This story is not directly about type 1 diabetes; it is about a day trip I did while in Bangalore in 2005. However, as always, the umbrella of type 1 diabetes is always overhead while the Indian adventure continues.
Apart from the second day I was here, when I was taken around to a few of the sights in Bangalore, yesterday was the first “tourist” day in India. And what a day it was. The objective was “A day in Mysore” and we achieved that with lot’s to spare.
Mysore is a small city three hours from Bangalore. It is impossible to know how far in distance it is because the roads are not very good, with probably half the trip undergoing reconstruction. But my impression of Mysore city is that I would like to have some time in the city itself to walk around and explore quietly and calmly, not in tourist mode. It is unlike Bangalore in many ways, including the feel of the place. Many people have told me that Bangalore is one of the most advanced and modern cities in India and my view of Mysore yesterday reinforces that view.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning.
The idea of the trip was first floated by Ram and Srini, who are the two Indian fellows making up our team in Bangalore, about four weeks ago, as a team building and bonding exercise. They organized the whole thing from go to whoa and did a marvellous job. They organized a car and a driver for the whole day. The car, fortunately, was a 4WD; fortunately because the state of the roads meant that a standard small car would have been a bit uncomfortable.
The car picked me up at 06:45. I threw my overly packed bag into the back and off we went. The first stop was for “breakfast” at a roadside travellers restaurant along the way about ninety minutes out of Bangalore. India is similar to Saudi in that they usually don’t eat until later in the morning and they call it breakfast when they do. For us it is more like a really big morning tea.
We pulled in to the restaurant, which was an outside dining area associated with a traveller’s hotel. There were people everywhere, mostly travellers both Indian and tourist. We found a table and sat down to enjoy a rest from the road. The waiters were dressed in an outfit that Ram told me was particular to the people native to this part of India. I can’t adequately describe it, but it included a hat that we have all seen pictures of. Until now I hadn’t seen anybody wearing this type of outfit and this indicates how diverse India is. We had travelled less distance than Melbourne to Geelong and the language and dress had already changed.
After a drink and a snack we were on our way again. I have already described, in a much earlier story, the traffic on the highways. It was similar yesterday. The flow of traffic along any stretch of road is like one big, rolling chaos. Even though we travelled hundreds of kilometres yesterday, the driver at no point was able to sit back and cruise, having to constantly dodge and weave, slam on the breaks, drive around obstacles, just to keep us moving forward. The traffic certainly moves, except when the road builders have cut down a huge tree by the side of the newly forming road, only to have it fall directly across the highway. Sigh. That certainly brought proceedings to a halt for a small while. But it all works. I don’t know how, but it works.
The countryside on the way to Mysore is lush and green, with most of the distance devoted to agriculture of some sort. We saw groves of coconuts, rice paddy after rice paddy, fields of corn, fields of sugar cane and wheat. We saw market gardens and hay stack after hay stack, which were the old fashioned variety where the loose hay is stacked to the size and shape of a house. The countryside is higgledy-piggledy, seemingly put together with gay abandon, but I suspect there is some sort of rhythm to its apparent madness.
The villages we drove through all look similar from the back of a car. There are always people and pushbikes everywhere. There are also always cows no matter where you look. I imagine that a walk through any of these villages would soon dig up lots of interesting stuff, but I haven’t done that yet and may not get the chance, more’s the shame. Eventually we got to Mysore.
The first place we visited, and I’m not even going to bother trying to get the factual details correct, because I won’t, was the King’s summer palace. I have photos of this for those who can get them on the web. I still haven’t worked out the best way to get the link to you all, but I’m working on it. This king was basically screwed over big time by the Brits when they were here, but that is becoming a common theme. This property we were at was the place he came to in the heat of summer.
The property itself is very large (think 50 or 60 acres), with the palace in the middle. The palace, being the summer one, is built like a really, really big Old Queenslander. It is huge and open to the breezes. Inside are lots of rooms where the king and his family spent their time. There wasn’t anything spectacular about this place, apart from the gardens and the history. I wish I could recount to you the history with the Brits because I was appalled when I heard it. But I won’t get the facts right so won’t try. The gardens are maintained by a family trust (I think) and are kept looking beautiful. The buildings have thankfully been taken into care by a government department and so are now being restored and looked after.
