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The cultural treasures of India extend far beyond its Golden Triangle. While Delhi, Agra and Jaipur are all extraordinary, the southern city of Mysore is a lesser-known, and less crowded, gem. The destination delights visitors with stunning palaces, vibrant markets, ancient temples and world-renowned yoga schools.
The usual gateway to Mysore — locally referred to as Mysuru — is Bangalore, India’s tech hub and the capital of the state of Karnataka. From there, clients can reach Mysore by express train, private driver or direct state-run or semi-luxury buses. Mysore also has a small regional airport with flights to and from Bangalore, as well as Chennai, Hyderabad and Goa.
Mysore was formerly the capital of the Wadiyar dynasty (also known as Wodeyar), which was led by a royal family who ruled Mysore for nearly six centuries. Patrons of the arts, the Wadiyars embellished their capital with a myriad of extravagant buildings, including Mysore Palace, the city’s star attraction.
Rebuilt over the centuries, the current palace was designed by British architect Henry Irwin and completed in 1912. India’s most-visited site after the Taj Mahal, the sprawling Indo-Saracenic (an architectural style) complex unfolds in a series of sumptuous rooms adorned with ornate ceilings, gilded pillars and detailed wall murals. The interior of the palace is not to be missed; however, the exterior is equally dazzling thanks to its popular evening illuminations. From Thursday to Saturday, a sound and light show with English audio is projected on the building. But the real scene-stealer is on Sunday nights when the palace’s 97,000 exterior electric bulbs are switched on.
The Wadiyars commissioned six other major palaces in Mysore. Of those open to the public, Jaganmohan Palace is well worth visiting.
Constructed in the 1860s, it plays host to an art museum displaying royal portraits, historic paintings and rare musical instruments.
Although one can take in Mysore’s regal feel while driving around the city, nothing beats the views from atop Chamundi Hill. In addition to providing a soaring panoramic view over the city and its surroundings, the 3,500-foot hill is home to Sri Chamundeshwari Temple, a famed Hindu temple. It also features a 16-foot-high statue of Nandi (Shiva’s sacred bull) that was carved out of solid granite in the 17th century.
What’s more, no trip to India would be complete without doing some shopping, and one shouldn’t leave Mysore without some of its famous silk and sandalwood. These can be obtained at a fair price (without bargaining) at the government-run KSIC Silk Factory & Showroom and the Sandalwood Oil Factory.
For a taste of local cuisine, book a table at Tiger Trail. One of Mysore’s top restaurants, it’s found in the enchanting courtyard of Royal Orchid Metropole. Originally built to house the Wadiyar family’s special British guests, the five-star hotel is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. With attractive colonial decor, 30 spacious rooms with private balconies and a lovely pool, it’s an excellent base for exploring.
People also come the world over to study Ashtanga yoga in Mysore. A number of schools offer teacher training courses, such as Ashtanga Yoga Mysore; for those only in town for a few days, Three Sisters and Yoga Bharata have drop-in classes. In addition, on the outskirts of Mysore is Avadhoota Datta Peetham, the serene ashram and religious institution of spiritual leader Swamiji, which is open to spiritually minded visitors.
As of press time, the U.S. State Department’s Do Not Travel global health advisory is in effect for India due to the COVID-19 pandemic.