India: Mysore, Chennai, Pondicherry

In the most recent installment of our adventures, we were in the southern part of India, leaving Hampi.

We headed south to Mysore, where the main attraction is the Old Fort Palace, built in the 15th century but sadly burned in the late 1800s. However, it was rebuilt by 1912, blending Mughal, Hindu, Rajput, and Gothic styles. It’s quite a sight, and by some counts is India’s second-most visited attraction. On weekends and holidays, and during their month long Dashara festival, the palace is lit at night with over 100,000 light bulbs, and a sound and light show. It’s really beautiful and worth going to- and it only costs 50 rupees!

Mysore Palace

From Mysore we planned to go to Kerala, but we both started feeling pretty run down. Ultimately we decided to skip it, and start heading east. We passed through Bangalore (which actually has a pretty solid craft beer scene and a nice state library!) and then on to Yelagiri.

Yelagiri is a hill station halfway between Bangalore and Chennai, and was a quiet place to take a break for a couple of days in the cooler mountain air amid the eucalyptus trees. Our place had a sunny balcony overlooking a banana plantation and felt very rustic. We walked around the lake up there and ate as much jackfruit as we could. We even found a chocolate shop!

Jackfruits average about 25 pounds each!

From Yelagiri we took a train to Chennai, and arrived on a holiday- Pongal, a day in which South Indians celebrate the harvest and the northward journey of the sun. Colored rangolis and small palm trees dotted the pavements. We needed to get to the Consulate to pick up our new passport, but they were closed for two days (travel tip: don’t wash your passport in a washing machine mid-trip).

A rangoli celebrating Pongal

Happily, the next day, the Chennai Museum was open, so we visited and were impressed by the array of items in the six buildings. Traditional art, contemporary art, ancient bronzes, armor, folklore, religious items, even a hall of taxidermied mammals and reptiles- they’ve got it all. We also ran into a friend from our time in Northern India- a one in a billion chance! India might be a big country, but sometimes it’s a small world.

A 14th century bronze statue of Shiva

Finally the consulate re-opened and we picked up our new passport, then high-tailed it down to Pondicherry using our Ola app (it’s like Uber but India-specific). We enjoyed the unique French/Indian blend that is Pondicherry, which was originally colonized by the French East India Company in 1674. It remained part of French India up until 1954, and is now a union territory in India (not a state, like Tamil Nadu or Rajasthan). They favor such French specialties as real coffee, cheese, and coq-au-vin, but with plenty of biryani and idli at every other restaurant.

Scenes from Pondicherry

After a couple of days of walking the Promenade, eating gelato at the beach (it’s not French but it was good!), and resisting the temptation of street-stalls full of Old Navy factory reject clothes, we took a bus back to Chennai, went to the airport, and left India, our home of adventure for the past two months. We didn’t see it all but we sure tried!

Next up: a week in the Maldives!

Country costs:

Bus from Hampi to Mysore: $20

Visa: $100 for two months

Daily costs: about $75 for two people (including getting a new passport)

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