They call Mysore the cultural capital of Karnataka. Maybe this is why is the HQ of the Mysore district that has six other taluks. One of the cleanest cities in India, it ranked number one in 2014,15 and 16.
The Wodeyar dynasty ruled Mysore for centuries except for about 50 years where it came under the rule of Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali. It was after Tipu’s death, when the Wodeyars took over the rule of Mysore, it saw scientific, technological and social development.
This guide will help you to know a bit about Mysore, plan your trip to Mysore before actually heading out there.
Getting into Mysore
There are several ways you can arrive into Mysore. Here are the most used.
1. Bangalore airport (IATA: BLR): Bangalore airport is just 220 KM from the Bangalore airport. There are direct buses from the Bangalore airport to Mysore. Mysore has an airport but there are no single airline basing operations there and there are no commercial flights flying into or from the airport.
2. Mysore train station (code: MYS): When the Mysore train station was built, the authorities connected it to Bangalore with a meter gauge in 1882. These days it is of broad gauge, with bigger and faster trains. The train station has three lines, one to Bangalore, one to Mangalore and another to Chamrajnagar.
Bangalore > Mysore > Mangalore (business, tourism)
Chennai > Bangalore > Mysore (business, tourism)
Mysore > Nanjangud > Chamrajnagar (pilgrimage, tourism)
3. Bus: Whilst the Bangalore > Mysore route is the most popular one, there are buses to Mangalore, and to other places in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Mysore is a city that is growing and this has forced the city to introduce public transport. There are many options that people can use.
1. City buses: Buses are the cheapest mode of transport and connects the city well. The state transport corporation KSRTC owns MITRA or Mysore Intelligent TRAnsport System and it operates the city buses and to places to nearby places outside Mysore.
2. Taxis: Taxis are the fastest way to get around Mysore. There are many taxi companies operating in Mysore to get you around Mysore and to historical places outside Mysore.
3. Auto rickshaws: Auto rickshaw fares start from ₹25 within the first two kilometers and ₹13 per kilometer.
4. Tongas: Tongas are the horse drawn carts. The city center is where most of the sights are in Mysore and there are plenty of tongas that ferry people between, say the palace to the zoo.
5. Walk: Walking in the city center of Mysore is easy as the attractions are within 3 kilometers of each other. With many bazaars and eateries along the way, there are plenty of places you can stop at.
Culture of Mysore
Mysore has been cosmopolitan since a long time. Despite this it has retained the old-world charm. People following different religions have co-existed.
Europeans have been in employment with the royals in government and other facets of Mysorean life, even during Tipu’s rule. Other than religious freedom, these are synonymous with being Mysorean:
The Mysore Dasara celebration happens over ten days in the month of September or October every year.
Throughout the days, there are folk dances, fireworks, food stalls and doll display shows.
During the dasara, people exhibit dolls that depict everyday life, display life of the royals in public and even in people’s homes.
The star attraction is the main elephant carrying the golden howdah with Goddess Chamundeshwari on it weighing 750 KG. This elephant is flanked on both the sides by elephants.
The procession known as Jambu Savaari is attended by the royal family who sits on the viewing pavilion in the palace. The procession starts from the palace and it ends at grounds of Bannimantapa.
Leaves from the Banni tree are plucked and kept safe until the next year. The event is watched by thousands of people, celebrities and other invitees. The streets in the city center are emptied for the procession. They are instead thronged by the locals and tourists.
If you are traveling to Mysore to watch this splendor, book your accommodation in advance and arrive at the event site at least 8 hours early and buy passes (or else you may end up bribing people for the passes).
Here is a video of how the painting is done.
Mysore paintings are an offshoot of the Vijayanagar style of painting. The Mysore kings employed painters from Vijayanagar after the fall of the Vijayanagar empire. It is similar to Tanjore paintings, they paste gold foils after the painting is done.
Popular themes of the paintings include Hindu gods and goddesses, scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharatha. Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, who ruled from 1799 to 1831, commissioned more than 1000 paintings of the royal family and famous people of the time.
How to create Mysore paintings:
Sketch: The painter makes the sketch of the image on a paper pasted on a wooden base. The charcoal powder for sketching is made by burning tamarind twigs in an iron tube.
