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A Local’s Guide to Mysore – Stories, Food & the Royal City
#Mysore, or Mysuru, is a city in India's Karnataka state. Mysore is home to the centuries-old Devaraja Market, filled with spices, silk and sandalwood, and much more. Here are an insider's tips, from #culture, to hiking, swimming, yoga, bazaars, palaces, fun, #foodanddrink and much more.
Alight at the railway station; hire a cab and just when you are at the exit, turn around and give the railway station a glance. BAM! That is it. This is where your story will begin. This is where you will fall in love with this beautiful city – Mysore. And this guide to Mysore will help you fall in love with this city beyond what meets your eyes – because this guide to Mysore will take you to places where the natives go to.
What is This City all About?
“For those who are lost, there will always be cities that feel like home.”
Simon Van Booy
No other sentence can describe Mysore better. Not just people, this city has also been home to the demon Mahishasura. Rulers from the Ganga Empire, the first Kannada rulers, found their capital in a flourishing town near Mysore. The Cholas, Hoysalas, the Muslim rulers also landed here. But majority of the history of Mysore is attributed to the Wodeyars who are largely responsible for shaping the modern Mysore.
The fact that so many people have lived in this city makes it unique in itself. Each of the rulers has left something of theirs behind in the city and around. The city has many firsts to its credit, the most notable being the first state in the world to sponsor family-planning clinics.
The Swanky Royalty and Their Many Palaces
A guide to Mysore cannot be written without mentioning the many beautiful palaces that the royal family has built. Some were built as a residence where they could dwell and some were built for guests. But each of them is tasteful and worth more than just a few glances.
Amba Vilas Palace - Mysore has not just one but 7 palaces – the best and most magnificent being the Amba Vilas Palace. The original palace was burnt down during a royal wedding. It was rebuilt and what stands today is one of the India’s grandest royal buildings. The marvel that it is becomes breathtakingly spectacular when it is lit up with almost 98,000 bulbs on Sundays, national holidays and the festival of Dasara.
There are 12 ancient temples in the complex surrounding the Palace. The interior is exquisitely carved and though most of the things are breathtaking, goMowgli’s personal favourite is the wooden door inlaid with ivory in the Private Durbar or the Diwan-e-Khaas.
Jayalakshmi Vilas Palace – Standing in the university campus, this palace has its own tale to tell. It has been converted into a museum and can shed light on the folk culture of India. The fantastic collection includes the shadow puppets, some rural costumes, exquisitely carved dancing hall, things related to the culture of Karnataka.
Lalitha Mahal Palace – This palace in the slopes of Chamundi Hills was built as a private royal guest house. It has now been converted into a hotel.
Jaganmohan Palace – When the Amba Vilas Palace was under construction, this was the abode of the royal family. It has now been converted into an art gallery.
The other palaces in Mysore have been converted into hotels and other bureaucratic and administrative offices.
Skilled Artisans Since Generations
Wood inlay art - Speaking of the beautiful door in the Palace, Mysore has many artists. Way before, when use of ivory was in vogue, the artists would embed small pieces of ivory into rosewood. These days, instead of ivory, acrylic is used. But to watch the artists intricately carve it out is a sight to behold.
Stone sculptors – For generations together they have been carving these masterpieces on stone. To watch them at work is to watch stone come to life. And when you watch many artists work together, the rhythm created by the tools is like music to the ear.
Silk factory – The way silk reached Mysore is an interesting tale in itself. Tipu Sultan, who ruled Mysore for a while is responsible for bringing silk into this region. A factory was established almost a century ago to weave silk sarees. One can go for a tour in the silk factory on all working days to see how the artists create a masterpiece in each saree. Fresh produce is available in the Government run store in the factory premises.
Sandalwood oil factory – Mysore has been in news for the famed sandalwood. The sandalwood oil factory was established almost a century ago. Though not functional throughout the year, the extraction of oil is still carried out in the factories. A guided tour of the factory is available on working days. All the products in which sandalwood oil is used are available in a store run by the Government.
