Temples, waterfalls, river beaches…and monkeys: setting out on a road trip from Mysore

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Piled up comfortably in the car, we glided into the misty morning fog on the road leading out of Mysore. The Maharajas were pretty awesome city planners, I have to say.

Mysore is a striking south Indian city – small, and so beautifully planned. Sprawling historic bungalows line wide roads, a canopy of arching rain trees shooting into the sky overhead. They call Bangalore the garden city, but I think Mysore has a better claim to that title.

The first order of the day after our 5:45 am start was to order some piping-hot steamed idlies – a delicious and popular south Indian breakfast dish, served with coconut chutney and sambar.

We had some delicious vadas too – savory spicy fried doughnuts, green chilies hiding inside.

Half the fun of this trip was hanging out the car windows, trying to capture the rural village life that flickered passed us along the roadside. Pastoral snapshots of the grain and sugarcane harvest, cattle-pulled carts on the road, brightly colored simple village homes.

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Sharing the road with some hard workers

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One of our first stops once we had left Mysore was to stop to take pictures of some women washing clothes in the lake, inside an old abandoned roadside stone hut. Usually I would have been shy to approach such a scene, but G and the children had already ventured inside to watch, while A and I had been busy snapping photos from afar (I’m omitting names, out of respect for the privacy of my friends).

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This place was hauntingly beautiful, especially in the morning mist

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Women and men will take clothes in for washing to earn money. Very hard work for little pay.

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Despite the hard work, people are happy. The laugh, smile, and joke in between work.

A beautiful landscape of tall swaying sugarcane fronds, fiery marigolds, and coconut palms in the distance next captured our attention. We pulled up by a rustic roadside stand, and walked towards the fields.

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A man stood off in the distance. Catching us watching him, he stood observing for a moment. Then he waved. We were a novelty to the people living here, people just the same, yet so different too.

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Fields of marigold

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What’s a bicycle without some flowers?

It was still pretty early in the morning when we arrived at our first (planned) sightseeing stop: Kesava temple. This was a beautiful and ancient Hindu temple, intricately carved out of stone.

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The amount of detail in the stone carvings is incredible.

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Lathe carved stone pillars adorning the temple gates

Walking through the main entrance gates, we beheld the majestic temple. We walked clockwise around the structure before entering it, taking in the temple’s beauty. The exterior carvings were made in tiers around the temple. On the bottom layer, stone elephants held the weight of everyone above, which included peacocks, dancers, warriors, and deities.

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Lively young soul crosses the path of light shining into the temple, photo credit to A

The winding road next took us to see Bharachukki falls. A told us that during the monsoon season, the waters gushed forth with unbelievable strength. Now, in the peak of winter and dry season, the falls were not quite so full, but we still had a spectacular view to the pools of water below our viewing platform.

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Bharachukki Falls

There were a few more visitors to the falls apart from the regular tourists. We cautiously approached one friend who had been treated to some watermelon by a fellow visitor. Later, when the children were climbing up a tree, said friend also decided to join, scooting right past J on his way up (freaking out both children).

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We got pretty close, but still tried to keep our distance, the monkeys can be aggressive sometimes. Our friend here, however, seemed perfectly content munching on a cool slice of watermelon while posing for photographs.

After a refreshing tender coconut drink, we climbed back into our trusty car. Talk of biriyani began to make frequent debuts in the car conversation, so by popular demand we found a nice hotel to make a stop at for some food (hotels are synonymous for restaurants).

We had awesome chicken biriyani and the most delicious kebobs I’ve ever tasted, all in a very simple roadside eatery, just feet away from the dusty road.

As the sun began to head for the West, we finished our adventure on the sandy banks of the Cauvery River. I’ve not yet visited the banks of the Ganges, but our visit gave me a little glimpse into what the crowds might be like.

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People crowded the shores, swimming, splashing, screaming, laughing, and watching. Coracle boats bobbed near the shoreline, and we eagerly piled into this basket boat. The boatman guided us away from the crowd using a tall wooden pole.

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A’s amazing photograph of the boatman

On a sliver of an island in the middle of the river, we saw beautiful white egrets and black ibises resting amid tall grasses. The coracle had taken us away from the human crowd and brought us closer to nature. Some brave souls had also swum to this opposite bank on their own, climbing out of the water with glistening bodies.

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Enjoying the boat ride

As a last treat, much to little A’s delight, the boatman used the pole to spin the coracle around in the water, leaving us dizzy and ecstatically happy as we clambered back onto shore.

