This is a story of how two girls tried to be taken seriously in the tourist-filled town of Mysore during Dasara. We all know that being a solo women traveller is quite tricky, especially in a place like India. It comes with its own set of ups and downs, often having more downs than ups.
Mysore Dasara, which attracts almost millions of visitors from across the world each year, is not always the best place to start our journey as two female travellers. Often filled with large groups of peoples, navigating through the busy streets of Mysore is crazy mad. Our journey was quite eventful, and there were times when Malavika and I felt conscious about being women who had to face quite a bit of condescension and mansplaining.
Born in Bangalore, both Malavika and I are fluent in Kannada (the language spoken through most of the southern state of Karnataka), and are frequent visitors of Mysore which is just a three-hour drive away. Both our families have been involved in the Mysore Dasara for years now. Equipped with all of the above, two local girls of Bangalore set out to Mysore to cover the festivities of Dasara for you, our readers. Being predominantly Type A, we set a strict itinerary (just as you do), and so we had a plan to follow – including addresses, contact names and places to cover throughout the day.
Mysore Here We Come!!
The first day started with a simple train journey from Bangalore to Mysore. We left on the Shatabdi Express, and the journey was smooth with no trouble. We sat in a secure coach with lots of people and air-conditioning, reaching Mysore in the afternoon safely. Even though Malavika thought it would be best for us to get a Cab around Mysore, I convinced her to get a hired car so we did not have to worry about transportation across the town in the scorching heat and overcrowded streets. Best Decision We Ever Made!!!
After grabbing a quick lunch, we headed to the iconic Mysore Palace to get some footage of the crowds and the palace itself. After the constant pushing and pulling off the very frustrating crowd we reached inside the palace naturally in a section filled with men. After our dose of groping and pulling, we ended up outside the palace where we met a bunch of vendors all trying to sell us novelty horns and cheap wooden fans. Post a quick visit to Bombe Mane (Doll House) and a dosa at the famous Mylari Hotel, we headed to Chamundi Hills, where we met the “oh so friendly police officer”.
A Failed Attempt to Go Up Chamundi Hills
After an inside source arranged for us to be dropped at the foot of the temple, with the permission of the hills administration head, our very friendly police officer told us that we would not be allowed to park inside the temple anytime. Even though we spoke to the officers ourselves, they just did not take us seriously, brushing off our request to have a conversation. Given up and tired we headed into the temple vicinity to capture the serenity of Chamundi Hills.
As a part of our plan, we were also given access to the temple itself, from the express gate, by our inside source. As instructed we approached the guard at the back door, advising him of the arrangement made by the head of the temple. God knows who had pissed him off, he refused to open the gates for us completely, until after about 2 hours of waiting and constant calling led to the temple administrator (who mind you was very busy- since it was the time of Dasara) speaking to the guard finally letting us in to offer our prayers to Chamundeshwari. We both do not blame the police nor the guard, we understand that they were doing their jobs. But what doesn’t sit right with us is the fact that it took a man to be on the other end of the phone to help us get in.
The Day was Bad, But there was Gooood Food.
As women travellers, often we all face this challenge of not being taken seriously. There is this stigma in India that women often need a male companion to help them navigate through travel. Yes, there are times when we need help working our way through a city, but when Malavika and I pre-planned and took steps to ensure that everything was communicated right, why is that we need to mansplained at, only for another man (on the phone) to help get us in?
Thoroughly drained and tired, the two of us retired for the night at our Airbnb to recharge and make a game plan for our next few days. Day two started off with a lazy morning and some amazing breakfast at the Old House, a Heritage property near Mysore university, followed by some window shopping in their heritage shop. Surprisingly, being a pleasant morning, our plan was to head to Jaganmohan Palace, then visit Devaraja Market, Guru Sweets and the Malgudi cafe.
A Decent Day Ahead:
Thank god for that rental car, (once again the best decision we ever made); we headed to Jaganmohal palace. With the sun already so bright, and the weather being rather humid, we headed straight into the palace gallery for an audio-guided tour. Followed by a quick visit to Deveraja Market and Guru Sweets the day was pretty simple, with limited trouble coming our way. When I say limited trouble, I mean the usual stares and faint cat-calling, which all women face throughout their travels.
