As the headquarters of the Wodeyar Dynasty since the late 14th century, Mysore has had a very regal past endowing it with some lovely heritage structures. At a distance of just about 140 Kms from Bangalore, it has gained great popularity as a top Karnataka travel destination. I’ve been here a long time ago, probably about 15 years ago and remember visiting the fabulous Mysore Palace and the large Nandi statue on Chamundi Hills. I remember the city to have been quite charming then and happily, it feels the same even today!
Because of its royal history, the main attractions in Mysore are a palace and an art gallery, both of which are absolutely spectacular! We first visited the Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery, which is housed in the Jagmohan Palace. This palace was built in 1861 as a Royal Auditorium and today, although, its facade looks freshly repainted, the interiors are dull and quite unlike anything royal. However, the saving grace is the collection it houses, especially the paintings. They were of various contemporary artists including an exquisite set done by Raja Ravi Varma. The upper floor contained a nice collection of rare Indian musical instruments.
Less than 200m from the art gallery is Mysore’s ‘piece de resistance’: the Wodeyar Maharaja’s Palace! Built in place of the original Wodeyar palace, which got burnt down during a royal wedding in 1897, the new palace took 15yrs to complete. It is a 3-storied structure with marble domes and a lofty tower. The architectural style is Indo-Saracenic, which is a mixture of Indian, Mughal and British influences – absolutely gorgeous! It is set in beautifully landscaped gardens and the complex encloses several temples as well. Photography of the palace’s grounds and exterior is allowed but before entering the palace, cameras have to be deposited in lockers that are provided near the entrance gates. Then as we proceeded towards the palace entrance we had to remove our shoes and deposit those too before entering.
We ignored the guides outside and instead opted for audio guides, which were available just inside the palace doors for Rs.100 each – very reasonable! Unlike their Bangalore Palace, the Wodeyars seem to have paid a lot more attention (and moolah!) to the interiors of this Mysore one. It is truly regal in every sense. The color scheme may be a little gaudy but it is still pretty. The highlights of the palace, for us at least, were the Marriage Hall on the ground floor and the Diwan-E-Aam on the upper storey! Also, the inner courtyard with large, bronze figures of growling tigers, is quite beautiful!
Except for having to remove our shoes, we truly enjoyed touring the lovely Mysore Palace. We managed to take a peek at it for a few minutes on a Sun evening when it got lit up like a proverbial Christmas tree. It was quite a sight! It almost looked like a castle from little children’s fairy tale books !
In Bhopal we had loved the wonderful National Museum of Mankind (Manav Sangrahalaya). So when we saw one listed in Mysore as well, we made a dash for it. However we were super-disappointed to see it was nothing like the Bhopal one. Housed in a 2-storied building, the Mysore museum’s lower floor contained a few folk handicrafts from around the country, which were nice but not unique. The upper floor was worse as it contained a couple of dull halls with some obscure paintings. The only saving grace was the friendly staff who gave us advice on things to see in and around Mysore. There was a tiny store attached to the museum from where we picked up two metal items, handmade by folk artistes from Chattisgarh!
Apart from the palace, another structure in the city with a stunning facade is the Neo-Gothic-style St. Philomena’s Cathedral. It is located north of the Manav Sangrahalaya and is simply stunning. Built in 1936, this church is dedicated to St. Philomena who was a young Greek princess martyred in the 4th century AD. When we visited the church there was a special display on Mother Teresa within the prayer hall. It gave detailed information about the saint’s life and work in India. It was a very touching display with photographs of and quotes from the saint. The prayer hall was also quite pretty with lovely, wooden pews and stained-glass windows. The altar enshrined an image of Jesus Christ on the cross. We walked around the church and noticed that it had brick-red doors with some exquisite, flowery carvings on them – lovely stuff!
In the late afternoon, we boarded bus# 303 to what is probably Mysore’s most famous attraction, after the palace – Brindavan Gardens! It is located some 16 Kms from the city center and is right by the Krishnarajasagara Dam (built over the river Kaveri). The bus dropped us right outside the park entrance, which was lined with street stalls selling toys and food. Inside the entrance, handicraft vendors tried to veer visitors to their stores instead of the park. We ignored them and continued on to the gardens, which is spread over 60 acres. It has 3 terraced areas with a water channel containing fountains running through their center. The garden has a variety of trees and flowering bushes.
Back in the day, all those movies that couldn’t be shot at the Mughal Gardens of Kashmir, were shot here in Mysore’s Brindavan Gardens. And back in the day when water fountains and lighted water channels were not a common sight, the gardens’ evening illumination shows were hugely popular. Today, though, it all looks a little out-dated. Moreover, in our eyes at least, this landscaped park is nowhere close to Kashmir’s Shalimar Gardens, after which it is modeled. However, it is a nice place to stroll through, which is what we did before heading back to the city!
On our last day in the city, before we boarded an overnight bus for Hampi, we left our bags at the hotel and took a bus (route# 201) to Chamundi Hills. Called so because of the temple dedicated to Goddess Chamundeshwari located at the very top, the hills are beautifully green and provide scenic views of Mysore city at its feet. The road leading up to the top looks brand new and has been maintained well. However, at the top since it was a Sunday, the place was packed with domestic tourists. A line snaked out of the temple entrance as people queued up to see the Goddess. We walked around the temple complex and took a peek at the views to the city below. After coffee and Mirchi Bhaji from a street-side vendor, we took bus# 201 again back to Mysore. On the way, the bus stopped at Chamundi Hills’ second attraction: a large, monolithic statue of Nandi Bull. From here one can even take steps down the hill to the base.
Mysore has a unique Rail Museum as well. Since we had a bit of time on our hands before the evening bus, we decided to take a look at it. Right now the road leading up to it from under the railway line is completely dug up. So we had to walk the last 500m or so to it. It’s a smallish museum with quite a few models of the nicest railway carriages that have run on Indian soil. The best amongst them was a model of the Maharani’s Saloon. It had a servants’ carriage, a dining hall and the Maharani’s quarters. In the same hall as this was a display of old signal lamps, telephones and clocks associated with Indian railways; it was very interesting. I’m sure young boys with an interest in rail engines will find this place fascinating! Of course, my not-so-young hubby had quite a good time as well !
Mysore has been a nice city to explore. Streets are relatively clean, auto guys are not bad and the bus service is exceptional (a smart new City Bus Stand + Air-conditioned Volvos for most destinations + friendly bus staff)! Add to that an over-the-top palace and wonderful year-round weather, and you have a really nice tourist destination!