Sorry for the loooooooooooooooooooong absence.
My site was and is still going under a makeover. You know lah. People who reach my age have to go through a mental and physical makeover …
Otherwise, it’s been business as usual.
Started working on a food blog.
Caved in to instagram (at last).
… and I won two writing awards at the Magazine Publishers Association Malaysia 2012 awards ceremony :D:D
The first one is for the saucily-titled “Will Playing a High-Class Call Girl Save Your Marriage?” published in the Malaysian Women’s Weekly and Singapore Women’s Weekly last year:
Link to article here:
The second is for a travel story published in Quill.
It was such a surprise that I actually won anything because this story was completely unplanned. I didn’t go on an assignment or whatever – Mysore was one of the three cities I visited during my nine-day journey through India in 2009.
But once I digging my brains and all the memories came flooding back, the words flowed effortlessly. You be the judge
Nothing beats a good book for inflaming the wanderlust of a travel writer.
There I was, all set on the Golden Triangle when I chanced upon Mad Heaven, the fascinating biography of Tan Sri Dr M Mahadevan, Malaysia’s former national psychiatrist.
It was an absorbing read, mostly because the good doctor had led a colourful and dramatic life, worthy of any Bollywood movie script. In the course of applying for a place in Mysore Medical College, he was interviewed by the Maharaja himself inside the palace!
I read with interest as he described Mysore, the second most populous city of Southern Indian state Karnataka, of “being the capital or at the very least a key city, of many the ancient empires of India from the Chandragupta Mauraya to the Kadambas, the Pallavas, the Cholas and Vijayanagar empires.”
He spoke of lively festivals, a rich history and beautiful buildings. In his impression of the palace, he wrote of “ochre-coloured extravaganza of domes and arches, turrets, colonnades and stunningly intricate sculptures and 3-D effects of the many paintings are a synthesis of Hindu and Muslim culture.”
The Mysore he painted seemed to possess all the old-world allure of authentic India, minus the mob-like crowds of Bombay or Calcutta. I was severely tempted. And after reading RK Narayanan’s Margudi novels, I was sold.
Come September 2010, I made my way to India for the very first time. Destination: Mysore.
Nary a visitor comes to Mysore and leaves, without hearing the legend of of Mahishasura, the buffalo-headed demon, and the Goddess Chamundeshwari, the patron deity of the Wodeyars. A climactic battle supposedly took place on a tranquil hill some 13km from the city centre, with the goddess emerging victorious.
Peace and calm were restored to the land. As a homage, the grateful Mysoreans named the hill after the goddess and built the Sri Chamundeshwari Temple (www.mysorechamunditemple.com) on the summit.
Though a little out of the way, a trip to Chamundi Hill makes a worthwhile half-day excursion. The narrow, 1000-step flight (alternatively, take the motor-friendly road) takes you past several striking edifices en route to the 3000ft summit. On the 800th step, an imposing 16-foot carved granite statue of Nandi (bull), a gift by the Maharaja, Dodda Devaraja Wodeyar, is said to gleam black because of regular anointing with oil and other sacred waters.
At the summit, the Chamundi temple, one of the India’s best examples of Dravidian architecture, stands tall; on its left is a gigantic statue of Mahishasura, holding a sword in his right hand and a serpent in his left. From this lofty 3000ft pinnacle, you can enjoy spectacular views of Mysore’s lakes, parks and palaces – even more stunning when the Mysore Palace and its surroundings light up during the Dasara festival.
A legacy of Mysore’s bygone kings, the Dasara festival
(www.mysoredasara.gov.in) celebrates the victory of good over evil and takes place annually in September or October with much pomp and glory. For ten days, an extravaganza of fairs, cultural events, dance performances and musical concerts transform this languid, slow-paced city – by Indian standards – of serene lakes and regal palaces into a seething pit of humanity.
The festivities begin with a special puja at the Chamundi temple. In the past, the festival climaxed with a royal procession that started and ended at the palace. The Maharaja himself would take part in this grand procession, which was led by the elephants carrying an idol of the goddess Chamundeshwari, seated in a golden howdah, no less.
Mahadevan noted, “The procession weaves its way from the Maharaja’s palace to the palace ground and then back to the palace. It was a magnificent sight to see the Maharaja, seated on his golden howdah, festooned with pearls, atop a majestic elephant.”
You can see the Maharaja’s jewel-encrusted throne, along with other eye-popping royal regalia, inside the Mysore Palace. Now converted into a museum, the former royal seat is a huge tourist draw: Over 2.5 million visitors flocked to its grounds in 2009!
