There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..



Thursday, 25 February 2016

Mysore, Somnathpur and Srirangapatnam: Part 2 of India's Deep South

This was our second visit to Mysore, and there was a reason for that. In 2010 Thomas had driven us here from Coorg and that afternoon we had seen the Maharajah's Palace, Chamundi Hill and Devararja market as described, six years after the event, in yesterday’s post. In the evening we ate at a large and busy restaurant with a mixed Indian and Western clientele, usually a good sign. My butter chicken had seemed fine at the time but around three o'clock it woke me up with the information that I needed to vomit. The next few hours are best not discussed in detail.

I spent the day in the air-conditioned luxury of our hotel room, rising from my bed only (though frequently) to visit the bathroom. The consolation for being ill in India is that there is always cricket on the television, so I settled down to watch a one day international between Australia and the West Indies. I don't know how long before it had actually been played, but it kept me amused.

There was no reason why Lynne should miss out so she went out with Thomas and a local guide to visit Somnathpur and Srirangapatnam, arriving back mid-afternoon to tell me what a fascinating trip it had been - and has gone on about it ever since. Today was to be the day I caught up.

We set off at eight o'clock with Thomas and a different local guide. Our route first took us eastwards and across the Cauvery (or Kaveri) River. Rising in the Western Ghats and flowing southeast for 800km to the Bay of Bengal, the Cauvery drains most of Southern India.

River Cauvery, east of Mysore
The sugar cane harvest was still in full swing but Indian agriculture never pauses for breath and the cleared fields were already being prepared for the next crop….

 
Preparing the ground for the next crop, near Somnathpur
…in some places it was even being planted.

Planting the next crop, near Somnathpur
After an hour or so we reached the small village of Somnathpur.
 
Village India, near Somnathpur

From the 10th to the 14th century, before the Wadiyas ruled from Mysore, Karnataka was the fiefdom of the Hoysalas. Records say they were patrons of the arts and indefatigable temple builders, but they left little behind for their years of domination; only three fine examples of their distinctive temples survive. We have seen those at Bellur and Hallebid a hundred miles to the north, but they lack their roofs; the finest of all, the one I missed, was built in tiny Somnathpur in 1268.

Somnathpur Temple
The three conical towers each contain a shrine to one of three incarnations of Vishnu. They are built on a star-shaped foundation and each point of the multi-pointed stars is faithfully followed up through the decorations to the very top.

 
The points of the star go all the way up, Somnathapur Temple
The temple is covered with carvings, many of them signed by the master craftsmen that made them. The lower parts of the wall have five bands with elephants at the base holding everything up, then horsemen, curling serpents, scenes of warfare and two rows of mythical animals.

Lower sections of the wall, Somnathpur Temple
 Above are gods and goddesses carved in sumptuous detail.

Shiva, Ganesh and Other Gods, Somnathpur Temple
 The stars, detailed carvings and heavily decorated towers are the essence of the Hoysala style

There is little to see inside, though the roof, as in the other Hoysala temples, is supported by granite pillars decorated by turning - common enough with wood, but a difficult undertaking with stone using medieval equipment.

Inside the Somnathpur Temple
The details of many of the roof decorations are only revealed by flash photographs.


'Banana Flower' roof decoration, Somnathpur Temple
Each shrine has a ‘Holy of Holies’ (guides usually prefer the Latin, Sanctum Santorum) containing an image of the appropriate avatar of Vishnu.
Santum Sanctorum, Somnathpur Temple
From Somnathpur we headed back towards Srirangapatnam on the main Mysore-Bangalore road.

 
Somnathpur to Sirangapatnam
We went by car, but other transport is available
En route we called in at a workshop making jaggery - unrefined sugar from the cane harvest. Walking in over the 'feather', the stripped off tips and outer leaves, we were surrounded by a rich vegetal smell not unlike silage but, perhaps ironically, not quite so sweet.
 
Boiling up the cane sugar juices, near Somnathpur
The juices from the cane are boiled until only the solids remain and they are then sun-dried in moulds. Palm sugar produced this way (see The Road to Mandalay) is often eaten as it is - though it can be mixed with coconut or other flavourings - and has a rich smoky flavour. Raw cane sugar is far less instantly appealing with a green vegetal taste neither of us liked. Jaggery is much used in the production of Indian sweets and it obviously pleased our local guide as he purchased several large slabs which looked like Sunlight Soap as it was sold in the 1950s (younger readers might find that last comparison baffling - never mind, it does not matter).
 
Jaggery, raw cane sugar
The town of Srirangapatnam, some 40 minutes north of Somnathpur, is more of an outsize straggling village and now spreads beyond the island in the Cauvery where the Vijaynagars, who ruled the area to the north, built a fort in 1454. The Wadiyars took the fort in 1616 and moved their capital there from Mysore. In 1761 The Hindu Wadiyars were deposed by Haider Ali and for the next 38 years he and his son and successor Tipu Sultan transformed Mysore into a small but powerful Muslim state.

Our tour of Srirangapatnam actually began at Tipu Sultan’s mausoleum, but a more logical start to this story is at his palace Daria Daulat Bagh.

The palace is approached across a formal garden, a green sward dotted with bushes and trees - mango, mahogany (leafless at this time of year), araucaria and rain trees. The palace would look better without the tatty green shades – they were new when Lynne was here last – that protect the murals painted on the walls of the surrounding open walkway.

Daria Daulat Bagh, Tipu Sultan's Palace, Srirangapatnam
 Haider Ali had fought and lost the first two Anglo-Mysore Wars giving the British East India Company control of much of southern India. Tipu Sultan’s ambition was to remove the British from India, or at least his bit of it, and the murals depict his efforts. The self-styled Tiger of Mysore was keen to promote his image and stripes feature prominently in his clothing and the uniform of his troops.

