Mysore! Fabulous city of South India – famed for its Sandalwood, magnificent palaces and temples!
We had been looking forward to our three night stay in Mysore from the very beginning. Our trip was planned to overlap, at least in part, with the famous ten day Dasara festival. Festivities, concerts, processions – known worldwide to be a fantastic spectacle.
We stayed at Hotel Sandesh the Prince – often it seems that Indian hotels spend most of their budget on the lobby and Sandesh the Prince had a magnificent lobby. Actually, the rooms were pretty good too and by and large this was a good hotel.
Mysore is not a big city but driving into Mysore felt as if we were in Mumbai once again – traffic everywhere, inching along. Traffic circles clogged, police battling to direct the flow and millions of people. It was obvious that in the same way that we had wanted to be in the city for Dasara, so did untold others and as a result, Mysore was literally overflowing with people.
Over the next few days, we lined up with all these out-of-towners to see the famed Palace and all the other highlights. We saw very few other Western tourists – perhaps twenty at most and none other with small kids in tow.
The Palace is indeed a wonder that could have come directly out of 1001 Arabian Nights cupolas, turrets and towers, painted in bright red. Inside are arrayed treasures from the days when Mysore was a princely state ruled by a fabulously wealthy maharaja. Portraits of generations of rulers lined the interior walls and we were lucky to see the solid gold throne which is only displayed during this great festival. But the palace, along with all the other famous sites, was absolutely packed with people and there was no opportunity to linger.
We walked down Chamundi Hill and saw the great black Nandi Bull – Nandi is the vehicle of the god Shiva and is revered and worshipped. People were being blessed by priests and were praying to the huge statue. As we walked, we watched a woman draw intricate Rangoli patterns on the floor outside her front door. Rangoli is an ancient Indian art form, used for decoration at auspicious times. We watched in awe as she laboriously drew the most intricate patterns imaginable, while her little daughter looked on.
We visited the summer palace of Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in the late 1700’s who was the last Indian ruler in the South to fall to the British. Known as the Tiger of Mysore, Tipu Sultan was a fierce king who decisively defeated the British in 1780, but was defeated himself in 1799 and died in battle. Had it not been festival time the palace and the beautiful grounds would probably have been serene and quiet but being Dasara , it was, as usual, packed.
At night, we went back to the Palace to see some of the festival shows – these included the Police Band, dancing and concerts. Security was very tight to get in – everyone had to walk through metal detectors and police with lathis lined the sides. It is clear that security is an ongoing issue in India, and equally clear, massive crowds are a reason to make anyone responsible for security nervous.
The highlight for us in the evening was when the palace lights went on – these are not just ordinary lights – there are 97,000 of them, and the effect when they are turned on simultaneously is similar to fireworks!
We walked back to our hotel after the show. It was almost impossible to move in some places and we couldn’t cross the road to our hotel for over half an hour the traffic was so heavy. We never felt threatened at all but it was if a huge sporting event had just finished, over and over again.
Mysore is a wonderful city, but we would not want to visit there again with kids during Dasara. It is just overwhelmingly busy.
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