Friday 4 September 2015

A Day in Mysore

In 2014, during my trip to the Rainforest Retreat near Madikeri, where I went as a volunteer, I decided to stop over for a day in Mysore to explore the city. I was there only for 24 hours, but tried my best to squeeze in as much of the culinary and cultural delights the city has to offer. So in case you visit Mysore, here's a rough guide you can use to get your way around. 

Sagu dosa at Vinayaka Mylari
8.30 am- Head out for some lip-smacking traditional breakfast at Vinayaka Mylari at Nazarbad road. I had sagu dosa served with coconut chutney served on banana leaf and washed it down with delicious filter coffee. Things had started on a great note. Before arriving in the city in the morning, I had got in touch with Royal MysoreWalks, a team that conducts guided heritage, food and cultural walks and tours in Mysore. 

The softest idlis from Vinayaka Mylari. 
Thaali from Dasaprakash.

9.30 am : Ananth, a very cheerful and interesting guide with the Royal Mysore Walks, enlightened me on how various important world events are connected to Mysore, and little known aspects of Mysore's history that includes the Tamil Nadu CM, Jayalalitha's grandmother being the first woman graduate in Mysore, and how upon losing a war, the British took Tipu Sultan's young sons , aged 9 and 7 as war hostages!! He had also carried vintage photos from Mysore's past. It was interesting, when at the 125 yr old market, he held up a 100 yr old photo so that we could compare the past and present.  The sight of the Free Mason's (Secret Societies) building piqued my curiosity! Also the RMW requires a minimum of 2 people for the tour in which case the fees would be Rs 600. I travelled solo and there was no one else who had booked, so I paid double.

Haalbai- a sweet made with rice flour, coconut and cardamom. 

The market, then and now. 
11.30 am – You could visit the Mysore zoo, which is one of the oldest zoos in India. Entry charges are Rs 50. Although I hate the idea of animals being kept in the zoo, I was a bit relieved to see that all the animals and birds looked healthy and had ample space to move around unlike some other zoos I’ve been to where animals look depressed and almost famished. I saw giraffes, rhinos, white tigers and a host of other animal and bird species.

Endless cups of frothing filter coffee. 

Chow chow bhath- a serving of Upma and sheera- a staple Karnataka breakfast. 

1 pm - Mysore has some lovely eateries which offer traditional Mysore food. Check my post on what to eat in Mysore. I headed to Dasaprakash for their thali. I wanted to sample the food for which the late Wodeyar Maharaja is said to have visited this restaurant sometimes. The thali comprised chapatis, rice, rasam, brinjal curry with gravy, masala rice and another non-descript vegetable. It wasn’t that remarkable but I loved the kheer/payasam was which was made with rice, coconut milk and jaggery.

The Mysore Palace from outside. Photography is not allowed inside. 
Dahi vada.

Vanilla ice cream from Brahmin's Soda factory. 
2.30 pm - Head to the famed Mysore palace and be charmed by the royalty and also escape the afternoon sun outside. It’s a sprawling palace so leisurely stroll inside the three storied structure designed by the English Architect, Henry Irwin. You’ll get to see sculpted pillars, a golden throne embedded with jewels, paintings and shrines. Photography is prohibited inside the palace premises. The palace is illuminated on Sundays, Public Holidays as well as during the Dasara Celebrations with 97,000 electric bulbs.

4 pm- if you are an art aficionado, a visit to the Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery will be worth your time. On display are original paintings of the legendary painter Raja Ravi Varma. Did you know he was the first artist to give a popular face to Indian Gods and Goddesses through his paintings? Prior to that people worshipped statues, sculptures and miniature paintings. And he also designed the sari as we know it today and the way women almost throughout the country drape the sari today is fashioned on how he draped the Goddesses and women in his paintings. The museum also displays possessions and souvenirs of the Mysore royal family such as rare musical instruments, Japanese art, and other memorabilia.

The Sarasaparilla soda
5.30 pm - For a quick refreshment head to the Brahmin Soda Factory for ice creams or fruit salads. It’s a small place which gets cramped with people seated facing each other like in a train coach. I had the ice cream and also Sarasaparilla juice which is an extract of the roots of a plant by the same name and is believed to have health benefits. It was very refreshing and more like flavored water.

The flower lane at the market.

6.00 pm - You could explore the 125 yrs old Mysore market with different lanes dedicated to different items like fruit, vegetables, flowers, etc. Nothing gives you a taste of the pulse of a place than its old markets abuzz with people, flies, aromas, colors and textures. In the corner facing the main road you’ll see Guru Sweet Mart. Ever wondered the origins of the famed sweet Mysore pak?. This is your answer. This shop was started by the descendants of Kakasura Madappa, the royal chef, who made the Mysore pak for the then king in the early 1900's. The fifth generation of the inventor of the Mysore pak still runs this shop. For a place which has such a legend attached to it the shop is ridiculously small, just 5 x 5 feet. The Mysore pak itself didn't taste great and was a let down. So please do taste before you buy 2 kilos, which I happily did assuming it would be great.

The fifth generation of the inventor of the Mysore pak. Great great grandson of Kakasura Madappa who made the Mysore pak for the then king.

The original Mysore pak shop.

And entire lane dedicated to bananas in the market. 

A special Mysore banana called nanjangud rasabale. It was buttery and melt in the mouth and delicious. I bought half a dozen for my husband too.

7 pm- Either head out for the light and sound show at the Mysore Palace which lasts for 40 minutes and narrates the history of Mysore Kingdom, the rule of Wodeyars, etc through the combination of sound and light. Or else head to the Cauvery Handicrafts Emporium, which is run by the government and has many branches across the city to take home gifts and souvenirs. I bought some lovely bookmarks made of and carved on sandalwood and some Mysore Sandal soaps and sandal scented incense sticks. You are in the sandalwood capital after all!!
Set Dosa at Hotel Siddhartha.
8.30- Head out for sumptuous dinner at Hotel Siddhartha. I ordered a set dosa which was spongy and came with coconut chutney, coriander chutney and sambar. Never the one to say ‘no’ to filter coffee, I ended my meal and my trip to Mysore with a frothing cup of steaming coffee. It was time to head to my hotel and leave for home the next day. 

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