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 cultivated person was to be Mysorean. 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 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 the city 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 will 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.

Punit Paranjpe
Mysore Palace continues to exude an air of grandeur
Mysore Palace continues to exude an air of grandeur

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. It’s this heady combination of the old and the new that makes it such a wonderful and popular destination. 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.

The Palaces
Home to the Wodeyars, the Indo- Saracenic Amba Vilas Palace, also known as Mysore Palace, was built in 1912 – a fire had burnt down the old wooden residence in 1897. 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. It is believed that under all that decoration, it is actually made of fig wood.

Entry Adults ₹40; Children ₹25 (free for children below 10 years of age)

Timings 10.00am–5.30pm, Open daily Tel 0821-2421051

Next to the palace is the Maharajas 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 Dasara when every evening its entire panoply of 97,000 bulbs shine bright.

Entry ₹35 Timings 10.00am–5.30pm

The Jagan Mohan Palace houses the Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery with its collection of Raja Ravi Varma and Nicholas Roerich paintings. Ancient musical instruments, ivory, sculpture and Tanjore and Mysore gold leaf paintings also form a part of the collection.

Entry fee Adults ₹40; Children ₹20 Timings 10.00am–5.00pm

Rajesh Thakur
The toy train at the Rail Museum, a favourite with children
The toy train at the Rail Museum, a favourite with children

 

Located 5km from Amba Vilas Palace, within the sprawling campus of the University of Mysore, lies the beautiful Jayalakshmi Vilas Palace built in 1905. It houses the Folklore Museum. With over 6,500 articles on display, this museum is one of the biggest in Asia.

Entry Free Timings 10.00am–5.00pm, Open daily

Tip Cameras are not allowed in the Maharaja’s Residence and Jayalakshmi Vilas Palace

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 Chamundi Hills lies the abandoned royal retreat of Rajendra Vilas. Its main draw is its spectacular view.

Rail Museum
This little known but impressive museum has locomotive coaches, paintings and photographs, narrating the ‘Rail Story’. The prize exhibit is the Maharajas Saloon, especially crafted for the Wodeyar rulers in 1899.

Entry ₹35 Timings 10.00am–1.00pm, 3.00–5.00pm Open daily Photo-graphy Free

St Philomena’s Church
Mysore’s only British edifice, on Ashoka Road north of the Amba Vilas Palace, is this Gothic Church. It’s an imposing structure with impressive stained-glass windows and twin spires that stretch 175ft into the sky.

Entry Free Timings 8.00am–8.00pm, Open daily

Chamundeswari Temple
Perched atop the Chamundi Hills, at a height of 1,000ft on the eastern edge of Mysore, sits the 11th-century Chamundeswari Temple dedicated to Goddess Durga, the family deity of the Wodeyars. You can choose to 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 Mahishasura. Nearby is the monolithic Nandi.

Entry Ordinary darshan free; special darshan ₹10 Timings 6.00am–2.00pm; 3.30–6.00pm & 7.30–9.00pm

Saibal Das
Banana leaves
Banana leaves

Other sights
Over 60,000 palm-leaf manuscripts in Sanskrit and south Indian languages are housed in the Oriental Research Institute. Its prized possessions include Prof R Shama Sastry’s translation of Kautilya’s Arthashastra. It is considered to be one of Mysore’s various treasures.

Entry Free Timings 10.00am–5.30pm Closed Sundays & second Saturdays

Walkabouts
Mysore simply lends itself to fine walks. The city-town is a diffidently colonial throwback with possibly the highest per capita institutional presence anywhere in the country, with everything from the Postal Training Institute to something important sounding in linguistics. Largish swathes of land are left free for a wild growth of trees and other flora around low-slung, slanted-roof homesteads. The 150- acre Karanji Kere (next to the famous Mysore Zoo) is refreshing. Skirting the Manasa Gangotri Campus is Kukkanahalli Kere, RK Narayan’s muse.

Shopping
For shopaholics, Mysore’s well-planned markets can be a treat. Walk into the Devaraj Urs Market off Sayyaji Rao Road. This market is a delightful medley of colours and smells. 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 you are 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. The factory also houses a retail outlet. 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 to visit, contact the factory management (Tel: 2483651; Timings: 9.30am– 5.30pm).

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: ₹2,295–6,895), which faces the Mysore Palace.

