Mysore: a Maharaja’s palace, a market and a pair of goms

By Emma. Cliquez ici pour l’article de Damien. Click here for photos for there.

Ah gommery – apparently this is going to be familiar ground for us in India. Wide-eyed, trusting eijits! Wandering happily around Mysore, we point out the new sights and quirks to each other. Map in hand and white skin glowing, we’re a beacon to the conartists (and schoolkids!).

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We pause at a street corner (mistake number 1) and a man in his twenties ambles over to ask if we need with directions. Immediately on our guard (ahem, yes we learned something from Sri Lanka), we say we’re going to see the palace and head off. He falls into step with us and begins to chat. This dapper youth works “in a music shop just around the corner”, he points out a good local restaurant, and, with a shrug, informs us that helping us a little is good for his karma. He wants no money. We relax (mistake number 2).  He wonders where we’re heading next and on hearing that it’s Hampi, he shows great concern. Apparently, they are having trouble with mosquitos and malaria there this Summer. We glance at each other worriedly. The FitforTravel malaria map hasn’t mentioned this but, we suppose, local knowledge has to be more up-to-date, no? Waterlily oil is great insect repellant, he says. Also, apparently we’re very lucky that our trip brought us to Mysore today as the Muslim Monday Market is on today and we should be able to pick some up there.  He says it’s a great place to wander about. Incense is made there by hand and there is a girl who works so quickly that she has won local competitions. He deposits us at the restaurant, shakes our hands and wishes us a fantastic stay in Mysore. We’re thrilled. The food in the restaurant, Hotel Sahara, is wonderful. People are nice! We tear shreds off ourselves for being such cynics and vow to find that balance between scepticism and trust.  And out we head back into the sunshine, determined to have a look at this Muslim Market.

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A little way up the street, another man pops over and wonders whether we’re looking for the Muslim Market. Our suspicion sensors start waving at the convenience of the encounter but, true to our new be-kind-to-mankind resolution, we dimiss it (mistake 3). He points the way, guiding us, not unlike a pair of sheep, into the doorway of a handmade incense store . The stock of incense is massive, a worker’s hands roll out the scented sticks in a blur and the mood is relaxed.

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A quick demonstration ensues and her brother casually asks us whether we’re looking for any essential oils.  Again, we, eijits that we are, pipe up, “Oh yes actually. We’ve heard that waterlily oil is a good insect repellant”. He confirms that it is indeed and relieves us of 700 rupees (mistake 4 – our room that night cost 900 rupees – just to put the amount into perspective) for a tiny flask of about 30 ml. Apparently, only a few drops of this potent oil are needed for the entire body.

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Rightso, we take it and bouyed with our morning’s efficiency, we head off to the truly famed Mysore market. One of the first people we meet is an essential oil merchant. Photographs of competition wins and newspaper write-ups garland his little store. We stroll in, Damien eager to see whether we got a good deal. We ask about waterlily oil. His smile falls. “Have you already bought some waterlily oil?”, he asks. “Because you know there is a scam running in Mysore at the moment. Waterlily oil is used here as a perfume only. It does nothing to ward off mosquitos. I bet you bought it at the Muslim Market. Someone guided you there? There is no Muslim Market. How much did you pay? Some people pay as much as 800 rupees. Can you imagine?!” Ehm, yes, yes we can. Feck! The manipulation of it! Taking one look at our crestfallen faces, he kindly advises us to be suspicious of anyone who approaches us in the street … and promptly sells us two more little bottles of essential oil. Sigh, can we be cured?!  Ok so maybe they’re not essential … or even oi l… or even maybe they are … but they definitely smell nice! Tails between our legs, now vowing to be a little less trusting and, as a pair of (nice smelling) goms, we plunge into the wonderful colours, sounds and sights of Devaraja market.

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Devaraja market is the market of my dreams – straight out of One Thousand and One Nights. The storybook backdrop continues as we discover the Maharaja’s palace. It is breathtaking. Unfortunately, cameras aren’t allowed inside the palace of vaulted ceilings, domes, stained glass, cobalt pillars and silver thrones. Miss Hendrick, this is the palace for you!

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From the palace to the post office, both their own kingdoms, both frozen in time – actually the Post Office probably moreso! A tailor niftily wraps up our parcel to our delight, the sewn corners sealed in red wax. Then we wait, and wait, in the void of time that is the Indian Post Office for our parcel to be acknowledged. Finally, a dubious success ( to be confirmed when/if the parcel actually arrives!). Fingers crossed for some karma pay back!

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