Posted by: Anna | March 7, 2011

Mysore is no Eyesore

It was impossible to resist the rhyming title here. Thankfully, it is also true that Mysore is lovely, at least in parts. Our first impression of Mysore was not that favorable – we arrived in traffic on a busy street, walked into a hotel recommended in Lonely Planet, and promptly decided it was incredibly grungy. Wandering the streets searching for a more appealing option, we walked around cows, piles of trash, homeless people, and wild dogs sleeping in the street. We were repeatedly honked at, oogled, and asked if we wanted rickshaw rides. It was not an auspicious start to our visit to Mysore, which we had read all sorts of lovely things about.

The main attraction in Mysore is the Dutch Palace. Our first night in Mysore, we happened into a hotel that had a beautiful rooftop bar with a view of the Palace. As we watched the sunset behind the palace, we sipped our beers and cherished the time above the craziness of the street scene below. And it was crazy – Mysore is the biggest city we had been to yet. The streets were terrifying to cross, dodging rickshaws, cars, motorcycles, overflowing buses with people leaping on and off while the bus is moving, and cows. But in our rooftop escape, we could only see treetops and the tops of the tallest buildings. The city faded away, with only the ever-present, faint honking as a reminder of the bustle below.

At 7 PM on Sunday evenings (this was a Sunday), the palace is illuminated for one hour. Indians, never missing a chance to celebrate, turn out for this event in great numbers. As soon as we saw the palace illuminated, we left the bar, got in a rickshaw, and went to the Palace to see it closer. It was amazing. Thousands of light bulbs light the elaborate Hindu carvings of the palace in a romantic way. Arriving at the Palace, it was like a carnival or street fair, with sellers hawking toys of all kinds, snack foods, water, juice, knick-knacks and more. Sandlewood fans are popular, as are small boxes. Entrance to the palace grounds is free on Sunday night, and many people wait in line to go inside. Once inside, we realized that a brass military style band is playing in the palace courtyard.

I don’t know if it was the beer or my drill team training, but I had the irresistible desire to march along to the music – to the embarrassment of Tommy and Sarah I’m fairly certain. But the carnival atmosphere, the Indian families setting up for late night picnics with adorably outfitted children in tow, the tourists with fanny packs and ridiculous printed shirts – somehow, the whole atmosphere just made me need to march along to the music. It was delightful.

I haven’t even mentioned how lovely the palace was. Imposing, intricately carved, and somewhat fanciful, almost like an Indian Cinderella’s castle – I loved seeing it lit up. We had plans to return the next day to tour the inside.

We had a lovely dinner at a restaurant in Mysore that was another charming escape from the hub-bub of city life. It was so lovely we ended up returning for breakfast (delicious yogurt, granola, and fruit for me – eggs and such for everyone else). They even had iced tea, just like iced tea at home. Sweet, cold, and with fresh mint for extra goodness. It was such a treat! I love Indian food, but after almost two weeks, Indian breakfasts no longer charmed me – give me an American breakfast anytime.

We then headed off to the palace, purchased our entrance tickets, and checked our camera. (no cameras allowed in the palace). Before entering the palace, we were also required to check our shoes. Everyone has to enter the palace barefoot or in socks, but no shoes. I was not a big fan of this rule, but we had come this far, so shoes got checked and in we went. The palace outside was even more impressive, or at least differently impressive, than it had been at night.

We picked up our audio guides (free with the purchase of a foreign ticket), and off we went. The palace is stunning – each room is uniquely interesting. I will try to describe a few of the highlights. The wedding chamber is a large hexagonal room with murals painted along the sides, showing scenes from the Raj’s annual birthday procession. The murals are unique in that they show actual people – not just the artists’ imagination of people, but individuals alive at the time the murals were painted. We saw the (essentially a fancy Elephant saddle) that Raj rode on the decorated elephant on his birthday, and then a painting in the mural of what that would have looked like. The ceiling of the marriage room has amazing stained glass windows, designed in India but manufactured in Scotland.

I may be a good rule-follower, but you can count on Flickr to have pictures from people who aren't. Here's a shot of the ceiling.

The other two rooms I found most intriguing were the spaces used for business – the large throne room and the smaller throne room (not sure I’m using the right names). The large one is open to the front of the palace to allow the Raj to sit and face crowds of subjects out in the courtyard. There are balconies on the sides for ladies and noblemen to sit. Elaborate columns blending Indian, Islamic, and Victorian architecture styles dominate the room. The blend of those three styles is one of the most unique aspects of the palace; it manages to be both familiar and exotic at the same time.

The palace was built less than 200 years ago after the previous palace burned down. The regent at the time did not want any flammable materials in the palace so it would last for generations, and so the palace columns are cast iron, and there is almost no wood in the entire palace. Interestingly, the Raj’s reign ended before the palace was completed. I find it ironic to devote such energy and careful thought to ensuring the palace can last, but the same energy and careful thought did not ensure the rulers would last to rule from the palace. A pattern we see over and over in our trip – rulers and wealthy people who take great pains to ensure their tombs, palaces, or whatever monument to their wealth, power and greatness they create will last generations, without the assurance that the system that makes that monument important will still be there around it.

The most impressive room, in my opinion, was the last one – the private throne room. With a floor of inlaid precious stones, more elaborate stained glass, more intricate columns, a silver door, and more – it was a room intended to convey wealth. It also manages to be impressively beautiful.

Upon departing the palace, a guard shooed us out a different gate. We had a brief, strange experience leaving the peace and elegance of the palace and shifting back into modern day India. First, we are hastened to the entrance to another “palace” and asked to pay for entrance again. We refused – so we are sheparded into a small, uninteresting temple, then asked for a donation upon leaving. We refused, and wandered further down a dirty road, still barefoot, regretting our reluctance to turn around to find the proper exit. We noticed an elephant and a camel available for rides around this small dirty road in a courtyard. We debated (riding an elephant seems cool) but ultimately decided not to participate for two reasons: one, the elephant is probably mistreated, and two, it’s not that cool to ride an elephant around a dirty courtyard.

We work our way back to the exit (which was exactly where we tried to head when the guard shooed us the other way), reclaim our shoes (they felt amazing after walking around barefoot for several hours), and reclaim our cameras.

We spent the afternoon wandering through the market, admiring the beautiful piles of kum kum powder and other oddities, including an entire aisle of more bananas than I could eat in my lifetime. The flower stands were particularly enchanting.

Piles of kum kum powder

We finally returned to the same restaurant where we had breakfast (our third meal there in 24 hours), played cards, drank some beers, and just relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. We had an overnight train to catch that night, so our time in Mysore was brief. The restaurant turned out to be an informal meeting spot for the English-speakers in town, and we met an American couple on a long term trip similar to ours as well as a woman from Maine who had been living for a few weeks on a farm in a rural town in India.

All in all, Mysore was the first urban experience we had in India, and although the palace was one of my favorite bits of India so far, I realized that the cities in India are rather overwhelmingly loud, dirty assaults on all senses. Mysore is no eyesore, but it’s no Paris either.

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Responses

  1. That kum kum powder is amazing but I have no idea what it is!

  2. I’m like Sally, Kum-Kum colors are brilliant, but what the heck is it? I love the beautiful stain glass ceiling…amazing! I’m so glad you&Tommy got to talk to UBE about the ranch in Harper, just wish I had been here to hear your voices. Marcy is doing better and her surgery was a big success! God bless you both. Have fun & stay safe! my love, XOXOXO, Kita

  3. You know, my ancestors built the Dutch Palace.


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