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India: Karnataka: Bijapur, Coorg, Hampi, Kudalasangama, Mysore, Nagarhole with Irpu Falls
Mysore, Karnataka – Cultural Capital bathed in royalty
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Bangalore is the official Capital of the State of Karnataka. However, just 140 kms away is Mysore, where, the grandeur and opulence of the erstwhile kingdom of the Wodeyars left a legacy that has made Mysore culturally extremely rich. Magnificent palaces, well laid out gardens, clean & broad avenues, imposing buildings and majestic temples all add up to make Mysore a must visit city.
Mysore, earlier known as Mahishur and now officially known as Mysuru, traces its history to the mythical past when Goddess Chamundeshwari killed the Buffalo-headed demon Mahishasur. In fact, this depicts the victory of good over evil and is celebrated as Dassera (falls in October / November every year based on the Lunar calendar). Mysore Dassera is the most famous festival that lasts for 10 days. During these 10 days, the entire city reverberates with celebrations that include the famous procession.
Post our New Year holiday in Coorg, a hill station (refer to my article on Coorg), we reached Mysore on a Sunday evening at around 7:45PM. We just missed the glory of the Mysore Palace that was bathed in gold by the glow of 96,000 electric bulbs. The palace gets illuminated for an hour from 7PM to 8PM only on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. If only a little glimpse from our van window thrilled us, I could imagine the delight walking in the palace premises. Plan to be in Mysore on a Saturday so that you can go back again the next evening!
We were booked at Hotel Sandesh The Prince. The property had well appointed rooms and offered excellent hospitality. Its central location was in close proximity to the Mysore Palace as well as the Mysore Zoo. After completing a long journey via Irpu Falls and Nagarhole National Park (I have an article on Nagarhole too), we crashed out early after dinner at one of the hotel’s restaurant. For the next one and a half day we would be tourists with our tails on fire!
After breakfast, the next morning our first stop was at Mysore Palace, just a 15 minute drive from the hotel. We had at our disposal the services of a van. The palace gates open at 10AM. While the palace can be photographed from outside, cameras are banned within the palace premises. So is footwear. Make it a point to deposit your cameras in the lockers that are available for just Rs 5. Entry to the palace is Rs 20 per person. Visitors have the option of taking self-guided audio tours. We preferred to take the service of an authorized guide. Costs Rs 500 but its fun to hear the stories first hand!
Built in Indo-Saracenic style with domes, turrets, arches and colonnades, the Mysore Palace is a treasure house of exquisite carvings, paintings and works of art from all over the world. Floor tiles from England, stain glass from Belgium, chandeliers from Czechoslovakia, marble from Italy and murals from France amongst many others. Intricately carved doors open to private and public chambers and luxuriously furnished rooms. The majestic Durbar Hall has an ornate ceiling and many sculpted pillars. The palace museum has on display the golden throne used by the Wodeyars. The royal armory unfortunately was out of bound to visitors. Only VIPs and folks with special permit can get to see it.
The palace stands amidst 72 acres of land. It took 15 years (1897 – 1912) to rebuild the present edifice as the earlier one, built in wood in the 14th century, got burned down during a wedding ceremony. The premise has numerous Hindu temples. Though the palace is owned by the Wodeyars, it’s under the control of Government of India. The royal family lives in quarters touching the palace.
A further 15 minute drive will bring you to the famous Saint Philomena’s Church (also known as Saint Joseph’s Cathedral). The church was built in 1843 by Maharaja Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. Constructed in Neo Gothic style, the design was inspired by the Cologne Cathedral. The twin spires of the church are 175 meters tall. The floor plan resembles that of a cross and the interiors make abundant use of stain glass and painting depicting the happenings in the life of Jesus Christ. The catacomb has the relics of Saint Philomena – believed to be a young Greek princess martyred in the 4th century.
In another 20 minutes we were at the zoo gates. It may surprise readers, as to why we chose to make a visit to the zoo instead of a visit to other attractions namely the Jaganmohan Palace which is a museum housing works of art from world famous artists? I can offer 2 reasons. One, the zoo ranks amongst the best in the country and two, camera is not allowed in the museum!
To be honest, I wasn’t disappointed with my visit to the zoo. The entry fee is Rs 30 per head and the fee for still camera usage is just Rs 10. Named Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, the zoo was commissioned by him way back in 1902. Designed by German landscaper and horticulturist Krumbeigal, the premises are very well kept. I was delighted to see the birds and animals in good health (and hopefully happy in their enclosures). Highlights were indeed tigers, lions, giraffes, rhinoceros and gorilla amongst other wonderful creatures. Hope the images will do justice. Just so you know, the zoo opens at 8:30AM and the weekly holiday is Tuesday.
By the time we were done with the zoo, it was 5PM. After resting a while at the hotel, we began our 22 km journey to Brindaban Gardens. We were at the gates at about 6:45. Like the Mysore Palace, Brindaban Gardens is a must visit site in Mysore. It’s known for its illuminated water fountains and musical fountain. Entry per person is just Rs 15, but the cost to carry a still camera is Rs 50. I do recommend you pay the fee; the guards out there are pretty watchful… probably, they earn a commission from the penalties collected!
The Brindavan Gardens, is famous for its symmetric design. It is one of the most beautifully laid out terrace gardens in the world. The creation of this garden in the Krishnaraja Sagar Dam site has been the achievement of Sir Mirza Ismail, the then Dewan of the princely State of Mysore. Modeled on the design of the Shalimar Gardens of Kashmir in the Mughal style, the garden is enriched with a number of terraces, parterres, fountains, running and cascading water channels, water chutes, lush green lawns, flower beds, shrubs and trees.
The gardens are divided in two zones. The south and the north. The musical fountain is on the north side. We walked for about 300 meters on a special path created on the edge of the lake. The lights in the garden are on every evening from 7PM to 8PM. The illumination lasts little longer on weekends. The musical fountain show runs at regular intervals and each show lasts for about 10 minutes. To reach the south side, we took a boat (Rs 10 per head). On the far end stands the Orchid hotel.
By the time we reached our hotel it was 9PM. A few hours more in Mysore the next day and our trip would be done.
After breakfast, we packed our bags and were in our van to visit Chamundi Hills located about 10 kms from city centre. The hill is one of the 8 most sacred hills of southern India. An uphill drive brought us to the gates of the temple of Goddess Chamundeshwari – the slayer of demon Mahishasur. While the entry to the temple is free, a Rs 20 ticket will allow you a special entry saving you long lines of devotees.
After paying our respects to the Goddess, we stopped at the base of Chamundi hill at the famous Lalit Mahal Palace - now a hotel under the management of Government of India. It’s a shimmering white palace, built in 1931 by the erstwhile Maharaja of Mysore to host his most important guest, the Viceroy of India. The building is a majestic, two-storey composition of twin ionic columns, a projecting porch on the ground floor and spherical domes that dominate the elevation.
We had lunch at their restaurant which was once the main hall of the palace. It certainly felt like royalty. We left the hotel at 2:30PM and headed straight for Bangalore international airport… well in time to board our flight back home.
Mysore Image Gallery Photo viewer
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