I’d been checking out the Lonely Planet hotel recommendations and though this sounds strange it is at times daunting to do anything for the first time on your first time in any country and it’s the simple things as you don’t want to appear foolish. You want to blend in but of course that just wasn’t going to happen. I recall the American telephones did my head in the first time. Anyway it turned out that it was only 1 rupee for a local call in Mysore and apparently the same right across India, we shall see. There are yellow box payphones stood on the counters of stalls as you walk around, I’d seen them but it hadn’t registered what they were. I’d always thought STD was something nasty but here it was a telephone the service.
So I’d been brave, I’d stepped up and was about to drop in my coin and make the call when a little rounded guy came up and said
“You want hotel.”
I looked at him and said
“Actually, yeah.” How had he known?
I know I know, don’t believe what the rickshaw guys as they are all in with the hotels or what ever. But right then I had precious little time in Mysore and I just wanted to drop my bags and be out and about. He probed me for prices I wanted to pay for hotels and I tried to give away as little as possible because I thought he was trying to gauge whether I was loaded.
I’m sorry I digress here. It seems such an awful thing to be hanging onto your money here when all around you is chaos and poverty, but if every time you stop somebody asks you for money or tries to sell you something you don’t really need it begins to wear a person down so you put up a wall before anybody has a chance to move in on you. So I was being super cagey with him and honestly, I didn’t want to be.
“You want nice expensive hotel” he said
“No mate” I laughed “Just a clean comfortable bed that would be great”
“Ok come, I know good place, good price too” So I did, though I did pause for a few seconds and look at him long enough to let him know I wasn’t going to be an easy push over.
Now at a glance the Mysore streets were much wider and there were big shady trees, parks and it actually seemed pretty clean. I loaded the tuk tuk up and I have to tell you we took a few swerves into wild looking back streets narrowly missing being skewered on the horns of a few massive bulls wandering about, under canopies, zigzagged wildly through traffic, it was great and we were there in 5 minutes. I stepped out at a place called the ‘Aishwarya Residency’ apparently on Bangalore Nilagiri Road, but I honestly haven’t seen a road sign here yet, I’m sure there is some, it’s just knowing where to look isn’t it. Anyway a young guy came out to meet me. I looked at the foyer and instantly knew I’d been done a huge favour. It was 900 rupees for the night (though on my way out I heard them charge 800r to an Indian guy. But he’d made his own way there and my rickshaw guy had to be paid didn’t he) It had free WiFi, a great bed, spotless clean room and good shower with hot water. It was a bargain. I came out smiling and greatly relieved.
“Deal.” I said
The driver of course wanted to be my guide all day long but I shied off and paid him the 30r which honestly felt like a good deal considering. That done I dropped bags and headed straight out. The guy on the desk drew me directions of how to get to the market and the beautiful palace and the huge church with the eerily life like statue of St Philomena in a shine below the alter. I took a leaflet too with the hotel address, always a good idea because I’m prone to wander and though my inner radar is pretty good, things do look a different in the dark. But in any event that day my radar was working perfectly.
So there I was happy and light as a feather blowing down a dusty road looking for spices and sandalwood. Mysore was much different to the other towns I’d been to. It has huge beautiful trees that spread shade across the roads, trees always add warmth to I city don’t they. Also people here wore crash helmets on their scooters, not everyone but it was noticeable that they did. I was still drawing looks and still firing disarming smiles and hellos that were as always returned with a smile and a little shake of the head. I love it. I was happy that the rickshaw driver had been straight. So I dropped my guard a little
Then a guy says hello where are you from. It happens about 20 or 30 times a day. I say with a shake of the hand
“Michael from London in England.”
He struck up a conversation and I told him I was going to the spice market.
“Oh the spice market is not that way that is the way to the fruit market” he says. “The spice market is this way.”
So I paused then thought, because he had said he had a good friend who worked in a hospital in Hemel Hempstead and it was where my Nan used to work there in the during the war at the Ovalitine factory and I do love a connection. So I said ok, guard down, but still watching.
So we wind our way through the streets past all kinds of strange shop fronts, dust blowing about with rainbows of colour splashed over decay and squalor is the only way to describe it. Without the sari India would be lost and I’m sure its people starved of most other basics would find it unbearable without the colour, that I am sure about. We came to a place called Masoom Pansary Hebal shop and next door is K Kamal Pansary herbal shop and in we go. In the back is a woman rolling fresh joss sticks, the place smells just mouth wateringly exotic. Guard well and truly dropped. In a few minutes i’m suckered and light headed. There is an Italian guy with beads and dreads telling me and two Assie ladies he’s been here for a few days and this is the best place. In retrospect he was up his own backside and just being cool, the prat. The Sandalwood oil was actually remarkable and though I didn’t really need anything more to carry a tiny bottle would be ok. It worked out at about £14 and I know in retrospect it was still a deal but then they hustled me and sold me some of the amazing joss sticks. It was all done with theatrical reverence. I was happy and walked off smiling they guy said lets go for a beer later which I had no intentions of anyway, but had his number.
