The first of a three part account of a day trip to Mysore and the Saraswathipuram area of town in order to buy furniture.
Well it was it was the four of us who made the trip up to Mysore from the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe in South India. There was me, my wife Dawa Dolkar, her brother Sonam Tashi and his daughter Passang Dawa and we all set off together in Sonam Tashi’s black Mahindra Scorpio after breakfast one morning for the two hour car ride to the Sandalwood City. It was with the express purpose of buying furniture for the newly constructed first floor of our house in the settlement. Specifically we were looking for wardrobes and beds for the bedrooms, plus a sofa set for our new spacious living room.
It was the usual route that we took to get there on the Mysore – Mangalore highway, through the towns of Periyapatna and Hunsur before arriving in Mysore, with at least one or two stop for snacks and drinks on the way. This time around we first chose to stop in the roadside village of Kamlapura which lay just the other side of Periyapatna and there we had a breakfast of iddlys and dhal pooris. In fact it was our second breakfast as we had already eaten at the house in the settlement – fresh fruit salad, eggs and bread – along with Tibetan tea and that was all after a mug of coffee of course which we had first thing. Guess the simple fact of the matter was that we knew the iddlys dished up in this Kamlapura roadside stop were delicious and well worth finding a little bit of extra room in our stomachs for. After this second breakfast we carried on up the road for a while until we got to Hunsur where we pulled in for morning coffees at the Nakshatra. We had plenty to do in Mysore make no mistake about that, but it didn’t stop us from taking things at a leisurely pace as we made our way towards the city.
We had done a fair bit of homework before setting off and so because of that we were heading for Saraswathipuram, the part of town in Mysore where a lot of the furniture sellers were located. Our first destination we were going to go to was a shop called Royal Touch Interiors on Kamakshi Hospital Road. Now despite using Sonam Tashi’s usually reliable sat nav we somehow ended up going round in circles for quite a long while when got to Saraswathipuram trying to find Kamakshi Hospital Road. It took more than one or two wrong turns before we eventually rolled up outside Royal Touch, which turned out to be one of those places that didn’t quite live up to expectations, something which you do get in India from time to time. What they had on offer was rather disappointing, not all it was cracked up to be, but to be honest it was hardly a staggering surprise, as I knew from past experience that roughly half of the places you usually visited in India during the quest to buy something turned out to be a waste of time. And so it was with Royal Touch.
Pretty much next door to Royal Touch however was another furniture shop which went by the name of Laavish Living and which turned out to have plenty more to for us to go at. Again, this was no surprise, as you can strike out in one place but then the next thing you know is that you find another right close by which has more than enough of what you are looking for. We were in Laavish for quite some time, having a good browse in what was a rather warm and expansive showroom, wandering around the extensive first floor where there were plenty of beds, wardrobes, sofas, chairs, tables and a whole load of other stuff as well. All of this done as the ceiling fans spun around whilst suspended from the ceiling above us, bringing on those unmistakable sounds of being in South India, land of the heat, sounds which I love if I am honest.
After a long period of giving things the once over Dawa Dolkar and I picked out a couple of rather nice looking dark wood wardrobes which were made in Sri Lanka, which were both modern in design and spacious, more than enough room inside to hang all our clothes in. We decided that one of these wardrobes would be fine for our new master bedroom, a room which naturally enough was occupied by me and Dawa Dolkar. The other wardrobe would be for the guest bedroom where Anita our close friend from Brussels was currently staying, having come out with us for the whole of this current trip to India, all of us having flown out on the same British Airways flight from T5 Heathrow in London. Anita was not with us on this trip to Mysore today as she had other stuff to do back in the settlement. Later on, after a couple more weeks, Anita and I would be taking a ride together across to Chennai on the Shatabdi Express and then down to Ramanasramam in Tiruvannamalai where we had rooms booked for the both us. After that we would be going further down into the heart of Tamil Nadu and to the ancient temple city of Madurai, home of the awesome Meenaskhi Temple which brings in Hindu pilgrims from far and wide. All in all a trip I was very much looking forward to.
