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Unveiling the magic of Mysore

Need to rejuvenate yourself? Take a tour of this historic city and transport yourself to its royal past. Or just visit a health resort and put that spark back in your life.

Mysore offers a myriad of options for the tourist from history and wildlife to alternative healing therapies and religion. We decided to sample a taste of everything on offer.

It was night when we arrived at the Indus Valley, a health resort set up by Dr. Talwane Krishna who has practised overseas for many years, and Dr U.K. Krishna, a post-graduate in ayurvedic sciences and a doctorate in biochemistry from Japan.

Situated on an incline, the resort offers excellent views of the surrounding countryside. The building has been constructed according to the principles of vaastu shastra, while the landscaping of the herbal garden follows the principles of Indian astrology. The idea is to offer ayurvedic rejuventation and healing in a stress-free environment.

The large gardens and hilly location ensure a quiet ambience. In fact, even cars are not allowed to sound their horns in the complex. Even television viewing is discouraged as it could lead to stress. The resort also offers outdoor programmes for companies designed to increase co-ordination and manage stress. The meals are prepared according to ayurvedic principles and are wholesome and nourishing. Dinner on the first night comprised steamed beans, peanut flour porridge, rice, vegetables and dal, washed down by herbal tea. We retired for the night to our spacious cottage-like rooms which overlooked brightly-lit palaces.

The next morning we woke up to enjoy the splendid views of the Lalita Mahal Palace from this elevated location on the hills. After a cup of tea, Shankar, our driver, manoeuvred the car up the meandering slopes of the 3,484-feet high Chamundi Hill, stopping from time to time to let us enjoy the panoramic views of the Mysore cityscape, including the race course and the palaces. After a while we reached the parking area on top of the hill, dominated by a brightly-coloured statue of a leering Mahisura or demon.

We walked along a path lined by eateries, flower shops and coconut vendors to the Chamundeshwar Temple. In its present form-shaped like a pyramid-the temple dates back to the 17th century (some locals told us a temple existed here two millennia ago; our guide informed us that the lower storeys date to the 12th century) but has been renovated from time to time but looks fairly modern. After a cup of tea, we were taken to a five-metre high granite monolith of Nandi, the bull, carved in the 17th century, decorated with garlands, wreaths and bells. On the way down, we stopped to photograph the Mysore cityscape.

Soon after our descent, we arrived at the City Palace, Amber Vilas, part-museum, part-gallery and part-residence of the maharajas of Mysore. This palace is impressively eclectic, blending Indo-Saracenic, European, south Indian and north Indian characteristics into a well-harmonised facade of domes, archways and columns.

The credit for the building in its present form goes to Henry Irvin who re-designed the palace in phases from 1897 to 1912 after the older palace building built in 1801(which in turn had replaced a 14th century property) was razed to the ground by a fire. Construction continued into the 1930s with the interior embellishments being completed in the 1940s. The palace is remarkably clean with sweepers working overtime to ensure that the property is well-maintained.

We entered the palace through a brass gate with insignia of the Mysore rulers and found ourselves in a corridor lined by canons and carriages. This led to the Gombe Thotti, a pavilion housing a wooden model of the previous city palace, marble statues and a golden elephant howdah. From there, we went to the marriage hall, a marvellous room with an exquisite stained glass ceiling, paintings by well-known Mysore artists, and cast iron pillars from Scotland. A portrait galley called the Peacock Pavilion is an offshoot of the marriage mandap. It has portraits by Travancore’s Ravi Varma, Mysore’s Nagaraju, and other reputed artists from south India. A period furniture room has chairs made from silver and crystal and dressers made of glass, along with furnishings. The trophy room has stuffed animals, many of them shot in the 1940s and 1950s from the maharaja’s hunting lodges at Bandipur, Nagarhole and Biligiri Rangaswamy.

A marble staircase leads up to the halls of audiences-the magnificent durbar hall for public audiences, and the elaborately decorated Diwan-e-Khas for private meetings with the maharaja. These hallways are rich in paintings, silver, gilt, wood carvings, marble decorations, ornate columns leading to Mughal arches, etched glass and other embellishments. The effect is stupendous.

A separate entry fee is charged to view a silver throne, chairs, palanquins, a couch, chandeliers, the maharaja’s office and historic photographs from 1930, in the remnants of the older palace that was used as the residence of the maharaja. Costumes, musical instruments and toys are displayed in the courtyard. Numerous portraits line the walls of the old residence. The rest of the palace complex is still used by the maharaja as his home.

A few minutes drive from the Amber Vilas brought us to the Jagan Mohan Palace, built in 1861. It served as the royal residence when the Amber Vilas was being constructed. The palace was converted by His Highness Sir Jaya Chama Rajendra into an art gallery in 1955. The first gallery has been decorated with porcelain, glassware and ivory artefacts. The other galleries have portraits of members of the royal family and British dignitaries. Or a floor above, you can see oil paintings and watercolours by Indian artists of the early and mid-20th century. The Rang Mahal at the topmost section has wall art, oil paintings and musical instruments.

After the palace tour, we drove to the railway station nearby which is actually a museum of railway carriages. The ticket counter is a converted 1923 rail carriage. Inside the station is a vintage steam-driven fire engine, a 1914 MG car that used to run on rails, a 1922 AD narrow gauge train, a 1920 E-class engine and a 1910 Lever Frame inspection car. The house has an 1899 AD rail saloon coach of the maharaja of Mysore and his dining car. We seemed to be the only visitors to the rail museum that day, although there were several Indian and foreign tourists at the palace.

Next on our agenda was Mysore’s famous zoological gardens, where we saw a giraffe, rhino, elephant, several primates, and a variety of birds. But the highlight of our visit was the tiger enclosure-this cage recreates the natural habitat of the tiger, and seeing the animal here is the next best thing to seeing it in the jungle! After a lunch break, we headed for St Philomena’s Church. Built in 1931, its Gothic facade and stained glass interiors are evocative of a medieval period.

The next morning we drove to the Biligiri Rangaswamy hills. These hills are named after the Biligiri Rangaswamy temple, frequented by a large number of pilgrims. Next to it are the gates of the BR Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. All of a sudden we saw an Indian bison-locally known as the gaur-crossing our path. Don’t know who was more surprised-the gaur or us! Someone in our group remarked that it was time to move on. And maybe draw up another itinerary-this time to visit the state’s wildlife sanctuaries. That seemed like a good idea. Would it make another story? Perhaps.

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