We saw lots of food stands on our way back to the car, selling chat (snacks!). We tried a chickpea flour-battered, deep fried green chili and the kids ordered a newspaper cone filled with sort of crunchy puffed rice with masala seasoning.

I’m amazed by how much we were able to see on our journey, and I will cherish the feeling of blissful peace I think we all experienced on this adventure.

Most of all, I enjoyed meeting people from villages we passed. G often made a point to drive slowly, giving us a chance to take pictures and even chat with the locals. One brave girl sat on the back of a bicycle, chatting away happily with us as her friend peddled alongside our car. Some village boys came to sit on a little bridge, smiling shyly when they noticed me taking their picture.

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Every day, life brings me reminders of how lucky I am to be in Mysore, in the company of such awesome friends. Their humor, kindness, beautiful and lively spirits make each day simply a pleasure. And then there are little gems like this trip, nestled amongst my Mysore days, such wealth words can’t describe. In India, I’ve found my home.

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Adventures in a South Indian town lonely planet’s never heard of

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Palms of paradise

There I was, sitting on my bus from Mysore to Kalpetta, a small town situated somewhere between Kozhikode (Calicut) and Mysore. Suggested to me by a friend (thanks Priya!), I decided to venture well off the beaten path to explore some of India’s beautiful natural landmarks.

My bus somewhat resembled a schoolbus, but instead of glass in the windows, there were just bars. Some natural air conditioning! We bounced along for three hours, keeping me on the edge of my seat as we weaved in and out of rapidly oncoming traffic at a good speedy pace.

Driving along this wide road, we passed some small villages and settlements, separated by farmland and coconut tree plantations. At one of these hubs of civilizations, I saw an interesting scene: monkeys sitting quite close to the small stone houses and an untethered wild boar. I’m not sure what the boar was doing there, but it was certainly cool to see!

At another point, an open plot of farmland was being upturned by a farmer guiding a plow pulled by two oxen. The further we moved away from Mysore, the more frequently I began to see herds of animals: goats, cows, a donkey here and there, being guided by their herders, who mostly consisted of women clad in bright fabrics.

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Some wandering bovine friends

As we passed through a nature preserve, I spotted a few monkeys sitting by the side of the road. When the bus was stopped for inspection, a few more curious souls clambered through the tree branches nearby to see what the commotion was about.

Kalpetta itself was a very small town. After spending a few weeks living and traveling in South India, I’ve come to this conclusion: most of the small towns are like nodes along a main arterial road/highway connecting cities.

Kalpetta was just this: lots of shops, little bakeries, fruit stands, tourist homes, hotels sprung up along the main road. A symphony of patchwork construction, bustling with schoolchildren, goats, the occasional cow walking ON the road with the other vehicles, shopkeepers, auto rickshaws, bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, women and men going about their day. I felt like an ant in the middle of a well-established ant trail.

I stayed in a lovely homestay with a family who not only made my stay very pleasant, but also offered to show me around the area. So, together with the family’s nephew, we set out on a “motorcycle safari,” to visit some of the local natural landmarks.

First on the list was Chembra peak. The travel itself was not without excitement. I sat on the back of the motorcycle clutching the rear hand-holds for dear life. The best/worst part was going up the winding road leading up the mountain. As nearly every turn was a blind one, we honked each time to give warning to the unsuspecting autorickshaw, motorcycle, or car zooming around the corner…But we were rewarded with spectacular views of vastly stretching tea plantations.

The hike up was lovely, and not too long. Apparently during the rainy season, leeches come out and attack people’s feet, but luckily it was pretty dry and no creepy crawlies were detected…The peak itself isn’t accessible for hikers, as there are many rare orchid species and medicinal plants used in Ayurveda that grow at that altitude (our seasoned guide explained).

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A view from above

As a consolation, we did reach a cool heart-shaped lake that contained very tiny and very hungry fish – when I held onto a cookie with my hand submerged in the water, they swarmed, vying to take chunks off of the cookie (and my hand, which was less crumbly than the cookie, luckily for me).

Winding further through the small rural roads, we also visited Soochipara falls– a beautiful waterfall amidst many scenic tea plantations. An easy walk compared to the morning hike, the falls were a popular destination for many tourists – many braved the cool water to take a bath in the waterfall.

This awesome journey and stay in Kalpetta was followed by a much less pleasant 9-hour bus journey back to Cochin, but I’ll spare you the details. In the next few days I plan to join my Kerala friends for a road trip through South India. Keep your eyes open for some more travel stories, this time we will again be off of the beaten path for sure! 🙂