Mysore

Mysore centre is a crowded jumble presided over by the gaudy, wondrous kitsch of the Maharaja's Palace, a profusion of turquoise-pink and layered with mirrors. But for some Mysore's world renown is centred less on the palace, its silk production or sandalwood than on the person of Sri Pattabhi Jois and his Mysore-style ashtanga yoga practice . This all happens outside the chaotic centre, in the city's beautiful Brahmin suburbs, where wide boulevard-like streets are overhung with bougainvillea.

The
Maharaja's Palace
or 'City Palace' (Amba Vilas) was designed by Henry Irwin and built in 1897 after a fire burnt down the old wooden incarnation. It is in the Indo-Saracenic style in grand proportions, with domes, arches and colonnades of carved pillars and shiny marble floors. The stained glass, wall paintings, ivory inlaid doors and the ornate golden throne (now displayed during
Dasara
) are remarkable. The fabulous collection of jewels is seldom displayed. Try to visit on a Sunday night, public holiday or festival when the palace is lit up with 50,000 fairy lights.

On the ground floor, visitors are led through the 'Car Passage' with cannons and carriages to the
Gombe thotti
(Dolls' pavilion). This originally displayed dolls during
Dasara
and today houses a model of the old palace, European marble statues and the golden
howdah
(the maharaja used the battery-operated red and green bulbs on top of the canopy as stop and go signals to the
mahout
). The last is still used during
Dasara
but goddess Chamundeshwari rides on the elephant. The octagonal
Kalyana Mandap
(marriage hall), or Peacock Pavilion, south of the courtyard, has a beautiful stained glass ceiling and
excellent paintings of scenes from
Dasara
and other festivities on 26 canvas panels. Note the exquisite details, especially of No 19. The Portrait Gallery and the Period Furniture Room lead off this pavilion.

On the first floor, a marble staircase leads to the magnificent Durbar Hall, a grand colonnaded hall measuring 47 m by 13 m with lavishly framed paintings by famous Indian artists. The asbestos-lined ceiling has paintings of Vishnu incarnations. A passage takes you past the beautifully ivory-on-wood inlaid door of the Ganesh Temple, to the Amba Vilas where private audiences (
Diwan-i-Khas
) were held. This exquisitely decorated hall has three doors. The central silver door depicts Vishnu's 10 incarnations and the eight
dikpalas
(directional guardians), with Krishna figures on the reverse , all done in
repoussé
on teak and rosewood. The room sports art nouveau style, possibly Belgian stained glass, cast iron pillars from Glasgow, carved wood ceiling, chandeliers, etched glass windows and the
pietra dura
on the floors.

The jewel-encrusted Golden Throne with its ornate steps, which some like to attribute to ancient Vedic times, was originally made of figwood decorated with ivory before it was padded out with gold, silver and jewels. Others trace its history to 1336 when the Vijayanagar kings 'found' it before passing it on to the Wodeyars who continue to use it during
Dasara
.

The
Maharaja's Residence
 is a slightly underwhelming museum. The ground floor, with a courtyard, displays children's toys, musical instru
ments, costumes and several portraits. The upper floor has a small weapon collection.

A block west of the palace, housed in the smaller Jagan Mohan Palace, is the
Jaya- chamarajendra Art Gallery
(1861) which holds a priceless collection of artworks from Mysore's erstwhile rulers, including Indian miniature paintings and works by Raja Ravi Varma and Nicholas Roerich. There's also an exhibition of ceramics, stone, ivory, sandalwood, antique furniture and old musical instruments. Sadly, there are no descriptions or guidebooks and many items are randomly displayed.

North of KR Circle is the
Devaraja market
, one of India's most atmospheric: visit at noon when it's injected with fresh pickings of marigolds and jasmines. The bigger flowers are stitched onto a thread and wrapped into rolls which arrived heaped in hessian sacks stacked on the heads of farmers.

Immediately to the southeast of the town is
Chamundi Hill
, with a temple to Durga (Chamundeswari), guardian deity to the Wodeyars, celebrating her victory over the buffalo god. There are lovely views, and a giant Nandi, carved in 1659, on the road down. Walk to it along the trail from the top and be picked up by a car later or catch a return bus from the road. If you continue along the trail you will end up having to get a rickshaw back, instead of a bus.

The
Sandalwood Oil Factory
is where the oil is extracted and incense is made. The shop sells soap, incense sticks and other sandalwood items.

At the
Silk Factory
 weavers produce Mysore silk saris, often with gold
zari
work. Staff will often show you the process from thread winding to jacquard weaving, but they speak little English. The shop sells saris from Rs 3000. Good walks are possible in the Government House if the guard at the gate allows you in.

Sri Mahalingeshwara Temple
 is an 800-year-old Hoysala Temple that has been carefully restored by local villagers under the supervision of the Archaeological Survey of India. The structure is an authentic replica of the old temple: here, too, the low ceiling encourages humility by forcing the worshipper to bow before the shrine. The surrounding garden has been planted with herbs and saplings, including some rare medicinal trees, and provides a tranquil spot away from the city.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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