best things to do in mysore

What to See in Mysore [ Palaces, Temples, Bird Sanctuaries and Fountains]

You last heard that Bangalore felt like home to me, despite only having been here once before.  Well now, let me tell you about my family here and our trip to Mysore. I say family because since the moment we arrived we’ve been treated like family – although in India, I learn that rather it stems from the phrase “Guest is God” – and our friends Murali, Somesh and Suhail are taking us to the heart of South India.

We’re going on a road trip.

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And I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks and weeks, since even before I knew what was happening.  Bangalore was always going to be a great stop off for us, but I had no idea how great until we got there.

We last saw Murali, Somesh and Suhail in California some three years ago.  Life has changed significantly for all of us since then.   And, so as in San Francisco we showed them what was our Bay Area at the time, now they’re showing us their South India.

We’re starting in Mysore – its a few hours drive from Bangalore and we’re in Murali’s Dad’s car (thanks Dad!).   It’s incredibly hard to put into words how excited I am about being here and this trip we’re taking. Since I met Murali and Somesh some seven years ago, (and Somesh later in California) we’ve followed each others lives mainly through Facebook, although recently through WhatsApp – so I feel as though while the time might have passed quickly, I’ve still been in touch and keeping up.

There is however, a lot to catch up on.  Murali and Suhail’s daughters are growing quickly and the exciting news that we learned from Somesh when we were sitting at the beach in Mammalapuram was that he is to be married.  And I’m just as excited that that we will return to Bangalore for the marriage ceremony in May.

And so we head off, reunited and thrilled to be here.

We’re staying overnight in Mysore and have a late dinner when we arrive, it’s a not so early start tomorrow, but it will be a long day.  The drive to Mysore has passed quickly, because we’re literally chattering all the time. When we stop, Somesh and Murali continue most often in Kanada, the language of Karnataka.

Arriving in Mysore

Mysore is named after Mahisuru – a place where the demon Mahishasura was killed by the goddess Chamundi, but its royal history began in 1399, when the Wodeyar dynasty, which was to last until 1947, was founded.

We’re starting with a morning trip to the Chamundi Hills, just 13 kilometers outside of Mysore.

Chamundeshwari Temple

The Chamundeshwari Temple is found on the top and was named after Chamundeshwari the fierce form of Shakti, a deity held in reverence for centuries by Mysore Maharajas.

We’re greeted by a huge statue of the demon, Mahishasura as we park the car.

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We’ve seen more than our fair share of temples in our visit to India so far, but even when you don’t go inside, having someone to explain – and more importantly, – answer your dumb western visitor questions is just superb.

Learning About Ganesh

Here is where we learn about Ganesh, my favorite Indian god. He’s easy to recognize with his elephant head.   There are any  number of stories about how Ganesh got his elephants head, but here we go.

Ganesh was born the son of Shiva and Parvati, born and growing up while Shiva was away.  One day, Parvati was at home and wished to take a bath.  She told Ganesh to guard the door and let no one in.  Shiva picked this time to return home (after years away) and found this small boy advising him he couldn’t enter his own home.   In a fury (and cutting a long story short), Shiva severed Ganesh’s head from his body.

Parvati wasn’t happy.    Shiva, now learning the truth send his men out to find a new head for Ganesh.  Unable to find the head of a small boy, they returned with the head of an elephant, which Shiva placed onto Ganesh’s body and breathed new life into him.   He also granted him the status of being foremost among the gods, hence Ganesh is worshipped first of the Gods in Hindu.

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After taking a quick look at the temple, the opening of which is marked with a seven story Gopura seems to glow, we start back down the hill towards the Nandi Bull statue. Each of the Hindu gods has a vehicle, and Nandi is the vehicle of Shiva.

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This statue of Nandi is carved from a single piece of stone, is 15 feet high and 24 feet long, Murali shares photos of his first visit here, when he was a small child.  We stop for a view down to Mysore and then head back to the town.

