After the wedding, tradition has Rajeev excuse himself to the home of his new in-laws. There is a fonder way to put this, but regardless of the phrasing, it is a lovely, and loving, tradition. This has left us on our own to explore Mandya for a few days. The Mandya district is quite large, even while the city proper seems somewhat confined. With the help of Maveen, a relative of Jyothi, we boarded a bus for Srirangapatna, about 16 kilometers southwest of Mandya. Maveen offered for a friend to drive us on his scooter, but it seemed a little silly that someone who has never met should become our taxi service. Never mind the fact that three of us on a scooter on an Indian highway seemed a little life threatening, regardless of how good the driver is.
Boarding a bus was much easier with Maveen’s help than it would have been on its own. It was not exactly the comfort of Tri-Met’s air conditioned, low-floor rides, but it was comfortable enough. And at the equivalent of about $0.86, with not a person standing in the aisle it was really a nice excursion. In Srirangapatna, we followed three women in beautiful purple and blue sarees off the bus and across the highway.
We began our visit to the island community with a leisurely walk in mind. A rickshaw driver stopped, as has been customary. As usual, at first we began to walk away. But the driver got out of the vehicle, lifted up the driver’s seat and showed us postcard photos of where he could take us. Greg and the driver negotiated specific locations for a total price of about five bucks, including the wait in between.
The first stop was Gumbaz, the mausoleum of Tipu Sultan and his father Hyder Ali, the last Indian ruler in the south before the British expanded their occupation to this part of the subcontinent. The visit began as other visits to historically important sites have begun: People trying to sell us something, peddling postcards, cheap knick-knacks, and snacks. Several men were offering horse rides for a few rupees. Somehow we let ourselves get cornered by a relentless horse keeper. He requested a photo, which has also been pretty normal, but then wanted money after it was taken! We were both anticipating this final request for money and handed him a rupee just so we could get on our way. The driver did say he would wait, but we did not want to try his patience enough for him to consider taking another fare because we could not get in and out quickly enough.
When we could finally approach the grand entry gates we could see beautifully kept gardens flanking a sweeping walkway up to the temple mausoleum with a beautiful yellow onion dome. No sooner did we get through the gates were we flocked with other visitors who wanted photos with westerners. After delaying as long as tolerable, we joined the processional toward the temple where we deposited our shoes and stepped onto the sacred ground of the mausoleum. The smooth, large, granite pavers were hot under the sun. Two rows of small, oblong shaped pyramid-like structures were neatly lined up to the right of the temple. Under the shade of the sweeping temple eaves similar structures lined the temple walls, each marked as a tomb for a family member of Tipu Sultan. We elected not to enter the temple itself, as worshippers were inside paying homage to the Sultan. What we could see was dark, intricately carved wood. The whole structure was surrounded by beautiful, English-style gardens where a number of groups of visitors were resting, picnicking, or strolling through the grounds.
Our patient driver took us to the banks for the Cauvery River, in which the island of Srirangapatna is located. It was quite beautiful, and again we were greeted by a vendor, this one selling fresh-cut coconut milk. We politely declined and continued toward the river bank and were greeted by a few roaming chickens and a woman in a red saari begging for a nibble or a few rupees. A small temple right at the bank was surrounded by a number of people, many of whom were bathing or dipping their toes in the river. A row of women selling grass switches and begging lined the concrete stairs down to the water. More vendors filled the area above the bank. The scenery was lovely, but the sensation of walking through a tourist trap located in an impoverished community was overwhelming and we left quickly.
Our final destination was the Palace Museum, Tipu Sultan’s summer residence, converted to a gallery of the Sultan’s art, furniture, and other valuables associated with the Sultan’s reign. Like the mausoleum, the structure was surrounded by immaculate gardens. A young girl we had seen previously at Gumbaz took it upon herself to escort us through the museum. She seemed surprised that we could not read Hindi, and read the display labels for us, which were clearly written in English as well. The palace was filled with hand-painted tile, elaborate murals, paintings, pen-and-ink and charcoal drawings of scenery and family members, and even a few silk garments that belonged to the Sultan. In the end, our young host wait eagerly for photos with us as the other children in the museum. She was happy to receive another piece of chocolate that she learned Al carried in her bag during the visit to Gumbaz.
Our rickshaw driver must have known to be patient if he had carried westerners previously. As with previous destinations since we arrived in Bangalore, we were flocked with people wanting photographs each time we slowed down, making it difficult to make our way toward the exit and find Sitdu, our driver. When were finally able to make our way to his rickshaw he took us back to where he met us and continued on to the bus station where we arrived. He offered to take us to the Sultan’s monuments located on the north side of the highway as well, but it was time to go home. We offered him some candy to take home to his own children, and a colorful photograph of the Portland skyline. He looked genuinely pleased as he asked, “Gifts from home?” Yes, our home town.