Here are some of our most memorable moments while travelling in India!
On the way back home from our safari, I made the call to stop in Somnathpur at a very famous temple called Keshava temple. My driver was very grumpy about the idea and so were the kids. They all wanted to go home. But this temple is one of the best examples of Hoysala architecture in all of India. The temple was built in the 1200s out of soapstone and has intricate carvings. It took 500 people 50 years to coplate it. Since the Moguls plundered it twice it is no longer an active place of worship, which was great for us because meant we could take all the photos we wished.
The Hoysalas were “a mighty martial race who ruled large parts of present day Karnataka between 1100 and 1320 AD.” This stone tablet inside the temple main gate contain inscriptions in ancient Kannada script (the local language of the region) containing details of about the construction of the temple as well as details of ongoing archeological work.
It stands on middle of a walled compound encircled by a verandah with 64 cells ( almost all the cells are empty now ).
The Temple is built up on a raised platform, star shaped .The outer walls are divided into different layers the lower layer contains the scenes of daily life like people riding elephants etc while the middle ones contains exquisitely curved gods and goddesses
Inside the temple are three incaranations of Krishna
We finally found a guide who could speak good English and he showed us all the details of the carvings—the names of the Hindu gods and goddesses. The outside walls of the main temple is covered with intricately curved out figures in stone, scenes from Ramayanas, Krishnas life (like Krishna killing the poisonous serpent of Kaliya) , Vishnu, scenes of daily life people riding on elephant .There are 194 images in all and around 40 of them have been curved by master sculptor Mallitamma.
Below are images of Ganesha the elephant and of a swan feeding its babies.
Kaden loves anything of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, light, wisdom, courage, and good fortune (above).
I love Sarashwathi, goddess of knowledge, music, arts and sciences.
The temple also had mythical creatures, such as this “rhinosaurous” It combines the best features of six animals. Lion feet, crocodile mouth, cow ears, monkey eyes, and so on. Carson loved that.
My driver was grumpy for the rest of the trip, but it was worth it. I came home very happy indeed. The place is considered a national treasure and I can see why. Such artistry preserved over generations. Todd came home happy too because on the way through Mysore we stopped so that he could visit the palace and market that the kids and I visited during our last trip there. The kids were asleep in the car, and I sat with them and worked on an article while Todd hopped out to do some touring. So in one day, Todd was on a safari, saw a maharaja’s temple, toured an old market, and saw one of the most historic temples in India. My job is done!
On our trip this weekend, here are some kiddos who waved to us on our way:
We also saw lots of rural villagers bringing water back to their houses. Some have to walk a mile or more to bring fresh water to their homes.
These little girls below touched my heart. The didn’t look older than Kaden and they were carrying really heavy water jugs to their homes.
Here’s where their homes are–tarps in a field.
We also saw a cemetery during our travels. Rare since cremation is the preferred method in India. Can you imagine if all Indians wanted to be buried in a cemetery? With so many people it would be quite a space crunch.
On our way to Mysore, we saw lots of beautiful rice paddies.
We spent the night at Brindavan Gardens. The place was a summer palace for the last maharaja. IT was built in the 1930s after the dam was completed. The gardens are located about 45 minutes north of Mysore. There is a hotel in the actual former palace and that is where we stayed for the night.
The view from our balcony!
We had a spacious king sized bed and cot for all of us to fit and we had one of the biggest rooms in the place. I wonder if the prince ever slept there!
Most people go to the Brindavan Gardens at night time when all of the fountains are lit up.
We took a ferry to the other end of the gardens to see the musical fountains do some Bollywood dancing. The show was about 15 minutes long and reminded me of tacky Las Vegas scenes. But the huge crowd seemed to love it. Thousands of tourists came for the three song snow, but most left before the third song had barely began. Go figure. Back at the hotel, we set the kids up with a movie in the room and then enjoyed a drink on the second floor balcony bar overlooking the gardens.
In the morning, we had the gardens to ourselves and the few other hotel guests. Lovely!
In the morning we had breakfast on the back summer porch. I had a traditional masala dosa breakfast—spicy potatoes in a crepe with mint and tomato chutneys. But I like to mix in scrambled eggs! Plus a hot chai tea with milk and sugar please!
