Sunday, May 27, 2018

In Search of the Past: Part 13: Mysore: Princely Palaces and the End of the Road

Still thrilled about the tiger we sighted in the Mudumalai Reserve, we leave for the former princely state of Mysore. En route, we see prize buffaloes being bathed in milk for Pongol, South India's "Thanksgiving" celebration.

Our first stop is the 18C summer palace of the "Tiger of Mysore"Tipu Sultan, who ruled much of South India during a long struggle with the British East India Company.

Inside, wall paintings depict great battle scenes between the "Red Coats" and the ruler's troops, including those of his French allies, on war elephants, camels, and horses.

Surrounded by fine gardens and a deep veranda, the teakwood palace is a small jewel, faceted with intricate carvings, moldings, and archways. We are enveloped by rich colors, floral motifs, and detailed frescoes. 

While the Summer Palace is refined and gemlike, the Mysore City Palace overpowers with grandeur. Beyond the gates, we tour the former royal abode, a world of staggering wealth and opulence.

In the garden with some new friends.

Every Sunday, Mysore Palace dazzles with a world-famous light show. We circle around for another gate with the perfect view, then wait for dusk.

Mysore Palace Illuminated.

The gate.

And the palace temples.

We are not alone, joined by mostly Indian crowds, families who have traveled here to see the breathtaking sights. As we must leave tomorrow for Bangalore and the airport, we celebrate with them the grandeur that is India.

Dear India: See you next time!

Monday, May 7, 2018

In Search of the Past: Part 12: Mudumalai National Park: Tigers!

Tiger Reserve entrance, Mudumalai website
We set off from Ooty at dawn, eyes peeled for elephants and other wild creatures known to roam the roadside. We head further uphill amid foggy greenery, following the narrow winding road through the NilgiriBlueMountains and down toward the plains. 

36-hairpin turns later (!), we near the  MudumalaiLand of Ancient HillsWildlife Reserve. Our excitement mounts. Here lives India's largest tiger population!

Photo, Mudumalai website
Entering the park, a former princely game reserve, our driver slows to a creep. Within moments, we spot a wild gaur--Indian bison.

Next, Mr. Peacock, flaunting his stuff.

This langur looks like he's waiting for a ride. As you can see, these creatures are in command of the roads.

We're told crocodiles live down there... maybe they're enjoying an early lunch. (Hikers are not allowed in this reserve; you can imagine why.)

Our first elephants. 

Elephants, Mudumalai website
We hit a roadblock, passengers hanging from their vehicles, peering to the right. The word spreads: TIGER! There is a rustling in the brush, the passage of a dark figure, but too swiftly for a photo. He retains his mystery, but at least others have sighted him. 

Tiger, Mudumalai website
The following is from the park's visitors center.

Too soon we reach the end of the wildlife reserve, back to big, bustling India.

Next stop: Mysore: Palaces and the end of the road

Saturday, March 31, 2018

In Search of the Past: Part 11: Ooty, Queen of the Hill Stations

Our antique steam train delivers us to OotacamundOotyaround noon. Queen of the hill stations, Ooty is a leafy escape from the hot plains. Pre-Independence, our colonial-era hotel, the Taj Savoy, was favored by the Indian and British elite. During research for my true-life Hollywood-India project, I learned my maharaja's family had a summer home in Ooty. Ooty. Entranced, I'd wanted to visit for a long time. To arrive in such a romantic way is icing on the cake. 

Up since 3:30, we are starved, but can't miss the festivities launching South India's harvest festival, Pongal, the 4-day Tamil Thanksgiving. Pongal means "boiling over" of milk and ricesignifying abundance and prosperity. The flower-strewn offering below is surrounded by a canopy of sugarcane with platters of coconuts and bananas.

Here I am with the hotel manager, who has led the ceremony.

By now, we are more than eager for a hearty thali, the traditional round tray containing small bowls of rice and various curries.

After lunch, we tour the hillsides, Ooty Lake, the Botanical Gardens, and the largest rose garden in India. Holiday-goers are out everywhere, celebrating. Despite the sunshine, the air is crisp, even chilly, and people are celebrating that, too.

Later, off on my own, I walk into town.

Returning to the hotel, I explore the grounds. I love this empty picture frame on the front lawn.

After enjoying the last moments of sunset, I order a predawn "bed tea." Tomorrow we will leave early in hopes of spotting wildlife en route or at Mudumalai National Parkhome to the largest tiger population in India! 

Next stop: Mudumalai Nature Sanctuary: Wildlife!