Gesso paste: Mix of white lead powderzinc oxide and Arabic gum.
Paint: Mix of vegetable and minerals colors.
Paint brushes: The paint brushes were made of squirrel hair, camel hair and goat hair.
The charcoal powder is used first to make a sketch, the gesso paste is applied next so that it appears raised. Gold foil is pasted using Arabic gum. This is used to highlight jewellery, clothes and architecture.
The colors are then used on the sketch and left for drying. After it is dried, it is covered with thin paper and rubbed with a glazing stone. After the sheet is removed, the painting lights up and remains as it is for generations.
Mysore paintings were made in the whole of the Mysore district, Tumkur, Hassan and Bangalore.
Rosewood Inlay: Sculptures and inlay work are made when thousands of craftsmen worked together to make idols from sandalwood, ivory shells and colors.
After carving out stories from Hindu epics, sandalwood is inlaid into the carvings. These days ivory are replaced by plastic coated with hydrogen peroxide. Back then craftsmen from Tanjore joined too.
Mysore kings patronized Carnatic music and musicians. Musicians and sometimes Mysore kings would play the veena, rudra veena, ghatam, flute, mridangam among others. King Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1884 – 1940) was a dream king.
He spoke Kannada, English, Urdu, Sanskrit and Tamil. He encouraged education, science and technology in his kingdom. Being a music fan, he encouraged Kannada composition. He could play the veena, violin, saxophone, mridangam, sitar nagaswara and harmonium.
Veena Shashanna, Bidaram Krishnappa, T. Chowdiah and Mysore Vasudevacharya are some of the famous names.
Mysore silk saree for women, panchey (mundu) and peta (traditional turban), also known as Mysore peta are the traditional dressing style for Mysoreans.
The best time to see men and women wear it is during the dasara procession when the royal family and the people associated with the royal family.
Mysore is a foodie city. There are many cuisines available, but a traditional vegetarian meal available during Mysore dasara include:
Kosambari: A salted mix of salad.
Palya: Finely chopped boiled vegetables with grated coconut, chopped green chillies and seasoned with mustard.
Gojju or Tovve: Gojju is a spicy vegetable curry and Tovve is dhal.
Saaru: Thick vegetable curry with spices, tamarind and spices.
Rice dishes: Chitranna, which is rice with lemon juice with friend groundnuts or Vangibath, which is spiced rice with brinjal or Puliyogre which is flavored spicy tamarind rice.
Desserts: In desserts, Mysore Pak is the most popular. Mysore pak was invented by a royal cook when he accidently cooked a semi solid paste off gram flour.
To his luck, the king loved the dish and it is a Mysore delicacy ever since. Other sweet dishes that are part of a meal include Chiroti, Obbattu/Holige and Shaavige payasa.
All these desserts are made of different ingredients, but have one thing in common. They are sweet and extremely delicious.
Neighborhoods of Mysore
This section will introduce you to the popular neighborhoods of Mysore and what can you see there.
Clearly the cultural center of Mysore, Chamrajpura was one of the first neighborhood of Mysore. Small shops dot the old narrow streets on the sides, there are old buildings and lot of horse drawn carts ruling the streets. Most of the interesting sights are in this neighborhood.
Also known as Mysore Palace, it is the official residence of the Mysore royalty. It was built in 897 A.D., but the palace in its current form was built in 1912 to replace the wood structure that was destroyed in a fire.
It is of the Indo-Saracenic architecture and has three gates. Whilst the public enters through the South gate, the other two gates are opened during the Mysore Dasara.
The palace has a museum with paintings and other art collections on display. There are murals that portray the life of the Wodeyar dynasty. Golden throne, doll’s pavilion and the audience hall are the main attractions here.
There are 12 temples on the premises that are worth visiting like the ancient Lakshmi Ramana and Sri Prasanna Krishna Swamy temple. The palace is a nice photo opportunity too.
10 AM to 5:30 PM everyday. Illuminated between 7 PM to 7:45 PM on Sundays and public holidays; 40 for adults, 20 for children and 200 for foreigner nationals
Built as a residence by Krishnaraja Wodeyar III in 1861, the royal family lived here until the rebuilding of the Amba Vilas palace, after which this converted into a museum in 1915. It was renamed as Sri Jayachamarajendra Palace Art Gallery in 1955.
