To veer off State Highway 17 and pass through the arched gate to Mysore city is a symbolic act. One leaves behind the frenetic bustle and the determined post-modernist throb of Bengaluru, Mysore’s eastern neighbour and, in many ways, the gracious old city’s upstart sibling.
Till 1973, when Mysore State was renamed Karnataka, it was the spirit of Mysore that imbued the cultural and social life of the region. To be a But through the 70s, as Bengaluru embraced science and strode ahead into the emerging world of technology, Mysore remained enmeshed in a time warp of old-world royalty.
The Wodeyars made Mysore grand and irresistible, particularly so under the rule of Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar (1673-1704). He promoted art and literature, besides instituting large-scale administrative reforms. By the late 18th century, however, their sway over Mysore weakened when their general, Haider Ali, rebelled to establish a capital in the nearby Srirangapatna. The young Muslim kingdom barely had the time to consolidate itself when the British started interfering. Haider Ali’s son, Tipu Sultan, bravely took on the challenge till he was killed in the Battle of Mysore in 1799, earning the grudging admiration of his enemies, who nicknamed him the ‘Tiger of Mysore’.
The Wodeyars returned to rule Mysore, subject to the British writ. Once again Mysore revived its links to art and learning. It’s a tradition that lives on till today. Like the die-hard fans of RK Narayan’s Tales from Malgudi who’ll swear they can recognise its landmarks everywhere.
It’s a city that harks back to a past when the finer things in life still mattered. It’s a place where time is measured in seasons and not seconds, and where a horse-drawn tonga still runs alongside an autorickshaw.
Things to See & Do
Mysore’s glorious past does not live on in its royal edifices, churches or museums. It’s palpable in the unhurried yet often grand lifestyle of its people, and its literature and performing arts. Cap the experience with a Mysorean sunset. “Even today I would assert, after having visited many parts of the world, that nowhere can you witness such masterpiece sunsets as in Mysore”wrote RK Narayan in My Days.
Home to the Wodeyars, the Indo-Saracenic Amba Vilas Palace, also known as Mysore Palace, was built in 1912. Designed by Henry Irwin, this palace is dominated by domes, turrets and colonnades. Beautifully restored and maintained, the palace is a treasure trove of art antiques and rare collectibles. In the Marriage Pavilion (open to the public only during Dasara) you can see the chandeliers, cast-iron pillars from Glasgow and a Belgian glass decorated ceiling. This is also where the jewel-studded 14th-century Golden Throne is placed. Some say it’s made of fig wood. Entry fee Adults â‚¹ 40, kids â‚¹ 20,children below 10 yrs free Timings 10am-5.30 pm, open all days Cameras Not allowed.
Next to the palace is the Maharaja’s Residence, now a museum with a good collection of art and artefacts. Normally lit on Sundays and public holidays, the grand structure is a treat, especially during the Dasara when every evening its entire panoply of 97,000 bulbs shine bright. Entry fee â‚¹ 35 Timings 9.30 am-5.30 pm, open all days Cameras Not allowed.
The Jagan Mohan Palace houses the Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery with its collection of Raja Ravi Varma and Nicholas Roerich paintings. Entry fee Adults â‚¹30, children â‚¹15 Timings 8.30 am-5 pm, open all days.
Located 5 km from the Amba Vilas Palace, within the sprawling campus of the University of Mysore, lies the beautiful Jayalakshmi Vilasa Palace built in 1905. It houses one of Mysore’s best landmarks, the Folklore Museum. With over 6,500 articles on display, this museum is considered one of the biggest of its kind in Asia. Entry Free Timings 10 am-5 pm, closed on Sundays and public holidays Cameras Not allowed.
The second largest palace in the city, the Lalitha Mahal, is a spectacular white stone building, situated at the foot of the Chamundi Hills. Built in 1913 by Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, it served as a palace for guests. The tradition continues with ITDC now running it as a 5-star hotel.
Atop the Chamundi Hills, the abandoned royal retreat, Rajendra Vilas’ main draw is its spectacular view of Mysore.
Located behind the railway station, this little known but impressive museum has locomotive coaches, paintings and photographs, narrating the ‘Rail Story’. The prize exhibit is the Maharaja’s Saloon, especially crafted for the Wodeyar rulers in 1899. Entry â‚¹ 10 Timings 10 am-1 pm, 3-5pm, Mondays closed Cameras Free.
St Philomena’s Church
Mysore’s only British edifice, on Ashoka Road north of the Amba Vilas Palace, is this Gothic Church built in 1931. It’s an imposing structure with impressive stained-glass windows and twin spires that stretch 175 ft into the sky. Entry Free Timings 8 am-8 pm, open all days Cameras Not allowed.