So I arrive in this amazing market, first of all the colour hits you. Then the smell of the incense a little kid comes up and say come to my uncles shop, I don’t want to, but uncle who is a young guy is sweet and charming and waves from behind his stall you go across and he starts wafting all sorts of lemon grass, and orange and water mellon and jasmine and musk and ylang ylang and many many more, he’s showing me his books from customers all around the world, genuine letters too, thanking him for the quality of the oils. You get the idea and I’m as high as a kite, but safe and secure that I’m not buying because I already have some right and I tell the guy and he asks the price. Especially with the joss sticks he says
“Good Michael” you would pay nearly that price in London and here you could have had all this for the same 300r. So I’m instantly fuming and everything smells bad. So we sit a little and I realize that in fact I have left my note book in Massom Pansary shop. I mighty have let it go swallowed it and learnt a lesson. It isn’t that much to us really, but it was how it was done and the fact that it was. So I said I have to go.
We had come through to my mind in a new town winding roads and back streets turned quite a few corners and crossed quite a few main roads to the market there, but as I said my radar is pretty good. So I set off back, I wasn’t sure what I’d say once I got back to the shop. But by the time I’d got there I’d got my blood up. There had been a few guys sat in there milling about and maybe it would be big trouble. But well, I walked straight in the back door, which seemed to surprise them, the woman rolling the joss sticks smiled at me. I simply nodded and strode in. The older guy, the father I think, just clocked me, he’d been the one who had pushed them on me and I’d reluctantly said yeah. I recalled on the way a slight look and a vibe from him towards the other guys in there like he was doing something fast before I could say no. Then it was in my hand, then brazen it out. He was showing the others how it was done. He was clever.
So he saw me and read my anger. The Italian ass was still sat there crossed legged and the two Aussie ladies and they were buying loads. I said first of all
“I left my note pad here, have you seen it” I said it politely but it was an order. They all fumbled a little but found it under a cushion and handed it to me.
“Thanks” Then I held out the box of joss sticks to the old guy and said “I want my money back” It was also an order.
Now I could I suppose got myself into a right situation and usually I would have let it go, but I got mad and I got icy and I was wronged and also he was in the process of swindling the two ladies
The older guy just nodded to one of his sons and said
“Give him his money”
“300” I said
The son dug in his pocket and peeled them off a fat roll and as he did I looked at the Aussie ladies and said
“Sorry, but your being done it’s about a 3rd of the price in the market and it’s the same” They didn’t know what to do. I shot a look to the Italian guy. He didn’t say anything. I think they were all just startled. The son came to wards me and said
“Let me tell you about the market”
I cut him dead and said “I don’t need you to tell me anything, Ok”
I cast one last look at the Aussies. Turned and left. Then I made my way back out to the dusty streets. God but that felt good. I was pleased that I’d actually done it there in those streets. I went back to the guy at the market he looked surprised to see me. I told him I had been and got my money back. He couldn’t believe it.
“They gave it to you?”
“Yeah, so thank you very much” It is not a great deal of money at the end of the day and I’m sure along the way people will chip a little off me all along the way, but regardless of how much it was I really have worked hard for what I have earned, I have never counted the pennies, it’s not my way, but I wont if I can help it let people take from me, ask and let me have the pleasure of giving something of what I have then were all winners. I did buy some more oils from the guy in the market, some jasmine, Mellon, lemon grass, Rose and Orange. They are wonderful, I kept the sandal wood too as that is remarkable, so I’m smelling good, in fact I walked past some people and a guy turned and said.
“Have you been to the market?”
Which made me think how good the oils are if you could smell the Sandalwood in amongst all the petrol and spices and garbage there.
I had a very lovely care free afternoon there even managed to find a coffee shop called “coffee day” apparently an Indian coffee shop chain. I wandered around the rest of the afternoon and into the dim lit evening, stood at the locked gates of the Maharajas palace, went to meditate at St Philomena’s Church. She has this eerie life like smile on her face laid out in a glass case in a red and white shrine, very odd. No more odd I suppose though than a black oiled statue of a monkey headed god with white staring eye, then out again into the evening ducking between cattle and carts and tuk tuks under canopies of sizzling spicy food stalls which I resisted I am still paranoid about a virus and being super careful.. It was a wonderful enchanted evening. I’d not had enough time here, it would have been good to have a few days but wasn’t possible because of train ticket restrictions. Back at the hotel a cool shower, clean sheets, open friendly staff, take away food served in your room. Tomorrow would be a long journey.