“Yes, I’m across from Total Mall, near the Madiwala Police Station, on the main road in Madiwala. You’re sure there’s no other spot the bus will come?” I asked the Orange Travel Tour customer care center, at 6:10 AM in my first of five phone calls over the course of thirty minutes.
“Yes, ma’am, the driver has your phone number. He will call in the next 5 to 10 minutes, probably,” the representative responded.
After seeing all of the main sites in Bangalore, Alexi and I decided it was time to venture out for a daytrip to Mysore, one of the top tourist destinations near us in Karnataka. Mysore is filled with museums, shops, and restaurants, but is most renown for Mysore Palace, the former seat of the Wodeyar maharajas, which earned itself a full two-page spread in my Lonely Planet guidebook. Although it would be a long day, Alexi and I dragged ourselves out of the hotel at 5:20 AM in order to reach our bus pickup on time.
For one of the only times since we’ve arrived in Bangalore, the city was nearly empty of any traffic—the morning was cool, and the only time we slowed down was when our car worked itself through the early morning preparations for a produce market in Madiwala. As we stood across from Total Mall waiting for our bus, however, I began to feel like something was off.
The pickup location for our bus was rather vague, something I’ve learned in the past five weeks to prepare for both mentally and by giving myself a large time buffer, but as Alexi and I stood by the side of the road watching Bangalore wake up, we realized no other buses were stopping anywhere in our vicinity. To make things worse, we watched SRS Travels and other company buses speed past us, but failed to see a single Orange Travels bus.
“You’re sure the driver has my number? Is there anyway to tell if they’ve already made the Madiwala pickup?” I asked on my second phone call at 6:20, officially making the bus late (if we were to catch it at all).
“Yes, yes, he will call.”
At this point I called the driver’s number to try and check in—no answer. 6:25. 6:30. 6:35. Although waiting on a bus has become no surprise, Alexi and I both started to feel like our trip to Mysore was a lost cause. A couple more phone calls to Orange Travels confirmed the bus had not yet stopped in Madiwala, but did little to reassure us as we waited, no other buses or travelers in sight.
Just past 6:50, I saw an Orange Travels bus (the first of the day!) round a corner—across six lanes of traffic, and decidedly not where the pickup was specified. Just as we took off running, one hand out to stop the flow of traffic, I get another phone call—“ma’am, the bus has been waiting for you for ten minutes!”
Feeling like an idiot, but still unsure of where I went wrong, Alexi and I boarded the bus and settled in for the ride of Mysore. Despite our feelings of disbelief, it appeared the day was back on track… until we reached Mysore.
Speaking with the man in front of me, I asked about the most central drop-off location, and learned it was the next stop. When I asked again to confirm that we could just follow the road to reach the palace the man said yes—but we wouldn’t be able to enter, it was closed.
I think my jaw hit the floor. After the struggle of our early morning, my only two thoughts were “I’m so dumb for not Googling this,” and “What is there to do here?! We’ll have to turn around and go home!”
Thankfully, we regrouped and our new (much-more-informed) friend spoke with an auto driver who agreed to show us the palace exterior, palace gate, and markets for just 50 rupees. The (far-off, miniscule) palace did little to lift our spirits, so he agreed to a Café Coffee Day run (my guilty pleasure this summer) before continuing on our mini tour.
When we exited from breakfast, we found that our auto driver Sumi, who was fasting for Ramadan, had recruited his friend Samir, a bank accountant/yoga instructor/mechanic, to join us for the morning with his energetic commentary. Rather than going to the main tourist bazaar, they took us first to a local produce market, which was much calmer and quieter than the market Alexi and I had visited in Bangalore. Samir led us through the stalls, explaining various vegetables, sticking our hands into barrels of rice and grains, and offering us samples of spices to smell. From the market we went to a street that’s home to at least a portion of Mysore’s artisan wood carving industry. Nothing was for sale, but we were led from one workshop to another, observing the various cutting, placement, and finishing stages that go in to a carved food piece, which were often inlayed with various shells and stones. From here we went to a shop that made and sold incense and essential oils, which perfumed the entire street. I tried my hand at rolling a stick of incense, which ended up thick and misshapen compared to the woman teaching me, who makes over 5000 sticks each day. We ended our market tour at a government store that showcased another of Mysore’s specialties, silk, in addition to more incense, sandalwood products, and souvenirs.
After a nearly three hour journey with Sumi and Samir, they dropped us at the base of Chamundi Hills, were Alexi and I set off on the 1111 step climb that led to Sri Chamundeshwari Temple. There was a road that would’ve cut out nearly 600 steps, but given that the palace closure had freed up so much of our day, the longer hike was much appreciated. The climb was one of my first non-urban experiences in India, and the mountain provided nice views of all of Mysore.
As Alexi and I sat eating mango near the temple, we noticed that many people were staring at us… I’ve gotten used to drawing attention in my time here, but in addition to staring, people seemed to be laughing at us! I felt a little self-conscious and very confused until I turned to my left and saw a pair of monkeys sitting no further than 5 inches away from me, eating the peel and leftover mango! Many monkeys, upon closer inspection, looked down on us from the trees and nearby buildings; they were the first monkeys I’ve ever seen that closely, and definitely were a highlight of the day.
Although I might never see Mysore Palace in person, the day of misadventures in Mysore might be one of my favorites yet… like many other experiences in India, it went best when I got over the fact that things weren’t necessarily going to run on time, and that carefully laid out plans for the day might be even better when you abandon them to just go with the flow.