In 1789 he started the Third Anglo-Mysore War by invading the Kingdom of Travancore an ally of the East India Company. Lord Cornwallis, best known in America for his surrender at Yorktown, but by now military commander of India fought a four year campaign ranging over much of southern India. Eventually a defeated Tipu was forced to sign a treaty ending the war to the advantage of the British East India Company and the surrounding Indian states.

All this is shown in Tipu’s propaganda murals and, in more measured terms, in a wealth of other pictures, documents and artefacts. Sadly no photographs were allowed.

In 1792 Tipu had another go. Mysore had long been an ally of the French and he expected French assistance. Napoleon, then a 23 year old Lieutenant Colonel, proved unavailable but his nemesis Arthur Wellesley, not yet the Duke of Wellington, was free and he soon cornered Tipu Sultan in the nearby Srirangapatnam fortress.


Srirangapatnam Fort
Wellington's forces found a way into the fort through the Watergate from the Cauvery…
The Watergate, Srirangapatnam
… and after fierce fighting Tipu Sultan was killed less than 100m away - not the last leader to be brought down by problems at a Watergate. So the fourth and final Anglo-Mysore War ended and the Wadiyar Maharajas were restored as rulers, to the general satisfaction of the largely Hindu populace.

Where Tipu Sultan died, Srirangapatnam
The Tiger of Mysore was buried in the Gombaz, a mausoleum he had built for his father....

Gombaz, the mausoleum of Haider Ali ad Tipu Sultan, Sirrangpatnam
...and he lies beside him beneath an appropriately tigerish covering.
Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, lies next to his father, Haider Ali and his mother
We returned to Mysore in time for a light lunch, paneer and chicken kathis - basically wraps, but nicely spiced.

The mosque at Haider Ali and Tipu Sultan's mausoleum, Srirangapatnam
When the afternoon heat abated we descended to the lobby to meet Raj who would conduct a walking tour of Mysore history. In the event, the availability of Thomas and the car meant there was little walking.

We paused for some orientation by a small wooded area where brahminy kites by the dozen were wheeling and diving. ‘Something of interest to them has been dumped there,’ Raj observed.


Brahminy Kite (and a crow)
Mysore

An affable young man with excellent English and a ready wit, Raj was a native of Assam which is about as far away as you can get and still be in India. A graduate student at the local university, he hoped to continue his studies next year at UCL or Glasgow University. He had been accepted by both he said, but was put off UCL by the enormous cost of accommodation in London.

Our tour started at Wellington House, an unprepossessing building now serving as an art gallery. It was, he told us, the first two-storey building in Mysore and was once, as the name suggests, home to the Duke of Wellington.


Wellington House, Mysore


A few blocks away, near the gate to the Maharaja's Palace is the Rangacharlu Memorial Hall. The photograph below was taken from out hotel room during my ‘unpleasant day’ in 2010 and is better than any I could take from the ground. A neo-classical pile it is named after CV Rangacharlu, the Maharajas’ Diwan (Prime Minister) from 1881-3. A gifted administrator he was also instrumental in the introduction of education for all, girls included - a revolutionary step at the time.
 
Rangacharlu Memorial Hall, Mysore

Several of the Maharajas were keen Freemasons and the old Freemasons’ Hall is the closest building to the palace entrance. A dispute with the Singer Corporation left the building vacant for many years, hence its state of decay. There is a brand new Freemasons’ Hall next door, its edge just appearing in the picture.

The old Freemasons Hall, Mysore
Opposite stands a statue of Maharaja Chamaraja X (ruled 1881-94). When the statue, sculpted from Rajasthan marble (the stuff the Taj Mahal was made from) by William Robert Colton in London, was unveiled the Maharani ordered that it be beheaded as it looked nothing like her late husband. A new head by Indian sculptor Ganaptrao K Mhatre was attached. Mhatre used local marble and Raj said that if you look closely you can see the body and head are different colours - we were not convinced.
 
Chamaraja X, New Statue Square, Mysore
We continued to the closed main entrance of the palace (the rear entrance is good enough for tourists and other every day occurrences). At night the palace is lit by several thousand old fashioned tungsten filament bulbs, once enough to cause awe and wonder though no longer particularly impressive. Each bulb, as Raj showed us on those surrounding the entrance, is stamped with the word Mysore Royal Palace. There used to be a problem with theft, so they changed the bulbs to screw fitting – Indian domestic bulbs of bayonet type - and the theft problem was solved. What surprised me was that people were stealing the bulbs to use them.

Back in the car we had a tour of the University Campus which has several fine old colonial buildings...
 
Colonial style building, Mysore University

...before heading for the Jagan Mohan Palace (the Maharaja’s palace is far from Mysore's only one). The original palace, largely invisible behind the flamboyant frontage, was built by Krishnaraja III in 1861. The frontage was added for the installation of Krishnaraja IV in 1902.
Jagan Mohan Palace, Mysore
In the courtyard, for no obvious reason, is a millstone used for grinding rice which Lynne and Raj posed beside.

Lynne, Raj and a millstone, Jagan Mohan Palace, Mysore
Our last call was at St Philomena's Cathedral, which we walked to  yesterday. This time we were early enough to go inside. No photographs were allowed, but the interior would be familiar to anyone who has ever been inside a Catholic Church.

That evening we still did not feel that our heads or bodies were quite in the right time zone so instead of dinner we went to the bar where Lynne had a large local gin with tonic, I had a beer (Kingfisher) and we worked out way through a plate of cashews and a bowl of spicy peanuts. It was not health food, but we enjoyed it.

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