Mysore Palace

This is, to me, the most beautiful of India’s royal buildings.  My great sadness is that photos of the interior are not allowed, you should get some measure of it’s beauty from the exterior shots.   It dates from 1912 (the previous building was lost to fire in 1897).    Mysore Palace is what I expected the Hermitage in St Petersburg to be like.  And it still, for me, overshadows the Hermitage.  Easily.

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It is easy to imagine the lavish lifestyle that the maharajahs of old might have live here.

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The attention to detail throughout this magnificent palace is incredible – from the building design that allows air to flow through, to the doors where mother of pearl is exquisitely inlaid to the most solid of teak surrounds.

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Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary

It’s hard to leave Mysore, but we are on a mission – we have a limited time with the guys, (there are jobs and families waiting for them back in Bangalore), so we head off to the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. 

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The price for westerners is ridiculously expensive, but they won’t hear of us paying – we’re starting to understand “guest is god” and we’re struggling with it mightily, especially as its decided that we’ll be taking the boat trip as well.

It’s a bird spotters delight and the photo opportunities are endless.   Its just necessary to stand still for a few minutes and watch.  We find painted stork, white ibis and a bunch of other birds I can’t name and one gloriously colored kingfisher.

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Take the boat trip!

If you come here and don’t go on the boat trip then you’re seriously missing out    It doesn’t take long (and you just pay on entrance, then line up for the next available boat).  There are mandatory life jackets, which should enable you to float for long enough for the crocs to get you.

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And yes, there are crocs.  And no this photo wasn’t zoomed in.  And yes, it was taken on an iPhone.  And yes the girl sat in front of me did actually leap from one side of the boat to the other.  Thankfully the rest of us held on and her rocking the boat didn’t provide humanoid food for the crocs.

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Balmuri Falls

We headed off next to the Balmuri Falls – and were warned by Somesh that there might be trash here, so we’re aware ahead of time.   At it turns out it was fine.    I think our baptism of fire in Ernakulam in our first week in India and then Kanyakumari put us in the right frame of mind, there wasn’t much trash at al – the water was pretty darned clean!

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What I love about this trip is that I’m seeing places that the regular Indian would go to visit.  I don’t recall if Balmuri is mentioned in the Lonely Planet guidebook, but if it is it didn’t make to the list, so we get the locals view on life.

Krishnaraj Sagar Dam

Our penultimate port of call is the Krishnaraja Sagar Dam (or KRS), where we find some evidence of the Brits involved.

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The dam was opened in 1932 when the Kaveri river was dammed.   This is the main source of drinking water for Mysore and Bangalore – plus it supplies a large amount of water to the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu too.  When it was created it it was the largest reservoir in Asia.

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The chief engineer on the project was a very famous Indian, Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, who was born in 1860 and died aged 101 in 1962.    He was knighted by George V for his contributions to the public good and September 15th each year (his birthday) is celebrated as Engineer’s Day in India.    It’s his flood protection system that protects Hyderbad.

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Brindavan Gardens

Our final stop of the trip is Brindavan Gardens – nestled in the lee of the dam, the layout of these gardens was started in 1927 and completed in 1932 – this little place that you’ve probably not heard of receives more than 2 million visitors each year!

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It’s famous for fountains and also for the sound and light show – we’d hoped to get here in time for this the previous night, but we’re here now.

A short saunter around the gardens, lots of obligatory selfies and then we head over for the sound and light show.

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We walk, although the option is there to take a short boat ride, it hardly seems worth it and it only takes a few minutes to walk over and join the throngs.

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And so it was homeward bound.   It won’t be the last time we see Somesh, Suhail and Murali as we’ll be back for Somesh’s wedding in May.  It has been the best of times and the most incredible road trip.  I hope we get the chance to repay them when they visit us in the future.

If you like palaces and are in  India, then be sure to visit the Pink City of Jaipur – find our more why in our Explore Jaipur feature.

Travel Tips for Exploring India

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