City of Palaces … and rip-offs.

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Mysore Palace

Want to get royally ripped-off?

Go to Mysore.

Half my family hails from Mysore. My forefathers served under the Wodeyar rulers. One of my great grand-uncles painted some the murals that are displayed inside the Palace. Hardly a month goes by when I do not visit this city, either for work or for photography.

And I’ve come to hate the place. Mysore typifies the horrific state of tourism in our country. Rickshaws and taxis that loot commuters without fear, hotels that give you the worst possible service, grossly overcrowded tourist spots, abusive waiters, corrupt cops, the list is endless. Everyone wants his cut, everyone has his hand out, everyone has a nasty invective for you.

And garbage everywhere. Mind you, this city claims to be the “cleanest” city in India. Well, it is marginally cleaner than Bangalore. But then, Bangalore is without question, one of the filthiest cities in the world, not just in India.

Some of the “hotspots” of this formerly regal city:

Chamundi temple: Well over a thousand years old. Home of Mysore’s presiding deity. Try getting into the temple on any day of the week. Minimum waiting time is an hour, and you have to literally fight your way in. Literally. Count the number of encroaching hawkers and illegal shops around the temple. Inhale the tantalising stench from the huge pile of garbage on the hillside below. And then ask yourself, if this is how this city treats its presiding deity, how will it treat you?

Mysore Palace: For heaven’s sake leave your camera and cellphone with someone you trust. Cameras are not allowed inside the Palace. If you carry one, the cops inside will ruthlessly extort you – even if you do not take the camera out of its case. Same applies to cellphones. Photography outside the palace is permitted, without any entrance fee. Even here, you can get ripped off by touts. Be on your guard, will you?

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Chamarajendra Wodeyar, King of Mysore 1868-1894

Mysore Zoo: If you’ve seen a zoo before, then don’t bother. There’s just nothing special about this one – except for the pickpockets and petty thieves inside. Keep all your jewelry out of sight, remove your bangles and ear-rings. And keep your purse or handbag hidden, or booby-trapped. Distribute your cash and cards in various pockets. If you’re from Bombay, you know how to protect yourself from pickpockets. The same principles apply here.

Karanji lake: Next to the Zoo. If you want to observe human couples in foreplay, this is the place to visit. Once a nice waterbody for birds and birders, Karanji has become polluted with sewage, and infested with lovey-dovey couples. The lake smells foul on most days. You still can see waterbird species like the painted stork, spot-billed pelican and oriental darter, but these special residents of Karanji are constantly disturbed by boating and illegal fishing. Bird populations have been declining and will eventually disappear.

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Kukkarahalli lake.

Kukkarahalli lake: Same as above. Once attractive. Now avoidable. Not as bad as Karanji, since Kukkarahalli is not as commercialised. But it is getting there.

Brindavan Gardens: The best place to get groped. This place is definitely unsafe for women, even if they are in a large group. The much-touted musical fountain is not worth the trauma you will have to undergo to get there. Parking is a nightmare. Traffic is ghastly. Crowds are unruly, drunk and abusive. And they grope, grope, grope.

Ranganathittu bird sanctuary: For a bird-lover like me, Ranganathittu used to be the place for observation and photography. Used to be. Now, the place makes my blood boil. Far too crowded. Leaky boats. No safety measures of any kind. And the usual rip-offs. The “friendly” boatman will take you on a prolonged boatride for your photographic pleasure, if you cross his palm with a good amount of silver.

Srirangapatnam: This “historical” town on the outskirts of Mysore was once the capital of Tipu Sultan, a person for whom I have very little regard. Srirangapatnam is as bad as Mysore for tourists.

The so-called “expressway” from Bangalore to Mysore, once a great road to drive on, is choked with traffic and extremely unsafe. Without fail, I see at least two accidents on this road, each time I drive down. I wonder when it will be my turn.

My country has so much to offer to a discerning tourist. Ancient culture, spectacular temples, remarkable architecture, awe-inspiring natural beauty. And yet, India has less than 0.7% of the world’s tourism business. Tourists are ripped off everywhere they go, abused, intimidated, and frequently molested. India is generally known as one of the world’s most unsafe destinations.

Anyone who knows Mysore the way I do, will understand why.

Srini.

Horn OK Please ….

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With the ambient temperature at 36 degrees, Cauvery water supplied once in a week and daily power-cuts by Bescom, we are left in no doubt that summer is here. It seems a bit ridiculous that one would choose to spend the whole day outside, roasting slowly in the sun, but the fact is that summer is a good time for birders. The trees are bare, birds are easier to sight and shoot, and summer is breeding season for many species.

One bird that breeds in the summer is the Indian grey hornbill, Ocyceros birostris. The members of the Bucerotidae family sport a prominent casque or a horn on their beaks. The term ‘ buceros’ means cow horn in Greek.

Hornbills are generally monogamous, meaning that they mate for life (unlike humans). They nest in holes or large cavities in trees. The female prepares the nest by lining it with mud and lays it eggs inside. She then seals herself inside, with just her beak poking out.  She remains sealed in until the eggs hatch and the fledglings are old enough to come out. Till then, the faithful male feeds her and the chicks. Hornbills feed on fruits, insects, molluscs and sometimes small birds.

I snapped this hornbill pair setting up home in a dried-up tree at Kokrebellur, about 120 km from Bangalore. Their grey plumage blends in perfectly with the surrounding bark, making them very difficult to spot and photograph.

Let’s hope they have a long and happy married life!

Cheers … Srini.

Vishnu’s vehicle …

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The Brahminy kite is a familiar sight in our skies. Its systematic name is Haliastur indus. The term ‘haliastur’ means ‘whistler’. The Brahminy kite does have a call that sounds like a hoarse whistle.

In Hindu scriptures, this diurnal raptor represents Garuda, Vishnu’s mount. The Garuda is the official bird of Indonesia’s capital city and lends its name to the national airline of that country.

The bird is also known as the Red-backed sea eagle in Australia. The Langkawi archipelago, off the coast of Malaysia, is named after the Brahminy kite. ‘Langkawi’ means reddish-brown eagle in colloquial Malay.

The adult Brahminy kite has a distinguished plumage that sets it apart from the other urban raptors. It generally feeds on fish, crabs and frogs, and usually nests on trees near waterbodies. When necessary, it will scavenge for food at harbors, slaughter-houses and fish shops.

Cheers … Srini.