The kids played outdoor chess and practiced their putting skills on the little putting green. In typical India fashion when I requested the putters, two men came out to help us with our putting. One held the flag and another insisted on giving Carson some tips. He would have been happier without the advice, but that’s the way it goes here!
After the elephant experience, we had enough time to stop in ByalKuppe (Bailkoppa), located near Kushalnagar. It is the second largest Tibetan settlement outside of Tibet (I am assuming after Dharamsala). There are over 7,000 monks and students at the Tibetan monastery, which was established in 1972 after Chinese took over Tibet.
It was very cool—especially to see the little monks themselves. We saw them chanting prayers (as did many others!).
Here are two You tube video of the monks from this monastery chanting. I didn’t take these videos, but I could have. Very similar scenes! The second video has the big drum that we heard. Carson found the loud drum to be way too loud!
We saw them selling souvenirs, preparing candles for worship, walking about. We even saw them playing cricket!
I saw a really little monk with two of his friends and asked him his age. I held up fingers. His friend seemed to know the word age and they said, “13!” I pointed to Carson and said 7! And Kaden and said 10! Both of my kiddos were much taller than he was. His friends and he got a big chuckle about that. It was fun to talk to those boys!
We saw lots of prayer flags around the beautiful campus. Each of the papers has a prayer written on it. The close up shows what the prayers look like.
It was great to spend some time in the beautiful and calming monastery grounds because after that it was time for a five hour drive back to Bangalore. I wasn’t really ready to return to the realities of life!
The next morning was not as tranquil. Breakfast did not begin at the resort until 7:30, and the elephant camp was an hour away, which in India means an hour and a half. The hotel staff kindly agreed to have breakfast ready for us at 7, and I provided a list of our requests. Getting the kids up there for breakfast was a challenge and we got there at 7:10. No breakfast was ready. I call to make sure the driver is ready for us, as we had discussed in detail the night before. Clearly, I wake him up. Great. Then we didn’t get out of breakfast until 7:45. I still had to get our luggage down the hill and check us out. I see our driver standing on one of the paths. He watched me lug a 50 pound suitcase plus three backpacks and pillows down the hill all by myself. I was not pleased. Then check out took another 10 minutes with a dot matrix printer giving me my final bill. Then the kids had to go to the bathroom. We fall into the car at 8. Go go go! Oh right, we have a driver. He ambles into the car. Sits there a while. Puts on some chapstick. Sits a while longer. Finally I ask what is going on. He points to the condensation on the window and says, “Water fungus. I am waiting for the heater to turn on.” I ask him to wipe it off. He gives me a dirty look. Then he goes on to complain that the driver accommodations were terrible and that he slept in the car. So why did I pay him for accommodations to go elsewhere if he chose? We finally leave by around 8:15. We get about 10 minutes down the road and I can’t find my cell phone. I have the driver call it and it is sitting back at the reception desk. We finally leave for the elephant camp at 8:30—the time when we are supposed to be there.
The whole drive there, I am holding back sobs. We drove all the way out to that Resort, had a super stressful morning, and we weren’t going to get to the camp until 10, which is when the whole elephant deal ENDS on the schedule.
We finally get there, after getting lost twice. Lots of other cars are arriving too. That’s promising. To get to the Elephant Camp, you have to cross the Cauvery River in a boat. Luckily from my research I learn that you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket or anything. As is true with many things in India, just push ahead and grab the first boat that you can. We were heading across the river almost immediately.
As we are heading across, I see the elephants being given a bath. The start on their way back up the hill just as we pull in. We missed it.
So we head to the feeding, which was packed with people jostling to touch the trunks, feed the food, etc. The kids enjoyed getting up close with the animals but also like many things in India, the crush of people was overwhelming. After the feeding was done, I wasn’t sure what to do. We had told the driver to come back in 2 hours and maybe it was all over by 10:15?
Thankfully, I was mistaken. Big sigh of relief that things in India are never the way they seem. They did the ‘bathe the elephants, then feed the elephant routine’ many times to accommodate the crowds. Turns out, we really didn’t need to be there until 10. Our elephant experience ticket guaranteed us some time with the elephants away from the insane crowds. I wish that had been explained! So the kids and I joined just a handful of other India families to bathe the next two rounds of elephants. That was incredibly cool. We didn’t like how the caretakers treated the elephants and often they were in chains. But to pet the elephants and touch their tusks and splash water over the, which they clearly enjoyed, was lots of fun.
