Mysore - A Historical City next to India's Silicon Valley
Located 130 kilometers from Bangalore, India's so called “Silicon Valley”, Mysore is the erstwhile capital of the Wodeyar dynasty of Maharajas who ruled the state of Mysore. The Maharajas have long stopped ruling and the state is now called Karnataka, but Mysore remains the cultural center of the state, due in part to its deep temple and palace culture. Although Mysore lacks the glamour and polish that’s associated with nearby Bangalore, the city has over the years been a favorite with visitors to Southern India who have been offered a fascinating insight into the local culture and royal lifestyles. There’s a grace to the people here, a sanguine calm that makes it a perfect spot for those who want the conveniences of a modern city without much of the chaos involved. The city is one of the few in Southern India which still boasts of a relatively cool climate all year round, making it a perfect vacation destination any time of the year.
According to mythology, Mysore, in ancient times, was ruled by a demon king named Mahishasura who gave the city its name. The goddess Parvati, wife of Lord Siva, was reborn as Chamundeshwari and slayed the monster. After the demon had been killed, the goddess moved to the hills above Mysore called the Chamundi Hills where a temple stands in her name. This temple, called the Chamundeshwari Temple, is one of the highlights of a visit to the City of Palaces.
How to Get There
Mysore does not have a functional airport and the nearest airport is at Bangalore which receives several international flights from Southeast Asia and the Middle East daily. Bangalore is also extremely well connected to all other major cities in India like Mumbai, New Delhi, and Kolkatta. Once in Bangalore, catch an air conditioned bus for the three hour trip to Mysore. Taxicabs are also available outside the airport and will drop you off safely at your hotel. Fares are fixed by Taxi Counters at the airport.
At least half a dozen trains ply the Bangalore-Mysore route. These include the air conditioned Shatabdi Express which covers the journey in an hour and a half.
The city has a well connected network of highways that link Mysore to major cities in and outside Karnataka. Once in the city, make like the locals and flag down an auto rickshaw. These three wheelers are easy to find – when not plying the roads, they congregate outside tourist spots waiting for passengers- and relatively affordable. On the other hand, if clinging on to dear life while a rickety rickshaw hurtles along Indias famously potholed roads doesn’t sound like your idea of a fun vacation, hire a taxicab for the day. Most hotels in Mysore will arrange one for you, complete with a driver who will take you around and show you the sights. Slightly more expensive, but infinitely more comfortable. Mysore is also one of the few Indian cities that still boast of horse driven carts on its roads. Negotiate the fare with the driver and sit back as he takes you on a little sightseeing tour around the city, in old fashioned style.
What to See
An exquisite architectural amalgamation of Hindu and Moslem styles, the three storied Mysore Palace is the focal point of any visit to Mysore. Built around a large courtyard, the interiors of this royal mansion show a few distinctively European features like the stained glass panels that cover the ceiling of the kalyana mantapa or Marriage Hall. Included in the palace complex are 12 temples, an Audience Hall where the Maharaja would confer with his council of Minister, the Public Hall where the king would meet with his subjects and the royal armory which includes a collection of weapons and arms dating back to the fourteenth century. Since being taken over by the government, the palace has settled into life as a royal museum which houses collections of jewelry, art and textiles as well as royal memorabilia. Every autumn, the Mysore Palace becomes the center of the Dasara festivities. For 10 days, the palace is illuminated every evening and several classical music and dance recitals are conducted. On the tenth day, a cavalcade of caparisoned elephants and floats originates from the Palace and makes its way on a pre determined route around the city. This occasion is the highlight of Mysore's calendar and the 10 day period that precedes Dasara is the best time to visit the city.
Timings: 6 am to 9am, 3.30 pm to 6.30 pm
About 3 kilometers south of Mysore is the Chamundeshwari Temple which sits atop the Chamundi Hills. The first thing that grabs your attention as you end the pleasant journey to the top of the Hill is the flamboyant forty meter statue of the demon Mahishasura. The actual temple itself houses a solid gold idol of the goddess. The black granite statue of Nandi, the bull of Lord Siva, occupies a prime position in the temple complex and boasts of his own priest. The road leading up to the temple is in great condition and the journey to the top of the hill is an extremely enjoyable one, especially in the late evening when the entire city spreads out brightly illuminated below the hill.
The banks of the Krishnarajsagar Dam, which channels the waters of the sacred river Cauvery, are the setting for the Brindavan Gardens, probably the most beautiful terraced gardens in Southern India. The well maintained lawns, extensive flower beds, gushing pools and bubbling fountains which are illuminated at night, provide a stunning visual display. Many buses ply regularly from the city to the Gardens, which lie approximately 20 kilometers to the north of Mysore.
Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens
Sprawled across hundreds of acres of lush greenery, the Mysore Zoo, which was set up under the patronage of the then Maharaja Chamarajendra Wodeyar, houses an expansive collection of rare animals and birds including a large aviary, a hippopotamus pond and snake gallery. The zoo houses the only Gorilla to be found in any Indian zoo, and has a reputation for breeding rare animals in captivity.
