A Long-overdue Visit
Having travelled in my mind from our school days to my hero, Tipu Sultan's kingdom in Mysore, a visit to his last resting place was long overdue. One of my good friends from the World Bank days, Rangachar is settled after retirement in Bangalore and had invited us many times to go there. This year we availed of the opportunity and went to Bangalore via Kolkata. Despite the advice of many friends in Dhaka not to use Biman because of their irregularity, we dared to take it to Kolkata and from there we took the Jet Airways to Bangalore. Biman was punctual and the short flight in its Airbus was comfortable. The new Kolkata airport was large and modern, though there were not that many planes and passengers at the airport, the structures and facilities compared well with many western airports.
Our friend had arranged a rental car to meet us at the equally, if not bigger and modern airport in Bangalore. The driver took us to a small boutique hotel on the outskirts of the town, close to our friend's house. Rangachar had gone on one of his many consultancies to Yemen but delegated his responsibilities to guide and accompany us to the tourist attractions and shopping to his able wife, Vaggya, a social worker devoted to the spread of childhood learning methods. We were taken to see the Nandi Hills, 60 kilometers from Bangalore where at the top we visited an ancient temple. There is a restaurant nearby, which had a commanding view of Bangalore. It is also called the Hill of Happiness- people often come here for peace and tranquility. Next on our list was Lal Bagh Botanical Garden, a 240 acre, well-planned garden in the city with a rock garden, a variety of large plants and flowers-many imported from London's Kew Gardens by a British Superintendent, John Cameron, in the 1870s. He had also initiated the construction of a beautiful glass house in the middle, surrounded by Champaka Trees and Pencil Cedars. It is called Lal Bagh because of a special variety of red roses which bloom here throughout the year. Bangalore, known as the Garden City of India, has many other gardens. Its streets were lined with trees on both sides, some of which were flowering. Its palaces and British-era red-brick public buildings and grounds were decorated with fine trees and well-maintained, flowering gardens.
The city had many local and exotic restaurants and we had meals at Afghan and Tandoori restaurants. The food and decor at these places were excellent by international standards. There are several large, modern shopping malls in the city and due to the predominance in Internet industries of Bangalore (known as the Silicon Valley of India) and the western countries having found Bangalore a good place to outsource all kinds of work cheaply and efficiently, it has prospered much compared to others parts of India. The malls were full of eager shoppers and fancy, export quality goods of all kinds. There were state silk factories for which there were Karnataka State emporiums at different locations in the city. They had impressive collections at reasonable prices of handicrafts of wood, ivory and copper products and of course, high quality silk saris and other garments for which South India, particularly Bangalore and Mysore, were famous. By the way, it was Tipu who had first imported silk cocoons and technology from Bengal and started a dozen silk factories for weaving and exporting silk to other parts of India and abroad.
After our friend returned from his trip, he took us to Srirangapatna and Mysore by car on a day-trip.
We first went to Srirangapatna, which was a two hour drive or more depending on the traffic. Due to the prosperity and rapid development in the state, the roads, including the fine highways, were very congested and slow. We visited Tipu Sultan's garden house in the midst of vast verdant grounds and beautiful trees, all artistically planted and well-maintained. The surroundings were pleasant and soothing even though it was mid-day and the sun was burning hot and the temperature was in the high eighties. The house was made of wood and painted in green. It is now serving as a museum of the Sultan's artifacts, paintings and furniture. Overall, the house was very tastefully decorated.
A visit to Tipu's tomb was an essential obligation for me. The readers might recall that Tipu was surrounded by the armies of the British, the Marhathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad. His army chief had already betrayed and secretly joined in a conspiracy to dethrone Tipu. He did not try to resist the combined attacks. Heavy British canon fire breached the ramparts of Tipu's fort giving access to the attackers to go inside. Tipu refused to get away and fought hard along with his loyal troops till his army was subjugated. He was seriously injured and his soldiers placed him on a stretcher on the floor of a veranda of one of the palace buildings. A British soldier came by and tried to snatch his sword from him. Tipu was the last person to tolerate such humiliation while he was still alive. He struck the soldier with his sword in the leg even in his injured condition. The angry British Soldier shot him in the head with his rifle, killing the Sultan instantaneously. His contemporary and with whom Tipu had corresponded to seek French help against the British- the great Napoleon, had surrendered and pleaded for refuge in England after his defeat at Waterloo. In contrast, Tipu Sultan valiantly fought till the end and died honorably in 1799 defending his fort in Srirangapatna.
The victorious British had allowed a decent burial of Tipu at the nearby mausoleum, which he had built for his parents who lay there. Built in Islamic architectural pattern, the marble mausoleum was very impressive with intricate filigree work all over and slender minarets and a small but beautiful mosque by its side. The three tombs lay side by side-simple and dignified. Tipu's grave was shrouded by a large decorated cloth looking like a tiger skin, which reminded us that he was widely known as the Tiger of Mysore. Remembering the developments and innovations he had introduced in his state, we felt sad at his loss at the hands of the British. Tipu Sultan was the last great independent Indian ruler, an able administrator and innovator. Both Hindus and Muslims in the Indian sub-continent revere him till today for his brave stand against the British supremacy and expansionism in India.
Our visit to the pretty city of Mysore was brief. We saw the Maharaja's palace and other imposing public buildings and gardens. The Maharahja was reinstated in power by the British after Tipu's defeat, with Mysore then being treated as one of the native states. One interesting thing that cut down on the time available to us was a number of public processions with posters and banners slowing down the traffic and often blocking the roads in support of rival candidate for a bye-election to the state assembly. The amusing part was that it was not even the main election-it was only a show of support for candidates seeking nomination of one of the political parties. We also visited Sir Visvesvaraya Dam on the Cauvery River named after a great Indian engineer and administrator. It is located on the border of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Due to an on-going dispute between these two states on water sharing, we were not allowed to go on the Dam itself to get a fuller view of the irrigation works and the Cauvery River. We recalled that Kazi Nazrul Islam had produced a romantic song using South Indian tunes on the Cauvery River banks.
We were later invited to the spacious apartment of our friend in a modern high-rise building in a residential area of Bangalore. Being received in the family and dining at their home in a family atmosphere was a great gift of friendship. The South Indian hospitality was as warm and sincere as in a typical Bangladeshi home. It was impressive the way we were treated by the children and relations of our friend. The afternoon of our last day was spent going downtown for shopping. Prices were lower than in the Malls but the qualities were comparable. In fact, some of the name-brand shops were also present there. The street was congested with traffic and numerous shoppers. There were rows of clothing and other shops on both sides, sprinkled with coffee shops and restaurants, reminding us of Dhaka's Elephant Road.
We returned to Dhaka at the conclusion of what appeared to me to be a long-pending and justified pilgrimage to the land of Tipu.