- not the destination. Today's tour focused on two great sights: Somnathapur, an ornately carved thirteenth century temple and Mysore Palace, a showcase among Indian palaces that rivals Versailles or Schönbrun. Both of them lived up to their star billing and then some. But the travel between these two attractions was interesting, varied, and a slice of life and probably what we enjoyed the most.
We weren't on the road long when we came upon farmers spreading millet seeds in the middle of the road. As vehicles drive over them, the seeds are separated from the chaff by their weight and the workers rake them up and take them to market. While we were investigating this unique way to process a crop, colorful wagons pulled by bulls passed by. In this state decorating your bull cart has been taken to a fine art - even the wheels were colorfully painted.
Then we came upon some sugar cane workers harvesting the crop. After they watched us watching them they came over and offered us some pieces to suck on. Kind of like woody celery and not all that sweet.
Next stop - a place that was producing silk worm eggs. Once the males mature they are ready for three days of enthusiastic procreating. They allow this to go on for one day - enough to fertilized the female - and then they put the male in the freezer. Once a new female is available, they defrost him and ten minutes later he's ready to go. The female lays her eggs in a confined space on a piece of paper, which is also frozen until a farmer buys it. He stores the eggs with mulberry leafs which is the silk worm's favorite food. This sounds like a high tech breeding process, but the actual facility was dingy and dirty. We always have to take off our shoes when we go inside buildings and this one had dirt floors. But it works for them.
There was a school across the street and as usual our white faces created great interest. School was about to begin, so everyone was still outside. Some of us joined the volleyball game going on in the courtyard and everyone wanted a photo taken.
Next we came upon a colorful and noisy pre-wedding celebration going on in front of the local temple that even Charles had never seen before. Wedding rituals vary greatly between regions and this part of the culture has not been modernized at all. The main performer shouted and danced, accompanied by drums and reed instruments. At times the people watching joined in. A man near me grabbed a coconut and smashed it into the ground, spraying the contents on my feet. It probably meant something. It was a great show and the bride and groom had not even arrived yet. They were waiting for the auspicious moment.
Finally we got to Somnathpur Temple, the goal for the morning. The delicate soapstone carvings are stunning in their variety, animation and artistry. When this area was conquered by someone whose name I can't remember, he was so impressed he set aside his original intention to destroy the place. Instead he had his men cut off the noses of all the figures in the temple, a delicate operation that must have taken months. This deconsecrated the temple so we meat eating heathens were free to wander around even in the central holy of holies.
We stopped on a bridge to see men gathering sand from the bottom of the river in round, disc-like boats. Painstaking, slow, manual labor. The sand eventually ended up in a steady stream of very slow moving dump trucks that challenged our driver as he tried to bring us back to Mysore. Lots of honking ensued.
After stopping to photograph some women doing laundry in the river, a man hauling a hardware store worth of pots and pans on his bike, and the biggest banyan tree I have ever seen, we came to Lalitha Mahal Palace back in Mysore for lunch. Mysore is known as a city of palaces, and most of these lavish monstrosities have been repurposed for modern use. This one is run by the government as a hotel, which means it is not well managed. It reminded us of many buildings we have seen in Russia - magnificent from afar, but dirty and crumbling up close. We got to see the high priced presidential suite and the musty smell was a real turn off.
After a quick stop to photograph a Nandi, the largest such bull god statue in Karnakata?, India?, the world?, we joined 10,000 people visiting Mysore Palace. During festival time 500,000 people a day tour the place. The opulence of the rajahs never ceases to amaze. We saw thrones made of solid gold and treasure collections of all the gifts the royal family had accumulated over the years. The public meeting area where the rajah would commune with his subjects, was large enough to accommodate the fans attending a NFL game. This palace was designed by a European and combined elements we've seen in the west with Arabian and Indian decorative styles. The scale and richness was jaw dropping, but we couldn't take photographs inside and the steady stream of other admirers hampered our full enjoyment.
I'm sure there was more in this amazing day, but there's no time left to write.