After we had decided that we definitely wanted the two wardrobes it was a question of Dawa Dolkar and Sonam Tashi entering into some hard and protracted negotiation with the guy in the shop as to what the final price was we were going to pay for them. This man just so happened to be a Jain from Rajasthan and it was his brother who was the actual shop owner. At this point it was time for me to sit back in my chair next to the sales desk, drinking a rather nice cup of hot sweet chai that had been provided by the staff of Laavish, whilst Dawa Dolkar and Sonam Tashi got stuck in. Make no mistake, I was all for letting them all get on with it as this was the part of the game they both excelled in, the number crunching in the Indian equivalent of pounds, shillings and pence to hammer out a deal. I therefore knew that it would probably be some considerable time before everyone was happy with whatever was decided upon.
Guess it was about 40 or so minutes later it was time for me to cough up the bucks for the wardrobes with my ICICI Bank debit card as a price of 39,000 rupees had been agreed upon, a price which also included their delivery and installation in the chosen rooms of our new first floor in the house back in the settlement. This indeed didn’t seem too bad at all in terms of cost as both the wardrobes were of some considerable size with a very attractive dark wood finish and of course the drive back to Bylakuppe from Mysore would take them at least two hours if not more. The wardrobes came flat packed, which back in the West would mean that nine times out of ten the customer would then put it all together themselves whilst following the instructions provided. However in India this was not the way things were done, so a crew of workers from Laavish would be accompanying the transportation of the wardrobes back to the settlement in order unpack them and to then put them together for us on arrival. That was just the way things worked, part and parcel of the deal, meaning there was nothing for the customer to worry about in terms of having to work things out for themselves. In other words no sweaty sessions with the flat pack open and a sheet of cryptic instructions at your feet, which of course could sometimes be more than a little traumatic when things didn’t quite appear as clear as they possibly should have done.
On the basis of the current rate of exchange, which was around 81 rupees to £1, the cost of the wardrobes roughly equated to around £480 which was more than OK, although not as good as what it would have been a year previously when the rate of exchange was up to 95 rupees to £1, which would have made the price of the wardrobes just £410. But all of that lay within the realms of the bigger picture as fluctuations of currency were way beyond our control. At the end of the day when facing up to it you just had to roll with the punches, go with the flow and be grateful for whatever it was that came your way.
There was a slight delay to proceedings when the Laavish card machine declined the 39,000 rupee payment on my debit card which I have to admit did cause me some degree of consternation as I knew damn well there was plenty of money in my ICICI bank account to cover the cost. Before making this current trip out to India we made sure there was a few thousand quid in my ICICI account as we knew we would be incurring quite a bit in the way of expenses. These would come through making purchases in order to furnish the new first floor of our house which had, believe it or not, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a prayer room, a very spacious living room and a large, three pillared veranda. On top of all that there was a second floor which was a roofed and walled open space called a hawakana, or wind room, where it was possible to sit in the evenings and enjoy the cool breezes which rippled over the lands of that part of South India in which the settlement was located. A part of South India which was on the border of Mysore Distt and the hill area of Coorg with the Cauvery River flowing in between the two. Not only enjoy the cool breezes, but also enjoy stunning views of the surrounding countryside as well, including the holy hill of Bettadapur on the eastern horizon, the holy hill which I have hiked up on numerous occasions in the past, sometimes getting pretty badly sunburnt along the way, but all that I guess is another story.
Anyway, back to the situation at Laavish which was a pain and only resolved after we handed over the 39,000 rupees due for the wardrobes by way of hard cash. This was done in order to secure the purchase of our nice modern and spacious two new wardrobes which would then be delivered and assembled by members of the Laavish team on the very same day. Needless to say, the fact that my debit card was declined sent me into a bit of a spin as it should have been fine, no problem and nowhere near getting declined. Just a couple of days previously I had used it in the local town of Kushal Nagar to buy a 15,000 rupees Samsung fridge from a shop called Srikanteshwara TV Center which was on the main road out of the west side town, heading up into the hills of Coorg. It was a really good fridge too, perfect for chilling beers and storing lots of food, as well as being eco efficient and looking pretty cool, excuse the pun. Not only that, I had also used the debit card to withdraw 10,000 rupees from the ATM of the local branch of my ICICI bank, also located in Kushal Nagar and there had been no problem there either.