You cannot come to Mysore and not visit the artisans just because some guide to Mysore had no mention of them. These are people who have lived a lifetime bettering their art – this is what their families have known to do since generations. And to watch them is a heart warming experience.
Date the Nature – Hike & Swim
Yes, many guides to Mysore fail to recognise the bounty of nature in Mysore. Ride in a train from Mysore to Bangalore to view the landscape in the countryside. Flush with paddy fields, sugarcane fields and many rivers and its tributaries flowing here, Mysore is a nature lover’s paradise.
Hike the Chamundi Hills – This hill has the temple of Chamundeshwari and is one of Mysore’s favourite – the locals as well as the visitors love it. This is one unique place which is adored by the fitness freak and the God fearing alike – reason being the 1000 steps. These steps can provide a good workout for the hikers and something arduous for the God fearing that helps them attain salvation. If the 1000 steps do not pique your interest, fear not. There are other ways to reach here more luxuriously.
Hike the French Rocks – Massive rock hills and a perfect rock-climbing and trekking trail all around you – what more could a nature lover ask for? Not just adventure, this place has some mythological importance as well. Scenes from the largest epic poem of the world, Mahabharatha, come alive as you start hiking up the path. All the effort pays off once you hit the peak and take a look around – sugarcane and paddy fields all over with a huge lake running across, you cannot give this place a miss when you are looking to break and go off the beaten path. Well! Why French Rocks? It is because the French army camped here when Tipu Sultan was trying hard to ward off the British enemy.
Scenes from the largest epic poem of the world, Mahabharatha, come alive as you start hiking up the path
Thonnur Lake – Just a little beyond French Rocks, you can find the Thonnur tank. Climb down the stairs and start swimming. If not, find your trail to reach the beach side of the lake which is shallower. Check out for the annual Triathlon being conducted here consisting of swimming, biking and running – this could be a fitness freak’s delight.
Meenakshipura – If you are in Mysore with your loved one, you cannot give a miss to Meenakshipura. A sunset just 15KM from Mysore with the cool breeze and the lovely backwaters of the dam to give you company could possibly be the perfect romantic setting for an evening.
Walk around Kukkarahalli Lake – One of the lung spaces in the heart of the city situated in the campus of Manasa Gangothri (Mysore University), this lake is a delight of the locals. It is a perfect place for spotting some unique birds. Swimming was allowed here in the 1960s until someone spotted a crocodile here. This secret muse has inspired many poets and artists of Mysore. Author RK Narayan described a scene at this place as a “perfect sunset”. Though this place does not feature in the guide books, it is a must do in Mysore.
Boat ride in Karanji Lake – Located near the famous Mysore Zoo, this lake is surrounded by a nature park and the biggest walk through aviary in India. One can go for a relaxing walk or a boat ride in the lake.
Flex Your Muscles With Some Yoga
There has to be something about this place to pull more than 500 people from across the world for some lessons on Yoga every year. The Mecca of Ashtanga Yoga, Mysore now features on the international map. The bookings for the course begin months in advance. Come November, the locality of Gokulam is flocked by Yogis. Some of the Yoga schools are – K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, Mystic School, Ashtanga Yoga Mysore, Yoga Bharata.
For some Ayurveda treatment and massages you can check – Indus Valley Ayurvedic Centre, Mysore Ayurveda Retreat & Training.
The Great Indian Bazaar
Mysore has one of the most fantastic markets that India can offer. An assault on all five senses, the 100 year old Devaraja Market will provide you with an experience like none other. Colours, flowers, perfumes, bananas, fruits are there in abundance. The market is also a place where you can feel the local vibe very closely. One of the travel bloggers, Anna from Global Gallivanting visited the Devaraja Market with us and here are the reasons why she thinks one should visit this place.
Mysore has one of the most fantastic markets that India can offer
Devaraja Market overflows with flowers in the evenings. An obvious thing that people did with the flower abundantly available here was to extract the flower oils and make perfumes. In the market, there are stores selling the flower oil extract. And not just the scent of the flower, you can find the base oil of your most favourite branded perfume for a fraction of the price.