Splashing water on the elephants. they seemed to LOVE that since they don’t have sweat glands. We were helping them cool down!
Then the invited us to go back up to the feeding area, which the kids didn’t want to do because of the crush we had experienced. But it turns out that the feeding too was private with just a small amount of people. We missed this experience because, in the paradise of the elephant camp, a certain set of siblings got very angry with one another due to splashing and counter-splashing in the river and we had to take a break to sort it out.
But once we rejoined the experience, a guide explained to us all kind of things.
Kaden and Carson’s top facts about elephants:
- Female Asian elephants don’t have tusks, but female African elephants do.
- Elephants at the camp are fed these big black balls of backed millet and beans. The eat 500 kilos a day.
- Elephants are pregnant for 12-18 months. The babies nurse for over a year.
- They live in the wild for 60-80 years and for 80-100 years in captivity.
- The trunk is like a hand with fingers. The Asian elephants have one finger on their trunk and African ones have two fingers. We got very up close and personal when we fed them some bananas during that crushing experience at the beginning.
Sadly, they weren’t giving elephant rides today, but we did climb up on the huge stand that allows you to board the elephant.
Getting back across the river, the kids wanted to wade instead of take the boat back. For Carson, the rock scrambling may have been the highlight of the day. He and Kaden explored the “rapids, ” as they called them (about shin deep and boy did they worry their dad when they called and said they were frolicking in the rapids!). They found snails and generally took a long time getting across! I was amazed how many people of all ages were wading across, despite the boats going back and forth for a very small fee.
In the morning, I had a special treat—a private yoga session in a beautiful outdoor setting. The kids were totally awesome to give me the gift of that time with no drama. I was so happy and relaxed. Then we headed to breakfast, which was a delicious buffet. I had a spicy madras omelet and Indian tea (i.e., lots of milk and sugar). Kaden enjoyed the muffins. Carson had a chocolate donut. We tried tasting all of the juices—watermelon, marsh melon, lychee, and a green milkshake that started with a p. I also stuffed by purse with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, muffins and hard boiled eggs for the long drive later in the day. There aren’t McDonalds along the road to stop like back home!
I let the kids have some more time at the grounds of the resort while I packed up. Then they took a brief dip in the chilly hotel pool before it was time to head back out into the town.
First stop of the day was Chamundi Hills, one of the six most holiest Hindu places in South India. The most devout climb 1000 steps to the top to the Sri Chamundeswari temple. We had our driver take us straight to the top. We joined the throngs of pilgrims approaching the shrine.
Again we passed a whole section of vendors, although up here they were more often selling flowers and coconuts to give as offerings in the temple and pictures of the deities. To borrow from a website: “The offering of a coconut is a common offering to a deity in Hindu religion and it is distributed later as ‘prasad.’ The most important reason for offering coconut is that is the purest thing that a human being can offer to a deity. The water and the white kernel inside the coconut are the only unadulterated offering that a devotee makes to the Lord. It is not polluted as it remains covered by the hard outer shell until it is offered to the God. Next, the breaking of coconut symbolizes the breaking of the ego. The coconut represents the human body and before the Lord it is shattered – breaking the ‘aham’ or ego and symbolically total surrendering and merging with the Brahman – supreme soul.
When we got to the temple, you could wait in one of three lines—free, rs. 20, or rs. 100 ($2). We paid the big bucks, checked in our shoes and made our way into the temple. You can’t take photos inside, so I’ll just have to describe. First you walk through some flowing water, which washes your feet. Then we joined a CRUSH of people making our way toward the deity. (Okay, I snapped one photo!)
Along the way there were various opportunities to receive blessings from holy men who would put some red powder on your forehead, give you a spoonful of holy water to drink, or some smoke to pull toward your head. The major crush was toward a statue of a deity. The kids were so smushed they did not enjoy this part. And the deity was really far away still when you got to the front where a security guard pushed people along to keep them moving. Some devotees were permitted past this gate, presumably by paying lots more. They had the plates of coconuts and flowers to present to the shrine. Outside this main area were other smaller statues and blessings. While the kids weren’t crazy about the whole thing, I think they learned a lot about another culture and another form of religion in those 20 minutes!