Both of those transactions had gone through without any hassle but now, third time out, it had been declined at Laavish which to my mind was a little bit worrying as I had been hoping to make many more transactions with it in the weeks to come. Things were slightly complicated during this particular trip to India due to the fact there was currently a daily limit imposed by the Indian government of Narendra Modi in regard to how much cash could be withdrawn from personal bank accounts. That limit currently stood at 20,000 rupees per day. Guess this meant there was the possibility that the limit also applied to any debit card purchases made as well and if that was indeed the case it would explain why the 39,000 rupees amount had been declined by the machine at Laavish. There was also the added fact that when withdrawing your daily 20,000 rupees from an ATM, if you were lucky enough to have 20,000 rupees in your account that is, it could not be done in one go but only in two separate withdrawals of 10,000 each. Got to admit that I didn’t quite know why the Indian government had thrown this into the mix as well, but that was how things were, simply how it was and again the best thing to do was just to roll with it.
The reason why Narendra Modi had introduced limits on cash withdrawals was all to do with the fact that he had instigated a massive anti-black money operation throughout the whole of the country in an attempt to cleanse its banking system. This centred on withdrawing certain notes of Indian currency from circulation and replacing them with ones in new denominations. Whilst a fine idea in principle the whole procedure had been done almost overnight, causing a certain amount of chaos to the Indian financial system which meant that there was currently this imposition of the 20,000 rupee daily withdrawal limit. For both Dawa Dolkar and I there was the unmistakable fact that all this was pretty bad timing, a bit of a bummer to say the least. This was simply because we needed access to quite a bit of cash on this current trip in order to successfully acquire all the furniture we wanted for the rooms on our new first floor inour house in the settlement. Hardly problems of life and death I know but I’m afraid all things are relative. It would be a real pain in the butt if the card did indeed begin to play up and stop working. A lot of the money we had put aside for furniture spending was locked up in that ICICI account, so one way or another we needed to have access to it. I therefore made a mental note to try the debit card again at one of the ICICI Bank ATMs in Mysore later on in the day, to try to withdraw some cash in order to check all was OK and that the problem at Laavish had just been a one off.
By 2 in the afternoon we were out of Laavish and Saraswathipuram in order to make our way across Mysore to the Andhra style Shree Devi restaurant for lunch which was in the middle of town, not too far from the famous and really rather ancient Mysore market. It was a favourite of ours and a place in which I have eaten many times over the years, always finding the food there pretty damn tasty. It had been arranged with Laavish that the wardrobes were going to be delivered to our house in Bylakuppe later that day, probably evening time as the settlement was a good 2 – 3 hours from Mysore when travelling by truck and it was already early afternoon. On arrival the guys from Laavish would take all the kit out of the flat packs and proceed to construct the wardrobes in the rooms on our new first floor, which I have to say all sounded pretty perfect, with there being definitely no flat pack stress for me this time around, although how long it would take them to get the job done was a bit of an unknown factor.
Lunch at the Shree Devi for the four of us consisted of the following – vegetarian set meals for me and Dawa Dolkar which were served on banana leaves and various chicken dishes for Sonam Tashi and Passang Dawa along with a pile of breads like naans and chappatis. For me it was usually a toss-up at the Shree Devi between having a vegetarian set meal or a chicken byriani and this time around it was the set vegetarian meal that won over. At that time of day, just gone two in the afternoon, the Shree Devi was pretty packed, more of less full of hungry punters but as usual the service was quick, efficient and courteous. And the food of course was delicious, guess we must have built our appetites up after a good couple of hours in Laavish sourcing and sorting out our precious wardrobes. I washed down my food with a plain lime soda which was well chilled and so very glug, glug, gluggy, tasting pretty much like the best drink in the world for me at that moment in time before stepping out once again into the early afternoon heat of Mysore, Sandalwood City.
The header image for this article is a photograph of a street scene in Mysore and taken by the writer.