Mysore is also a crafts center, and there are numerous shops selling a large range of sandalwood, rosewood and teak carvings, and furniture. Probably the most stunning display can be seen at Cauvery Handicrafts in the center of town.
Until Independence, Mysore was the seat of the maharajas of Mysore, a princely state covering about a third of present-day Karnataka, and their attraction. Just south of the city is Chamundi Hill, topped by an important Siva temple. North of the city lie the extensive ruins of the fortress of Srirangapatnam, built by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan on an island in the middle of the Cauvery River. Tipu Sultan fought the last of his battles with the British here in the closing years of the 18th century. To the east is the beautiful temple of Somnathpur while to the west, below the Krishnaraja Sagar (Dam), are the Brindavan Gardens, a popular attraction with Indian tourists.
Accommodation and transport for the national parks of Bangalore (80 km south of Mysore) or Nagarhole (93 km south-west) should be booked with the Forest Officer, Woodyard, Ashokpuram (near the Siddhartha High School in a southern suburb of the city). Take an auto-rickshaw or a No 61 city bus.
Also known as the Amba Vilas Palace, the beautiful profile of this walled Indo-Saracenic palace, the seat of the maharajas of Mysore, graces the city’s skyline. An earlier palace burnt down in 1897 and the presence one was completed in 1912.
Inside it’s kaleidoscope of stained glass, mirrors, gilt and gaudy colours. Some of it is undoubtedly over the top but there are also beautiful carved wooden doors and mosaic floors, as well as a whole series of mediocre, though historically interesting, paintings depicting life in Mysore during the Edwardian Raj. Note the beautifully carved mahogany ceilings, solid silver doors, white marble floors and superb columned Durbar Hall. The palace even has a selection of Hindu Temples within the palace walls including the Varahaswamy Temple with a gopuram which set the pattern for the later Sri Chamundeswari Temple on Chamundi Hill. The former maharaja is still in residence at the back of the palace.
The main public rooms of the palace are open to the public although the crowds can sometimes rival the departure lounge of a major international airport.
Overlooking Mysore from the 1062-metres summit of Chamundi Hill the Sri Chamundeswari Temple makes a pleasant half –day excursion. Pilgrims are supposed to climb the 1000-plus steps to the top but those not needing to improve their kharma will probably find descending more sensible than ascending! There is a road as well as the pathway to the top, and riding up then walking down has the added benefit of avoiding the pilgrim-packed buses which tend to be more crowded coming down than going up.
The temple is dominated by its towering seven-storey, 40-metres-high gopuram. The goddess Chamundi was the family deity of the maharaja, and the statue at the car park is of the demon Mahishasura who was one of Chamundi’s victims. The temple is open from 8 am to noon and 5 to 8 pm.
After visiting the temple start back to the car park and look for the top of the stairway, marked by red-and –white striped stone posts and a sign proclaiming ‘Way of Bull’. It’s a pleasant walk down, there’s some shade on the way and the views over the city and surrounding countryside are superb. Two-thirds of the way down you come to the famous Nandi (Siva’s bull). Standing five metres high and carved out of solid rock in 1659, it’s one of the largest in India. It’s always garlanded in flowers and constantly visited by bevies of pilgrims offering prasaad to the priest in attendance there.
Devaraja Fruit & Vegetable Market
Stretching along Sayaji Rao Rd from Dhanvantri Rd the Devaraja Market is one of the most colourful in India and provides excellent subject material for photographers.
Jaganmohan Palace & Art Gallery
Just west of Mysore Palace the Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery in the Jaganmohan Palace has a collection which includes junk and some weird and wonderful musical machines downstairs, paintings including work by Raja Ravi Verma upstairs and rare musical instruments on the top floor. The palace was built in 1861 and served as a royal auditorium. It’s open daily from 8:30 am to 5 pm.
Across the line from the railway station is a small railway museum with a maharani’s saloon carriage, complete with royal toilet, dating and around 1888. It’s open daily from 10 am to 1 pm and 2 to 6 pm.
Mysore is packed with fine building in a variety of architectural styles. Dating from 1805 Government House, formerly the British Residency, is a fine ‘Tuscan Doric’ building, owes nothing to its India setting and still has 20 hectares of gardens. Facing Government House is Wellington Lodge where the Duke of Wellington lived after the defeat of Tipu Sultan.
In front of the north gate of Mysore Palace, a 1920 statue of Maharaja Chamarajendar Wodeyar stands in the New Status Circle, facing the 1927 Silver Jubilee Clocktower. If he glanced sideways he’d see the imposing town hall, the Rangachariu Memorial Hall of 1884. The next traffic circle west is the 1950s Krishnaraja Circle (K R Circle) with a statue of Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar.
Built between 1933 and 1941 in neo-Gothic style St Philomena’s Cathedral, originally St Joseph’s, is one of the largest churches in India but is not particularly interesting. It stands north of the center. Converting maharajas’ palaces into hotels is a popular activity and the Lalitha Mahal Palace of 1921, on the eastern side of town, is a prime example. The Metropole Hotel also started life as guest house of the maharajas. The Rajendra Vilas Palace on Chamundi Hill, dating from 1938 but actually a copy of an 1822 building, has been a hotel and there are plans to make it one again. The 1910-11 Chaluvamba Vilas on Madikeri Rd was another maharaja’s mansion, while the ornate 1891 Oriental Research Institute in Gordon Park originally housed the university’s Departmental of Archaeology.