Travel Memoirs – Mysore Tales

Long back, when I was 10 or so, I’d been to Mysore. Back then, the palace struck me as something out of a fairy tale. But then, as I grew and began to make peace with the fact that fairy tales are just that- tales, castles and palaces seemed to have lost the splendour they once held in my heart. But all that was about to change on my recent trip to Mysore. I was once again the starry eyed kid I was when I had my first glimpse of the Mysore Palace.

A trip to Mysore began to take shape when one of my friends had this crazy idea of wanting to view (take part in, rather) the Dussehra procession in Mysore. For my non-Indian friends, Dussehra is a ten day festivity, which culminates, as always, in good vanquishing evil. So on the tenth day, there are festivities everywhere in India. In my opinion, the most notable of those are perhaps the Durga Pooja celebration in Kolkata, and the Vijayadashami celebration in Mysore.

We made our way to Mysore in style. We had planned an elaborate four day trip and it began with the essential visit to the Chamundi Hills. All these places seem refreshingly different than when they did when you were a child. As a child, only the statue of Mahishasura was etched in my mind. But this time, that took backseat. The scenic beauty, the hills, the lights of Mysore from atop – these took precedence. We wanted to test our fitness levels, and decided to climb the 1008 steps down the hill to the base. And boy, were we in for a shock! Who said climbing down is easier than climbing up? They certainly didn’t try climbing down these steps. Trekking up and down hills can be daunting. No denying that. But climbing down 1008 steps in the dark can be equally so! Maybe even more if you do that without a break! Newton’s First Law certainly held true that day. Even after we reached down, our legs continued to be in the action of climbing downhill! Phew.. It took the better part of that night and the next day till our legs agreed to listen to us! Before climbing downhill, we found this little niche tucked high up in the hills from where the entire city of Mysore was visible. Talk about tranquility- this was certainly one of the most tranquil moments of my life. Just sitting there, sipping on water and watching the sun set and the lights of Dussehra rise was enough to calm the most restless of minds!

After the Chamundi Hills, next up was the Dussehra Fair. It was your quintessential Indian fair. Mela would be the right word! The Dussehra Mela! Bright, colourful, loud, and crowded! Rides of all types, food of all tastes, people from all over the country, and from outside the country as well – there was nothing you could not find. I think a picture or two would do a better justification to give you an idea of the mela, than my words.

Mysore is not just famous for its palaces. The Mysore Masal Dosa is a must have over here (a dosa is type of Indian pancake). So, naturally, the next thing on our itinerary was to have the Mysore Masal Dosa. Now, there are various dosa joints over there that claim to serve the perfect Mysore Masal Dosa. But the place you have to head for is the Vinayaka Mylari. The best ever dosas. And one of the best things of the entire trip, I must concede!! The dosas just melt in your mouth. The eatery as such is tucked away in a very small neighbourhood. Can be quite a challenge to locate it. No fancy signs or ambiences-they let the dosas do the talking. The wall of the eat-out is filled with awards the place has won over the recent years. The dosa, with a dollop of butter and an amazing chutney – heavenly! I am usually a fan of the crisp dosas. I did have my doubts when the dosa looked more like a fluffy pancake than a dosa. But one bite, and my doubts were erased, without a trace! The next time you head out to Mysore, please please visit this amazing dosa joint! You’ll not regret it. I promise!

Next stop, Srirangapatna. This is a 20km ride from Mysore. A regular tourist spot. The fort, Tipu Sultan’s tomb, and the famous Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple over there. Of all the places in Srirangapatna, I enjoyed the fort the most. There is just something about forts that draws me to them! Nothing much to brag about this part of the trip. No trip to Mysore will be complete without getting a Mysore Silk Saree. After Srirangapatna, that’s where we went. Saree shopping!

