24 Hours in Mysore
Drifting ever closer to the tip of India, I make a 24-hour pitstop in historical Mysore, the old capitol city of the Mysore kingdom, famous for its magnificent maharaja palace, the kinetic Devaraja Bazaar, and its top-shelf production of sandalwood, incense, and scented oils…
Leaving behind the placid ruins of Hampi, my trail runs south to Kuruva, Kerala, where I hoped to track down a theyyam possession ritual (Gods Amongst Men). However, due to the remoteness of Kuruva, I broke up the journey in Mysore, deciding to linger for a day.
The Dravidian style temples and their gopurams (pyramidal towers) announce my arrival to the south, where the architecture is decidedly more colorful and cartoony than the austere north.
The main attraction of the city is Mysore Palace, built in 1912 by the Wodeyar Maharaja. As is the way of Indian royalty, no expense was spared (out of the poverty-stricken tax payers’ pockets) to build this hyperbolically opulent fortress of marble and stained glass. What makes Mysore Palace unique, however, is its comparatively young age, and the architectural influences it drew from both Europe and the northern Mughals.
The result is a schizophrenic wedding cake of Eastern and Western styles and motifs, easily one of the most fascinating palaces in Asia (if not the world)…
Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside, as flashing cameras can dull the natural paints used in the bizarre Hinduism-meets-Italian-Rennaisance frescoes. Stepping inside was spectacular though, bejeweled with intricate Muslim carvings and Scottish stained glass, it was like stepping into an Indian jewelry box, after eating a sheet of acid.
Elephants on parade, Mysore Palace.
After the palace, Mysore is most famous for its Devaraja Market, and the booming trade of fragrant sandalwood, incense, and scented oils.
This is Victoria, from Canada. We met on the bus from Hampi, and were both unscrupulously dumped in downtown Mysore at 5AM. After we managed to locate the YMCA in the boondocks of town (the cheapest hostel in Mysore), we spent the day wandering the city together.
At an incense and oil shop, Devaraja Market. The shop-owner, Sharadha, absolutely insisted on taking a photo of me holding a box of sandalwood oil. I obliged…
Not satisfied, he then insisted on taking another picture with Victoria.
The Devaraja Market is a barrage of sounds, scents, and rainbow colors.
Above, kum-kum for sale. It’s a colored powder made of ‘traditional vegetables and spices’ (read: factory chemicals) and used for a variety of purposes, including the application of colored bindis or tilaks on peoples foreheads…
The bindi-dot on foreheads used to hold religious significance, representing the ‘third eye’ and (somehow) helping its wearer to remember god. It has since become little more than a fashion symbol, available in a bewildering variety of colors and materials, including powders, felt, stickers, and clunky broche-like assortments of hanging beads, which I imagine are very distracting when driving.
Quite possibly the loudest woman in India (no small feat), peddling flower garlands, and shattering plaster with her voice.
Fruit vendor. He doesn’t sell apples, I checked.
Woman selling produce, Devaraja Market.
I don’t understand. I never understand.
Oh, the gender roles of India.
Mysore marks my first, legendary run-in with an authentic South Indian Thali (an all-you-can-eat gastronomic cock-tease of rice, papadam, and a variety of curries, served on a banana leaf and eaten with your hands). Per usual, I don’t know what any of it is. Per usual, it’s indescribably delicious and costs little more than a dollar.
BBB Restaurant, Mysore.
The Mysore palace was built in 1912, and is the first Indian palace to be fitted with electricity. Thus, strictly adhering to the Indian tradition of avoiding all things subtle, the exterior was fitted with over 100,000 light bulbs.
It might be a bit brash, and lightbulbs have certainly lost their novelty, but the overall effect is still spectacular…
Twice a week, the palace is illuminated for the public, and luckily, our stopover landed on one of these nights.
The palace grounds also host two ancient Chamundi temples, dating back to the 14th century. These were also befitted with lightbulbs.
Leaving behind the city bustle of Mysore, I catch a Kannur-bound bus towards Kerala, and then Tamil Nadu, cutting my way into the balmy heart of tropical, southern India…