There are over 2000 valuable paintings including Raja Ravi Verma’s. The Wodeyars commissioned most of the paintings for the palace. There is amazing vintage furniture on which you cannot sit, probably because it is old and broken. The building is under the government control and is poorly maintained. But worth a visit nonetheless.
8:30 AM to 5:30 PM everyday; 20 for adults and 20 for children
KR & Chamaraja circle
Among the most prominent circles in Mysore. When you arrive by bus, this circle signifies your entry into the Wodeyar town. Visiting here at dusk is a great idea as it provides nice photo opportunities and there are interesting things to buy at shops nearby The Mysore suburban bus station is right next to the K.R. Circle.
There is a statue of King Krishna Rajendra Wodeyar, one of the richest man in the world when he died in 1940. Mysore saw a lot of scientific and social development in his time.
Not far from his statue is the Charamaja circle that has the statue of King Chamarajendra Wodeyar, a just king who ruled the kingdom democratically. Bangalore owes its palace and the glass house at Lalbagh to him. The zoo and the Dodda Gadiyara came into existence in his time.
Devaraja Urs Market is a monumental market near the KR Circle and the market has shops that sells flowers, fruits and other groceries. This market is old and has survived urbanization.
This place is nothing but a color overload. You can buy incense sticks, flowers, bananas, perfumes, oils, jaggery and many other things.
Plenty of hard selling will happen at you, but a great opportunity to buy things you usually do not buy and you can get some nice photos of the said colors, people and the items for sale.
6 AM to 10 PM
The French style relic known as Chikka Gadiyara (small clock) has a keystone at the center. It was known as Dufferin Clock Tower and it was built by Lord Dufferin. The clocks still work perfectly even after a century of its existence.
Thanks to recent renovation, it also has a gathering space, great place for tour groups to reunite, if they are split up. There is good street food available at night.
With Mysore Palace in the backdrop, Dodda Gadiyara (Big Clock) serves as a small roundabout. It was the official clock for the citizens of the kingdom. The numerals of the clock has Kannada numbers.
While the East side of the campus is in Chamrajpura, the West side of the campus is in Manasa Gangotri. One of the oldest university in India, King Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV founded it in 1916, which makes it a little more than 100 years old.
Crawford Hall is part of the university and is set amidst the green lawns. The structure has a pillared entrance and it serves as the administrative building of the university. There are many other vintage buildings in this area including the office of the District Commissioner.
Ittige Gudu (ಇಟ್ಟಿಗೆ ಗೂಡು)
The name translates to “Nest made of bricks”, this neighborhood is situated to the East of the Mysore Palace. It has many the Karanji Lake, the zoo and there are the Kuppanna Park and Putta Mane parks. Dr. Vishnuvardhan Udhyana Vana is nearby and is next to the palace.
One of the oldest zoos in the world, it was established in 1892 during the reign of King Chamarajendra Wodeyar on the palace’s land. More than 100 years old, this park originally developed by Krumbiegel, a German landscapist. This zoo has a giraffe breeding programme, first of its kind in India. Other animals here are tiger, white tiger, rhino and anaconda to name a few.
The whole zoo is almost a 4.5 kilometer walk and is a good place to walk. There are electric vehicles too. The zoo has raised money by allowing adoption. There are celebrities, sportspeople that have adopted animals. It is a plastic free zone and they expect you to not carry plastic inside. There is a restaurant inside, a bit expensive though.
8:30 AM to 5:30 PM every day; 50 for adults and 20 for children. There is a fee for parking and for cameras. 125 for the electric vehicle.
While there are exotic animals in the zoo, Karanji Kere has migratory birds that visits the lake. It is today a part of the zoo and is in the East of the zoo. Spread over 90acres, it has a butterfly park too. A good place for birding or just paddle around in boats if you are into different kind of birding.
Located right next to Karanji Lake, this museum has a good collection of exhibits. Though the collection is not as extensive, it is a good place for children for its informative and educative value.
10AM to 6PM.
A museum for wax models of musical instruments and the statues of men and women of music is on display. There are wax models of modern, ancient and rare musical instruments. It is not on the top of things to do in Mysore as it is low on maintenance, but a music lover will like it.