Perched atop the Chamundi Hills, at a height of 1,000 ft on the eastern edge of Mysore, sits the 11th-century Chamundeswari Temple dedicated to Goddess Durga, the family deity of the Wodeyars. You can either climb the 1,000 steps to the temple or drive up the winding ghat roads. As you approach the temple you can see the towering statue of the demon Mahishasura. Nearby is the monolithic Nandi. Entry Ordinary darshan free, special darshan â‚¹ 10 Timings 6 am-2 pm, 3.30-6 pm and 7.30-9 pm, open all days.
Over 60,000 palm-leaf manuscripts in Sanskrit and South Indian languages are housed in the Oriental Research Institute. Located behind Maharaja’s College, its prized possessions includes Prof R Shama Sastry’s translation of Kautilya’s Arthashastra. It is one of Mysore’s treasures. Entry Free Timings 10 am-5.30 pm, closed on Sundays and on second Saturdays.
To experience Mysore at its best, simply walk. The 150-acre Karanji Kere (next to the zoo) is a refreshing green lung. Skirting the Manasa Gangotri Campus is Kukkanahalli Kere, RK Narayan’s muse.
For shopaholics, Mysore’s well-planned markets are a treat. At the Devaraj Urs Market (which is located off Sayyaji Rao Road) you will find Mysore’s very own special fragrant jasmine, and the tangy betel leaf. Also, on Sayyaji Rao Road is the government-run Cauvery Arts Emporium, known for its genuine sandalwood and ivory inlay work. If looking for antiques, check out Nayanotsav, near the zoo.
Drop by at the Government Silk Weaving Factory on Mananthavady Road, where you can watch the famous Mysore silk saris being woven. Go between 8 am and 3 pm. The factory also houses a retail outlet on the premises and another one on KR Circle. The Government Sandal Oil Factory, where sandal oil is extracted and used in the production of the famous Mysore Sandal Soap, is worth a visit. For permission, contact the factory management (Tel: 0821-2483651). Timings 9 am-5 pm, closed for lunch between 1 and 1.30 pm.
Where to Stay
A laid-back stopover city en route the Kodagu, Wayanad and the Nilgiris, Mysore has plenty of hotels to choose from. Book in advance.
The advantage of location goes to The Viceroy (Tel: 0821-2428001; Tariff: â‚¹ 2,295-6,895), which faces the Mysore Palace. At the upper end of the scale is the Hotel Regaalis (Tel: 2426426, 2427427; Tariff: â‚¹ 6,500-11,000). Karnataka Tourism’s Mayura Hoysala(Tel: 2425349; Tariff: â‚¹ 1,000-3,200) is a good option but book well in advance. Kings Kourt Hotel (Tel: 2421142; Tariff: â‚¹ 3,000-5,800) is nearby.
Hotel Dasaprakash Paradise (Tel:2410366, 2515655; Tariff: â‚¹ 1,700-5,000) in Yadavagiri and Ginger Mysore (Tel: 6633333; Tariff: â‚¹ 3,499-3,999) in Nazarabad are other good options.
On the green outskirts, ITDC’s Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel (Tel: 2526100/ 98; Tariff: â‚¹ 4,000-50,000) is superbly located at the foot of Chamundi Hills. Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar built Lalitha Mahal in 1913 to house his overseas guests. Opposite Lalitha Mahal Palace is the serene Indus Valley Ayurvedic Centre (Tel: 2473437; Tariff: â‚¹ 1,800-8,100), offering Ayurvedic treatments and Ayurvedic vegetarian cuisine. On the Mysore-Nanjangud Road is The Village Resort (Tel:2481310/ 766; Tariff: â‚¹ 3,000-7,000), 2 km from the city centre.
The beautiful Green Hotel (Tel:4255000-03; Tariff: â‚¹ 3,250-6,750) is in Jayalakshmipuram. This used to be Premier Studios. Grand Maurya Resort(Tel: 2403091; Tariff: â‚¹ 1,700-1,800) is on the Mysore-Hunsur Road in Hinkal.
What to Eat
Taking a tiffin break in Mysore is the most delicious thing to do. The city offers terrific ‘set’ dosas (fluffy, soft pancakes made of beaten rice, served in sets of three), masala dosas, uppittu (or upma), rava idli and Mysore rasam. Tasty savouries like churmuris and peanut masala also entice. But the most outstanding feature of the city is the web of bakeries set up by Mysore’s Vaishnavite community, the Iyengars. Try out the veg bun cakes and nipattus at the Iyengar Bakeries on Devaraj Urs Road and the nearby Sayyaji Rao Road. And how can anyone forget Mysore pak, the sweetmeat that Mysore made famous.
The restaurant at Hotel Dasaprakash is recommended for excellent South Indian thalis. Bombay Tiffany’s high teas are great. The Nalpak restaurants in Ittigegudu, Kuvempu Nagar and VV Mohalla are the places to head for delicacies like akki and ragi roti, and the spicy bisi-beli-huli-anna (hot-lentil-tamarind-rice). If driving down from Bengaluru, try the famous Maddur vadai at the town by the same name en route.