Then it was time for the real reason we had planned this trip-the Dussehra procession. We were just in time to catch the procession. All kinds of floats, elephants adorned in bright trinkets, and an amazing number of people! I was happy to watch from a distance. My friend on the other hand went all the way to the front of the crowd with the intention of taking pictures, but she had to suffice with a few pics of the elephants alone. The crowd was huugge! No way of recording those moments unless you were willing to sacrifice on the safety of your camera, and no.. we weren’t gonna do that! The procession made its way to the Mysore Palace.

And the palace was even more majestic than it was under daylight! The entire palace was lit up spectacularly. You would just not know where to look at, with the inherent fear that while looking this way, you are missing something happening the other way..! Words and pictures will not do justice to the original thing in itself.. But let me tell you this- I was once again the little girl who was staring starry eyed at the palace, hoping, rather than believing, that fairy tales do exist!

Up next – River Rafting!! Now, I’ve been wanting to river raft for a long long time. And my wish got fulfilled when we headed out to Dubare! The place is located in Coorg. It has got this stretch of the Kaveri River which is famous for rafting. The water was real deep. Like deep deep. At some stretches, it was 30 ft. The bottom was not at all visible. But then, isn’t that how rivers are supposed to be? So yes, I got to raft and I also got to put my recently acquired swimming skills to test. Not bad at all. I swim pretty decently for a beginner. Yayy me! So after some two hours of rafting and swimming, we headed back. One let down was that there were no showers this month. So the waters were not as ferocious as they normally are at this time of the year. But then, that doesn’t take away the awesomeness that river rafting actually is!! It seems a few more kilometers away, there is an elephant camp where you can go on rides. But we were already exhausted! We had to forgo that one.

Rafting on the Kaveri!
Rafting on the Kaveri!

And ya, before the rafting, we visited a Tibetan monastery named Bylakuppe. A different world altogether. Monks dressed in their maroons and oranges seemed to be everywhere. Kids no more than 5 years of age could also be seen amidst them, dressed in their traditional wear. The temple in itself was different from any place I’ve visited so far. Perhaps that might be due to the fact that this was my first visit to a Monastery. The walls were adorned with beautiful murals, each depicting some story/legend pertaining to Buddhist traditions. And the accompanying music was a treat to the ears. Close your eyes, and you will be transported to the silent valleys of Tibet! A wonderful place to meditate, but not with the tourist crowd around. The young monks were almost celebrities, with tourist taking pictures of them, and they shyly avoiding the spotlight, but not so successfully.. 😉

All the while, the weather in and around the places that we went was pleasantly sunny. It was a welcome respite from the scorching sun of Chennai. The toughest part of the trip was getting back home from Mysore! And boy, what a challenge that was! We were confident that we will be able to find bus/train tickets to come back to Chennai easily. But no! We completely forgot that Dussehra is the busiest time of the year in Mysore! No buses, no trains-nothing! Zilch! Zero! We seemed to have exhausted all the options we had in our mind. There was only one thing left to do if we wanted to get back into working mode for the Monday. And so, we did just that. Got into a bus from Mysore to Bangalore hoping we’ll get one to Chennai from there. But that too was snatched away! The next and the only option left was to head to Hosur, and take a bus home from there! So Bangalore to Hosur and then from Hosur to Chennai. After 14 hours of travel, I was fast asleep on my bed, dreaming of rivers and palaces and sandalwood!!

Summarizing, I’d definitely recommend you to visit Mysore. And Dussehra will be the best time if you want to experience the city in all its pomp and splendour. There are a large number of hotels, serviced apartments, resorts you can choose from to make your stay  comfortable. One thing you will have to ensure is that you make reservations well ahead of the festival rush in order to get the best ones available. We had booked up a serviced apartment by the name Vishranth Serviced Apartments in Mysore, through StayZilla. As to visiting Coorg, make sure you head out over there when the monsoons have set in. And travelling in and around the city is also very easy. You have taxis for rent, autorickshaws, you can even rent a car and drive by yourself, there are the local buses, and if you feel like it, you can also try the tongas! Then of course, there is the option of riding your bikes and getting to experience the scenic beauty of the Western Ghats, hands on!

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