From books to handicrafts, from clothes to toys, Mysore has it all. Other than the Government run stores in the silk factory and the sandalwood oil factory, there is Cauvery Emporium which has a wide variety of handicrafts. Check out some wooden toys – one handicraft that symbolizes Karnataka.
For the cotton and khadi lovers, there is Fabindia and Desi – you can find some of the best cotton fabrics here. For some good books, one can head to Ashok Book store and Geetha Book store. And if you are here for Yoga and are put up in Gokulam, check the book store (Bharath book store) selling second hand books – he has some fabulous collection.
Fun, Frolic & Celebrations
Dasara – Of course when it comes to events in Mysore nothing can beat the festival of Dasara. It is during Dasara that the entire city of Mysore is bejeweled. The elephants parade the city and the lights come on everywhere like stars from heaven. The ceremony is closed on a high note with the army displaying some of the most dangerous stunts on the motorbikes and the police performing a drill with torches lit with fire.
Movies and Plays – There are ample things to do in Mysore around the year as well. There are multiplex movie theatres around the city screening movies in three languages – Hindi, Kannada and English. And if live plays are something you would want to spend your evening watching, head to Rangayana – the stage where all acts are put together.
Libraries – Mysore has a number of libraries from where one can borrow books. There are many public libraries where one can go to enjoy a few hours buried in the books. But if you want to borrow books, you can visit Just Books.
The Gastronomic Bible
A visit to a city is quite bland without some good food – especially the local specialties. Southern India has retained some of the most authentic flavours of India irrespective of so many rulers that have ruled India. And Mysore, being a city of the royals has some of the favourites of the royals.
Dosas – Sure there are Dosas in almost every eatery that you step into. But have you tasted Mysore’s best in Mylari Dosa. Cooked in generous helping of butter, this melt in the mouth dosa with some coconut chutney (sauce) will make it impossible for you to stop at one. It is a must try in Mysore.
Biriyanis – There are biryanis across India and then there are some in Mysore. Though many people are unaware, the biriyanis here is the secret that locals gorge on. Check RRR in the city – this place is always full. If you are headed here, keep your fingers crossed to find a seat. Apart from RRR, there is Etihad and Nasheman. Check our local guide to Mysore for some tips about these.
Cafes – Mysore receives a lot of visitors – tourists and yoga students alike. Many cafes have sprouted up to cater to the needs of the visitors. There are cafes selling authentic French food, vegan, organic and everything else that you may need. Most of the cafes are around Gokulam. The Yoga students are very passionate about this locality and there are some blogs with good description about all the cafes in this locality. Here is an ultimate guide to eating in Gokulam by Ashtanga Brighton. Do not forget to check another blog which is a follow up to the ultimate guide. Claudia has also provided a guide to Mysore that has a review of all the wonderful cafes in the city. Old House café is a new café in the block which which serves some good vegetarian pizza and has an amazing ambience.
Nature’s Nectar, with some of the best salads, Anokhi café, with some of the best crepes and pancakes, Khushi’s café, with some of the best breads and omelet are some of the best cafes n the city.
Aramane café near the palace is another of the favourites. Some of the best filter coffee in the town can be found here.
Café Malgudi in Green Hotel is somewhere you need to head to feel like a royal while sipping on your cup of coffee. All their desserts are baked fresh and their bread is to die for. Trust me there is a feel good factor here – after all, all the earnings go towards the upliftment of the downtrodden communities.
The watering holes – Parklane hotel and Pelican pubs in the city is run by a fantastic person who serves some amazing beer. Pelican pub is a laid back joint with some Karaoke music in the background. Grab the mike if you wish to! And the Parklane hotel is more of a fine dining place that has musicians playing live in the inner section.
The Living Quarters Away From Home
Mysore has been catering to travellers of all kinds. So yes! There are many hostels and budget hotels. But there are the luxury hotels as well which used to be palaces during the royal era.
