Mysore: Home of the Maharajas

Looking through the gate towards Mysore Palace

Mysore, or Mysuru as it is referred to by precisely no-one but the Karnataka government, is known as the City of Palaces. The princely Wodeyar dynasty, who ruled over Mysore for centuries were certainly no slouches in the palace building department (Mysore boasts

I liked the vibe in Mysore (it felt very relaxed compared to frenetic Bangalore, where I’d just passed through), and particularly the atmosphere at the fabulous Mansion 1907, but didn’t quite get to see everything I’d planned to. Thank to the combination of a horrible cold and the very rainy aftermath of the cyclone that hit Tamil Nadu, one of my days here was spent chilling, chatting and watching ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ in the hostel, rather than climbing Chamundi Hill as planned. Ah well; here are some of the things I did enjoy in the city.

Visiting Mysore Palace

The exterior of Mysore Palace

The number one reason to visit Mysore is, of course, the spectacular Mysore Palace. Completed in 1912 by a British architect for the Wodeyars, it is a no-expense spared bling-fest – perhaps with rather blunted actual power under the Raj, the Wodeyars put their energies into building temples of their own magnificence.

If you can, try to be in Mysore on a Sunday, as for 45 minutes, between 7 and 7.45, the exterior of the Palace is illuminated with 98,000 lightbulbs. Entry to the grounds for the Sunday illumination is free, and it’s really a spectacular sight. I’d recommend returning to visit the Palace on Monday morning -I visited on the Sunday, and the place was crammed with weekend visitors, which rather detracted from the atmosphere.

Mysore Palace illuminated by night – come on a Sunday evening to see it!

Entry for foreigners is 200 rupees, which includes a free audio guide (you need to leave your passport as a deposit, so be sure to take it along). Do take the guide; it’s informative and there is minimal information within the Palace itself.

I wish I could provide photos of the spectacular Marriage Pavilion and the Diwan-e-aam, but there is a very strict no photography policy applied, with guards everywhere watching out for covert snappers.

Staying at Mansion 1907

Mysore was home to one my favourite hostels so far on the trip: Mansion 1907. Established by Hiren, a chilled-out former engineer who decided that he’d had enough of the frenzy of Bangalore, the hostel is located in, as the name suggests, a beautiful old mansion. Hiren and the team are still putting on the finishing touches, but it’s a great place, with fast WiFi, hot water, a beautiful balcony, and a friendly vibe.

To top it off, there’s also a very cute puppy named Stony, who seems hellbent on property destruction (she managed to gnaw through an antique sitar when I was there). Definitely stay here if you’re in Mysore!

Wandering around Devaraja Market

Jalebi for sale at Devaraja Market.

It’s definitely worth wandering west of the Palace to Devaraja Market, where there are a profusion of fruit, vegetable, sweet and pooja sellers, as well as some stalls that seem to specialise in selling giant teddy bears. None of my photos turned out brilliantly, but it was a great place to browse. Beware though, as the sellers are well-used to tourists and will try to charge you crazy prices – if you want to buy something, you’ll need to bargain hard.

Trying Mysore Food

Mysore masala dosas at one of the Hotel Mylaris.

Mysore is famed for its special masala dosas, which are served buttered, with a potato masala and a delicious coconut chutney. The recommended place to try them was Mylari’s on Nazarbad Road. Confusingly, there are two ‘Hotel Mylaris,’ both of which are daubed with signs reading ‘the original’ and ‘we have no branch.’ Apparently, the original businesses was run by two brothers who then had a falling out, leading to the two competing branches. As one was closed on Tuesdays and the other Wednesdays, I had the opportunity to sample both; they were equally delicious.

At 35 rupees each, you can eat your fill without guilt. I also enjoyed the street food of Mysore, particularly the marsala puri and pani puri (although some North Indians I met at the hostel were adamant that the North Indian version, golgappa, is better – I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve tried both). For a sit down meal, I really enjoyed the food at Hotel Roopa’s rooftop restaurant, and their lychee mocktail was one of the most delicious drinks I’ve ever had. Thoroughly recommend.

Masala puri – costs about 25p from a street food cart.

 Visiting Mysore Zoo

Leopards mating – they certainly didn’t seem to be put off by the watching public.

I debated whether or not to visit the zoo, and I’m still not sure whether it was worth going. The standards at Mysore Zoo are broadly comparable to the West, but I left feeling conflicted; whilst the Zoo was certainly trying to educate the many visitors about the necessity of preserving habitats so that endangered species can survive, it felt wrong to see the wildlife of India confined in cages.

This bear seems to have got life sorted!

The Zoo was also being visited by very enthusiastic parties of Indian schoolchildren, many of who decided that the foreign lady wandering around with a camera was more interesting than the Bengal tiger. I’m used to the ‘Madam, selfie’ game, but here felt a little like a zoo exhibit myself at times, and had to hide from one particularly over-friendly group of teenage girls!

Chilling Out at Karanji Lake

Karanji Lake

Behind the zoo, and owned by it, is Karanji Lake, a peaceful lakeside that also houses a sanctuary for rare birds. It’s walkable from the zoo (although I nearly missed the entrance), and is a relaxed haven from the bustle of the city that seems to be loved

Another attraction I visited was St Philomena’s Church, a Catholic Cathedral towards the North of the city that was modelled on a cathedral in Cologne. The exterior is impressive (although I visited during a torrential downpour, which cast it rather under a pall of gloom), but it’s worth noting that the interior of the church is currently closed for rebuilding works. Whilst I didn’t climb Chamundi Hill due to the weather, I’ve been advised that there are also refurbishment works going on at Chamundi Temple.

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