We were supposed to head out to Chamundi Hill in the morning, but with 7 of us, it took us so long to get out of the hotel that there was no way we had time to go to see the temple and the Nandi Bull and still make it to the parade. Instead we made arrangements through Aslam's friend to buy scalped tickets to the sold out Jamoo Saravi parade (for ~2.5 times the original price but he managed to get the kids in for free so, in the end, we didn't come out too far from what we would have paid). Aslam dropped us off at about 10:30am and said it would start in an hour. There was some confusion on where we could sit, but after realizing we were in the wrong seats, we ended up with our pick of front row seats, among the first to arrive. That we had such good choice of seats turned out not to be so surprising since the parade didn't actually start until 2:15pm and we had a long, long wait in a fenced-in area.
Anyway, this year was a particularly exciting year because the elephant who's been carrying the howdah for the past 12 years (Balarama) was deemed too old to carry it any more and was retired from that duty (with a big party in which he was fed all sorts of delicacies and treated very well). He lead the parade and a new elephant (Arjuna) was selected to carry the howdah. Arjuna apparently did a great job but there was all sorts of concern and commotion over the change. Arjuna was calm and steady and everyone (according to days of newspaper reports) was very proud of him.
The elephants at the parade is a big deal. A month ahead of the festival, they leave their homes in the forest and make the journey to Mysore with their Mahout. The names of every elephant and of their mahout are common knowledge and there's a lot of news coverage of it. It is a huge honor to have one's elephant participate. During the month ahead of Dasara, the elephants are fed specially rich meals and practice walking the parade route. The howdah-carrying elephant does daily practice carrying a dummy (not solid gold) howdah that also weighs 750kg. This year two elephants were vying for the honor and it wasn't until the day before when one of them got tired before finishing the full distance of the parade that the elephant was chosen for the job.
The departure of the howdah from the Palace grounds is proceeded by cannon fire (this year only 13 blasts, previously it's been 21) and when the elephant came out, the crowd went crazy. There had been several times before and during the parade when the crowd had surged at the fence and the police had to hold them back. At this point tho, there was a loud C-R-A-C-K and the fence broke and the crowd came pouring in. The police had a rope ready and they surrounded the elephant with it, keeping the crowds back just a enough to get Arjuna through-- it must happen every year this way, but it was pretty amazing to see.
Kids kept getting lost and the police would pull them out of the crowd and over the fence into the parade route then line them up in the shade. At one point a family near us recognized a boy they new in the kid pile and everyone started calling to the police. The boy was eventually brought to the family and everyone seemed pretty happy. The area where our seats were was mostly secure but a few times people breached fences and walls. Early on, the police sent a bunch of them packing but by the end of the parade there were easily 4 times as many people in our area as there were seats.
People were perched everywhere. The roads were a mass of people but trees were also full of people as were the palace walls and this giant stick platform that rose up from the palace grounds. When the parade ended and the crowd finally succeeded in breaking the barrier fence, the police grabbed a rope and went to protect Arjuna and the gold. People swarmed everywhere. We weren't sure how we were going to leave but finally ended up jumping the fence in front of us, holding hands and forcing our way thru the masses. It was a memorable exit.