This thought continued to play through my head the day I stumbled onto the bathing ghats at Srirangapatna. Travelers to India for historical interests will especially enjoy this location roughly 16 km from the spectacular city of Mysore, Karnataka. Srirangapatna (A.K.A. Srirangapattana) was originally the summer residence of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore. But a battle with the British ended here in 1799, as well as the life of Tipu Sultan. British forces demolished most of the city leaving only the ramparts and bathing ghats that lie on the banks of Kaveri River. Tourists aren’t always a welcome sight to locals in India. We invade the personal spaces of families and friends with our presence, our cameras, and our questions. Tourists must learn to strike a balance between the casual observer, and the obnoxious traveler, in order to gain access to more intimate moments.
A glimpse of the river caught my eye. Just a tiny streak, after touring most of the island, raised enough curiosity to request my driver to pull over. Noting my interest, he explained this was a very good spot to take a break. He hadn’t steered me wrong yet.
So as I walked the narrow, dusty pathway toward the river, it was rather surprising to find a wealth of activity not seen from the road further back. Quickly it was apparent this was what in nature we would refer to as “walking into the lion’s den”. There were two choices: turn around before being spotted by the locals or continue forward with great trepidation. The bathing ghats serve as a private place for locals to congregate, socialize, launder clothes. Kids play in the river to find relief from the scorching southern sun. And elders sit near the small shrines where they may appear to be practicing their great faith, but in actuality, this perch permits excellent people watching.
My entry into this local hotspot could be successful as long as it was slow, smooth, and quiet. I left the camera covered in its bag, hanging behind my back. The locals needed to know I was only here to witness the everyday commotion existing near the river’s edge. Careful footsteps took me over the small footbridge to the main staircase which bleeds into a central area. This provides access now to the many shrines and shade trees covering the riverbank; And the spot where so many locals are recreating.
Viewing the various activities from a single spot, I discovered who was there as a family, as a couple or individually. Every few minutes a location change just a few feet away, still with no camera in use, earned me another fraction of trust from the locals. Within a half-hour it was possible to move freely about the riverbank, edging close enough to hear conversations as the kids of graduating ages screamed in joy immersed in the river’s cooling water. Although still wary, the locals didn’t pay much heed as a camera came into focus.
Click click click. Slow, sneaky movements that might have appeared as if playing with the camera were actually capturing just what my eyes were seeing. Click click click. No change in behavior, no hands waving me off, no bellowing to leave. Click click click. Five minutes of quick camera pointing would only have brought out scornful faces and irritating calls to move away. Click click click. An hour of patience yielded photographs of daily life down by the river banks, down the steps into the holy Kaveri River. A restful place in the resting place of a once magnificent ruler.