Mysore’s ace of spade is the old-school, yet contemporary character that the city retains – the history, the archaic colonial architecture, and the aura of camaraderie that engulfs this city!
Few destinations globally are equally prominent for their folklore, food, and fortune. Mysore is one such place where each one of these aspects constitute the core values of this city. Mysore boasts regal alcazars, heavenly gardens, ravishing cuisines, and dazzling desserts – a city that is successful in upholding an unperturbed and blasé convention of life despite the ever increasing tourism brought about by the cultural prosperity and unmatched festivities. This city might be the second largest in the state of Karnataka, but most prominently, it is known as the ‘cultural capital’ of the state!
I visited this scintillating city in the festival of ‘Navaratri’. In contrast to other parts of the country where Dussehra is only celebrated for one day, Mysore celebrates this festival in a remarkably different paradigm – lauding it over the whole Navaratri festival (nine nights, as the name suggests). During these nine nights, different cultural events take place all over the city – right from food festivals, to a multitude of traditional events at the Mysore Palace, the exhibition grounds opposite to it, and the Chamundi Hills. Just like any other festival in India, Navaratri veneers Mysore a distinctively refreshing mood!
Travelling anywhere in the city during this time feels like attending a big, fat wedding – every nook and corner of the city carries with it an aura of frill, the Mysore palace and its surroundings teeming with hoards of people!
On my first day here, I knew what I had to tick off my list first! The Mysore Palace is an unprecedented sight, both, at the day and night. During the day, one can witness the royal palace representing the extravagance and affluence of the city’s past and present; at night, however, the gargantuan royal structure lits up with thousands of lights lining every foot of the palace walls. Amazing light and sound shows tell the story of the city in front of the palace, while the entire structure glimmers in a million shades of gold in the hindsight!
Over the decades, Mysore has become synonymous with the extravagant Dussehra celebrations and the festival is celebrated with a great pomp every year. The Mysore Palace plays a fundamental role in making Dussehra such a remarkable deal for this city. For the duration of Navaratri and Dussehra, the Palace is illuminated vividly and on the last day, celebrations of the Navaratri festivities conclude with a grand procession that begins from the illuminated Mysore palace, that involves elephants, camels and horses.
During all my stay in Mysore, most of the major roads and junctions were festooned with exquisite lights, and almost all places around the Mysore Palace were sealed for vehicles (this is the only time of the year when this city experiences traffic jams). Crowds, traffic and festive disposition prevails in the city for almost all ten days, and travelling anywhere in the city during this time feels like attending a big, fat wedding – every nook and corner of the city carries with it an aura of frill, the palace and its surroundings teeming with hoards of people!
A city may be home to a multitude of landmarks, but very few ultimately showcase the place, its culture and its prosperity to the world – Mysore Palace is indeed the emblem of this city!
After witnessing the grandeur of the Mysore Palace, I decided to slightly tone down my second day, spending the evening at Chamundi Hills. The advantage of visiting this highland in the evening is that one can experience the phenomenal upheaval that adorns the city as the Sun sets – roads and landmarks gradually start sparkling in yellow lights, and as cool breeze replenishes you, almost unexpectedly, the Mysore Palace lits up in distance (There is no escaping this remarkable identity of the city)! During any other time of the year, the Palace is lit up for only a couple minutes in the evening; during Navaratri, however, the palace stays lit up for almost all of the evening. And there is no better place to see the shimmering golden palace in the distance than the Chamundi Hills!
The Chamundeshwari Temple on top of this hill is the most famous temple in Mysore, since Goddess Chamundi or Chamundeshwari is the presiding deity of the city. This temple is about 13 kilometre from the city, and one can easily take a rickshaw or hire a cab to get here. Initially built as small one, this temple has become a renowned destination for pilgrims and tourists alike over the past few decades. While the place is crowded and mostly occupied by pilgrims and devotees, it represents the contrast and welcome concoction that is ever so evident – the Mysore Palace, the gardens and the food allures to the modern ardent traveller, while the majestic Chamundeshwari Temple attracts the old-school worshippers to the very same city!
With or without the festival to ameliorate your experience in this city, Mysore still has a charisma about it – its people are proud of its food, prosperity and most importantly, the diversity!
St. Philomena’s Cathedral
Now, this might baffle a few people, but apart from the Mysore Palace and the Chamundi Hills, this city is quite generous in terms of contemporary art and architecture too – being home to some of the most surreal cultural structures! St. Philomena’s Cathedral was constructed in 1936 using a Neo-Gothic style and its architecture was inspired by the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. Enter this magnanimous monument, and one can truly experience the paradigm shift brought about by the Church – quiet, tranquil and yet, lively!
