A magical morning in Coorg had just begun.
I longed to stay back for a few days. To walk in these fragrant forests, to explore the nearby Irrukku falls, to wander in the coffee estates. Or just soak in the sights of the hills from the window of a quaint homestay, tucked ahead of any hairpin bend.
But while long road trips offer the beauty of abundance, there is always an impending time crunch!
The truth is that the joy of road trips lies in the journey and not the destination.
Half and hour and many winding curves later, the plains welcomed me and so did acres of Banana plantations. The hangover of the hills wasn’t even over yet, when the hallucinations of a piping hot Mysore Masala dosa set in.
The distance from Madikeri to Mysore is 118 Km and the road condition is excellent.
With just about half a day in Mysore, the target was to reach Bangalore by night.
Having just six hours in the City of Palaces is criminal. But in this mad race against time, the quiet, slow paced city washed itself on me.
It revealed its magnificence yet simplicity, it’s opulence yet heartwarming humility. The first thing that instantly attracts you to Mysore is the stark cleanliness and the immaculate city planning.
Vintage buildings with a colonial style of architecture and horse carriages make you travel back to the British Raj era. Glistening marble statues of Wodeyar Kings stand ceremoniously under ornate arches at various circles in the city.
I pass the bustle of the Devraja market with flower vendors and fruit sellers, as the city wakes up to filter coffee and idlis.
Here are some of my ‘Mysore experiences’ during my six hours in this royal city:
1. A visit to the Government Silk Factory:
The Amba Vilas palace or the Maharaja’s palace opens at 11 AM, so I head straight to the Government Silk factory which opens at 9 am.
If you wish to learn how silk is made from a cocoon to fabric, the factory offers a tour of the entire process. After seeing the silk weaving in Varanasi and Kanchi, this was a completely different experience.
The scale of production is massive and you can actually see how silk is woven into threads, how mechanized looms weave white and golden dhotis and how silk saris are died with machines.
On the left you can see red saris being dyed by machines. On the right, contrast dying of saris by personnel.
Most of the processes are automated and the personnel are too glad to show you around.
Hundreds of employees work in tandem as one hall leads to another, the process clearly decentralized.
Note: Cameras have to be deposited outside, but most personnel allowed me to click inside with my iPhone.
2. Government Sandalwood oil Factory:
Remember the vintage soap packed in a rectangular paper box with neat calligraphy and a floral design? Mysore sandal soap brings back many fragrant memories of Grandma stacking the soap and it was ‘special’ because we never could lay our hands on it.
Less than 2 kms away from the Government Silk factory is the Government Sandalwood Oil Factory.
This factory was set up by King Krishnaraja Wodeyar himself, who wanted Mysore to be on the world map with regards to the production of Sandalwood oil.The Mysore Sandal soap factory is in Bangalore and this one is mainly for the extraction and distillation of oil from sandalwood trees.
Enter the factory and you are immediately greeted with the fragrance of sandalwood and extremely vigilant personnel. All bags, phones, cameras need to be deposited at the entrance and a guide shows you around the factory.
Our guide proudly states that this is the only soap in the world made with 100 % pure sandalwood oil as he leads us through a hall of sandalwood logs.
The inner part of the wood is used and outer part is auctioned for funerals and temple use.
As I pass huge cauldrons and boilers, each process and stage is explained: right from the selection of mature sandalwood to the cutting, chipping, disintegrating wood, powdering, distilling the precious oil, filtering and re-filtering it until it has been purified to be used.
I am thrilled to finally see what goes into those circular brown soaps I have seen right since childhood.
The beautiful rows of sandalwood trees facing the factory complex only adds to this must-do experience.
Note: Make sure you buy souvenirs from the shop outside the factory. It has everything from soaps, to talcs to incense sticks. They also have India’s most expensive soap, Mysore Millennium, produced to celebrate 100 years of Mysore Sandal Soap and priced at Rs.750.
3. Chamundi Hills and Chamundeshwari temple:
For stunning views of the city and a scenic winding drive, Chamundi hills is a must do when in Mysore.
A short 20 minutes drive from the main city, the hills are the abode of Goddess Chamundeshwari ( the family goddess / Kul devi of the kings).
