Mysuru is more than its palaces and yoga centres. Explore the city’s culture, architecture, shopping and food with our ready-reckoner
To many, Mysuru may not seem like much at first glance—but it is quite like its people, in no particular rush. The historic and undisputed cultural hub of Karnataka is renowned as the abode of the royals and Ashtanga yoga. But for me, childhood memories were all about enjoying the gentle vibe of a charming town that I continue to call home. Summer holidays were mostly spent at the century-old Devaraja Market, where most people speak a smattering of Russian, French and German. My weekly market ritual was to help my mother carry bags of groceries, and walk through the labyrinth of glass bangles, antiques and jasmine, all harmoniously merging together. I believe this bazaar still sets the tone for what Mysuru embodies: history, architecture and culture, but most of all, relationships that rely on trust and long-standing friendships.
Globally, Mysuru is renowned for its Amba Vilas Palace—where people marvel at its Venetian stained glass dome, European cast iron pillars, and the paintings whose eyes follow you from left to right—the Pattabhi Jois Institute, where yogis flock, and as a destination for premium silk, sandalwood and, of course, the Mysore pak. Set against the hills, gardens and monuments that inspired novelist RK Narayan’s fictitious town of Malgudi and its characters, its heartbeat still resides in the quaint bylanes, where women draw rangolis, while the heady aroma of freshly-brewed filter coffee wafts in the chilly morning air.
how to get there
Take a three-hour road trip, but make a pitstop at the little town of Srirangapatna, known for its historic significance.
Buses are a dime a dozen, with fares starting at `250. Details: redbus.in
Trains ply frequently between Mysore and Bengaluru. Book for `100 onwards. Details: irctc.co.in
At your own pace
Begin your day with a stroll along the shores of Kukkarahalli Kere lake, one of the many green lungs in Mysuru. Home to over 150 species of birds—like horn bills, grey pelicans and painted storks—find a comfortable nook to enjoy bird watching.
Another landmark spot is Jayalakshmi Vilas mansion, which, back in the day, was the palatial residence of a Wodeyar princess, and is now a part of the Mysore University grounds.
The city is best explored on foot; so start at the pink-domed railway building and walk east on Irvin Road, past the historic Mysore Medical College, one of India’s earliest institutions. Walk south, on to Sayyaji Rao road, Mysuru’s main route, lined with century-old buildings and markets. This is the city’s commercial hub and also the route taken by Goddess Durga’s royal entourage on Vijaya Dashami day—the pulsating finale of the 10-day Dussehra festivities.
Royal Mysore Walks
Vinay P, the founder, organises guided tours that explore music, dance, yoga, art, history and festivals. “The palace is brimming with historical connections to several significant events around the world. Did you know the seeds of the victory of the Battle of Waterloo were sown here or about Mysuru’s connection with the Boston Tea Party? Join us and we will tell you,” he smiles. Other popular tours include a Culinary Tour, complete with a visit to the market and a meal at the home of a local host, and a Food Tour, where you can eat your way through Mysore masala dosa, churmuri, bonda, Mysore pak, creamy badam milk, an assortment of street food specialities and ‘tiffin’ options. An early morning pick is the Vintage Mysore Bike Tour, which will introduce you to the old city, its colonial structures and the lives of the local communities. `600 for children and `1,200 for adults. Details: royalmysorewalks.com
Bluefoot Culture Consulting
Bengaluru-based entrepreneur-founder, Kaveri Sinhji, offers unique travel experiences across India. Nostalgia sets in when she talks about her roots in Mysuru. “In the 1970s, Bhagirath Sinhji Rana had a restaurant called Bugs Place, where he offered travellers from around the world his charming hospitality, the best of music and conversations, and delicious Indian fusion cuisine. Today, after 40 years, he again plays the same part, but in a new way. Our guests are warmly welcomed by him and his wife, Chandrika, into their beautiful home in the foothills of Chamundi,” she says. Sinhji also assists guests with state-of-the-art accommodation, should you wish to stay on in the palace city. `5,000 (for a group of six) for a day trip. Details: bluefoot.in
Stop for a bite
Gokulam is known for its yoga shalas, tree-lined streets and old-world houses. An eclectic melting pot of artists, holistic healers and wellness cafes, it’s a great place to put your feet up for a while.
