GOING UP + DOSA FEST '07
Yesterday La Profesora (a fellow ashtangi) and I planned to walk up the thousand steps to the top of Chamundi Hill.
But first we had to find our way there on the scooter.
Vishwunath (Kaveri Lodge manager) gave us some detailed and convulted directions, and then finally admitted we could avoid all the turns and just take JLB Road the whole way.
But thanks to La Profesora's excellent navigation skills, we took the convulted route.
Ammu called me just before we left and said to follow a family.
"Do you mean that we shouldn't pass them on the steps?" I asked.
No, he said. Just stay near a family.
"Why?" I asked.
"So that you are not bothered by creepy guys."
He also said to watch out for the monkeys.
The way up was hotter and sweatier and more taxing than I remember from my last trip up, in 2002. The steps were steeper, and more uneven.
Or maybe I'm just older....
There were more flies and caterpillars and little boys saying "Hello! Hello!". And the steps were decorated with orange and red marks for Friday's special puja (apparently there's a special puja every Friday in July -- the month in which the goddess Chamundi was meant to have killed the demon Mahishasura, the namesake of Mysore city).
With 300 steps remaining we stopped at the Nandi (Shiva's bull) statue and walked around three times clockwise before heading back to the Shiva cave that is the abode of the cyber Saddhu (holy man who has a cell phone).
The outside of the cave is painted with ochre and white stripes (like the outer walls of a temple) and you must duck so that the torso is horizontal in order to get in; fortunately there's some padding just above the low entryway.
We stayed and sat for awhile as families crawled in and got blessed and crunched loudly on the prasad (chunky sugar) they were given. La Profesora occasionally asked the saddhu a question.
We learned that he was ill last year with pneumonia and spent a month in the hospital. In his absence a young man did the morning puja (dressing and chanting to the many deities on the cave altar), and he has stayed on to help. Once or twice a week they feed lepers at the colony at the bottom of the hill.
I've been a little obsessed with the idea of gurus and holy men since reading "It's Here Now, Are You?" and watching the Ram Dass documentary Fierce Grace, and I sat there trying to feel something.
I never feel something when I'm supposed to, though. I did notice that the Saddhu has a calm demeanor and very kind eyes.
We stayed so long with the saddhu that it began to pour, so we stayed even longer. His helper gave us some chai as we waited for the rain to taper off.
Finally it let up enough that we could leave the saddhu to eat his lunch.
After climbing the final 300 steps, we bought some devotional CD's at a kiosk and then got in the free line for the Chamundi Temple, which was set to re-open at 3:30PM. It was decked out with flowers and garlands from Friday's puja.
But there were monkeys everywhere, eating the decorations and generally harssing the poeple in line. So we went to the monkeyless VIP line, where you pay Rs 20 (25 cents) to get in.
We waited a long time as people pushed behind us and pushed ahead of us or left the line altogether. As we waited, two monkeys came and hovered over a woman. Everyone gasped and warned her to get out of the way.
Finally the line moved.
We paid and then got into another line -- the one to enter the temple.
There was even more pushing in this line.
There was so much pushing in fact that a man on crutches fell, loudly, and was nearly crushed by the crowd.
Finally we were pushed forward toward the topless Brahmin priests with the sacred threads and plates with flames in the inner sanctum, where in the back you could see a festively decorated Chamundi who was drowning in flower garlands.
Again I wanted to feel something.
After receiving the blessing we went out and had a tender coconut and visited the Godly Museum, which depicts human vices and must be seen to be appreciated.
Then we walked back down the hill -- which was not easy, since the steep and uneven steps were slick from the rain (NOTE TO CONSUMERS: Neither Keen or Earth Vegan sandals worked very well on this terrain). By this point, all of the lovely decorations had washed away.
At least we didn't see any monkeys.
Or creepy guys.
It began to rain hard as we got onto JLB Road and made our way to Gokulam. Exhausted and hungry, we went straight to Gokul Chats, where we had a dosa festival. If you've never eaten a chop suey dosa out-of-doors, under a corrugated plastic roof in the middle of downpour, you've really been missing out.
As we ate, we watched a herd of goats make their way up the street. A few of them stopped and began feasting on the flowers in the restaurant's planters. One of them stood up, put its coven hooves on the seat of my scooter, and began to nibble at the tender leaves of the tree above.
Then the herder -- who was wearing a yellow sari -- and her two dogs came and chased them away.
Then a small herd of ponies passed by.
And then a wild pig.
And they say Gokulam is a fancy suburb. Ha!