At the upper end of the scale is the Hotel Regaalis (Tel: 2426426, 2427427; Tariff: ₹7,000–13,000). Karnataka Tourisms Mayura Hoysala (Tel: 2425349; Tariff: ₹1,400–3,500) is a good option but book well in advance. Kings Kourt Hotel (Tel: 2421142; Tariff: ₹3,500–4,800) is nearby. Hotel Dasaprakash (Tel: 2444455, 2515655; Tariff: ₹826–2,200) at Gandhi Square and Ginger Mysore (Tel: 6633333; Tariff: ₹3,999) in Nazarabad are other good options. Windflower Resort (Tel: 2522500; Tariff: ₹7,000–30,000) fills the vacuum in contemporary luxury at Mysore – it’s popular for its tranquil yet easily accessible location, understated aesthetics, spacious rooms, friendly service, good food and spa.

What to Eat
Mysore offers terrific ‘set’ dosas (fluffy, soft pancakes made of beaten rice, served in sets of three), masala dosas, uppittu (or upma), rava idli and rasam. Tasty savouries like churmuris and peanut masala also entice. Most outstanding feature of the city is the web of bakeries set up by Mysore’s Vaishnavite community, the Iyengars. Try out the vegetarian bun cakes and nipattus at the Iyengar Bakeries on Devaraj Urs Road and Sayyaji Rao Road.

The sublime Mysore rasam is arrived at by adding a freshly ground masala of coriander seeds, dry red chilli and desiccated coconut. The crisp Mysore dosa is lashed on the inside with a light spread of a tangy coconut and red chilli paste. If ever there was a simple recipe that called for the greatest expertise, it had to be the sweetmeat that the city made famous – Mysore Pak. The restaurant at Hotel Dasaprakash is recommended for excellent south Indian thalis. Mylari Hotel has a melt-in-the-mouth sagu dosa and superb filter coffee. 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).

Around Mysore

Brindavan Gardens (18km)
Brindavan Gardens, is to the north-west of the city, at the foot of the Krishna Raja Sagar Dam. Arrayed below the dam is the terraced and well-tended garden landscaped with fountains — one of them actually dances to music. It’s great for a pleasant evening but tends to be crowded on weekends.

Entry ₹50 Timings 6.30am–9.00pm Fountain show timings Weekdays 6.45–8.30pm (two shows); Weekends 6.45–9.00pm (three shows) Open daily

Tip Cameras are prohibited

Karighatta (20km)
Karighatta resonates with Puranic lore. On the hillock is the Lord Srinivasa Temple, believed to have been built by the sage Bhrugu. The temple is surrounded by tall slender grass known as dharbe, said to have grown from the skin shed by Lord Vishnu in his Varaha (boar) avatar.  

Fast Facts

When to go All year round

Tourist offices

Dept of Tourism, Govt of Karnataka, Old Exhibition Building, Irwin Road, Mysore, Tel: 0821-2422096, karnatakatourism.org, karnatakaholidays.net

KSTDC Transport Wing, Yatri Niwas Building, JLB Road, Mysuru, Tel: 2423652

STD code 0821

Getting There
Air
Nearest airport: Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru (175km/ 3.5hrs). It is connected to all major Indian cities and many cities in Asia and Europe. Taxi costs ₹8–20 per km

Rail Over a dozen daily connections including the fast Shatabdi, Rajyarani and Tippu expresses run between Bengaluru and Mysore Junction. Mysore Express is a very convenient connection with Chennai.

Road From Bengaluru, SH17 via Mandya and Srirangapatna is the most used route, a comfortable drive down a well-serviced road all the way to Mysore. Alternately, take NH209 till Malavalli and then turn right to Mysore via Bannur. NH212 begins at Mysore and ends at Kozhikode on Kerala’s Malabar coast, passing through southern Karnataka, the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve parks and Wayanad en route. SH57 goes north from Mysore to Hassan on the Bengaluru-Mangaluru NH48. SH80 links Mysore to the southern stretch of NH209 at Chamarajnagar, which goes to Dindigul in Tamil Nadu via Sathyamangalam and Coimbatore Bus KSRTC operates ordinary (₹124), Volvo (₹270) and Rajhamsa (₹185) buses from Bengaluru’s Satellite Bus Stand (Tel: 07760990530) to Mysore every 15mins (ordinary) and 30mins (Volvo)