I did something that in the India travel business is known as cheating – I took a plane flight.
Train travel in India is a very complex maddening system and it doesn’t do well with spontaneous travelers. The general quota for most trains sells out 2-3 weeks in advance. There are these emergency train tickets called tatkal tickets that you have to be at the train station the day before at 10AM or else! (except everyone can buy them online?!? or possibly 6 days in advance? It’s all unclear), and then there’s my favorite thing, the foreign tourist quota. There are about 10 tickets or less on some of the major trains that get released an unspecified amount of time before the departure. To get this tickets, you have to go to the train station from which the train is departing and buy them on site. You wait in a long line just to get the reservation form, for which no one behind the counter will loan you a pen, and then you have to wait in the line again. Once at the front of the line, you have to fight with the person there, convince them that you know what you’re talking about (when I usually don’t) and then you ask for the supervisor and upon showing him your passport, you finally get the ticket. When I say that this is my preferred method of buying a ticket, I’m sadly serious. This was all too much to handle and process for my first major time trying to buy a foreign tourist ticket and I just ended up flying. It saved me 36 hours. Sue me.
When I arrived to Bangalore, I met up with a good friend of mine from high school who lives in Bangalore. My friend Anu picked me up and drove me around town to see the sights and a couple of things from her own life. We first stopped by the beautiful department of Justice and then went to a family favorite restaurant where I got some delicious and very cheap Indian food. We then stopped by Bangalore’s famous Bull Temple and paid a quick tribute to Ganesh. We did some shopping in her favorite district called 4th Block (I think) and then visited another temple. It was great catching up with an old friend and we had an amazing dinner that night, too!
There’s not too terribly much to do in Bangalore although it is a fairly clean city and I think it’s one of the wealthier cities in India. People rave about their botanical gardens, but I wasn’t too terribly impressed, although in India, you take every bit of green space and quiet that you can get!
One of my days in Bangalore I decided to take a “day trip” to Mysore. I’m not sure I would whole heartedly recommend this solution because I was left wanting a little more Mysore and with too much bus travel. What they say is a 3 hour bus ride is actually a 30 minute ride to the bus station, a 30 minute bus ride to another bus station and then a 4 hour drive to Mysore. Not cool.
The major attraction of Mysore is the Mysore Palace. Since it’s only less than 100 years old, it’s still pretty well preserved and the inside is this beautiful mix of Indian and British influence. Unfortunately, it’s one of those horrible places in India that won’t let you take pictures inside. I’m always frustrated by this since I have my fancy camera, but I also have a fascination with audio guide tours (like… the production and quality of the audio guide tour and not so much the information they have to give) so it was still a great visit.
That afternoon I was wandering the vegetable market in Mysore with my usual Stanford cap and my Stanford backpack and I heard someone say, “Hey are you from Stanford?” I turned around and I met two Stanford sophomores who were teaching English in the state of Tamil Nadu. I ended up spending the whole afternoon with Liam and Shannon, taking an informal tour of all of the workshops of the backstreets of Mysore. I can’t really put into words what I liked about Mysore so much except that I think it was the right size. It had one big attraction which gave it a tourism infrastructure so there were restaurants and things, but it also seemed that the people there just wanted to live their lives. It’s definitely worth going to if you ever swing by India.