Living up to its namesake, it is palatial in every sense of the word: Intricately carved rosewood doors, ornate ceilings and marble figurines populate its resplendent chambers, while historically interesting art collection that depicts life in Mysore during the Edwardian Raj augment its majesty.
Designed by English architect Henry Irwin in Indo Indo-Saracenic style, it’s as over-the-top as the dasara festival must have been during the Wodeyars’ heydays, when the Maharaja “would look resplendent in his royal robes and a gold-embroidered turban, on which a diamond – studded brooch was pinned to a tassel of silken bristles which spread out into a fan shape.”
It’s easy to get a feel for a place’s history and culture by sampling the palaces, religious buildings and ruins. However, if your intention is to glimpse a genuine slice of life and see how ordinary people live, markets are a better option.
Devaraja Market, just ten minutes’ walk from the palace, along the Sayyaji Rao Road and north entrance faces the Dufferin Clock Tower, is a labyrinth of colours, scents and sights. Mountains of artfully-arranged fruits and vegetables, pyramids of kumkum (brightly-coloured powder used for religious rituals) and pungent spices perfume the air and vye for your rupees. Combined with lively haggling in Kannada language, the market gave me plenty of great photographs and memories.
Visiting the market is a failsafe technique to get intimately acquainted with a new country if I’m time-crunched. Another is to take popular local transport; some of the best tour guides I’ve ever had have been random taxi drivers whose services cost no more than a fare and a tip.
Shan, the first auto-rickshaw driver I met, was no exception. Full of insider tips, he naturally knew where to get the best silks and cheapest food. I knew I couldn’t really go wrong. Wickedly spiced and boldly flavoured, South Indian food is generally good, especially the vegetarian eateries, but his recommendation, Kafe Aramane (N194/2 Mothikhana Building, Sayyaji Rao Road, Mysore 570001, Tel +0821 243 4434), blew my erstwhile experiences of Indian food out of the water.
Who knew that there were so many types of gravies and chutneys to go with my dosa and idli? Sambar (dhal-based gravy used as a condiment to breads) elevated these popular South Indian bread staples to – excuse my French – orgasmic levels. Or that Indians had their version of “tempura” as well – huge chunks of red and green capsicum coated in flour and deep-fried until golden brown and crispy? And who would have thought, after a single sip of the nondescript-sounding “filter coffee” (a divine beverage brewed from chicory-infused coffee beans and served with steaming fresh milk), I’d be going, mocha what?
A memorable encounter
While being a travel writer has its perks, my most memorable trips are the ones I take for my own enjoyment, like this one.
Thanks to the good doctor, I found a great place to get initiated into India’s exotic charms. Mysore is still off the tourist radar for many; other than myself, I didn’t see a single foreign face other than my own. Locals, language permitting, were generally friendly and eager to interact with a curious traveller – sometimes, with interesting consequences.
Other than superb vegetarian food, Kafe Aramane stood out for one more reason – it had a quirky menu that has to be read to be believed.
So when the head waiter asked if he could take a photo with me, I quickly agreed AND grabbed the opportune moment – while his arm was boldly draped around my shoulders – to ask him about the curious menu. On the last two pages, you’ll find this “Note with a difference”:
Golden opportunity – Smokers & Gutka Consumers
First prize – Death
Second prize – Lungs Cancer
Third prize – breathing problem
Entry form available at: petty shops, pan beeda stalls, public places
Venue: burial grounds….
“Who’s the owner?” I demanded. “This is so funny,” I pointed to the page.
“Funny madam?” the captain cocked his eyebrows before furrowing them, as if in puzzlement. “But this is a serious matter madam. Which prize do you want?”
Traveling on my own has taught me one universal truth: very often, we are as interesting to the locals as they are to us. If we show genuine interest, people invariably warm to us.
And as a result of this interaction, both traveler and local get a fresh, sometimes unexpected, insight into each other’s lives, making a great trip even more memorable.
Budget three days – minimum – to do this quaint city justice. For an unbeatable inner-city location, put up at The Viceroy (Sri Harsha Road, Mysore 570001, Tel +0821 242 4001), a mere five minutes’ walk from the Mysore Palace and Devaraja Market. Less central but a convenient 300m from Mysore Junction, the city’s main train station, there’s King’s Kourt Hotel (Jhansi Lakshmi Bai Road, Mysore 570005, +0821 242 1142).
A NOTE ON THE MYSORE PALACE
Purchase your entry ticket at the southern gate of the grounds. Cameras must be deposited at the entrance gate – you can only take photos of the outside of the buildings. Come on weekends and public holidays, when 100,000 bulbs illuminate the palace complex between 7-8pm. For more info, visit www.themysorepalace.com