While driving back to Bengaluru via Mysore and Srirangapatna after a family holiday in Coorg in 2004, the landscape around the region inspired me to consider relocating there from Gurugram, our home for 14 years then.
Our experience of moving to Gurugram in 1990 had been very positive despite the poor infrastructure, but what followed was a rapid deterioration of our quality of life from the mid-1990s. Our low-rise environment turned into a high-rise urban jungle with problems of traffic, water, power, crime and pollution.
Considering a relocation to rural Karnataka meant that the proximity to water, connectivity, diversity of landscape and health facilities were key criteria. There were more than a dozen enthusiastic friends who wanted to be included in this endeavour. It took over 15 visits and looking at 43 sites before we were able to get our ideal place. However, when it came to pulling out the cheque book, only three of the aforementioned friends remained interested.
It wasn’t till the end of 2008 that we were able to start building a small cottage, and by the time we moved it was October 2010, following my retirement in May that year.
During my periodic visits to Mysore I had stayed in different locations, eating at many small places and meeting a cross section of people from diverse backgrounds. Each visit reinforced the attractiveness of the area. Over the years that we have been here, we have explored the area around and had many memorable experiences, more enriching than just the built heritage tag associated with Mysore.
The Dutch anthropologist Jan Brouwer has made Mysore his home. Since 1996 he has been organising chamber music in his carefully designed home in Kuvempunagar. Starting from a modest group of seven enthusiasts, his mailing list has grown to over 450. He seeks a modest contribution to sustain this activity, and we have spent many memorable evenings listening to outstanding musicians from India and across the world at his acoustical music room adorned with artwork. Listening to a live performance with an opportunity to interact with the performers as part of a small intimate audience is really special.
At Jan’s place I met Michael, who had been associated with the renowned taxidermist firm Van Ingen & Van Ingen. The last of the family, E.J. Van Ingen, passed away in 2013 at the age of 101, and the property is in dispute now. Wherever in the world you see a trophy of Indian wildlife in a natural history museum or private mansion, the chances are it was crafted at Van Ingen & Van Ingen’s workshop in Mysore, which once employed over 600 people.
Mariba Shetty, recently retired as the commandant of the Mounted Police in Mysore, has led the Dasara procession for 35 years. With over 200 magnificent horses in the stables under his watchful eye, Mysore is probably among the best places to learn to ride. Most IAS and KAS officers have a stint here during their training. Nearby is the Postal Museum, with a statue of the humble postman to acknowledge their contribution to what must be one of the most elaborate networks for distributing letters.
The Suttur Mutt at the foothills of the Chamundeshwari temple organises music concerts every full moon at its premises. Entry is free, and the concert is followed by a simple complimentary meal.
The Ganapathi Sachidananda Ashram on Ooty Road offers therapy through music, has a wonderful bonsai garden, boasts of an aviary and herb garden, and hosts many free music concerts. Among these, the one during Shivratri has the most enthusiastic response.
The 8th Cross at V.V. Mohalla has been the venue for a week-long programme of music concerts during Ganesh Chathurthi for 52 years. Luminaries such as L. Subramaniam and his son Ambi, Ravi Kiran, V.M. Bhatt, T.M. Krishna and Ronu Majumdar are a few who have performed here.
The former maharaja of Mysore was a patron of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and a composer too, and his personal band was turned into the police band. They continue to mesmerise audiences with their unique combination of Indian and Western instruments, playing a medley of tunes ranging from rock and roll to Carnatic renderings to commemorate the maharaja’s birthday and during Dasara.
Rolls-Royce had coined the phrase ‘doing a Mysore’ as the royals in the region would order eight cars from them at a time. The maharaja had a customised Packard for the return journey after the Dasara procession, and this vehicle is now in the Pranlal Bhogilal Collection in Ahmedabad. The black car had its back shaped like the rear of an elephant.
During a royal visit to Germany, when introduced, a German nodded sagely at the maharaja and said, “ Oh, you come from the city of Pattabhi Jois.” K. Pattabhi Jois established Mysore as one of the prominent hubs for ashtanga yoga, and Gokulam, the current location for his shala, and Jayalakshmipuram are the two areas with a cluster of schools. Now run by his grandson Sarat and daughter Saraswathi, KPJ’s academy draws students from across the world, who spend from a fortnight to six months to hone their skills. Tourists can now also take a drop-in class at many yoga studios, including the Bharath Shetty-run Indea Yoga.
Sangeetha acknowledges the influence of Pattabhi Jois in developing her culinary skills and she has shared her recipes in her book Mysore Style of Cooking. She continues to offer a traditional meal at her residence by appointment.
The special dietary requirements of yoga enthusiasts are also taken care of by Anu Ganesh from her rooftop Bamboo Hut; Dhaatu, an organic restaurant; Tina Sasson’s Tina Café; Gudrun and Arun’s Santosha Café; and Anima Madhva Bhavan. Vinayaka Mylari, a modest eatery in Nazarabad attracts both gourmets and gourmands for the special dosas that they offer. Nazarabad was home to the Irani family who manufactured their Jawa motorcycles at the factory in Yadavagiri. Named after Mysore’s erstwhile ruler Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar, the unit closed many years ago but there is still an annual get-together of Jawa enthusiasts and a rally to commemorate Irani’s birthday. One part of the family continues to run the Bamboo Banks guest house in Masinagudi.