Next on the agenda was lunch in Mysore at a hotel. The hotel chosen was good, with interesting décor and most importantly, clean toilets. So far in India I can say with my hand on my heart that if you are not at your modern place of work or in your apartment or in your 5 star hotel, or possibly in one of the few, modern shopping complexes, the public toilets will make strong ladies feel faint. But enough said about that at this juncture; I may have more to say later in the story.
We all had a relaxed and very pleasant break for lunch, before setting off for Mysore Palace.
Mysore Palace is the main tourist attraction in town, and deservedly so. This was the main residence for the king and has history stretching back hundreds and hundreds of years to when India was a global power. Bear with me for a moment while I group the superlatives together and get them out of the way.
Stunning, breath-taking, awesome, fantastic, mind boggling, beautiful.
Now WORD is having a fit over that line because it doesn’t actually form a sentence. I’m going to ignore the green line it is throwing at me because Mysore Palace overrides Bill’s rules on good English. I stress to you; if you ever come to India, one of the places to come to see for a couple of hours is Mysore Palace. I’m not going to try to tell you it rivals the Taj Mahal, because it no doubt doesn’t. What I am going to say is that if you come to southern India and don’t try hard to see Mysore Palace, then you’ve done yourself a disservice.
The guys hired a guide for the tour around the palace. The guides are the best way to go because, for a start, they don’t cost much when you are thinking in Aussie dollars or English pounds. Plus the guide gives you all of the history, side notes and interesting tid bits. He is also there to answer your questions, of which we had many. Plus, he jumps the queue! One shame is that you can’t take your camera into Mysore Palace. But that’s becoming the norm for many of this sort of site around the world. But for $A1.60 you can buy sets of ten postcards, which give you a beautiful set of photos of the main sights inside the palace. One example is the King’s throne, which is made of 80kg of pure gold. Another is the chair thing that the king used to ride in on top of the ceremonial elephant, which is made of gold and weighs in at 280kg. Then there are the floor-to-ceiling teak doors inlaid with ivory and which are simply exquisite in their detail. There is room after room of architecture that takes the breath away; rooms like the Throne Room, where the king met visiting dignitaries or the royal wedding room where, believe it or not, royal weddings were conducted. The architecture is stunning and the wealth in it’s time is breath-taking.
Mysore Palace is a must see if in that part of the world.
From the palace we drove up a hill just outside Mysore, at the top of which is a famous temple. For the purists amongst you, I must apologise profusely. I do not mean to denigrate the importance or the meaning of temples in India, or anywhere else for that matter. But the full meaning is not evident in my thoughts when I leave the temple. For me, the significance of this temple was its location, being the top of a very prominent mountain on the outskirts of Mysore, and the village atmosphere that surrounded the temple.
The road up the mountain is so steep that the driver had to turn the airconditioning off because it was sucking too much power from the motor. The road twists and turns, but eventually gets to the top. Once the car was parked, we walked along a path lined with vendors selling anything and everything. It is always predominated by the small, sandal-wood trinkets that the average tourist must be interested in. Sigh.
At the top is the temple. This temple is quite a significant building. The pathway snakes around from special spot to special spot, with devotees moving along in a state of reverence. One interesting thing I did see was a monk, for want of a better word, sitting cross-legged on the stone floor in a corner, reading his book which was resting on the ground. He was dressed in his monk’s loin cloth and had the multi lines of colour on his forehead. He was what I would expect to see in a temple, but happened to be the first one I had seen in all of the temples I have been to. As we walked through the stalls on the way to the top, I couldn’t help but think of the story in the bible when Jesus got all bent out of shape about the market stalls in the house of prayer. Someone told me that one difference is that the market stalls that JC was annoyed with were inside the church. These yesterday were outside the temple. Maybe that’s an important difference.