Timings: 9 am to 6 pm
Located about 15 kilometers away from Mysore is the former capital of Tipu Sultan, Srirangapatna. This tiny hamlet, dilapidated hamlet houses the kings surprisingly well maintained palaces and his tomb. The Dariya Daulat Bagh Palace has a small museum that displays furniture, textiles and memorabilia that belonged to the family of the so called “Tiger of Mysore.”
Museums and Art Galleries
Head to the Chamarajendra Art Gallery where you can feast your eyes on royal portraits and paintings, ceramic and porcelain objects d art from England and Japan, Chinese carved furniture and an impressive collection of classical musical instruments. The Folklore museum, located within the Mysore University campus, has a large collection of tribal and rural handicrafts, including wood work, puppets and a carved wooden chariot. The Railway Museum, the first of its kind in India, displays a collection of vintage railway coaches, some of them used by the Maharajas. Worth a special mention here, is the Maharanis salon, dating back to 1889, which includes a dining car, a kitchen and a toilet.
Where to Stay
There is a wide range of hotels here, from budget accommodations to luxury hotels.
For those who need to watch their wallets, The Vyshak Residency, in Devaraja Mohalla offers reasonably priced lodging in a decent locality. Hotel Maurya is another budget hotel that has single, double and triples accommodation and is a favorite with out of towners.
The Green Hotel has a spacious lawn for outdoor meals and mid range priced rooms. The Siddhartha is famous for its vegetarian North and South Indian chow and is centrally placed with easy access to many of the citys tourist and shopping hotspots.
If you’re in the mood to splurge, the Hotel Regaalis, formerly known as the Southern Star Hotel, and the historic Metropole Hotel offer more comfortable digs with a wider variety of dining options that include Continental, Chinese and Indian cuisine. For serious luxury living, however, head to the Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel in Siddharth Layout. A former palace that has been, like many of Indias palaces, converted into a luxury hotel, the Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel is an opulent Palazzo style building with all the five star trappings – pool and spa, hot tubs, tennis courts and a shopping arcade. The poolside is sometimes the venue for an upper class wedding and the rooms that overlook it are perfect vantage points for a first hand look at the big fat Indian wedding!
Where to Eat
A varied confluence of races and ethnicities has made Mysore cuisine equally broad ranging, from traditional vegetarian fare served on freshly washed plantain leaves, to Mughal, Chinese and Tibetan eateries. If you’ve had just about enough of the local food, hot foot it to an upper range hotel, many of which have 24 hour coffee bars and Continental restaurants. The Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel serves up a really great English style high tea in the evenings.
Mysore is renowned center for handicrafts, especially those made out of sandal wood, rose wood and teak. Of these, sandalwood is perhaps the one most closely associated with the city. This fragrant smelling timber is chiseled into jewelry boxes, pieces of furniture, curios, and intricately carved figures of gods and goddesses. In the days before trade in ivory was banned, sandalwood carvings and figurines inlaid with ivory were a local and national craze. Art emporia like the state owned Cauvery Handicrafts Emporium and other private showrooms have great selections of carved rosewood furniture and decorative sandalwood and rosewood figurines. Larger pieces of furniture like canopy beds and garden swings can be shipped back home and facilities for this are available across a number of emporia in the city. Make sure to pick up the traditional paintings of the city, in the ancient Ganjifa style as well as stone carvings of religious figures. . Besides art and antiques, you can splurge on the famous silks of Myosre. Lightweight and long lasting, these are available in a variety of colors, some plain with gold laced borders and others sumptuously grand with exquisite gold threading and embroidery. Sandalwood oil, and incense sticks often used in prayer rituals are also must buys. The main shopping areas of Sayyaji Rao Road and Devaraja Urs Road have an array of shops that cater to all tastes and budgets.
Taste of Culture
With the abolition of the princely privy purse in the 1970s , Mysores status as a cultural center waned as there was no more royal patronage. However, every year during Dasara, the city grabs the chance to showcase its cultural heritage. Auditoria like the Kalamandira, and Visveswaraya Hall put up plays and theatrical presentations, which are largely in Kannada, but occasionally in other languages too. The Dasara Exhibition Grounds which hosts the three month long shopping and amusement carnival during the festival acts as the platform for daily classical music and dance recitals.
In addition, Mysore is a renowned center for Yoga teaching and learning in Southern India, since the 1930s. The Mysore style of Yoga, known as Ashtanga Yoga, involves learning postures in a pre determined order using a breathing technique known as vinyasa. The city is dotted with a number of Yoga schools that boast a large number of students, both residents and foreigners, some of who have camp in the city for months to perfect their techniques. Prominent among these schools is the Ashtanga Yoga Research institute, founded by Pattabhi Jois, a Yoga guru who regularly visits the US and other countries in the West to conduct Yoga workshops.