A scenic drive from India’s start-up hub of Bengaluru takes you to the city of silk, sandalwood, palaces, and horse carriages. Mysuru—formerly called Mysore—is the culture capital of Karnataka and has lent its name to some iconic products over the years. There’s the exquisite Mysore silk, the bejewelled royal turban called Mysore peta, and the fragrant Mysore Sandal Soap that was born during the First World War when the kingdom couldn’t export sandalwood to Europe. The culinary specialities include the sweet Mysore pak and the savoury Mysore dosa. Thanks to a conscientious society, Mysuru has also been recognised as one of India’s cleanest cities. With over 200 heritage buildings that make you travel back in time, Mysuru leans away from the one-size-fits-all idea of tourism and makes for a great destination. By Nikita Puri
Mysuru is a city of history and culture with ample possibilities for self-discovery.
One of the most enduring identifiers of the city is the splendid Mysore Palace, built in 1897. Also known as Maharaja’s Palace and Amba Vilas Palace, it is one of India’s largest palaces and features mighty domes, arches, and colonnades. Jaganmohan Palace was an alternative home to the royals, as was the all-white Lalitha Mahal, the second largest palace in Mysuru. The latter was built in 1921 on the lines of the St Paul’s Cathedral in London. A 30-minute drive from Mysuru is the fortress of Srirangapatna, which used to be the summer capital of Sultan Haider Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan.
Since the kings of Mysore kingdom were devotees of goddess Chamundi, the Amba Vilas Palace faces the Chamundi Hills, where 1,000 stone stairs lead you to the Chamundeshwari Temple. The St Philomena’s Cathedral, built in 1936 and inspired by Germany’s Cologne Cathedral, is among the tallest churches in Asia. The Bylakuppe Buddhist Golden Temple is the centre of Tibetan Buddhism in South India. Besides a towering statue of Buddha that stands 12 metres tall, the interiors of this monastery feature illustrations of stories from Tibetan Buddhist mythology.
Being the birthplace of the Ashtanga style of yoga, espoused by the legendary yoga guru K Pattabhi Jois, Mysuru has close to 400 yoga centres, including the Ashtanga Yoga Institute run by Jois’s grandson, R Sharath Jois. Those interested in meditation can try the Temple of Singing Bowls, where artist and musician Akhilanka practises and teaches healing using Tibetan singing bowls. Mysuru’s century-old Devaraja Market is a place for all things bright and beautiful, including blossoms of rajnigandha and marigold. The festival of Mysore Dasara is a showcase of splendour that takes place between October and November. The celebrations include a dramatic procession of decorated elephants.
Constructed in 1932, the famous Brindavan Gardens is spread over 60 acres—at a distance of 21 kilometres from the main city. Built on the banks of River Cauvery, this garden also has boating facilities. The Bandipur National Park and Nagarhole Tiger Reserve are two of the many wildlife destinations one can visit from Mysuru. Also a short drive away is the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, the largest bird sanctuary in Karnataka. The Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, popularly called Mysore Zoo, is one of the country’s oldest zoos that in recent times have established animal adoption schemes. If you like kayaking, head to the Bheemeshwari Adventure and Nature Camp.
Mysuru is a city of history and culture with ample possibilities for self-discovery.
The most recent addition to Mysuru’s cultural landscape is the RK Narayan House. Situated in Yadavgiri, the home of one of India’s most beloved authors opened as a public museum in 2016. Featuring the Malgudi Days author’s personal memorabilia, it offers a delightfully unembellished look into the life of a literary giant whose stories shaped an entire generation. Art lovers will be interested in the Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery, which spans three floors in the Jaganmohan Palace. It has a huge collection of Indian paintings, including works by noted artist Raja Ravi Varma, and traditional Japanese art. Mysuru also boasts of the Regional Museum of Natural History and the Mysuru Rail Museum. These structures offer a portal to a simpler time with a range of preserved artefacts—from dated stethoscopes to boats, puppets, and a number of steam locomotives. The Mysore Sand Sculpture Museum is the only museum in India dedicated to sand sculptures.
WINE & DINE
Mysuru has a strong coffee-drinking culture and a good enough range of cuisines to keep you satiated.
Mysuru has a fascinating history of dishes, so loved that they’ve become synonymous with the city. The famous Mysore pak, ﬁrst made for a king who had grown tired of the usual sweet fare, is best bought from the Guru Sweet Mart on Sayyaji Rao Road. Don’t be fooled by the size of Vinayaka Mylari, for this tiny eatery on Nazarbad Main Road packs a punch with the softest of Mysore dosas. Get banana buns, aka Mangalore buns, from Hotel Sri Durga Bhavan in Gokulam, or head to Nalpak for some Mysore bonda (deep-fried potato dumplings). Famous for its quick-moving South Indian breakfast platters, Cafe Aramane is also known for serving a different speciality dosa every day of the week.
The bougainvillaea-lined streets of Mysuru’s Gokulam area are dotted with rooftop haunts that cater to western palates. Anokhi Garden Cafe offers home-made French crêpes and soy milkshakes, while Mezzaluna on Adipampa Road is known for its steaks, grilled chicken with gravy, and broccoli soup. For salads, pastas, and wood-ﬁred pizzas, check out The Old House on JLB Road.