But anyway, we collected out shoes. While we were putting them on, a young boy came over and began his begging routine. This little boy was different though. He was one of the sweetest young boys that I have met so far in India. He was maybe nine years old and had this tiny, small, high pitched voice with which he spoke excellent English. I don’t really know what he was saying, but it basically came down to trying to sell me something or asking for money. But I was spell-bound by his voice, his gentleness and his politeness. So I fished a few coins from my pocket and gave them to him. I actually don’t think this was what he was asking for, but I just felt that I needed to give him something. Call me a dill, a softy or socially inept, but we parted company each at least a little satisfied.
Then the boy went to one of my companions and started again. Sigh.
On the walk back to the car we saw lots of monkeys by the path. They were mainly adult females, some with babies hanging underneath. We couldn’t get over how cute they looked. But we kept a sharp eye out for the dads. These ones were cute, but the dads often aren’t.
Before getting in the car for the next section of the big day out, Srini educated me about what a particular stall was selling. It was small coconuts which, for 30 Aussie cents, they will cut the top off, give you a straw and you can drink the coconut milk directly from it. This was a most refreshing pick-me-up. It is surprising just how much liquid there is in each one.
It was now late afternoon and I was pondering the growing questions concerning my medication and food. I was yet to see a place where I would be prepared to do my medication ritual, which for many reasons I virtually insist on doing in private. I was beginning to wonder how this was going to work out. One of the considerations that I always keep important is the minimisation of impact on other people in the group. I know, I know; call me names. But after thirty something years I have established certain criteria which I am loath to break. One of them is somewhere clean. I don’t think you could blame me for maintaining that one.
The next stop was the Musical Fountains. All I knew was that there was a fountain somewhere that had music associated with it and which was best to view after 7pm. That’s it! End of information! It turns out that this is one of the most popular tourist destinations in this part of India, especially for Indians seeing their own country. Now for those of you in Melbourne, think of Maroondah Dam, and especially the gardens below the dam wall. Now multiply the dam wall by about ten length ways. Multiply the area of gardens by a factor of ten. Put a very large pond in the middle of the gardens where the off-run from the dam goes. Now put a large, sculptured channel of water coming from the top of the hill down into the drainage pond on either side of the pond. To this picture add a minimum of 5000 people, all wanting to see the same thing at the same time. This was what we encountered when the forty five minute journey was completed. Boy was I glad I had brought the radioactive goo for repelling mosquitos, because I really needed it.
The co-ordinated lights and fountains were really clever and pretty. Most of the roving throng were Indian families who had travelled to see the fountains. The idea was to walk up the path along one side of the stream, do a U turn at the top and walk down the other side. Back at the bottom there was a choice of walking across the bridge to the other side, where the actual musical fountain was, or catch a boat for the three minute ride across the pond. All together, the round trip was two kilometres, with fountains and lights along the whole way and also music during the last bit.
The fountains really were pretty and the musical section was quite hypnotizing. The many families enjoyed the experience, as did we. I found the boat trip across the pond interesting. So many things here would never be allowed in Australia for reasons of insurance. An insurance executive would faint if he saw the boats and how they were being conducted across the pond. And here’s the rub; in my opinionated opinion, there was very little wrong with it in practice. But in description most of us would find it horrifying. Nobody had life jackets. There were no safety precautions apart from a basic ensurance that not too many people got on board and that they were roughly evenly spread port’n’starboard (oh, alright – left’n’right). There were no lights, so in the middle of the pond we could go phut and no one would ever know. And I’m just an uneducated casual observer. No doubt there are many other points that an insurance person would see. As a matter of fact, the boat did nearly flip when everyone started getting off at the same time and so we were all on the same side at the same time. Lots of raised voices and waving arms soon righted the situation.
Our sight seeing was over. Now it was time to get home. The poor driver had been on the go since before 5am and was getting tired. It was now 9pm and we still had a four hour drive ahead of us. So off we set. To get back to the main road we had to travel along a few back country roads. Even out here the place never stops. There were bullock carts being driven along the side of the road, loaded to the hilt with farm stuff, in the pitch black. There were cars going in both directions, though not many, and the occasional sleepy village in which some of the men could be seen drinking char outside the local shop. Eventually we got to the main road. By the way, char is tea.
