Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Elephants and Palaces!

When the other visiting fac at the guest house asked me about my trip to Mysore, they of course asked if I had been to the Mysore Palace. Which, of course, I had. It's kind of like asking someone who's gone to Agra if they stopped by the Taj.

My hotel in Mysore was right across from the palace, in fact; which isn't saying much, because I believe all of the hotels in Mysore are directly opposite the palace, and to tell the truth my hotel was pretty dismal. (And my room faced the back alley, sad to say.)

The other visiting fac asked me, then, if I thought the palace was tacky or overdone. Apparently it's the "in" thing to deride this particular piece of architecture, perhaps because of its history (and gigantic British influence). I said that no, I didn't. I thought the palace was fantastic.

If you haven't been there during Dussera, imagine this:

At about six p.m. crowds begin to gather outside of the palace gates. There are of course masses of touts, jugglers, chai-wallahs, etc. pressing around the edges of the crowd. One man selling wooden flutes tries to capture my attention by playing directly into my ear; another, in thirty seconds, lowers the price of a gourd drum from Rs 250 to Rs 10. By six-thirty the palace guards have arrived, and have opened the gate just enough for one person to enter at a time; the crowd outside now forms a unified shoving mass and we are squeezed through and plopped onto the other side one by one.

The reason, of course, for this "single-file" entry is so that we can be searched; cameras and mobiles are not allowed on the palace grounds. Once inside, the amount of space is enormous and immense; the palace itself stretches the length of two city blocks, but there are also two temples and a courtyard. Set in the center of this courtyard is a small stage; there is a tabla player and a vocalist and the music is amplified at speakers set around the gate and walls.

The crowd mostly watches, marvels, gets darshan at the temples, until there is a horn call and all heads turn towards the rear palace gates. Through the courtyard, down a walk more than a kilometer long, come the elephants. There are three of them, tusks removed, dressed in red and gold tassels. They're led by men in Maharaja-style turbans and kurtas, and, oddly enough, blue jeans. One of the elephants leaves some elephant dung behind and a rush of people line up to put their bare feet into it.

When the elephants reach the palace, there is some kind of ceremony; the words, which I don't understand, are amplified over the speakers and it seems as if the elephants are being blessed, although I can't see very well because of the crowd (and because I hadn't yet gotten my new glasses).

Then, without warning, there is an instant of darkness.

And then the palace appears again, outlined and amplified in shimmering light.

I couldn't take a picture, of course, because my camera was sitting in a cubby, waiting for me to pay Rs 5 to get it back. However, if you want to see what I saw, click here. ^__^

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