Various forms of the Goddess can be found painted on the ceilings of the Amba vilas Palace.
The temple is one of the Shakti -peeths (divine abodes of Goddess Durga).
It is a clear day and I can see the entire city spread out from the top with the palaces clearly visible.
The tranquility of the place cannot be put into words.
4. Lalitha Mahal palace :
Very near the Chamundi Hills and on the outskirts of the city, is the magnificent Lalitha Mahal Palace. White domes of the palace can be spotted at a distance. The architecture is colonial and the interiors are astoundingly regal.
The palace was built for the exclusive stay of then Viceroy in 1921 and is now a heritage hotel. The corridors, windows, archways, staircases are all replicas of various palaces in Britain.
The use of decorative stained glass in one of the ballrooms which is now a restaurant.
If you aren’t a hotel guest, you can still enter the palace for dining at their restaurant: Sapphire.
A meal at Sapphire is an absolute must- do in Mysore ( I can go ranting about this place!)
The ball room, dressed in blue with tall glass ceilings and painted windows is fit for royalty.
To dine in such a palatial ambience, with a spread of homely, very simple Mysore thali is pure bliss.
Served elegantly, the thali consists of south Indian delicacies and costs Rs. 485 per person. The entry fee of Rs. 100 is wavered from your food bill.
Once in, you can visit the palace which is built as a replica of St. Paul’s cathedral.
Note: As photography is restricted at the main palace, this makes for a great photo -op for architecture lovers.
5. Amba Vilas Palace:
One of the highlights of this city, the Maharaja’s palace is an architectural feat.
I crossed it so many times in the day and finally enter it post lunch, reliving the scenes of the Mysore Dusshera showed on TV.
Dressed elegantly in yellow and grey, this massive complex needs 2 whole hours to explore.
Cameras need to be deposited and no photography is allowed inside. You can click the exteriors but if one is found photographing the interiors, cells are confiscated and much to the horror of many, photo galleries are deleted.
The interiors are regal with spiral metal staircases, exemplary floral tile work on the walls and eye catching floorings. I walk from one hall to another in complete awe of the majestic colorful pillars painted in green, pink, maroon and golden hues.
The ceilings are intricately painted, mostly depicting the various forms of Chamundeshwari. The most magnificent is the Public Darbar with symmetrical corridors and huge glass chandeliers. The palace has a central courtyard with huge windows painted in grey and blue. Opulence surely is an under statement. The outers were heavily photographed!
Of dainty windows and corridors!
As I exit the gates, a queue of horse carriages stand all dainty under the trees.
Bangalore is calling and I quickly pick up a box of the famed Mysore Pak and bid goodbye to this organized city with a vow to come back again.
There are so many things I have to come back for. Not just in Mysore, but around it. The temples of Somnathpura and Srirangpatna, the Ranganathittu Bird sanctuary, the view of the lit up Vrindavan Gardens and the Shivanasamudra falls.
But for now, I relish the melt in the mouth Mysore Pak, cooked in Pure Desi Ghee keeping my eyes wide open to spot Tiffany’s in Maddur.
Maddur wada in Tiffany’s :
Enroute Bangalore, I take a 5 minutes halt at Maddur to have the famous Maddur Wada at Tiffany’s on the highway.
Served with coconut chutney, these are flat vadas with onions, deep fried (but not served hot). Unlike Medhu Wadai these are hard and taste very similar to Onion Pakodas!
Wooden toys of Channapatnam:
Remember the colorful vibrant wooden horses and kitchen sets that every Indian kid flaunted? The excited kid in me entered the many shops in Channapatnam, traveling back to the ‘Lakdi ki Kaati’ days. Painted wooden dolls wobbled on the shelves and merry go rounds danced on their axis.
Again, right on the Mysore-Bangalore highway, Channapatnam is a tiny town, known for the production of wooden toys supplied all over India.
Some of these wooden beauties were bought as gifts, some were bought for self (for nostalgia’s sake!)
Another tiring yet absolutely beautiful day came to an end as Bangalore welcomed me with raindrops and insane traffic.
The box of Mysore Pak was now almost over and my stomach and soul satiated. Mysore, you sure have been an excellent host!