When we exited, it was time to get our shoes back, buy some Lays Ruffles potato chips and sodas and head for our next adventure. Remember those 1000 steps? Well, we walked DOWN a portion of them and had the driver meet us down below. We passed people sporadically—all of whom were heading UP the hill. The most devout had the red powder and were blessing EVERY step of the 1000. These people looked really tired since they were nearly to the top. Along the way, we also saw goats and monkeys!
Women sat along the way selling sips of water and snacks to the pilgrims. A few holy men and tiny shrines were along the way. AT one, I received a red smudge and a flower for a few rupees. Carson was freaked out by my smudge, but I figured a blessing from a holy man was something that I could really use these days! The photo to the right, below, is a close up of the steps. Using the same red (or yellow) paint, the pilgrims bless each of the 1000 steps as they walk UP, UP, UP.
We finished our journey at the statue of Nandi the Bull. The driver found us here and we made our way back down into the town.
We had one more goal for Mysore—a market. After much nudging of the driver who kept trying to take me to other shops, we finally found Devaraj Market—an old-fashioned bazaar.
The kids were a bit freaked out at first by the narrow stalls and again, the insistent salesmen. But Kaden especially was taken in by the amazing colors and sites. She made good use of her new camera.
We came upon a perfume/fine oil booth. This man was THE best salesman ever. We left spending a lot more than I intended, but holy awesome oils—jasmine, rose, lotus, lavender.
I also caved and got a few other things from some persistent salespeople. The sights, sounds and smells of this market were incredible. Imagine smelling sandalwood, incense, curry powder, beeswax, jasmine oil as you wander about small pathways and listen to the salespeople shouting for your attention.
On the way out of the market, I stopped and bought samples of famous Mysore sweets, including Mysorepak—a treat made from ghee (clarified butter) and lots of sugar. I bought a few more as well. We sampled them all but didn’t like any of them.
Walking along the street, we saw women stringing garlands for flowers. And if you look carefully, the photo on the right, below, is of women sitting on the floor in a saree shop on the while the salesman pulls out yards and yards of fabric.
The kids were tired and we decided that we just wanted to make our way to Matikeri and our hotel rather than heading to lunch. But, it turns out, that since I was not explicit in telling the driver to take a lunch break, that he had not eaten yet, and it was 2:00. I am still trying to figure this whole thing out! So I told him to drop us off at Domino’s pizza and we would wait there until he was finished with his break. It seemed that every Ex-Pat in Mysore was in that place! It was actually jarring to be around so many fair skinned people at once after so long in India. The pizza ended up being quite delicious, plus a clean bathroom. We played some Uno and Anthony was back before we even got antsy.
So, on to Mentikeri, which is a hilly region of Coorg, famous for its coffee growing areas. Based on what I could decipher from the website and reading reviews, we were to be at the Dubare Elephant Camp by 8:30 in the morning for our Elephant Experience. The problem is, the Dubare Elephant Camp is in the middle of nowhere. And being Americans with sensitive stomachs and kids who don’t eat India food, we have to be very choosy about accommodations. Since it was Republic Day weekend, I called six places before I could find one with availability. The nearest place that seemed safe to me was almost an hour away, and the price was higher than I wanted—over $200 (but with all meals included). That was steeper than our beautiful Mysore hotel, but nowhere near at nice. The Heritage Resort was set in Coorg, an area of big green hills that is famous for its coffee growing. The setting of the resort was one of those hilltops, which was covered in a series of little cottages.
The restaurant looked brand new and was a gorgeous high ceilinged, big windowed place at the very top of the hill, just off the pool.
Once it got dark, we needed a flashlight to move about the grounds. I thought it was rustic and fun. Kaden said, “This feels like Quaker Camp.” And she was not saying that in a positive way. The rooms had two single beds and they brought us an extra cot. The walls were plastered and thus uneven. The place was very clean and comfortable, but definitely rustic.
My main complaint was that the shower would not stay on. You had to press a button with your hand. I wonder if it was an Indian shower, since there was a small and large bucket in the shower, with the intention that you fill up the bucket and dump it over yourself in the shower. Kaden was also very unhappy about that. But we all slept really well, other than the roosters around 5:30. The food at dinner was a pretty decent Indian buffet, and the staff even cooked French fries specially for the kids and brought out chocolate and strawberry ice cream for them as well. A meal of French fries and ice cream was enough to put smiles on both kids’ faces and settle them in for bed.