Posted by: Carolyn ODonnell | January 18, 2013

India: Goin’ South

Fragrant city: Mysore produces a lot of sandalwood, used in hand-rolled incense

Fragrant city: Mysore produces a lot of sandalwood, which can be used in hand-rolled incense

People were dying of Dengue Fever in the Malwani district of Bombay when I was there – it was front page news. A man and his daughter died who were living streets away from where I was staying with my writer friend Frank Huzur, his actor brother and a tribe of cats he has adopted. No one in our apartment became seriously ill however, though the cats were temporarily trapped in the sofa bed.

Frank Hazur at home in Mumbai

Frank Huzur at home in Mumbai

Frank is a playwright and Imran Khan’s biographer and his new book* is about a major Indian political figure.

Three years ago I was in Bombay and I stayed in the tourist area of Colaba, with easy access to the city’s Victorian architecture. Malwani is far north, and there aren’t many tourists on the streets, but plenty of chickens ready to be hacked up and sold off in pieces.

Frank’s new book is attracting attention from Bollywood before it is even published  so we fuss over the cats and then leave them for a meeting with a director in Andheri, who then takes us to a local production office where there is more discussion and we watch trailers for some forthcoming movies, including a Hindi version of Romeo and Juliet set in Varanasi titled Ishaq, and Sweet Sixteen, a coming-of-age drama about teenagers, which looks quite gritty. The director is there and he talks about it took so long to get the project off the ground he had to keep changing the cast as they got too old. I mentioned Skins,  a British drama about and written by teenagers which was uncomfortable viewing for many adults, and he knows what I am talking about, though no one else there does as programmes like this simply aren’t made in India.

Both films look like interesting viewing, though I will need subtitles of course.

Spotted: Leopard in Nagarhole National Park near Lake Kabini

Spotted: Leopard in Nagarhole National Park near Lake Kabini

The next day I was leaving for Mangalore and my blood pressure soars again as a taxi to the unbelievably remote station was organised and the train was departing in ten minutes and I was still in the taxi driving there. I thought the driver was briefed as to when the train was departing, but apparently not. After some frantic communication he speeded up a bit and we got there with at least five minutes to spare.

While most of my Indian trains have been fine, this one has cockroaches – some men in advertising complained about how dirty it was – and there is a sick man who shouldn’t be on a train with noisy people fussing over him all night and more noisy people coming and going and I can’t sleep at all and am exhausted when I arrive.

Luckily there was a nice woman called Di on the train who says she is going to a quiet, clean hotel and I can tag along with her. I retreated to bed for a few hours, which was fine as there is nothing much to see in Mangalore anyway. It’s hard to tell you are even in a city centre, though I do find a Cafe Coffee Day.

Di and I go to a smokey temple where the priest tells her to do 48 rounds and i watch a woman being weighed to complete a ritual involving bags of rice, then we go back. Next day I take the bus to Mysore, and the trip is quite scenic, taking in Madikeri in the Coorg region. Mysore is much more appealing than Mangalore, with interesting architecture and great street food.

There’s more about Mysore here in a blog I did for the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carolyn-odonnell/karnatakas-kabini-lake-is_b_2414954.html

Mysore – Karnataka’s second city after Bangalore – is loud though. The drivers are champion honkers and hotels seem to be constructed around courtyards that act as echo chambers as staff bellow at each other. Of course the rooms are built in such a way as to maximise the flow of sound, with ridiculous vents above doors. I stay in a new hotel called Kings Kastle which has quite nice rooms for the price but is unbelievably noisy, with constantly slamming doors, and staff roaring around on tuk tuks playing music and shouting at each other.

Luckily after that I go to the wildlife haven of Lake Kabini where I stay at Red Earth in a private villa and I can’t hear anything except birds. Bliss. And while I am there I see my first big cat in the wild during a safari in nearby Nagarhole National Park.

*Frank’s forthcoming book The Socialist is adefinitive political biography” of Mulayam Singh Yadav, the ex-Defence Minister of India and father of Akhilesh Yadav, the young socialist leader and youngest Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous province. A Bollywood adaption is expected to arrive on cinema screens at the end of the year.

Let's drink to that: Elephants in Nagarhole National Park

Let’s drink to that: Elephants (with little baby elephant) in Nagarhole National Park

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