The twin spires of the church are about 175 feet in height and they resemble the spires of the Cologne Cathedral and also the spires of the St. Patrick’s Church in New York City. This church is a good example of blending of the local culture – some of the female statues are dressed with local traditional dress, the saree. With the fame of being one of the largest churches in India, this majestic church captivates everyone with its architectural excellence, surreal size and incredible attention to detail. In fact, many scenes from the 1977 Bollywood super hit film, ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’, were shot at this Cathedral!
Dedicated to Saint Philomena, the Church is not only known for its architectural beauty and religious significance, but it stands as an exemplary of secular viewpoint and the religious harmony which exists in Mysore – this church was built by the ruler of Mysore for the European residents in the city!
This city is the perfect blend of everything – the dosas, coffee and the desserts, street shopping in the Devaraja market, and sightseeing that you would most certainly cherish for the rest of your life!
While I was unable to visit every nook and corner of this city, I did spend an evening or two in the famous Brindavan Gardens. It lies adjoining the Krishnarajasagara Dam which is built across the river Kaveri. Visited by close to 2 million tourists per year, this garden is one of the major attractions in the city. In today’s era, gardens might not attract much of the modern audience, but this place is absolutely astounding in its own way. Even today, it still carries a nostalgia associated with the prosperity and effulgence that this city is and was known for!
While a couple days should be enough to experience this city, you would most certainly envy those who spend their lives here!
Mylari Dosa and Guru Sweet Mart
Tasting the local cuisine is a part of a traveller’s experience. Any hiatus is deficient without tasting the delicacies that prevail in the place. One of my favourite dishes which I ate almost every single day was the ‘mylari dosa’ – really soft in its texture served with coconut chutney and onion sagu. This cuisine is bound to leave the ‘foodie’ inside you craving for more!
Let me elaborate this experience in a better way. Imagine a regular dosa; now imagine a pile of such soft dosas. Next, imagine the softest dosas to ever exist served with a big dollop of white butter on top. Now, we are talking about the mylari dosa, Mysore’s favourite dish! There are several hotels serving this magnificent dish, but my favourite of all was Hotel Vinayak Mylari – an elementary cosy six-table eatery with a total of up to five items on its menu. Let that not underwhelm you though, because each of these dishes is packed with a punch. This includes the Mylari dosa, Masala Dosa and idli (with no sambhar) and if one isn’t in luck, these are often sold out by evening!
The other thing that most foodies know Mysore for is its ‘Mysore Pak’ – a fudge like dessert with abundant ghee, sugar and antiquity! One of the most renowned sweets shop that serves this delicious dessert is ‘Guru Sweet Mart’.
It is said that Maharaja Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodiyar, the 19th century king of the Mysore Kingdom had a serious sweet tooth, but he had grown tired of the creations of the royal kitchen. So, He asked his cook, Kakasura Madappa, to create something new and distinct. In response to the directive, Madappa created a fudge-like concoction, which became known as the ‘Mysore pak’. More than a century later, Madappa’s descendants continue to sell Mysore pak from their shop (You guessed it!) – Guru Sweet Mart. There are plenty shops which sell this sweet in the city, but Guru Sweet Mart’s version is the antidote to its uninspiring imitators: soft, with a toasty ghee smell and a lusciously melty mouthfeel!
Mysore is called the ‘City of Palaces’. This city is an impeccable blend of everything – the dosas, the coffee and the desserts, street shopping in the Devaraja market, and sightseeing that you would most certainly cherish for the rest of your life! Being a ‘Heritage City’, the government too has ceased any further industrialisation, which means the city will remain void of overpopulation and pollution. The roads are clean, the monuments are well maintained, and the people do not live as much a busy lifestyle as those in other metropolitans in the country. Living here is pretty economical and travelling, even cheaper! The weather is fantastic, and people are extremely jovial! While a couple days should be enough to experience this city, you would most certainly envy those who spend their lives here.
The fact that Mysore possesses great coffee, scintillating food, royal palaces and a serenely nonchalant way of life, is what I knew before visiting the city. However, at the end of my stay here, I was awestruck by the old-school, yet contemporary character that Mysore retains – the history, the archaic colonial architecture, and the aura of camaraderie that engulfs this city, which, perhaps make it so distinguished!