By Stephen Dowling
Mysore lies around three hours’ drive from the bustling southern Indian city of Bangalore. It might as well be half a world away.
In the last 20 years, Bangalore has become one of the world’s most important tech hubs, attracting the likes of Siemens, Google, Apple and more. It has turned the city into one of India’s most sprawling mega cities.
Bangalore traffic would make a New York cabbie feel like taking a month off. It seems like every time you take to the roads, half of the city is trying to squeeze past you.
After a week in Bangalore, almost any city on the planet will seem like a blissful quiet. So it’s even more inviting that Mysore is just a few hours outside Bangalore’s urban sprawl.
To Bangaloreans, Mysore is famed for two things: its imposing palace and its flower market. The palace dates from the days of the Raj – it was commissioned in 1897 after a previous palace on the site burned to the ground, and took 15 years to complete. The sprawling palace, which commands the old citadel and its temples, is one of India’s biggest tourist attraction, drawing in six million visitors a year.
A city of a million people could never be called a backwater, but in India cities have are on a sliding scale. After the traffic and tumult of places like Bangalore and Mumbai, Mysore’s pace is altogether more manageable.
I had little more than 24 hours here in November, a few days after getting married in Bangalore. My wife, mum, sister and a couple of friends headed out of the chaos of Bangalore for a dose of dialled–down India.
Mysore Palace is extraordinary, a sprawling complex that is somehow massive and intimate at the same time. It’s architectural style is a curious mix of British and Indian; designed by the architect Henry Irwin, it was an Indian, BP Raghavulu Naidu, in charge of its construction.
One of its biggest rooms – open on one side to the elements – has a commanding view of a huge parade ground. Here, soldiers and horses would have drilled in front of the royal family, like lines of toy soldiers.
A short walk from the palace complex is Mysore’s Devaraja flower market. Flowers seem to be a part of every ritual and celebration in Indian life. While every city and decent–sized town will have its own flower market, Mysore’s is one of the most renowned.
I’d had little time to take any pictures on this trip – there were obviously other priorities. But a free morning after a solid breakfast meant I was free to wander around the market, a couple of cameras and a few rolls of film at hand.
India’s vibrant colours – especially on a bright blue day – obviously lend themselves to colour film. I’d packed a few rolls of the original Agfa CT100 Precisa and Kodak E100VS, the two very best films to cross process.
The Belomo Siluet Elektro is a viewfinder camera made in what is now Belarus in the 1970s. Similar to the Smena and Vilia cameras made in the USSR, the Siluet Elektro is an aperture–priority model, with a battery–powered CDS meter. There’s no rangefinder, just a series of focus settings like the Lomo LC-A or the Olympus Trip 35. But the Siluet Elektro comes with a proper glass Triplet lens. Get the focus setting right and the pictures, at least in the centre, can be very sharp indeed.
The camera isn’t blessed with a huge list of specs – the fastest shutter speed is 1/250, and the lens only stops down to f/4. It’s not exactly compact either – it has all the styling of a big plastic brick. But I found this one at London’s giant Photographica camera fair last May. It looked like it was working, and the seller wanted £8. It was a punt worth taking.
I put a few rolls through it before I travelled to India and was pleasantly surprised – the Siluet Elektro was working just fine, and I really like the Lomo-style vignetting and edge softness mixed with the superb sharpness in the centre. Lenses like this love cross-processed slide, and cross-processed slide loves colour and brightness; India has both in spades.
An hour padding around the market, waiting around the intersecting lanes to see what pictures would emerge, was just the antidote to Bangalore’s chaos I needed.