Mandya is a human-scale town. It is big enough to be a real city, including all the gritty, urban warts, but small enough to get around easily, to get to know people, and to run into people on the streets who call out and say hello. Our first evening in Mandya we went for a walk through a beautiful park. There were dry fountain basins that must be proud when they are flowing. The children’s play area was appropriately busy for a weekday evening in June. The grass was immaculately manicured (if a bit dry, appropriately) and the flowers and hedges neatly trimmed.
We walked through the park and out along the cottage-stone sidewalk enjoying the pleasant warmth of the late afternoon sun, chuckling every time a passerby turned his or her head. We’ve certainly received plenty of stares in Mysore and Bangalore and the tourist sites, but there was something different about the local response to us in Mandya. Previously, we were treated like rock stars or famous politicians. Al has held a number of babies at this point–most of them cried at the site of such a strange-looking person. In Mandya, the stares feel more like the look a newcomer gets in a tight-knit community. First, the double-take that says, “You’re not from around here, are you?” Then, the eyes slowly move back and follow us for a moment to size us up. A few times the gaze lasted so long we’ve been concerned that someone driving was going to run off the road. We’ve imagined phones ringing all over Mandya as neighbors let one another know there are a couple of gringos wandering stray in town. Somehow, this experience is more familiar, like what I would expect in eastern Oregon or Montana. There has been no mob rushing us for photographs and no one handing Al their frightened child.
We’ve had so many people approach us on the street in other places at first we did not realize that Maveen stopped us because he recognized us from the wedding. And then Maveen introduced us to his friend and explained that we had come from Portland. No one else we’ve met on the street has even heard of Portland, Oregon. Maveen is a relative of Jyothi, so we were quite happy for the opportunity to get to know someone from her family.
Maveen and his friends were on break from college and had a little time on their hands to show off Mandya for a couple of gringos. We started out in the morning on our own to see the market and shopping district in Mandya. In Mandya, the streets are narrower and less crowded than in Mysore and Bangalore; the cattle, chicken and oxen look like a more comfortable part of the traffic. And there is traffic. But Mandya is actually passable on foot, even with the traffic and pollution, it is at a manageable level compared to other communities. The market is friendlier and easier to navigate, even if the different sections for produce, clothing, flowers, jewelry, meats, paper products, housewares and hardware are not quite as distinctly segregated as we found in Mysore.
Maveen and his friends met up with us to show off a new church in town, St. Josephs. A security officer met us at the front gate, and gladly invited us into the grounds. As with many buildings in Karnataka, the impressive front steps and columns were made of stone. The security officer guided us to the side of the church and up a set of stairs into the main sanctuary. Surprisingly, we were allowed to keep our shoes on after we entered, and Greg was allowed to take photographs in the sanctuary, even with a worshipper present. The altar and floor were all made of granite. Wooden, freestanding benches were arranged on each side of the sanctuary, but the center area of the floor remained open. Colorful silk streamers swept down from the ceiling and down to the walls creating a series of peaked archways from the massive, wooden main doors up to the alter. In the ceiling above the alter was a stained glass image of the Last Supper extending at least two-thirds of the width of the ceiling, and matching the peak of the roofline at the top.
We concluded our tour of St. Joseph’s and Maveen invited us to a much longer outing outside of town, to see the hydroelectric facilities and falls along the Cauvery River, downstream from Srirangapatna. Maveen ask for some gas money for his friend Dinesh’s Maruti Suzuki Omni minivan. We were glad to help, especially given the extra effort they had extended to ensure we were well cared for. Gas is as expensive in India as the U.S., so even in the land of constant sunshine it was a little surprising to see no electric vehicles, and no solar farms that would support such an transition.
Five of us started out through town, and the houses, shops and stalls became fewer and farther between. We might as well have been on a highway through Yamhill county, but with a few more people on the roads, and crops of sugar, rice, coconuts, and bananas. We passed through two smaller towns, and eventually came to a stop at the pump house for the hydroelectric facility at Shivanasamudra. There was water flowing through the spillway all the way across. For some reason, it seemed lower and wider than the dams along the Columbia.
We re-assembled back into the Omni and continued our tour of the region, over a narrow bridge crossing the Cauvery river. The remains of what looked like a rail bridge were visible, and another vehicle bridge could be seen downstream. During the rainy season the water level increases so high it can even pass over the roadway. The river tamely flowed well below the bridges as we crossed over one and then the other and continued our journey through another village or two.
We arrived at a place called Barachukki Falls. The channel had spread out and water cascaded down the granite hillside in several locations. It was really a series of waterfalls of different sizes converging in one location. One part of the stream cascaded into at least three successive pools before winding its way to where the Cauvery river continued its flow toward the power plant. During the rainy season the channel is so full it forms a single, massive fall. Dinesh said it looked “like milk from heaven” when the falls were in full flow.
A set of steep, stone stairs lead away from the parking area and disappeared out of site. We followed the stairs, which became even steeper as they descended, and had no rail. A boy on his way up declared with pride, “Over one hundred stairs!”
It was remarkably cooler by the water and under the trees, though not cool like a walk near the water in the Gorge. The Cauvery river is not snow fed. A number of monkey families scavenged from the remains brought by humans. Many human families could not resist the temptation to bath and swim in the river, despite several signs cautioning otherwise. Rides up to the base of the falls in a coracle were available to rent. “Auntie! Auntie!” Several college-aged men bathing in the river had seen Al and were calling the familial respect term, wishing for a photo. As with all previous requests, she complied. We laughed as the men tried to each get in front of the other, even though none of them actually had a camera! Finally, Maveen told the growing crowd, “That’s enough,” and lead Al away. “They’re drunk,” he said. Just like a hot day on a river in the U.S.
The walk back up the hundred-plus stairs was hot more than anything, though not miserable. Back on the road we traveled through another rural village, past a school and two churches to Gaganachukki Falls. Dinesh said, “No water for you here. Sorry.” We could hear the cascading rush of water below the bluff, so we just laughed. With trees covering the area, it was cooler than the parking at Barachukki falls. A set of concrete stairs, with an iron rail on both sides led down to a viewpoint. The stairs were less steep and did not descend as far as the previous location. There were also far fewer people, most certainly because the viewpoint did not reach anywhere near the waterway, so swimming was not an option. The view was spectacular, as was the relative peace. To the left, we could see the Shivanasamudra power station, constructed in 1902, is the first hydroelectric power station in Asia. Two men with food carts at the top of the stairs were making a traditional Indian snack of puffed rice, spices, carrots, tomatoes and other goodies, served in a sheet of newspaper wrapped into a cone. We were presented with our own newspaper full, including a little plastic spoon, a courtesy only necessary for westerners. It was a slightly spicy, tasty snack.
The ride back into Mandya was pleasant. We chatted about Rajeev and Jyothi a little, and about life in Portland. Through several conversations Maveen seemed interested in working in Portland. That can be difficult for a non-citizen without an employer sponsor. We assured Maveen that regardless of whether Jyothi is able to work in the U.S. right away we would look after her, as would the other students and faculty from the Hatfield School.
It started raining as we arrived back in Mandya. It was the first real rain we have seen since arriving in India. Unlike a June rain in Portland, in Mandya it was a welcome break from the increasing humidity, so no one was in much of a hurry to close the windows of the minivan. Dinesh pulled into the hotel lot and we said our goodbyes to our very gracious hosts for the day.