What gets me is that inappropriate behaviour has been normalised by our society towards women. Why is that we are told to ignore and not pay any mind to the name-calling and stares, why can’t it be the other way? Why can’t men be told not to stare at women on the street unnecessarily, to not call out girls inappropriately on the streets bringing on more attention then we face daily? See I am not an “I won’t shave my legs, and I burn panties and bras on the weekends” kind of feminist. I am just a woman, who believes that men and women need to have equal pay and that women should feel safe on a daily basis, not worrying about whether my shirt is too tight, or my kurta is too short.
The Very Crowded Mysore Dasara
Anyway, continuing onto our journey. After a fairly decent day two in Mysore, we were charged up and ready to tackle the Mysore Dasara Parade. Even though we were quite unsure about whether we had secured the entry passes to the palace, we both headed right to the palace to see what was destined for us. With heightened security and the sudden visit of the CM of Karnataka, our passes got stuck inside the palace, leaving us to find our way through the now very crowded Mysore roads to capture the Dasara parade.
The Dasara crowds are known to be quite bad. With little or no space to move, the crowds are usually filled with people all across the country and the globe all trying to get a glimpse of the Jamboo Savari (elephant ride). Naturally, now that we had lost all hopes of getting our passes from the palace, we headed to the main palace gates to get a quick look at the parade. We began to enter the crowds near Albert Victor road, next to the Udhyana Park, within two minutes of entering the crowd, the inappropriate grouping began. Malavika had a selfie stick (are makeshift video stand), which she used to push off some men, I remained calm, until I was being grabbed by the old uncle behind me, who latched his hands across my waist twice while trying to get under my Kurta.
It is NOT OKAY to grope!!!!!
Born local or not, inappropriate behaviour is not okay, when the rest of the crowd around us, was not feeling us up, minding their own business, why do some men feel like it’s their right to touch young women who are there for the same reason as them, to watch the parade. You see I have a big mouth and I don’t stand by inappropriate behaviour. Naturally, I turned around holding his hand, yelled at him and swung a punch.
He surprisingly backed down, without creating much fuss. Inappropriate groping is not okay. When you touch anyone – whether it be a man, or a woman – without their approval it violates their body and mind. As women, we go through so much in general life, there is that fear of am I wearing something appropriate, is my kurta too short? Are my arms showing? Are my legs covered?
We Did What We Came to Do:
And in the midst of all of this, when men actually behave this way, it puts you in a very bad mindset, putting a damper on your trip. Regardless of the detailed planning, a hired car and inside knowledge of Mysore and its language, we both had reached a point of frustration and absolute disgust. It’s safe to say we both were at a point of packing up and heading home. Just because the travel till now had been filled with trouble and so much inappropriateness, we knew it all had to be for something. So we rallied up our broken spirits, after a quick lunch and some downtime at Om Shanti (an old food hall in Mysore) and headed straight to the other part of town where we could see the Parade.
With a better crowd around us, Malavika and I ended up watching the parade from the elephant fountain including the Jamboo Savari. Satisfied with the end outcome we headed to the Mysore Train Station to head home for some much-needed sleep and peace.
Maybe it’s about time when we stop being more understanding as women.
As women, we often plan much more then men do. I don’t know if all you gals out there feel this way, but when I leave town to travel, I often have to pack keeping in mind that I am travelling solo or with other girls. I pack more comfortable, and what is deemed as “appropriate” clothing, just so I do not attract unwanted attention. We all go through these appropriations that we do not want to follow at times because they eat into our freedom as women, but we do because of the fear. Ignoring cat-calling, faint comments and light groping is normalised, but that does not mean we all have to follow it.
If you feel like you feel unsafe while travelling or feel marginalised constantly, and feel like you are never taken seriously, just because you are a woman” then this – sorry about my language – is absolute bull-shit. Travelling is a fun, adventurous and a life-changing experience, just because I am a woman does not mean I need to change my behaviour, be more understanding and ignore inappropriate behaviour. It just means that I need to be okay with taking a stand against those who make me feel the need to adjust my kurta when they stare at me.