IT was a long day ahead for me, starting at dawn.
Like other foreign journalists with me, I was also looking forward to what was planned for us.
Since it was a four-hour journey to our destination from the ITC Windsor in Bangalore, we had to leave early.
The trip was to Mysore Palace, a place that we all had heard about and were longing to go to.
It was the second last place to visit as part of our familiarisation tour to India — my nomination to the Indian Government being made by Fiji's Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Considering that I and fellow journalist Rosi Doviverata had to fly back to Fiji the same night, our liaison officer Tejindar Anand decided to start the day early.
Mr Anand, who is the Indian External Affairs Ministry's publicity officer, told us that Mysore Palace was a place worth visiting.
Mysore Palace or the Maharajah's palace is located in the heart of the city at Mirza Rd and is the most attractive monument in Mysore.
It is one of the largest palaces in India and is also known as Amba Vilas. It was the residence of the Wodeyar Mahararajas (kings) of the Mysore State.
The original palace was built of wood, burned in 1897 and was rebuilt for the 24th Wodeyar Raja in 1912.
As we left our hotel in Bangalore and travelled on the busy road towards Mysore, there were other interesting things to see on the way.
It reminded me of the rural places in Fiji, especially the sugarcane farming areas in the Western and Northern divisions Being guests of the Indian Government, we were allowed to enter the palace yard through the back gate, unlike other people who have to gain entry through other gates.
As we prepared to enter the palace after four hours of travelling, we were told that cameras of any kind were strictly not allowed inside and we would have to leave our shoes in a room.
Mr Anand had told me that the king's golden throne was locked in a room and not opened to the public, saying he would try to let me see it.
The guided tour started from a gate which is the main entrance to the centre of the palace, with huge real elephant heads, stuffed, on each side.
As we walked further into the three-storey building, we were shown statues and sculptures from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The first glance of the amount of valuables inside the palace was a gold plated seat that was placed on an elephant for the king to sit on.
With about 80 kilograms of gold in it, it is placed behind a locked glass door like other valuable ornaments, which are under the watchful eyes of police officers.
There is also a statue of Goddess Chamundi, who has some historical connection with the nearby Chamundi Hills and is worshipped by people in the area.
As we moved around the palace, our guide showed us paintings of the king, his wife and children, and him with his soldiers.
They were done several decades ago and are said to be three dimensional paintings, in other words meaning they will follow you as you walk past.
Since Dasara is a major religious festival in Mysore, the first painting we were shown was that of the king on his way to the festival with hundreds of soldiers.
A look from the far left side revealed that the king and all his men, the elephants and horses were looking at me.
But as I walked past the huge painting, I could feel their eyes following me and looking at me straight when I stood directly in front.
The "checking out" continued and I looked from the far right and they all had their eyes on me.
Further down, there was a painting of the king, Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, whose eyes and face also followed me and the other journalists.
The same could be said of his painting with his sisters when he was an infant and sitting on an olden design baby pram.
Like the floor at some places in the palace, the meeting and entertainment halls inside are also glittered with marble and other precious stones.
Chandeliers from the time the kings ruled different States in India are still seen inside the palace and in working condition, like the lifts and other electrical items.
Since we were on a special guided tour, some outsiders also took advantage and joined our team but they were asked to leave as we went to a different part of the palace.
Our guide ushered us inside the dark room, saying "this place is not for the public to see but I'll open it for you people today".
He switched on the lights after a minute or so and some female foreign journalists were awe-struck after seeing what was there.
In front lay a collection of weapons that the king used for various purposes, from killing someone at a short distance to a longer one.
And among the armoury collection was the real sword of Tipu Sultan, who was the ruler of Mysore from 1750 to 1799.
His predecessors were Hyder Ali and Krishnaraja Wodeyar III.
From the armoury, we were led into another room and what shocked us were animals from India and other parts of the world.
They were real animals that had been killed by the king or imported from other countries, stuffed and kept, with some still having tears in their eyes.
Among the animals were a rhinoceros, tigers, lions, crocodile, bear, and the heads of elephants, deers and wild boar to name a few.
During the tour, our guide told us about the gold plated dome on the palace and the 7.5 kilogram golden flag on it.
The palace tour ended at the place where the king used to sit and address his people who gathered in the courtyard.
However, his golden throne was not shown and our guide said it is only displayed to the public once a year — during the festival of Dasara.
The festival will be held next month and it is that time when the palace and its surroundings are lit up with more than 100,000 lights and security is beefed up.
There are several temples within the palace and religious functions are also said to be conducted there during the year.
The palace is said to be now under the supervision of the Department of Archeology and Museums of the Government of Karnataka.
But a corner of the palace is still said to be occupied by the extended family members of the Wodeyar's, who once ruled Mysore State.
Apart from visiting the high level institutions of India and learning how they operate, the visit to Mysore Palace was a lifetime opportunity.
This familiarisation visit, or rather a lifetime one, would not have been made possible without the Fijian Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Indian External Affairs Ministry.