Three of my favorite things (beginning with the letter t or otherwise) are temples, turmeric, and tamarind.
Tours, though–not so much. Organized tours rarely feature in my travels because I don’t like itineraries, historical dates, or being stuck in the guide’s cousin’s palm candy factory in the Mekong Delta. This weekend was an exception, as I booked a tour with goMowgli for a day trip to Shravanabelagola and Melukote, two towns with hilltop temples.
Located an hour outside Mysore, they are definitely possible (and much cheaper) to visit independently, but I find it difficult to give temples their deserved time and appreciation on my own. Luckily for me, this trip featured taramind, turmeric, and temples in abundance -and lessened my aversion to tours.
Just as we got to Shravanabelagola, it started to drizzle: actually a blessing when you’re climbing barefoot up 1,000 steps that have been carved out of the stony hillside, smoothed by pilgrims walking, and since, baking in the tropical sun.
At the top, the clouds parted and we were greeted by an imposing but peaceful naked man: the largest monolithic statue in Asia and the centerpiece of a Jain celebration where they pour milk and turmeric over his head.
We got to observe a small ceremony at the base of the statue, which was a highlight for me, as my only prior knowledge of this ancient religion was the Jains’ meat, garlic, and onion-free diet.
Shravanabelagola also featured: windswept smiles with my new friend Nicole…
Some rocking asanas and serene statues…
And a sunny view of the town on our way down!
Then we headed to Melukote, a Vishnu-worshipping Hindu town laden with temples, for lunch: Tamil food served on a special leaf plate, with a side of waitstaff watching you struggle to eat rice with your right hand, as etiquette dictates.
After lunch, I bought a tamarind and spice mix to recreate the rice above, and a massive jar of fresh homemade turmeric powder from a nearby shop – probably the best shopping I’ve done in a year.
The main attraction in Melukote is the Sri Yoganarasimha Swamy Temple. On our way, we passed a step well, surrounded by colorful families taking selfies…
And the Academy of Sanskrit Research!
Our guide, Kaa, explained that the yellow powder decorating the steps was traditionally turmeric powder, used as an antiseptic, and is now ritualistically dotted on the path leading up to the temple. This, once again, pleased my inner turmeric fanatic.
The temple turned out to be closed for the day, but I have a low temple tolerance anyways, and was more than happy to see the decadently decorated exterior and the cute flower-nibbling monkeys.
Whether you go independently or with a guide, Shravanabelagola and Melukote make a diverse, interesting, and off-the-beaten path day trip from Mysore (amount of turmeric and tamarind dependent on your interests).
And yes, even with a set itinerary, I still felt like an autonomous human being – not a member of a cruise ship excursion to the Vatican City.