India - starting the new year in Mysore and Melkote
We thought it was a great idea to go to Chamundi Hill on New Year's Day. Well, we were not really the only ones having this idea. To put it shortly, Chamundi Hill was packed with people! We decided to take the foot trail up the hill. 1000-plus steps were awaiting us..... and lots of other pilgrims. Most pilgrims blessed each step with some kumkum (red and yellow powder). We just tried to make our way up quietly which was difficult with lots of people wishing us a happy new year and wanting to shake our hands. We did not want to be rude and started to play the game with them. But after I do not know how many people and pictures we gave up. We really felt extremely bad but there was no chance to arrive on top of the hill in 1 day with being friendly to all the people. After 2/3 of the way we arrived at the huge statue of Nandi, Shiva's bull. It is a really impressing statue being carved out of a solid rock in 1659.
The platform on top of Chamundi Hill was full with people, sellers, cows and cars. As we have been here a year before we were not too shocked and made our way to a swami who was giving some blessings. We received our blessing and then decided to buy an express ticket to enter the temple. Without an express ticket we would have had to wait for 3 hours in a squeezed queue. Still it took us about 40 minutes to enter the temple. Once in the temple, it was a fight to receive the darshan of the devi with all the people pushing and squeezing each other. But we were lucky and even got some space to stand still in front of the deity. Again outside, we relaxed with a fresh coconut in the shade before making our way to 2 other temples on the hill. These ones were beautiful but small and both of them really packed with people. In one temple I was squeezed in between a door and people; I could hardly breeze any more and I gave up. This is crazy! Finally we had enough of the crowd and took a public bus down the hill and back to downtown Mysore. We had a relaxing lunch on a rooftop terrace overlooking Gandhi Square. Fresh fruit juices, kofta, curries, kulchas and dal - what a start of the new year. In the afternoon we just walked around the little streets in Mysore and took in the wonderful atmosphere of this amazing city. As we had already been to the palace a year ago we really took it easy this time. A visit to the Philomena's Cathedral and a walk over the Devaraja Market was enough tourist activity for us. For the rest of the day we went shopping. In the evening we had dinner at the famous RRR Hotel. The Thali is really good and cheap - but it is extremely spicy! So if you decide to check it out, be prepared!
The next day we were longing for getting out of the busy city again. We needed some country quietness again. We took a bus from the public bus stand to Jakkanahalli from where we took a rickshaw up to the pilgrimage village of Melkote. Melkote is a devout Vishnu pilgrimage village. It is home to the 12th-century Cheluvanarayana Temple with its rose-coloured gopuram (gateway tower). It is a really peaceful town and we loved it instantly when we arrived. Each house is decorated with the symbols of vishnu and nearly all people walk around having the vishnu tilak on their forehead. We bought some offerings for a pooja at a stand from a friendly lady outside the Cheluvanarayana Temple. She put some flowers in my hair - she was so cute and lovely! Then we went into the temple. It was nearly empty! A wonderful temple with lots of great carvings and pillars. The deities were extremely beautiful. We made our pooja, received prasad (blessed food) and could quietly meditated. Finally we sat down on the floor as 2 ladies were singing some bhajans. It was very atmospheric and we enjoyed it very much. After the temple visit we walked around the village which is really small. As the other temple up on the hill was closed around lunch till 5pm we had a lot of time. And it was obvious that there is not much to see and to do in the village. So we first tried to find a place for having lunch. That was quite difficult. We discovered 2 restaurants and some small, dirty street food stalls. As one restaurant was empty and did not look very inviting, we went to the New Sampathkumar Restaurant. Some families were having lunch there - a good sign. It was a simple, dark but clean place. There was just one dish: a veg thali. Perfect! No spoons, no fork - it was time to eat with our fingers. And the thali was delicious. And a lot! For less than 2$ we were really full and happy! After lunch we relaxed a bit at the Kalyani. A crew was filming a bollywood movie there and we just watched all the people watching the filming. It was good fun. Finally we walked up the hill to the old Yoganarashima Temple. We still had 1 hour left till the temple opened again. So we sat down, enjoyed the views over Melkote and the surrounding hills, meditated and slept a little bit. Also this temple was beautiful with only few people around. It is a very old temple and really difficult to maintain. All offerings, water and so on has to be carried each day up the steps! I was really worth visiting this village which is far away of the beaten track and it even happened to us that people wanted to touch our skin as they had never seen white people before. ;-)
The bus ride back to Mysore took us again 1,5 hours. We had a last dinner before we packed our backpacks again. It was time to move on. Our next destination: Bangalore!