Do you remember those 5000 people I mentioned earlier? Well they were all, en-masse, heading to Bangalore. And we joined them. Hee har, hold on tight because this is going to be an interesting ride. During the day you can see the condition of the road ahead. But at night, with almost all of the oncoming traffic having their headlights on full beam, it was nigh-on impossible to see the edge of the bonnet. The poor driver had to duck and weave. He had to stand on the breaks occasionally and dodge every form of vehicle known to man. And this went on for a couple of hundred kilometres.
Srini and Ram were getting concerned for my state of health, God bless ‘em. Having experienced this set of circumstances only once before, I was not too sure what choices I had, if any. I could tell now, being after 9pm, that I was losing energy and had gone quiet. I felt OK, just not very lively. So Srini and Ram instructed the driver to find somewhere where we could rest and eat and, hopefully, I could do my medication. The driver found a family traveller’s restaurant which turned out to be quite good.
The first thing I did was go to the toilets to see if I could do my thing in there. Ahhhhhh, no way! I’ve been around the block a couple of times, but even I was shocked at the condition. On the way back to our table I asked one of the waiters if there was a room or an office where I could have some privacy. He declared that there wasn’t.
Now I really was getting annoyed and sad. I knew I could find a way out of this, but how was starting to look dim. Srini asked me how I went. When I told him that the toilets were a no go and that the waiter said there was not a room I could use, I saw on Srini’s face as he immediately thought to himself “Bull S__t! We’ll see about that.” He jumped up and was gone. Two minutes later he returned and instructed me to follow him. He took me to an open banquette room up some stairs. It was empty except for a single table and a light. And it was completely private with one set of stairs leading up. Srini announced that he would stand guard at the bottom of the stairs while I did my thing, which I did as quickly and as simply as I could. All was OK now. Thank-you Srini.
For those of you who aren’t in the close family loop, I try very hard not to let my health considerations affect my activities or those of the people I am with. It is not fair for me to expect others to be impacted by my restrictions. But there are times when, due to circumstances, the view for me is looming doom and gloom, and that is where simple, thankless, kind acts such as Srini’s make me glad the world has good people in it.
So now I was chemicaled up (New word. I’m taking out a copyright as soon as I return to Melbourne) and feeling better with the world. We each had a small meal, returned to the car and proceeded on our long drive home. The poor driver had to stop once to get a cup of tea as he felt himself falling asleep. It was while he was doing this that I made a dill of myself. Keep in mind that I was now feeling totally perky as the medication did its’ thing, so was more chatty than most of the others. There was a sign on the other side of the road for a restaurant (think truck driver’s café) called the Sahara Restaurant. I know because it said so in English. Much to my surprise, below this was distinctive Arabic writing. I told the others I could read Arabic and would tell them what it said. Arabic is largely phonetic, so I proceeded to sound the words out, not expecting to really know what I had said. When I finished I turned around and saw that the others were crying with laughter. “What’s wrong?” I asked. They spluttered to me “Do you know what you just said?” “No” I said. They told me that I had just said Sahara Restaurant, but with a strong Arabic accent. They didn’t believe that I had read the Arabic writing. I saw the joke and laugh along with them, but I also tried to explain that I really had read the Arabic writing. For some reason, I don’t always listen to myself when I read Arabic. I seem to concentrate more on actually reading it, not comprehending it. The person who had written the Arabic on the sign had translated the English name verbatim and written it in Arabic. How embarrassing for me. The comprehension is something I really need help with Vivienne.
We started on the final stretch, which took another hour. I was finally dropped off at a quarter to two in the morning. I thanked Ram and Srini profusely and gave the driver Rs100 for his good efforts throughout the day. Ram and Srini almost knocked themselves out trying to stop me, for reasons that I will need to find out tomorrow. Maybe it was because this day out was not meant to cost me anything, or maybe there was a cultural reason that I was not meant to give the driver a tip. But I’ll find out and let you know if I remember to do so.
It was a big but bountiful day. Thank-you Srini and Ram.
That is India as I have seen it.