Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Moon Day Escape: Melukote
I was coy in approaching this last moon day weekend, potentially the last I'll have on my trip here. I imagined myself chilling out in my new single pad. Or shopping in town. Or lazing by the pool. Or hand-washing laundry--more out of necessity rather than desire for this one. But on Friday, upon realizing that so many folks planned out of town excursions, day trips to overnight stays, I felt remorseful. Oh, why didn't I plan!
By the end of chanting class, a grand plan was hatched for Jungle Safari, email addresses were exchanged and Ysabel braved the travel agent. Unfortunately, these spur of the moment things cannot be planned out between 6-7 people over the internet. By Saturday morning my hopes to see "lions and tigers and bears (are there bears in these parts?)oh my!" were history.
More than anything, I itched to make make use of the "long" weekend -- in Mysore-speak, a 2-day stretch. I wanted to see something other than Gokulam. I wanted to experience something that reminded me I was in India.
I was not alone. Kylie from Sydney recruited me for Coorg, which went bust as well with no room at the local inn. Together, at Anouki's for breakfast we hatched up a new plan. The not too far was Melukote, a temple a top a hill with several sacred pools and only about 90km away from Mysore. We could leave after breakfast and be back before dark. Chris from Virginia via Japan was happy to follow on his motorbike. We called Krishna Murthy to hire a car and driver. He was happy to oblige and had one ready for us within the hour (Rs1250 total). Soon we were set.
After a month in Gokulam, the distinctly suburban streets with its menagerie of animals (semi-domesticated dogs, cows, ponies, goats, and sheep) wandering the streets, starts to feel commonplace. Once we were outside Mysore's city limits, we were sure we had made the right decision. It was good to see the countryside, it was good to experience different visual input, even at the cost of risking out lives to haphazard Indian driving--which I think is definitely worse than Filipino driving, if that says anything. We appreciated the change in scenery and landscape. We saw fields of sugar cane, and we overtook many a pair of oxen hauling freshly cut cane. You could smell the sweetness in the air as we sped by. We saw various creative ways of stacking cargo atop trucks. Some, seriously defying gravity. Some, downright lopsided.
Once we arrived, we were contacted by Chris who beat us on his motorbike and had already conducted a quick mini-tour of the area. He met us at the large pool where people bathed (supposedly for religious ritual) and washed clothes (supposedly for cleaning though the water was murky). We moved on from there, taking the path that our driver pointed out, which was supposed to go to the temple. Though the path would eventually lead us further and further away from the temple on the hill, it just kept on getting smaller and smaller, we were happy with our walk around. Here the air was clean and crisp. And the view of the valley bellow was stunning. Huge boulders and large rocks dotted the landscape. And to complete the pastoral, a small flock of sheep grazed on the grass as their faithful herder slumbered deeply atop a flat bed of rock on the edge of the cliff. The way he was sleeping, with his hands in prayer tucked underneath his cheek made the rock seem as cozy as sleeping a top a half dozen fluffy mattresses.
We retraced our steps, finally making our way to the entrance which we easily bypassed at the start of our walk. The stairs lined with beggars was not as pretty a path as our original way. We made our way up the temple, which in itself was lackluster. And as with many of Indian monuments, there are no signs explaining the history of the temple and its surroundings. However, the view from up top was truly stunning. In the windows of the temple, colorful bracelets hung from the window, left by pilgrims.
On our way down, we stopped for coconut milk. Chris deposited the last of his change to the beggars. One boy treated us with his most un-harmonic performance, yelling quite out of tune as he pumped indiscriminately on his instrument (which looked much like an accordion), for which I rewarded him a ten note.
Hungry, we walked into town, which pretty much consisted of one main street. After passing a number of run down shacks with pots of food in front of them, none of which had signs, I was starting to wonder if this would be one of those Indian food adventures gone wrong. Well, at least we would have Sunday to recover, I thought to myself. We finally settled on a run down "hotel" (meaning restaurant in these parts), It had a sign for "Veg." We would at least be veg safe here. Not knowing what to order, we went for the obvious choice, 3 thali lunches. It was the classic more than meets the eye moments as it turned out to be one of the best thali lunch I've had in my time here in India. The sambar was incredibly tasty. And the veg cooked two ways were also very lovely a top the rice. We ended up having a vada each as well as two bowls of the sticky sweetened rice. We paid Rs. 40 each for our lunches.
After a spot of chai at another restaurant down the road, we decided to explore the twin sister pools that Chris has found earlier in the trip. There, a devotee tried to convince us via pantomime that we should scoop up the water from the pool and first, splash the water on our face, then take a second scoop over our heads, and a third scoop into our mouths. She was unsuccessful in recruiting us. I didn't feel so bad, when some city-dwelling Indian tourists also appeared to decline her suggestion.
Slowly we walked back to the temple, taking in the funny wares sold at the souvenir shops along the road. Along with the the prayer beads and pictures of gods, there was an unusual variety of plastic toys, many of which make quite scary presents.
Though Melukote is a favorite religious spot for pilgrims, it was very chilled out when we were there. I could see why it is considered a holy place, I felt quite at peace the few hours I was there. In the end, the three of us went home happy with our mini-adventure. We got to see a different Indian landscape from Mysore, breathe crisp fresh air (the weather was nice and cool when we went), and we were able to appreciate some quiet time in the country-side.
For car transport & accommodations, call Krishna Murthy. In fact, his office is called "NEEDS" which pretty much covers everything, from internet to ordering purified water.