Anokhi Garden Café: This day café offers a range of breakfast and brunch options. Don’t miss the French crepes with home made chocolate sauce, fresh seasonal fruit salads, a daily variety of fresh patisserie (pies, quiches and crumbles) accompanied by home made jams, compotes and yoghurt. It also doubles up as a guest house. Currently closed for the season, it reopens on June 27. At Contour Road, Gokulam 3rd Stage. Details: anokhigarden.com
Anu’s Bamboo Hut: A peaceful haven for tourists and yoga students alike, it offers home-style lunch buffets on all days except Thursdays. Evenings are for tea, banana smoothies and vegan desserts. Owner Anuradha Ganesh also organises Indian cooking classes. `250 (lunch buffet). At Gokulam 2nd Stage. Details: 09900909428
Santhosha Café: Bathed in sunshine yellow, you can’t miss this cheerful café. The menu offers guilt-free breakfasts—from omelettes and tofu scramble, to ragi pancakes. The homemade granola is a favourite, as are their range of juices. The café is closed for summer, but their Facebook page will announce when they’ll reopen. At Vani Vilas Mohalla. Details: facebook.com/SantoshaCafe
Depth & Green: Tables made with tree trunks and betel leaf plates define the overall ambience. A fusion menu comprises favourites, including a nourishing Buddha Bowl (brown rice, rajma masala, salsa and salad), a hearty range of soups, fruit smoothies, masala chai and a wholesome lunch thali. There is also live music on select evenings. Rs 450 approx (for two). At Gokulam Main Road. Details: 9901433784
Organic chocolates from Earth Loaf make a great gift. Run by Angelika Anangnostou and David Belo, from London, they make gourmet, single-origin dark chocolate bars, raw cacao infusions, ladoos, truffles, and more. Pick up their chai masala bon-bons for `90 and 72 per cent dark chocolate bars from Rs 270 (per bar). Details: earthloaf.co.in
Out of town
Mysuru-based concept travel partner, goMowgli, introduced the country’s first hop-on hop-off bus for travellers. Co-founder Karan Cariappa shares some treasures off-the-beaten-path, but close to Mysuru (30-45 minutes away), for nature buffs and curious travellers:
Gommatagiri: A picturesque drive will bring you to an old Jain temple and the 58-foot statue of Bahubali (Gommateshwara). It stands on a hillock and the view is outstanding. You can also enjoy an evening picnic by the backwaters of the Krishnaraja Sagar dam.
Kunti Betta: Perfect for rock-climbing and hiking, a one-and-a-half hour climb to the top will give you views of sugarcane and paddy fields, with a lake running through. Discover history and mythology in the weirdly-shaped boulders, popularly referred to as French Rocks.
Tonnur Kere: A little beyond Kunti Betta is Thonnur temple tank. Climb down the stairs to enjoy a swim, or walk down the trail to reach the sandy shore of the lake, which hosts the Tri Thonnur triathlon every August. Ask the locals about best places to swim, as the lake is quite deep in parts. From Rs 2,000. Details: gomowgli.com]
What to buy
Between photographing the beautifully-lit palace and watching the world pass by at the Dufferin Clock Tower, squeeze in some time for shopping.
● Pick up Mysore pak at the iconic Guru Sweets, a hole-in-the-wall shop in Devaraja Market credited with inventing the ghee-laden, fudgy yellow sweet. Details: 0821 2443495
● Cotton yoga mats and embroidered mat bags are a great buy, too. Pick them up at Vastra – The Yoga Store, in Gokulam. Organic mats from Rs 3,000. Details: 09844421574
● Get great deals on Mysore silks and sandalwood oil at Cauvery Emporium. Factory outlets (like KSIC’s), will get you great prices, too. Details: 09743048244
● Pick up Channapatna dolls at Ramsons Handicrafts.
From Rs 200. Details: 0821 2424911
Where to stay
La Villa Guest House:
Run by French couple, Patrick and Magoo, the beautifully-restored bungalow with its well-manicured garden is situated in the historic quarter of Mysuru. With eclectic Indian décor, its daily breakfast—freshly-baked breads, seasonal fruits and hot beverages—is a trump card. La Villa is currently closed and reopens on June 1. `5,199 onwards (single occupancy). Lashmipuram.
Shanthi Nilayam: Located in the heart of the yoga district, this heritage home dates back to the time of the East Indian Company. Now owned by Englishman (and host), Mark Flint, a yoga teacher, the guest rooms echo a hippy vibe. If you enjoy your privacy, you can also opt for its independent cottages. `2,500 onwards (including breakfast). At VV Mohalla, Gokulam Road.
Zostel: Located on the foothills of Chamundi, its affable staff and prompt service make this hip backpackers’ hostel chain quite popular with travellers. This one is known for its collection of traditional Indian musical instruments, which the guests can play, and the ‘fastest internet in the city’.
`499 onwards (for dormitories). At Shalivahana Road, Nazarbad. Details: zostel.com/zostel/Mysore
Gitanjali Farm Stay: An eco-sustainable haven, its well-furnished guest rooms overlook organic gardens. Run by the Achaiahs, they are renowned for their authentic Kodava food. They also organise experiences like cookery classes and performances by Dollu Kunitha artistes (on prior request). `4,875 onwards (including breakfast). At Siddarthanagar.