For those on the lookout for meaty treats, Tiger Trail at the Royal Orchid Metropole Hotel off ers some delectable choices such as the Peshawari Boti Kebab and the Malabar Fish Curry, in a dining hall with portrait-lined walls, chandeliers, and opulent mirrors, or a courtyard sit-out decked up with fairy lights. Sapphire at the Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel serves a traditional thali in a regal setting.
With martinis, corn- cheese balls, and chicken skewers on the menu, the Iconic Resto Pub offers rooftop seating with a view of Chamundi Hills. Pelican Pub & Grubhouse Restaurant in Jayalakhsmipuram is Mysuru’s oldest pub and has been in business since 1990. Purple Haze shakes things up with chilled beer and a rock-music theme. Lit up with 97,000 electric bulbs on Sundays and holidays, the Mysore Palace itself is a place to hit after hours for a spectacle unlike any other. The Brindavan Gardens, too, hosts a post-sundown musical fountain show every evening.
From knick-knacks that double up as souvenirs to splurge-worthy silks, Mysuru has lots to offer.
In a city alive with scents, the Mysore Sandal Soap is readily available in stores as well as the Government Sandalwood Oil Factory. This sweet, warm, and woody soap traces its origins to 1916, when the then Maharaja Krishna Raja Wodeyar I set up a factory to distil oil from the sandalwood that could no longer be exported to Europe in the wake of WWI. Mysuru is also a major centre of incense manufacturers in India, and a number of shops at the Devaraja Market and Gandhi Square allow you to customise incense sticks using jasmine, rose, frangipani, and lily. For essential oils and organic cosmetic products, check out Dhatu Organics & Naturals.
Get to know how Mysore silk is made and dyed with a tour of the century-old Government Silk Weaving Factory, then splurge on the famous Mysore Silk sarees or the fabric. While the fabric is available in other places, it is most affordable here.
Ganjifa playing cards feature paintings inspired by Hindu epics. These can be found at the Cauvery Handicrafts Emporium, which also houses rosewood ﬁgurines and artefacts inlaid with ivory, sandalwood, or mother of pearl. Also available here are Channapatna toys, the generic name for the protected craft of lacquered wooden dolls and toys made in nearby Channapatna. Those with a musical bent can stop by the Sri Sharada Grand Musical Works in Shivarampet for traditional Indian musical instruments.
Mysuru offers versatile stay options, fit for business travel, family vacations, and working holidays.
Fortune JP Palace
Mysuru’s old-world charm is reflected in the hotel’s palatial design, landscaped gardens, and a grand view of Chamundi Hills. Located a stone’s throw away from attractions such as St Philomena’s Cathedral, the hotel offers 108 tastefully-done rooms and a host of dining options, including a space for oriental cuisine. There’s also Neptune Bar & Lounge, a bar for after-business meetings, and a rooftop lounge music space called The Terrace Grill & Tandoor. Besides a fitness centre and a pool, the hotel also has a facility for steam and sauna. Suited for weddings and other social events, as well as business conferences, the banquet and conference halls in the property can cater to 200-500 guests.
Grand Mercure Mysore
Located close to some of Mysuru’s most iconic sites, the Grand Mercure Mysore is the city’s first five-star hotel. This business hotel has enough amenities to keep the family occupied with Xbox gaming systems and dedicated playing areas for children. The hotel also lets you learn the stories of the city without having to step out. The rooms offer a selection of scenic views; some are designed to afford balcony viewings of the grand annual Dasara festivities. The restaurant La Uppu specialises in international cuisines, French in particular, while a drink at the hotel’s rooftop pool-side bar, By the Blue, is the ideal way to wrap up the night.
Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Mysore
A 15-minute drive from Mysuru airport, the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel Mysore offers stunning views of Chamundi Hills. The city zoo and Jayachamaraja Wadiyar Golf Course are adjacent to the hotel. Well suited to family gatherings, weddings, and corporate events, their ballroom can accommodate 1,200 people, with the possibility of holding outdoor events in the manicured lawns as well. The dining space, Spring, is suited for both business lunches and date night dinners. While their all-day dining restaurant offers a selection of food from the tandoor to gourmet pizzas, another dining venue called Mysouth serves traditional South Indian cuisine. The hotel also has a state-of-the-art fitness centre and an outdoor pool.
The Windflower Resort & Spa Mysore
Located at the base of Chamundi Hills, The Windflower Resort & Spa Mysore is best known for housing Mysuru’s pioneering spa, which is accredited by the International Spa Association. From private mini gardens and pools to bathrooms with rain showers, the amenities are luxe and the spaces generous. Dining options include The Olive Garden, situated in the midst of a pond that’s home to geese, and a bar called Vineyard Bistro. Custom dining offerings include low-calorie meals and sattvik Ayurvedic cuisine. Besides activities such as a game of life-sized chess and archery, one can also swim in their sunken rock pool.
Related: Heritage Trails Around Mysuru: Revisiting The Glorious Past