and Rajesh

Team Amritsar

Team Amritsar

The golden temple by night

The golden temple by night

Posted by The Flying Five 23:03 Comments (1)

The Golden Triangle

We all arrived back in Delhi after our adventures in the north only to be caught up in the frenetic events of a family wedding.  Meera's distant cousin was getting married and outfits needed assembling and transportation needed organizing. The wedding was held over three days. The first event was a late night dance with too much food and way too much drink although I did my best to make sure there were no leftovers of either. Fortunately, the next day allowed no time to nurse any sore heads as by early afternoon we were off to a mendhi.  This is where the bride, and any ladies attending the wedding who so desire, have a type of temporary henna tattoo painted on their hands and forearms.  This event was held on a balcony of a large hotel. The weather was idyllic and was only matched by the fine food food and good company. The last event on the third day was the actual wedding.  To my untrained eye it looked much like the first event only slightly more formal - except for the fact the actual wedding ceremony took place. The Sarins really know how to make a person feel like part of the family - especially tricky when most of the people at the wedding aren't exactly sure who I am and are silently wondering why a white fellow is wearing a black Kurta Pyjama (a typical type of Indian men's clothing). 

After the wedding Meera and I went our separate ways. She went off to Jaipur to shop for Om Sweet Om and I went to Agra with the kids and our friend from the Yukon, Sophie. We set off at six a.m. To beat the traffic and four hours and 200 km later we we walking up to the Taj Mahal. Folks, it really is as beautiful as it is reputed to be. The Taj was completed around 1655.  The builder, Mughal emporer Shah Jahan, was grief struck as his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, had just died in childbirth of their fourteenth child together.  The Shah himself described the Taj saying,  

Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.

The last line is my favourite.  It is as beautiful up close as it is from a distance as the white marble is inlaid with semi precious stones to create flowers and vines and verses from the Qu'ran are are also inlaid around the doorways in black marble.  Unfortunately for the poor Shah, his son
Aurangzeb deposed him for wasting the kingdom's treasury and imprisoned him in Agra Fort. For the last eight years of his life the Shah could only stare at the Taj from a two kilometer distance as his eyesight slowly died with his spirit.

Like the Shah, we also were at the Agra Fort. We were proud to partake in a the longstanding and proud Indian tradition of baksheesh.  Baksheesh, of course, is the art of giving bribes.  For a mere 400 rupees we were smuggled into the locked and off limits to the public Glass Palace.  This was the bathroom of none other than Mumtaz Mahal, the women for whom Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal. The guide lit two candles and two flames became a thousand as the flickering light reflected off a thousand tiny pieces of glass inset into the walls and ceilings. One could only imagine the queen in her glory as she soaked in her huge tub entertained by musicians and dancers, the whole scene glittering like an ancient disco ball of a thousand points of light.  Our time as royalty up, we pressed the baksheesh into the janitor/key holder's hand and rejoined the common folk milling about the Agra Fort.  

Four hours later, a ride made shorter in large part, to some creative driving by our chauffeur, we arrived back in Delhi to be joined a short time later by Meera who was still flushed with excitement from her shopping trip and experiences in Jaipur.

Delhi, Jaipur and  Agra, know as the Golden Triangle, has brightly shone its lights on yet another group of wide-eyed wanderers. 
The wonders of the world

The wonders of the world


The Taj Mahal through the mist

The Taj Mahal through the mist

Even gods get stuck in traffic in India

Even gods get stuck in traffic in India

Agra Fort, conquered by monkeys

Agra Fort, conquered by monkeys

Tiptoeing through the temples of Delhi

Tiptoeing through the temples of Delhi

Mike in the lotus position

Mike in the lotus position

Posted by The Flying Five 22:12 Archived in India Comments (1)

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