We arrived on Sunday afternoon in Mysore after taking a private taxi from Wayanad, its a three hour, 150Km journey which allows you to wave goodbye to Kerala State and say a big hello to Karnataka. Travel on Indian buses on a Sunday from this location wasn’t really an option, think busy times ten. So we got a good deal on a private car and driver with some additional sights thrown into the deal on our four hour journey (with stops and sights) . We also needed to get to Mysore Palace for the light show, so we had no time to waste.
Our Mysore Hotel
After exceeding our flashpacking budget staying in more luxury homestays for the start of our trip around India, we decided to cut back on costs; Mysore offers some great value accommodation options. We chose a hotel, with LCD TV, sitting area, private bathroom with 24 hours piping hot water, and 24 hour room service. The double bed room cost us less than US $15 including all taxes, it is spotless and the hotel staff are great even going out and getting us premium labelled beer. The room service menu is cheap with a pot of coffee, two omelettes and toast for breakfast costing us less than $2.50 .
Arriving in Mysore
We took a cheap auto-rickshaw around town for an hour to get our bearings. We were quite surprised at how small it was, although busy, it was a lot quieter than we’d imagined, so you can walk around easily if you can stand the daytime heat. After grabbing some Indian food (there are Western food chains here if you don’t want to) we headed off to the palace to check out Mysore’s most famous tourist attraction.
Mysore Palace Lights Switch On Time
The palace only switches the lights on once a week on a Sundays, occasionally at other times of the year and during festivals this is increased, so check locally if you think there is a chance that they’ll be on during specific holiday periods in India. The best things about this weekly event is that it’s free and very popular, so there are plenty of opportunities to meet and chat with the locals and tourists who throng to watch this illuminating experience.
Every Sunday from 7.00pm to 7.30pm (they stayed on till about 7:40 while we were here) Mysore Palace is turned into an illuminated icon of the city. Yes is kitsch (think Buckingham Palace meets Blackpool Illuminations), but it is also fun and an impressive sight. The shrieks and gasps of joy from the crowds erupt as the lights go on as more than 100,000 light bulbs light up the night sky.
Women on the Road
Since travelling in India, I have recently thought how different it is for women travellers, especially those travelling on their own. Obviously, as men and a couple we don’t need to consider some of the same issues that could possibly affect solo women travellers.
We’ve been doing a little bit of work on the blog, and learned that a high proportion of our readers are women. So thought some of you might find it interesting to share some of our limited insights. As an avid travel blog reader, I know there are some great women solo travel bloggers in the travel community who have shared their own experiences offering comprehensive travel advice and tips, so you thankfully don’t have to rely on this.
The main reason I started thinking about this is that Craig and I split up on our visit to Mysore Palace, don’t worry were not getting divorced, not yet anyhow! I’d gone to deposit our footwear (no shoes allowed) and Craig had gone to deposit the cameras (no photography inside the palace allowed) which were at different locations in the complex.
When Craig got back I asked what took so long, he explained he’d just been approached by a young French woman who was in a frantic state as she’d been followed by a young man for well over an hour. Craig could see the young man who was clearly stalking the woman, and asked if she had reported it to the police. It was a bit of a light bulb moment for the young woman, who was starting to panic. Craig escorted her to the nearest police officer, thankfully there isn’t a shortage of them here, and left her to find me.
I began to think about some of the things I’d seen in India in our relatively short time since arriving in the country, and the word ‘honey pot’ and bees springs to mind.
Apparently, according to many Indians I’ve spoken to since arriving here I’m very handsome, you don’t need to tell me I know this isn’t true! We are approached daily by individuals, groups of men (mainly) and families to pose for pictures, enter into conversation and have our hands shaken. As you can imagine, for two balding, slightly overweight men in their forties this is a bit of a giggle if at times a little tiresome, but as a true celebrity I never fail to give what my public want. However, for a woman travelling on her own it must be exhausting, and the constant craving for her attention would be a little overwhelming for some I’m sure.
I was reminded about the beach front home stay we visited in Kannur a few days earlier. The Indian woman told us over dinner at how some women guests had got angry at her suggestion to cover up when they finished their swim in the sea. The beach was located between two mosques, and was viewed as having special religious significance and would cause unwanted attention and offence with many locals should a woman be sunbathing on the beach. However, for us no problem, we could join the other men swimming in their trunks – or longi’s in their case.
I guess sometimes it is just easier to being a man.
Money is Changing Women in India
An Indian woman I was chatting with told me that some Indian’s used to want to have male children, because this would mean a more secure financial future for the extended family. However, this is no longer the case and now some Indian’s prefer to have girls, as they have better employment prospects and some think they will take better care of their parents. With the rapidly developing middle class and well-paid jobs for women, they are having an increasingly loud voice in India. These women are changing the societal norms of those dictated by Indian ‘high-society’ from the cultural customs derived from India’s imperial past.
For these reasons, I suspect a journey for women to India must be more exciting than it is for us, although I don’t know how that can be as were having such a great time here. Don”t let any of this put you off just do a bit of research and read some of the excellent women travel blogs out there to learn about some of the cultural differences and travel tips in India aimed at women travellers.
Gay Travel in India
Since arriving in India, one of the first questions we are often asked along with our professional details, is “are you married”, they mean to a woman and not us two as a couple? Well I suppose I am married, civil-partnered, but technically I’m not. Gay marriage in the UK is not legal, not yet anyway.
Due to the frequency of this question being asked, maybe five or more times in a day I’ve quickly learned the most expedient answer is to say “no” and technically I’m not lying. I would love the opportunity to explain my marital status in more detail, but seriously I just don’t have the time, or the energy. Indian men seem to quite like, for the overwhelming majority of them, the novel idea of a forty-something bachelor. However, some of the conversations do get a bit creepy, especially the one hearing white women referred to as “white chocolate”.
It’s not just women getting all the unwanted attention, I had my own experience this very evening at Mysore Palace.
Craig was off taking some night shots of the palace whilst I was stood alone admiring the views. I was approached by a very attractive tall dark man in his twenties, “Are you German?” he enquired. “No” I replied trying to cut the conversation dead, not particularly wanting to enter into another conversation at this particular point in the evening, I was happily soaking up the lively atmosphere.
“Oh where are you from?” I wasn’t going to be able to escape without either moving or being even sharper. The conversation went on, and quite quickly for a supposedly shy Indian as he described himself, the guy nervously got around to asking whether I was gay. Yes, I told him.
He was elated and relieved his question didn’t cause offence which I’m guessing it may have done in the past. So he was gay too, and he began to explain his difficultly of being gay in India. After explaining I was in a relationship and I was with my partner, he asked whether this was an open relationship, sex seemed to be at the forefront of his mind.
I made the assumption I was being hustled by somebody for money or a potential scam, and I nicely told the guy I was busy and to go away. It’s sometimes a difficult call to make. As he literally ran off into the night, a quick pang of guilt shot through me.
Say this guy had been in genuine need of somebody to talk with as his story went, suicide rates amongst gay men in India are high, and I’d just isolated him further. One thing our travels have taught me is that you do need to make this type of decision on a regular basis as you’re constantly in a new environment, using your experiences and gut instincts in the hope it keeps you safe and secure. I’m 95% certain I made the correct assessment of this encounter from the onset, but there is that 5% that makes me wonder if I could have helped.
Things to do in Mysore
There is quite a lot to entertain you in Mysore apart from Mysore Palace. So much so we’ve extended our stay here. You can find out what we got up to and see the fruits of our sightseeing in our next Mysore travel blog post.