Hostels – Until very recently there were not many hostels in Mysore. However, people have realized the potential that this city has and slowly hostels are cropping up here. Sonder Hostel is one such hostel which has been the den of backpackers in Mysore. Zostel, chain of backpacker’s hostel across India, also has a branch here. Vedanta Wake Up – another chain of backpacker’s hostel that has been doing great in Kerala has opened up in Mysore.
Budget Hotels – There are a number of budget hotels around Mysore. Pai Vista, Viceroy, Adithya Hotels are some of them to name a few.
Heritage Hotels – One of the really good heritage hotels to stay in Mysore is the Green Hotel. It was once the Chittaranjan Palace which has now been set up as a model of sustainable tourism.
Another heritage hotel is the Royal Orchid Metropole. It was originally built to serve as the residence of the Maharaja’s British guests. Most of the times, add-ons such as magic shows, music concerts, dance recitals, etc.
Hotel Royal Orchid Metropole
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La Villa is one of the guest houses in Mysore managed by a French couple. Very close to the Palace this place is simple, elegant and uncluttered – a peaceful place to live in when you are in Mysore.
Serviced apartments – Urban Oasis and Good Touch are the serviced apartments which provide all the amenities if you are planning for a longer stay.
Not Just Mysore – What Else is There?
Mysore is a great city. But what can make it better are the places around. Just a day trip and you will walk into the world of Indian history and culture that will be etched in your memory forever.
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary – This is the largest bird sanctuary in the state of Karnataka on the banks of river Kaveri. It is home to many migratory birds. Not just birds, crocodiles are in abundance in the river. Probably the only place in the world where ranger guided boat tours is available in river full of crocodiles.
Srirangapatana – The historical town of Srirangapatana is where Haider Ali had his capital. It is in this place where one of the most important chapters of Indian history had taken place. Even today the scenes from the battles come alive while walking around in this town.
Somanathapura – 700 years ago, the Hoysala Empire in Southern India built some of the most stunning temples. And the temple at Somanathapura is one of the finest examples of this beauty.
Talakad – Who said legends and stories cannot be true? This is one place which will defy your belief and make you believe in the unbelievable. A curse by a lady had the power to bury an entire city underneath piles of sand. The archaeologists have dug up sand and are trying to restore the temples buried underground.
Shravanabelagola - The monolithic 58 feet statue of Bahubali at Shravanabelagola is considered as the first of India’s 7 wonders. The most important location for Jain pilgrims, this statue is a wonder to anyone standing before it. Definitely one of Karnataka’s favourite.
Melukote – This village is one of the ancient seat of Vaishnaivism in India. The temples here can give you a perspective on India’s take on spirituality. Not just that, a walk around the sleepy village will transport you to another world.
Belur and Halebid – Another temple town near Mysore which is the epitome of art and architecture during the Hoysala period are the temples in Belur and Halebid. The walls, roof, pillars, each part of the temples is a masterpiece in itself.
Coorg – The ‘Scotland of India’ – this place has everything to offer, from hiking to 4W drive in the muddy terrain and some amazing home-made wine. A must visit for a day or two if you are in Mysore.
BR Hills – Nestled in the Western Ghats, these hills are covered with dense forests, wild elephants and tigers. These hills are the abode for the semi-nomadic Soliga Tribes. You can go for a safari here or hike up the hills.
Going around Mysore is not difficult – more so with this local’s guide to Mysore. However, travel gets better when you observe the details and understand the way of living of the people in a locality. This is where we at goMowgli can help you. Not just places, we tell you the whats and answer your whys. May be these are the stories that gives the travellers a different perspective. May be these stories help them understand a bit of this vast country.
If you are planning a trip to Mysore, you can spend a day with us. We take you to the offbeat locations without compromising on the must-visits.
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And if you have been to Mysore and have some suggestions that we have missed, do leave a comment. We promise to include them in our guide to Mysore.