9:30 AM to 7 PM every day; 40 per head
The exhibition ground is in between the palace and the zoo. It holds the three-month long Dasara exhibition that ends in December where it hosts food joints and exhibition stalls of the government.
During the Dasara, the Devraj Urs stadium next to the exhibition ground hosts the wrestling tournament which is another attraction during the festivities. When the exhibition ground doesn’t host the Dasara exhibition, it hosts other interesting events like a football tournament.
Mandi Mohalla (ಮಂಡಿ ಮೊಹಲ್ಲಾ)
It is a neighborhood of the city located on the East of the train station and on the north of Mysore bus station. There are lots of shopping establishments and temples here.
St. Philomena’s Cathedral was constructed in 1936 in Gothic style on the real estate donated to the Brits by King Mammudi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. It now belongs to the Diocese of Mysore.
The Cologne cathedral in Germany inspired the architecture of this building. The glass stained windows near the altar has amazing art that depicts the life of Jesus Christ. There is a catacomb near the congregation hall but is sometimes off limits.
It has the statue of St. Philomena, a Greek princess. The catacomb tunnels will lead you out of the church. The church’s bells tolls four times every day.
5AM to 6PM every day.
It seems there are more than 200 libraries in Mysore as per survey. The central library, established in 1912 is the biggest library in Mysore. There is a huge collection of more than 400,000 books It subscribes to many English, local language newspapers, fortnightlies, and Kannada and English monthly magazines.
A nominal fee of ₹25 will help you borrow a book. You can also borrow multiple books for a higher price. They have reading rooms and a mobile library too.
They are not immune to problems though. People steal books, tear from rare ones and the building is too old to renovate and have cameras installed. This calls for government attention, don’t you think?
8AM to 8PM every day.
This government outlet has silk sarees, sandalwood items, semiprecious stones, perfumes and furniture on sale. Cost of these items are higher than other shops around, but if you’d like a souvenir, then go for it.
Another interesting place is the Chikka Market, close to the emporium. It has spices, vegetables, colors and other eco-friendly stuff on sale.
10:30 AM to 8 PM
Few years ago, it was the home of the Duke of Welllington, today the museum is about the Indian culture. Few sculptures, ancient implements and art works. The government can think about maintaining it better. Clearly, the building has seen better days.
9:30 AM to 6 PM every day; 30 for Indians, 500 for foreign nationals
One of the busiest neighborhoods in Mysore. The Mysore train station is here. There are many government establishments here. Are you waiting for your train? Then head out to Cheluvamba park.
Railway Museum is located next to the Mysore Junction. It is best to visit this while leaving or after arriving in Mysore. There are narrow and meter gauge steam and diesel engines seems like a toy.
There are locomotives and coaches of the British era, royal coaches of the Maharaja, steam engines and Maharani saloon that the the Queen of Mysore used.
9:30 AM to 6 PM; 15 for adults, 10 for children and 10 for a train ride.
Manasa Gangotri (ಮಾನಸಗಂಗೋತ್ರಿ)
Manasa Gangotri is the campus that houses the University of Mysore campus and several other institutions. Situated next to Saraswatipuram. This place no hotels or restaurants.
A beautiful lake with a tank bund that has a 4-kilometer jogging track. The city administration established the lake in 1864 as a source of water for irrigation and for Mysore residents. There is an amazing bird life in this area is good for photographers and joggers.
6 AM to 10 AM & 4 PM to 7 PM.
A spacious auditorium next to the Kukkarahalli lake, it is suitable for a crowd of 1000. A space for cultural events, classical and western music, dance and conferences.
Acoustically designed with good lighting. However, they need to fix the basic facilities in the auditorium. Rangayana, a performance art company established with the help of the government, maintains one of their facility in the building.
They have three platforms, bhoomigeetha, a soundproof auditorium, varanaranga, an open-air theater and sriranga, another auditorium.
The Archeological and Folklore Museum is in the Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion, once a home of Jayalakshmi Ammanni, the eldest daughter of Maharaja Chamaraja Wodeyar.
The Jayalakshmi Vilas mansion is a heritage building that houses artifacts that once belonged to the kingdom. It does not carry an entrance fee and you need a minimum of one hour to cover everything. Another highlight is that it houses the Constitution of India.
