01.30.2017

All India Permit

This season I went down to Mysore via Bangalore with my trusted travel companion Gavin, a local expat and professional collector. Just as we were heading down South from Delhi we learned the two states we were travelling through were having water disputes; roads were shut down, trucks were being set on fire. In India one never knows how bad these situations really are—there is always something going on—so we figured we might as well give it a try. In Bangalore the airport was filled with families sitting in relaxed clusters, snacking, chatting, not in the least bit harried despite being stuck at the airport. Taxis would not go into town since goons were blocking the roads.

We managed to find a feisty taxi driver who (for double the normal fare) would get us to Mysore, skirting the protesters through deft switchbacks and side roads. Mysore is known as one of the cleanest cities in India, which is quite incredible. Other assets are the perfect weather, large local markets, loads of schools teaching Mysore yoga, and a slew of temples on the outskirts of town—all of the ingredients for a fun trip with yoga too.

We started the day hunting for old brass containers in the main market, one of Gavin’s addictions, but of course I ended up buying some beautiful copper cups and containers. After touring some of the local shops we ended up in the busy main square for thali on a palm leaf at one of the best local joints. The grandiose Mysore Palace presides nearby, filled with collections of kings, everything from stuffed elephant heads to Delft china. The palace gardens are not to be missed, especially all lit up at night, filled with locals strolling about and vendors selling food. 

Next I visited the Flower Market—pure pandemonium, even by Indian standards. Stalls jam together under striped or burlap awnings, packs of people hurry through lanes barely fit for two. The vendors themselves rush about setting down wide baskets of flowers, then whisking them away once they’re purchased. People veer out of the way at the very last moment—a miracle there aren’t more head-on collisions! To entice the shoppers even more, garlands of marigolds and roses are tossed back and forth between the massive baskets. It worked with me—I wanted to buy a whole basket, but instead snapped a few quick pictures and video of the exploding colors. 

After a sweaty day in Mysore it was back to the Green Hotel, a lovely old colonial house, always fun places to stay in India. They run on their own peculiar logic: funky rooms with curtains that might be from the 1950’s, laundry hanging, but grand hallways with old teak furnishing, sitting rooms, a lovely garden for your meals, and always an animated staff. I took ‘the Bollywood room,’ filled with film posters, Gavin took ‘the writers room,’ which had a tiny desk. The next morning I had a private yoga class at the hotel. So many yoga teachers around with so many different perspectives to enjoy!  

Mine focused on my breathing, which got me revved up for a day of temples. We set out to pay homage to the Kesheva Temple. En route, we drove through an old market town, marveling at a World of Interiors worthy crumbling mansion by the side of the road, its brightly painted facade belying a faded grandeur. A fellow sat on the porch, quietly mending heaps of old gunnysacks. We had to stop and have a look. He let us open some of the sacks to find they were all printed with fun, quirky logos and brands. Of course we begged to buy a load of them, much to his amusement. Lovely faded linen pillows sprang to my mind, while Gavin proposed a book project. 

We finally made it to the deep granite Kesheva temples, with their incredibly detailed gods carved into every wall—even the ceilings! Carved elephants support the entire structure. Overstimulated by all this flamboyance, my camera ended up dashed on the granite walkways. Instead of taking the easy way, snapping countless pics, I was forced to absorb the temple in real time: always a good exercise to get at the true essence of a place. After the temple we headed back to town, ending the day with a South Indian must: an oily Ayurveda massage.

Our final day started out with a visit to the house of RK Narayan, one of my favorite Indian authors. Narayan created an entire fictional town, peopled with a charming cast of characters, each with their own particular history. Some of his most famous quotes now cover the walls of his simple art deco bungalow. Our driver took us to antique row, a string of shops near the local museum. I bargained hard for a worn Ganesh, while Gavin bounced between some Murano glass and some other idols, but ended up with a needlepoint lion? It was time to head back to Delhi, new colors in my head, ideas sketched in my journal, and a bag full of treasures or, as they say at the airport, excess baggage! I hope you enjoy this season’s offerings and, as always, thank you for your support. Of course, big thanks also go out to my team in NYC for letting me disappear for a few weeks to India to make it all happen.

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