Monday, February 13, 2012

Mysore Palace

We finally got out to see the palace! It was pretty incredible. The palace grounds are massive, probably about 3 square kilometers. Inside the grounds are the palace, four very old temples and several large garden areas.

As we got out of the rickshaw, just as we arrived, we were swarmed by street salesman. They held carved wooden fans, jewelry, postcards etc in front of our faces and called out various prices. A simple "No, thank you" is far from enough for these man, as they follow you offering you lower prices and more items. After telling one man "no" about 8 times as we walked, with increasing seriousness, we decided that ignoring them and walking away was the best solution. After a short walk we were at the gates.

Below: the architecture above the entrance to on of the temples.

Paying entry and passing security, we entered the grounds and were stunned by some of the beautiful architecture and gardens. Slowly exploring the grounds before we went in to any temples or the palace, we made our way around taking photos.

Below: Mysore palace seen from across the gardens

The palace is massive. It's a truly amazing building. On sunday nights, once it's dark they turn on the lights and the palace lights up covered in something like 90,000 small bulbs. We were there on a Sunday, but unfortunately couldn't stay until dark as we had to be up for practice at 4am.

As we travelled, we wandered into an area that seemed to have no other tourists (most tourists were gathered by the palace). In the distance, we spotted a group of elephants standing by an enormous tree. We had heard that somewhere in the palace were elephant rides. Some men near the elephants spotted us and called us over.

Below: the enormous tree with elephants underneath.

As we approached they told us to feel free to stand with and pet the elephants. I am a huge fan of elephants, I love them. Getting to stand so close to one has been a life goal of mine. It was an incredible feeling to stand next to a creature who's head is as big as half of my body.

After a moment or so, a man offered to take pictures for us while the handler started to get one of the elephants to bow down. "Come, jump up" he said, pointing to the elephant's leg and back... In complete awe, Aaron was first to jump on. The handler then pointed to me indicating I should get on as well. Also completely amazed and in disbelief, I walked up, stepped up its leg and hopped onto it's back. It was such an amazing, incredible feeling.

Then the elephant stood up. Our minds were blown.

Without anything to hold onto I could do nothing but place my hands on the back of the elephants head, trying to maintain balance as it's body swayed left and right while it walked. The ride didn't last very long, but every second of it was amazing. Before we knew it, the handler had the elephant kneel back down so we could jump off. Once it was over he had it give us 'blessings' (placing its trunk on our heads) while the man with our camera took some more photos.

When it was all over, the guys started telling us that the area we were in was off-limits to tourists. They explained that these elephants were the royal family's personal elephants and we are very lucky guys. We weren't sure if they were telling the truth. It was strange to us that we were the only ones in the area and on our way over we had noticed no signs for prices. The handler and man taking the photos hadn't mentioned anything about payment.

Feeling very happy and grateful, we decided to offer 500 rupees to the guys to thank them. Instead of taking the money, they stressed that elephants belonged to the royal family, that we're lucky etc, and that they wanted 1000 rupees from each of us. We still didn't believe them but we weren't sure what to do. With no one around to talk to, we handed them the money, thanked them for the experience and walked away. We were really confused and felt like we were probably scammed, but weren't sure. After a minute or two we decided that paying $20 each to stand with, pet, and ride elephants was well worth it. In the end, we hope those guys have as much fun with the money as we did spending it.

After leaving the area with elephants, we came across a cow with painted horns walking out front of a temple. It stopped for a moment, so I pulled out my camera and moved in to get a picture.

Right after I snapped the photo the cow quickly turned around, lowered it's head, horns out, and charged towards me. Luckily it only wanted to scare me, so it took a few quick steps and stopped. Caught completely off guard, by the time it stopped I was just starting to move away. Had it kept coming it would have got me for sure! That would have made for a bad day.

Anyway, after seeing the last of the palace grounds we checked out on of the temples, where photos were not usually allowed. Each temple inside the palace has it's own temple grounds, as well as the temple itself. Entering inside the temple itself is only allowed occasionally on special days.

As we walked in, the man at the door said that we could feel free to take pictures, shutting and locking the door behind us. The only ones inside the temple grounds, we were free to explore and snap photos. It was very surreal being inside the grounds. Outside traffic could be heard from the road, honking cars and buses, bustling tourists, guides and merchants shouting to passers-by.

Once inside the grounds it was like passing through an invisible sound barrier. Wind through the trees and the chirping of birds were the only sounds as we walked about examining the statues and architecture of the buildings. After we'd had our fill, we started to make our way out. The man at the door stopped us and brought us to a statue of Ganesha where he said a prayer and dotted our foreheads with a little red paint from the statue. After, he took us to the front door of the temple where he offered to take our photo.

Thanking him we left a tip and made our way out. Once outside we deliberated about going inside the palace (the line-up was massive) or making our way out. Instead of going to the palace we made our way to the last area we hadn't seen which had incredible trees covered in vines. As we passed them we spotted the area that had the "real" elephant and camel rides. Still impressive, these rides didn't seem quite as cool as you had to sit in a large seating area strapped to the elephants back. Rather than getting another ride we snapped a few more photos and moved on. Finally we headed to the gift shop, picked up a few souvenirs and decided to call it a day.

The memories of this day will last a lifetime.

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