As promised, that night we got on an overnight bus to head back south to Mysore (Mysuru) to meet up with Aarti. For six centuries (until 1956!), Mysore was the capital of a kingdom. There is still a palace where the royal family resided and cultural festivities are held. Nate and I toured the palace after a short period of confusion in which we realized we needed to pay the palace workers to keep our shoes before we would be allowed to go in. Barefoot, we walked around the many colored halls. The palace has a free audio tour, but we didn't have wifi to download the app with the audio, so we improvised making up our own immensely fascinating historical facts. As per tradition, we didn't leave until we posed for a photo - not with the exquisite palace architecture - but with a group of giggling girls in sarees who were happy to practice their English. That evening the palace was to be lit up at exactly 7pm and remain that way for 45 minutes. Aarti, Nate, and I toasted with fresh coconuts while we watched the illumination, happy to have cameras trained on something slightly brighter than our white skin.
We spent the remainder of our time in Mysore doing the hard work of finding the city's best dosas (mmmmmm....), warding off more examples of capitalism (an excellent opportunity to practice one's RBF), and getting some street mehendi (Mysore photo montage, bottom right corner). It was the train ride out of the city was probably my favorite part of the whole adventure, though. Nate and I sat on one side of the aisle deeply involved in my GRE study book, and Aarti sat on the other side of the aisle opposite an elderly, well-dressed Indian man whom Aarti addressed as Uncle. Uncle, it turned out, had many questions about Aarti's companions. He started by asking Aarti in Hindi about where we were going, if we were married, and how we were affording our world travel. Then he broke into perfect English to ask why were wasting our time and eyes on a GRE book when we could be looking out at the Indian countryside passing by. He was right, so I put the book away and engaged in the world around me. We bought some snacks from a man walking down the aisles and tried to share them with Uncle and the older couple sitting directly across from us. The couple didn't speak English, but gestures and smiles served us well. They declined the offer but quickly shared up part of the guava that they'd just bought through the window from a person standing on the train platform. It was pretty good, and when I smiled in thanks, the husband ran off the train and chased down the fruit salesman to buy me my own. That melted my RBF right off. Through Aarti and Uncle, we were finally able to break the cultural barrier and make some real connections with people. By the end of the train ride, we even had an invitation from Uncle to stay in his house in New Delhi if we were ever in the neighborhood.
Back in Bangalore, Aarti and I spent our last evening sitting criss cross apple sauce (sitting "Indian style" now seems very offensive in this and all scenarios) on her bed surrounded by her saree collection. As she pulled out each one, she told me how she came to own it, under what circumstances she would wear it, and what inspired her fabric choices and styles. I asked rapid fire questions about the process of getting them tailor made, if they are passed down from generation to generation, and about the complicated process of actually getting them to stay on one's body. We lapsed into some much needed girl talk. Nate is a wonderful travel companion, but there are somethings which are best saved for the company of a good girlfriend. Aarti was as good as a sister, and I savored every moment until our time was up and the dream began to fade to black.
India was a lot of things that my Little Princess mind thought it would be, complete with gorgeous sarees, endless ancient playgrounds, and kind people. It took me a while to see past the money-driven tourism culture, but with the help of an Uncle and a sister, I found my place in the orange-tinted dreamland.