Located in the state of Karnataka, Mysore was one of our favorite cities in all of India. With its lively marketplace, wide sidewalks and some major sights, it’s visitor-friendly and full of things to do. We arrived really early in the morning and walked around before the city woke up for the day, when all was quiet and the streets were empty. It was neat to see how different a place can look after it unfolds to life with the hustle and bustle of thousands of people starting their day.
If you make your way down there, make sure to visit the restaurants along Sayyaji Rao Road for some great south Indian food – especially masala dosas and thalis! Indra Café’s Paras was one of our top picks there, right across from the Devaraja Market.
And make sure to skip Hotel Dasaprakash, whose staff refer to guests as “inmates”, house gigantic beehives, and argue over providing tiny bars of soap.
There is a main power switch outside each room in the hallway, and wardens walk around knocking on doors to see if you’re there. If you aren’t (or if you don’t answer), they cut the power meaning that you can’t charge any of your devices unless you’re in the room. Happily it’s in a great neighborhood near the market that has several wine shops and a ton of restaurants.
We weren’t expecting to fall in love with Mysore Palace, but it ended up being one of the more remarkable things we saw in India. Construction of the palace was completed in 1912, and as one of the most popular tourist attractions in India it now hosts 2.7 million visitors each year. The palace was built for the Wodeyars, the royal family of Mysore that ruled for over seven centuries. It is one of the finest examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture, blending together Hindu, Muslim, Rajput, and Gothic building styles. We thought it rivaled Versailles in terms of elaborate displays of wealth and intricate workmanship.
We visited the palace of Mysore twice – once during the day, and then on a Sunday evening when they light up the entire complex (a feat that requires some 98,000 bulbs) and allow visitors to enter the grounds for free.
Inside the gates you will also find twelve Hindu temples; the most impressive is the large Shwetha Varahaswamy Temple built for Varaha, the third avatar of Lord Vishnu. Located at the southern edge of the complex, the elaborately carved outside walls showcase busty, ornamented goddesses that dance their way up the striking tiered structure.
Unfortunately the security guards inside the palace itself are extremely firm about the “no photos” policy. We were able to bribe the guard at the entrance so that we didn’t have to check our cameras, but strategically placed guards made sure no photos were taken. It was painful not being able to document the exquisite artistry, from the brightly painted cast iron pillars, to the peacock-inspired stained glass and corresponding mosaic tiled floors, to the golden doors whose gallant elephants were hammered in by hand. Other impressive and undocumented sights include a magnificent wooden elephant howdah (sort of an elephant saddle) decorated with 84 kilograms (185 pounds) of gold, and rosewood doors inlaid with ivory in tiny flower designs that echo the craftsmanship found at the Taj Mahal.
Since we can’t show you the interior of the palace, I guess you’ll just have to go check it out when you have the chance. Don’t forget to pick up an audio guide, which is included in the Rs.200 ($3.50) ticket price for foreign tourists.
Around Mysore Palace
Outside the palace you’ll find the usual souvenir stands and a number of rickshaw drivers who repeatedly tell you which gate to enter, as though you couldn’t possibly figure it out on your own. There are also a number of children who try to make the hard sale on wooden fans and cry out, “But it’s sandal!!” (meaning sandalwood) when you politely refuse to buy one. Our trusty audio guide at the palace informed us that sandalwood trees are a threatened species meaning its use is now strictly regulated. So we think they may have been ill informed.
If you can break free from the line of children following you along, stop by a cane press for cup of fresh sugar cane juice. If you ask nicely, they may let you try your hand at pressing the stalks yourself.
From Mysore you can see the prominent Chamundi Hill, three kilometers east of the city. A Rs.15 ($0.30) bus ride will get you to the top, and the walk down provides a nice dose of fresh air and light exercise. There isn’t a ton to see up there aside from another temple and some hazy views of the city. The steps themselves were the main attraction for us. About halfway down there’s a large Nandi (Lord Shiva’s bull) that was carved out of solid rock in 1659. The statue is covered with a mixture of ghee (butterfat) and coconut husk charcoal, giving it a flaky black appearance.
Also on the way down you’ll see Hindus climbing the 1008 steps to the top. Some women stop and anoint each and every stair with dots of turmeric and kumkum powder, paying tribute to a holy place of pilgrimage.
At the bottom of the hill we ran into a jovial family of monkeys. It seems they’ve become completely desensitized to humans, and didn’t mind as we spent some time photographing their newest addition.
Overall we had a great time in Mysore – definitely pay this city a visit if you find yourself in southern India!