10:30 AM to 5:30 PM every day except for Sundays.
This neighborhood derives its name from the Chamundi Hills. The entrance to the Chamundi hills is at Chamundipuram. If you are going up the hills, then fuel up your vehicle and your body. There are many temples in this neighborhood too.
Kishkinda Moolika is a family built private garden and there is a good collection of bonsai trees. You can find many birds in the park as well. A peaceful place near the Sri Ganapathi Sachidananda Ashram.
There are more than 400 bonsai trees here from China, Mexico, Australia, Indonesia and other countries. Volunteers look after the garden and make it look the same all the time.
9:30 AM to 12:30 PM & 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM; 20 per head; http://sgsbonsai.org/
Not far from the bonsai garden in the premises of the Datta Peetham, is the Shuka Vana, a bird sanctuary. The rehabilitation center train the parrots to speak, which is one of the reasons why it is popular.
Entry is free for everyone. They let you feed the birds and they will also click a photo of you with the birds sitting on you. Let us hope they do not take a dump on you.
Birds that need treatment are taken to the aviary hospital where they are looked after by bird doctors. The ashram also has a museum that has some old things on display.
9:30 AM to 12:30 PM & 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM.
Chamundi Hill (ಚಾಮುಂಡಿ ಬೆಟ್ಟ)
Chamundi Hill is visible from everywhere in Mysore. It is a 40-minute ride from the city center to the top of the hills. People can also walk up the hill and it is best to do it in the morning.
Once you are at the top, Mahishasura, a demon after whom this city takes its name will greet you with his machete in his hand and ferocity in his eyes. The story is that Mahishasura irked the devas (the good guys) by threatened their extinction. In a battle, he indeed defeated them.
Someone prophesized that he will meet his end at the hands of a woman. It happened to be Goddess Durga who fought him for nine days, an event recognized as the Navratri and she defeated him on the last day of the Navratri.
M.N Gowri, a sand sculptor and entrepreneur, privately runs this unique museum which today is one of the newest addition to the list of things to do in Mysore. Technically not on the Chamundi Hills, it is at the foot of the Chamundi hill, on the Chamundi Hill Road, just before the arch entrance to the hill.
There are around 150 sculptures and are off course delicate. Some of the sculptures are Goddess Chamundeshwari, a 15 feet Lord Ganesh, of the King Srikanta Datta Wodeyar and ancient Egypt.
8:30 AM to 6:30 PM every day
40 for adults and 20 for children
Stay at the Rajendra Vilas
Rajendra Vilas is located at the top of the Chamundi hill. The Wodeyar royalty finished construction of this palace in 1939 and used it as a summer palace. However, because of the world war, restrictions on import of materials came into place and they did not complete the construction of the palace to the expected grandeur. They royal family converted the palace into a hotel two decades ago. Staying here will give you a view of the city.
If you are walking the 1000 steps carved on the hill will take you to the top near the statue of Mahishasura. After a few minutes’ walk from the Mahishasura statue, you will see the gopuram of the temple that has Goddess Chamundeshwari has the main deity.
Goddess Chamundeshwari is often portrayed as deformed and fanged deity that lays waste to people doing bad things. The Hoysalas built the temple in the 12th century AD, and then the rules of the Vijayanagara empire added the gopuram in the 17th century AD.
She is worshipped by the Mysore kings and is treated as the guardian deity of the Mysore royalty. Interestingly, soldiers invading Mysore have seen a deformed woman scaring them away.
7:30 AM to 2 PM, 3:30 PM to 6PM & 7:30 PM to 9PM;
₹100 will get you the darshan sooner than the free line; A delicious free lunch is served to devotees from 12:30 PM to 2:30 PM
Other things to do in Mysore City
Royal Mysore Walks
Founded by Vinay Parameswarappa, Royal Mysore Walks have many themed tours around the city. You can tour Mysore on a bicycle or by walk. You can get never before heard stories on the tour and you might learn from them what you will not have read about in any guide book.
2 to 4 hours
To conclude, this city is slowly evolving from a heritage city status to IT city with its technology parks and software conglomerates opening opportunities for young professionals. Soon the modern structures may envelope the heritage sites. But it still far. If you want to see more than what you have in this list, head out of the city or tag along with a local.
Featured image source: Flickr
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