The global training centre for Infosys is on the outskirts of Mysore, a sprawling 150-acre campus. They allow events to be organised in their auditoriums. The India Heritage Cities Network conference was one such event, and I was able to visit the campus. In the following year, IHCN set up its headquarters in the bungalow of one of Mysore University’s old professors. The building was lovingly restored by the conservation architect Ravi Gundu Rao.
Nearby is another bungalow occupied by S. Radhakrishnan, who was invited to be among the faculty of Maharaja’s College. His former residence has been converted into a museum.
The Manas Gangotri campus of Mysore University also has a Folklore Museum created with an endowment from Sudha Murthy.
Ravi Gundu Rao was also commissioned to restore the Garrison Cemetery in Srirangapatna by the de Meuron family. Their ancestors were mercenaries used by the British in the fourth war with Tipu Sultan. When the current generation of the de Meuron family heard about their forefathers, they visited the cemetery and the took upon the responsibility of restoring the site. Along the Kaveri river, surrounded by old trees, it is an incredibly peaceful place.
Not too far away is Scott’s Bungalow where Yvette Zerfas has been staying since 1962. An artist, she came here with her Australian doctor husband to set up medical facilities for the rural poor. She continues to live there alone with her son in an annexe next door. Colonel Scott had been involved in the victorious war with Tipu Sultan and the bungalow was completed for him by a grateful maharaja in 1804. It remains one of the best-preserved mansions of a bygone era.
Yvette was actively involved with farmers’ markets at Green Hotel which offered a retail environment for local produce. The hotel is now run by a British charitable trust and their Malgudi Café is a delightful place for a selection of teas, Mysore-style coffee and pastries. The women they employ from underprivileged backgrounds lend a special charm to the place with their quiet dignity.
Elisa Paloschi, a Canadian documentary filmmaker, worked with Odanadi, an NGO that provides shelter, skill development and rehabilitation to women and children. Her documentary Driving with Selvi, featuring the spirited Selvi who recovered from a broken marriage, has won many accolades. Speaking of films, Premier Studios used to be co-located here, but it shut down following the fire during the filming of Sanjay Khan’s Tipu Sultan. Mysore is home to Krupakar and Senani whose films Wild Dog Diaries and Walking with Wolves have won international recognition. Their films are always premiered in Mysore.
V.N. Prasad and his dynamic group of amateur performers render soulful melodies from Hindi cinema, while Vasundhara Doraiswamy gives her students the opportunity to perform to discerning audiences, filling up Mysore’s cultural calendar with year-round events.
Mysore Nature (mysorenature.org) is a selfless collation of birdlife around Mysore with valuable contributions by the late K.B. Sadananda. Tireless volunteers continue to offer free birding tours around Kukkarahalli Lake.
You cannot leave Mysore without sampling Mysore pak, and the best place to do this would be Guru Sweets Mart at Devaraja Market, the creators of this sweet, much to the delight of the royal family who patronised the establishment.
Mysore mallige, the local variety of jasmine, has made Mysore an incense and perfumery hub, offering employment to over 50,000 rural folk who hand-roll the expensive incense in villages nearby.
The best way to explore Mysore is by foot or on one of the new Trin Trin public bicycle-sharing service offered by the corporation.
You do not need to worry about weary bones—the Indus Valley Ayurvedic Centre near Lalitha Mahal Palace offers soothing massages, and you can then indulge in their 32-course saatvik meal.
- The best way to reach Mysore is to fly to Bengaluru (there are direct flights to Bengaluru from all major cities in India) and then take a bus or train to Mysore.
WHERE TO STAY
- The Wildflower Resorts & Spa located at the base of Chamundi Hills, offers palatial suites. Its spa offers more than 30 kinds of treatments with authentic Ayurvedic ingredients and techniques. (From `5,985 per night; thewindflower.com.)
- The magnificent Fortune JP Palace provides a gorgeous view of Chamundi Hills. It is located opposite Government House and is only two kilometres from Mysore Palace. (From `3,600 per night; fortunehotels.in.)
- The Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel is just 15 minutes from the airport. Mysore Zoo and the Wadiyar Golf Club are both adjacent to the hotel. (From `3,599 per night; radissonblu.com.)
- Close to Mysore Palace and the Mysore Zoo, Royal Orchid Metropole is an iconic luxury hotel with 30 spacious rooms. Spread over 2.5 acres, the hotel offers several event and dining spaces. (From `3,200 per night; royalorchidhotel.com.)
WHERE TO EAT
- In the streets of Nazarabad, the Vinayaka Mylari is an institution serving the softest dosas topped with generous amounts of butter.
- And if you are already in Nazarabad, head to Hotel Siddharta for the best filter coffee in town. Additionally, Mysore is the city that came up with the by-two concept where a cup of coffee can be shared by two people.
- Hanumanthu Mess, a small establishment in Mandi Mohalla, serves flavourful mutton pulao. Their biryani (with a secret recipe) has been charming the locals since 1948.
- For the best and the original Mysore pak, head to Guru Sweets Mart on Sayyaji Road.