Francis (neonchameleon) wrote,

Travellog 3: And a smile on the face of the tiger...

Well, I've spent the last three nights in Mysore (as I said I would in my last update). I'm slightly (but only slightly) less tired than I was last time - although hopefully this update will be a lot better written and won't miss half as much of the actually interesting things I've been doing out.

First a digression on one reason I'm tired. It's not technically true that every single Indian who has spoken to me has been trying by some means or other to get money out of me. But it comes remarkably close to the truth (especially for me in Mysore). Everywhere I turn there's someone trying to sell me something (and for what it's worth, they take "No thank you" as a signal that I'm interested and want to bargain rather than that I'm walking away). Or some duk-duk driver trying to convince me that I want a lift. And I normally when I travel ask for advice from waiters or taxi drivers on where the best place to do something is. Not in India I don't. They are almost all on commission - and will try taking me to a hotel that gives them kickbacks (and in Mysore in my experience (and other places) actively lying about the hotel I've said I wanted - claiming it's either full from a conference or that it's three miles further out of town than it actually is - and that was when hunting for a hotel in Mysore alone - in the end I just got out and walked). And then there's what I perceive to be the standard of honesty. This isn't a slam, merely different standards. Not once have I been robbed by anyone from India - or has anyone welched on a bargain. On the other hand, Indian culture involves a lot of haggling whereas I'm used to things like fixed prices and things like the Trades Description Act. And haggling involves a lot of deliberate misrepresentation. This isn't considered dishonesty by any in the culture to which it belongs. But to this tourist, this standard of behaviour - which is seen as entirely normal - feels like (and in many ways actually is) dishonest. They say travel broadens the mind - but in my experience it also narrows it by telling us why we do the things that we do. And honestly, it is so much *easier* to go through the day under the assumption that vendors are honest and cons are minimal rather than routine that I wouldn't have Britain any other way. Here's to the Trades Description Act and regulation!

Also because of issues like this and not staying in dorms (and so not having had interesting conversations with people who weren't trying to sell me things pretty much since the day after I arrived in Mysore) I've been feeling pretty lonely and isolated for the past few days. What's been going on back home?

Anyway, after that mini-rant and philosophical digression, I'm going to digress again. Because I'm in Mysore. And to any student of either colonial or military history, Mysore is famous at least in part for Haider Ali and in particular for his son Tipu Sultan. It was against Tipu Sultan that a certain Colonel Arthur Wellesley learned his craft before later going on to fight Napoleon (and become the Duke of Wellington). He, like many other such figures, is controversial (his Wikipedia talk page is fun!) - he was a definite Islamic ruler in charge of a Hindu population, fought highly successfully against the British (with French support) and took four wars to finally defeat (at which point the British gave back the region to the previous Hindu dynasty). There is no question that he tried to modernise his region of India and that he was a superb military commander (who probably gave Congreve the inspiration for his rockets). On the other hand, he was definitely a devout Muslim, and the jury is out on exactly how he treated Hindus and Christians in his territory. Or more accurately there is so much nationalism and propoganda flying about from everyone that even if anyone does know, they have absolutely no way of making themselves heard. But his main stronghold was fascinating to see - a 7m deep river that has a natural two hundred and seventy degree arc is a pretty good start - and the walls he put up were ... impressive (as they would need to be for facing almost-Napoleonic artillery). And he added railways to the mix.

His palace was also quite spectacular. The night I arrived turned out to be lucky - the palace is only lit up at weekends for half an hour per day - the entire thing has been covered with literally hundreds of thousands of incandescent bulbs and it's one of the few places where a static photograph to my mind does justice to the whole thing - so see the link below. Inside it was truly opulent and as spectacular as the lit version of the outside. Some of you will be aware of my views on St Peters' in Rome - that that much opulence and lavishness made me almost literally physically sick. But if the palace showed me nothing else it showed me how it's possible to use a lot of gold leaf paint tastefully - you use it for highlighting the tips of the shapes rather than just throw it around. (Particularly inspired, I found, were the
sitar-playing angels whose wings were deep red at the roots, fading through orange to yellow, and with the tips covered in gold leaf). That said, I thought the palace was tasteful only until I saw the throne room (gold everywhere, solid silver doors, etc.)... It was also very interestingly styled - it had to have been a modern construction because you could not use that much stained glass before the industrial revolution - but I know of very few palaces that were constructed that late, and more impressive modern buildings tend not to be actual palaces. (At this point it's worth mentioning that one of the few Indians I met who wasn't trying to sell me something - someone sitting next to me on the train from Bangalore - mentioned that he was very disappointed when he saw Buckingham Palace, and I'm not surprised). The floor itself was tiled in a specifically British design - for all that short-lived dynasty wanted Britain out of India, they definitely wanted to emulate some of our traits (including industrialisation). Still, I'm really distrustful of any large palaces even if that one was really well done.

As for the rest of Mysore, Mysore is at the centre of both a silk and a sandalwood industry, and is one of the places in India to buy various forms of oils. Which means that I've had eople continually trying to sell me both. And to take me to a "museum" (read: not even thinly disguised shop). And to take me to about fifteen different variations of the Cauvery (the fficial government shop where you only pay a strictly limited amount over the odds) at which prices were really inflated and there were kickbacks for whoever took you there. And at least three different people have managed to persuade me to look at the local oils, claiming I'd see them being made - once I arrived it was a simple attempt to sell me oil I neither wanted, needed, nor had a use for. And for which the person guiding me there was getting kickbacks. (Not that I bought anything). The only pricy things I bought I actually found on foot - mostly because I knew the taxi drivers would take me to the wrong places and claim they were the right ones. Because they wanted kickbacks. And it's very hard to tell a taxi driver the difference between the Cauvery Arts and Crafts Emporium, the Kauvery Emporium, the Carvery Emporium. the Carvery Arts and Crafts Emporium. the Cauvery, and any of the other dozen or so different spellings that are used to lure in unwary (or even wary) tourists. I just love being that much on my guard...

http://alanlittle.org/Gallery/LL/MysorePalace.jpg
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