CYCLING THROUGH SOUTH INDIA, Part 1: Mysore, Guest Post by Gretchen Woelfle

Market, Mysore, India
Another March, another trip to the tropics for a cycling holiday. (See my posts on Cuba (4/13/15,  4/20/15) and Vietnam (4/4/16, 4/11/16, 4/18/16) on this blog for my previous March adventures.) This time I chose South India, again with Exodus Travels Ltd, and brought three friends along. We met up with our Indian guides and fellow cyclists (from England, Germany, and New Zealand) in Mysore.
An afternoon wandering through the locals’ market (no tourist tat in sight), reminded me why I love India. The profusion. Colors, textures, smells, tastes, friendly people. No hustlers here, just locals out shopping. Men polishing brass pots or frying banana strips in sizzling coconut oil. Women in saris and salwar kameez whose sense of color and style put us to shame.
 We explored the Mysore Palace, a massive over-the-top Victorian pile built in the early 20th century. Not my cup of tea, but illuminated at night it’s quite a sight. The estate was nationalized by the Indian government at independence and the current maharajah lives in a flat round the back. Elephants, used for a few parades each year, live in one corner of the grounds. Their keepers welcomed us and boosted us up for an elephant’s eye-view of the territory. 
 Off in a quiet corner of the huge grounds is a small temple where we found the resident Brahmin priest picking mangoes from a nearby tree.  He also performs the daily pujas (offerings) and a woman renews the rice flour mandala drawings on the ground each morning.
 As for the food….South Indian cuisine is quite different from that usually found in western Indian restaurants. Coconuts are omnipresent: oil, sauces, or shredded in chutneys. Morning buffets featured idlis (a fermented rice dumpling, delicious with coconut chutney). Masala dosas – large crispy rice pancakes filled with spiced vegetables and coconut. Coconut cakes and cookies. Those tasty sliced bananas (spiced or plain) deep-fried in coconut oil.

And tropical fruit, picked ripe – words fail me. Fresh pineapple juice unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. Papayas, tiny bananas, mangoes – so sweet. As a vegetarian I’m sometimes deprived of regional specialties.  Not in South India.

Next: On the road to the Nilgiri hills – frenzied traffic and quiet rural lanes.

See for more information on this and other tours.

Selected bibliography:
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. This 1997 Booker-prizewinning novel takes place in Kerala.
The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young by Somini Sengupta. A New York Times reporter, born in India and raised in the U.S., spent several years researching this 2016 book about India today.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Story of a street orphan and Tibetan lama in 1890s India: a spy thriller, social commentary, and poignant coming of age story. One of my favorite classics.

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