Cruising along from Srirangapatnam, be prepared for a steady increase in the traffic and longer waits at the signal lights. Well, the reason is you are entering the city of palaces aka the cultural capital of Karnataka aka Mysore.  Also called Mysuru now, it is located about 20 km from Srirangapatnam and is one of the cleanest cities in India.  Intrinsically associated with royalty, Mysore is all about the legacy of kings, palaces and their rich heritage. 

While Mysore has conventionally been associated with sights like the Mysore palace, the zoo, Chamundi hills and the ever famous Dasara festival, the city also offers several hidden gems that are fascinating to say the least.  Unravelling these secrets is a great way to discover the offbeat and unconventional side of Mysore. 

Soulful stone art

The first thing that you notice once you step afoot in Mysore are the ornate roundabouts that boast of detailed architecture, intricate designs and larger than life statues.  Whether it is the imposing statue of Maharaja Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar at Harding circle or that of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa at Ramakrishna nagar, these stone sculptures are sure to you leave you awe struck with their flawlessness.  And so are the stone statues at the entrance of the zoo and in the premises of Mysore university.  Well, all these are the work of the very talented Arun Yogiraj and his team of B. Basavanna Shilpi and Sons located at Chamaraja road in the city.

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Stone sculpture – Photograph: Rashmi Gopal Rao

 

A member of the fifth generation of stone sculptors whose ancestors were instrumental in building the Mysore palace, Arun has immense passion for this craft.  A visit to his stone sculpting centre is a revelation of sorts.  It is indeed heartening to note that the entire process is handmade and skill based.  Made from steatite stone that is available in mines near Hassan and HD Kote, the process includes drawing, sculpting, chiselling and polishing.  Steatite as a raw material is non porous, fire resistant and does not melt nor break even at very high temperatures. 

Apart from conducting workshops and imparting free training for interns, Arun also runs a trust where young children learn the nuances of sculpting and drawing. 

Museums galore

Mysore is home to several unusual museums that are a treasure house of unique artefacts and memorabilia.  Start your museum trail by visiting the Rail museum in the city centre.   A haven for all automobile and locomotive lovers, this one houses several vintage railway coaches, engines and traces the history and development of the railways in the southern part of India.  Established in 1979, this outdoor museum also has the Chamundi gallery which displays rare photographs of the Indian Railways through the last several decades.  The museum has many vintage pieces like the first steam engine, an Austin rail motor car and several lamps, lanterns and signalling equipment of the past.  The highlight of the museum is the heritage ‘Maharani’s saloon’ carriage built in 1899 that boasts of a full-fledged kitchen, dining car unit and an aristocratic toilet.

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Railway Museum – Photograph: Rashmi Gopal Rao

 

If you are a fan of literature, head to the R K Narayan museum in Yadavagiri.  Nestled within what was his own house, the museum was set up in 2016 when the building was saved from the brink of destruction at the hands of a real estate developer.  An ode to one of India’s best authors who wrote in English, the museum has some wonderful insights into the life and times of R K Narayan.  The displays include his clothes, awards, books, photographs and also original furniture of the house.  You can relive the entire journey of the famous television series Malgudi days which is arguably one of R K Narayan’s best works.  The museum is well organized and also has several of the authors’ famous quotes.  The sculptures museum as well as the folklore museum are yet other noteworthy museums in Mysore. 

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Devaraja Market – Photograph: Rashmi Gopal Rao

 

Local flavours: Devaraja market

If you are a fan of local markets and native flavours, head to the vibrant and bustling Devaraja market in Mysore.  A cornucopia of colours and fragrances, Devaraja market is known for its flowers, vegetables, fruits and array of articles like turmeric, vermilion, glass bangles, incense sticks, hand woven wire baskets and the like. Do not miss the famous Mysore mallige which is essentially the exclusive variety of jasmine flowers that grows in and around the region and hence has also been accorded with a GI tag.  Strung into garlands or available in bulk as buds, their heady perfume is hard to miss.  These flowers are also very popular with prospective brides who wear them as an attachment to their braids, locally called “moggina jade“.   Apart from this, the flower market is very famous for its roses, lilies, marigolds and asters.  A riot of colours this market is a treat for the senses and a perfect way to end your sojourn of Mysore before you proceed to the lush green hills of Coorg or the Scotland of India.