We got up early, today. A cab was coming to pick us up and drive us all the way to Bylakuppe, more than 60km away. Little did we know that it would take us about three hours to cover that distance!
I had received a name and an address from an Aikido buddy here in Switzerland. He explained that there were many Tibetan Settlements in India. Harsha’s uncle said that India had accepted about half a million people, giving them land to cultivate and build their temples on, but placing the restriction on them that they may not engage in political activities against China, as not to strain Sino-Indian relations. After all, India had already lost a war against China in the past.
We went to the first monastery, and stared at the huge statues, at the colorful wall-paintings of saints and demons. As we were standing there, a monk approached us and started to explain things to us. Well, he wanted to explain things to us, but his English was very limited. He basically just things like “Tibet. Gods.” Harsha wanted to know what the aisle behind the milky glass up on the second floor was. It seems that those were aisles for the advanced monks to walk around the temple while studying. It took us a long time to understand it, and it took Harsha a long time to realize that he was not allowed up there.
When I showed this monk the name and address I had been given, he led us outside, and we took our cab to one of the other monasteries. There, he asked the gate keepers, but it seems that our contact was not in town. Our new-found friend showed us into the next temple, the large hall where monk would sit and listen to lectures, the small room in the back to the right of the statues, where the advanced monks would study (and where I imagine their peace of mind was being put to the test by the dozens of moskitos I saw!).
We went to a third monastery, more statues, more lecture halls, more gate keepers, more wall-paintings. We were dazzled.
On our way out I realized what all the dead bees on the steps were about. There were huge bee hives on the outside of buildings! I was amazed! Harsha laughed and wondered why I had never noticed them before – he said that bee hives were common on public buildings. And indeed, from now on I noticed them all over the place. It did take me a few days to discover it, though. You’ll notice them on one of the pictures – the black patches hanging above the windows, maybe a a dozen or more of them.
We started on our way back. The traffic. The construction works. The crazy overtaking and honking. We listened to songs from Indian movies and I tried to sleep. Claudia tried to stay awake. Somehow she felt that watching the road would help prevent an accident. When she got tired, she asked me to keep watch. I was still dizzy and agreed. As soon as she slept, I fell asleep, too. When she woke up and found me asleep, she complained: “Why are you sleeping? You promised to watch the road!” There was no helping it: The road had to be watched. No wonder we always arrived dead tired after these long road trips.
We arrived back in Mysore in the afternoon, and Harsha took us to a typical restaurant. They served traditional food: Rice and Sambal on a banana leaf. No spoons, no forks. We had eaten some Indian food with out fingers before – mostly the kind of thing where you use bread (Naan, Roti, etc) to scoop it up. But if you have only rice and sauce, there’s no avoiding the direct touch of food. It’s amazing how strong my inner resistance was. My mother certainly drilled it into me: No touching of the food. No playing with food. Today I felt like I was breaking all the rules.
In the evening, we rushed to Srirangapatna. We didn’t have much time, so we looked at the summer residence, glanced at the painted walls, looked at a temple, went to the old mosque, and got followed around by an elderly guide-wannabe that really got on our nerves.
I don’t know how to deal with these people. I know they are poor, and we are rich by comparison. When people try to sell me overpriced things, I haggle, and aim for a good price because settling for the rip-off price makes me look ridiculous. It’s a question of honor to not be cheated. But guides seem to offer something that I value, some sort of education and knowledge. So if they offered knowledge for a reasonable price, why should I not accept?
I think the problem is that I can only learn so much. The summaries that Harsha gave us were more than enough. Our friends and our guide book knew more than we could digest in the few hours available to us, anyway. Having a guide talk to us, telling us more, would have overwhelmed us, I think.
We never took a guide during our entire stay.
We returned home, ate something, and then we went out again, to Brindavan Gardens. They were built below a huge dam and seemed to be a very successful tourist magnet. There were tons of cars and buses. The sun had set and the fountains where illuminated by colorful lights.
When we came in, we explored the left part of the park. Time passed. We hid our camera from the security because we had not paid for the license to take pictures. We walked up to the top of the dam. When we tried walking along the dam, security stopped us. After some back and forth we went down the same way we had come. Harsha assumed that they were looking for a bribe to let us pass.
Time to explore the other half of the garden! I had seen a sign somewhere saying something about the music stopping at some particular time depending on the day of the week, but I had soon forgotten. We were in the park, but we were not in the musical garden itself. There, the fountains did something to Indian classical music. We wanted to see it, and we were getting nervous. So we hurried from one end of the park to the other. We heard the music. We climbed up the stairs and weaved our way through the crowd. Then the music stopped.
We looked at each other. We laughed it off. Always late, always too late, it seemed! It had been a long day. Together with thousands of other brown faces we walked back to the entrance, under the lights illuminating the grass and the walkway and the pools, and looked up into the starry sky, and over to our left at the huge car park, and the buses coming to life, and we passed groups of locals, and tourists, and they all had unfamiliar faces, and used languages we hadn’t even heard before coming to India. It was very weird.
It took us a long time to drive home. We were tired. We slept.