Our first full day in Mysore after the wedding we decided to take it a easy and get our bearings. In Portland, we are accustomed to walking everywhere, and it seemed it would be easiest to get a sense of scale and direction if we explored Mysore on foot. Mysore is a different kind of city from Portland. In the end we decided it was a wise use of our time instead of heading straight for the monuments and heritage sites.
Our first adventure was learning to cross the street. Though there was substantially less traffic than in Bangalore, cars, scooters, taxis, rickshaws and buses crammed their way past one another regardless of lane markings, or people, dogs or cattle that may be trying to traverse the streets as well. Drivers sound their horns constantly, so much so that if you turn to look you will never leave the curb. But the truly dangerous part of crossing the street was re-orienting to the right-hand drive. More than once on the first afternoon out Al looked the wrong way before stepping into the street in front of an oncoming vehicle. The sidewalks in Mysore, where they exist at all, are in pretty poor condition, so often it is easier to walk in the street with the traffic. Wherever possible we decided it would be safer to walk on the right side of the street so we could see what it is that kills us!
Greg studied a map very carefully before we set out, and picked out a few landmark buildings for orientation. As we proceeded south from the hotel we realized it was very difficult to determine which street we were on. There were virtually no street signs marking names, and though some of the market stalls and businesses had their addresses on their sign, most of the signs were written in Kannada. We wandered from through market street to another, noticing how convenient it is that most of the hardware is located on the same streets, most of the clothing is located together, most of the produce together, and so forth. Importantly, by the end of the walk we were able to identify a few landmarks to help us get around during the rest if the stay.
The sun goes down early in June so close to the equator. We decided to make our way back to the hotel as the city started to become dark. We were nearly to our hotel and a man joined us on a corner to cross. He struck up a conversation with, “Nice hat,” to Greg. It was at least the fifth time we’d heard this greeting that day. Then the normal, “Where are you from? What is your good name? What are you doing here? How long is your stay?” The man was polite enough, like everyone else. He explained that Mysore was famous for its incense, and the incense market was just a few streets away. Many women spend their days making incense, making several thousand sticks a day. The man went on to explain the incense market is only open on Sundays, and we were so fortunate that we could find the women making incense by hand for another hour before they finished for the week.
We both rolled our eyes. We had heard the same story word-for-word from a rickshaw driver not three minutes previously. We all crossed the street, and at that pause when a conversation ends and folks part ways we looked at each other and shrugged. Why not? We had passed near the street the man (and the rickshaw driver) described earlier, but turned the other direction, so perhaps there really was something to see. We were just a few streets from our hotel, so even after dark a few more minutes out would not be too much of a challenge. We were both certain if there was a market it was there seven days a week, but neither of us had the desire to waste our time on it the next day. If nothing else we would have an opportunity to check out the local fishing lines.
Then the invited himself to walk with us, since he wanted to practice his English. Red flag. He said he worked just past the nearby mosque, so we thought we would go our separate way as we rounded the corner along side it. But, the man continued in stride with Greg, and Al a few safe paces behind. Even in the dark, as we approached the street we had bypassed earlier in the afternoon there was very little sign of a market, other than a handful of vending stalls that are on virtually every street. Alarm bells. We began thinking of a polite way to finish our little adventure with this man and he turned and invited us down a dark, narrow alley. “This is where the incense is made. You must come this way to meet the women making the incense.” Are you out of your freaking mind?!?!?!
Greg turned with the man down the ally. Al said, “Hon? Don’t you think we are going to be late? We wouldn’t want to keep them waiting.” We stopped in front of a small house with a narrow doorway. Inside we could see people sitting on the floor. The man extended his invitation, “Come. Come inside. Please, come meet the women making the incense. They will not be here tomorrow.”
“Oh, no, I think we’ve lost track of time,” Al said. “What time were we suppose to meet them for dinner? I think they will get to the hotel before we do if we don’t hurry.”
Greg looked at his watch. “Oh, we are going to be late!”
The man urged us politely to come inside to his little house and meet the women making thousands of incense sticks in a single day. We would not have the opportunity again until next Sunday.
“No, really,” Greg said. We are going to have people waiting for us if we don’t hurry. We lost track of time and we are going to be late. We’ll be in town for a while, so we’ll come back next weekend.”
We turned and walked back out of the ally, still hearing the man ask, “Are you sure? They won’t be here tomorrow. They are only here on Sundays.” We had not made it out to the alleged market street yet and in the dark a man passing us in the ally asked, “Do you want to buy some marijuana?” Oh yea, code word: incense. Would it be available tomorrow?