Royal treatment in Mysore, India
With its manageable size and comparatively low levels of pollution, Mysore in Karnataka is a more relaxing destination after bustling Bangalore. Mysore is a worldwide yoga hub, being the birthplace of the late Pattabhi Jois, the founder of modern ashtanga yoga. His grandson Sharath Jois, the most advanced ashtangi in the world, now runs the yoga school following the traditional methods. But it’s not all about yoga. The city has plenty to see and do, with an impressive palace, huge university, two lakes, a zoo, a sand museum, beautiful gardens and temples, plenty of shopping and a maze of traditional village-like streets.
A comfortable bed
The opulent Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel (www.lalithamahalpalace.in; 0091 821 252 6100) was built in the 1930s for guests of the Maharaja of Mysore at the time and sits amid landscaped gardens affording spectacular views of Chamundi Hill. The hotel has a pool, tennis courts, billiards room and health club and offers numerous dining and conference options, including a restaurant in the magnificent ballroom. Rooms from 4,050 rupees to 40,220 rupees (Dh238 to Dh2,370) per night. The more centrally located 4-star Royal Orchid Metropole Hotel (www.royalorchidhotels.com; 0091 821 425 5566) was also built by the maharaja. Full of old-world charm, this luxury heritage hotel offers three standards of accommodation and a beautiful outdoor restaurant and glitzy bar. Staff are attentive and all major sights are close by. Rooms (some with balconies) from 5,925 rupees (Dh348) per night, including breakfast.
To the north of the city centre, another former palace, the Green Hotel (www.greenhotelindia.com; 0091 821 425 5000), exudes colonial style. The individually appointed rooms have a homely charm. With beautiful gardens, where you can dine under the stars, an in-house bakery and coffee shop, a traditional crafts shop and library, this quality budget hotel has it all. It also has a host of green credentials and donates all profit to charity. Rooms range from 3,110 rupees to 7,485 rupees (Dh183 to Dh440) per night.
Find your feet
The main yoga neighbourhoods are Gokulam and Lakshmipuram, where a host of western-style cafes, restaurants and organic shops have popped up. The Kukkarahalli and Karanji lakes provide time out from the city and Brindavan Gardens and Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary are havens for nature lovers. There are many temples to explore just outside the city, as well as Bylakuppe, a Tibetan refugee settlement. Take a taxi or rickshaw or book through GoMowgli (www.gomowgli.in).
Meet the locals
The best way to experience the local culture is to get involved with one of the many Hindu festivals. The most popular ones are: Pongal, the harvest festival, in January; Maha Shivatri, the Night of Shiva, in February; Holi, the festival of colours, in March; and Diwali, the festival of lights, in November. If the city gets too intense, a two-and-a-half-hour drive will take you to Coorg, a picturesque hill station known for its rice and coffee plantations, waterfalls and jungle homestays.
Book a table
As is customary in the south of India most of the restaurants are “pure veg”, ie vegetarian, but some offer non-veg options, too. For a traditional lunchtime thali, try Hotel Dasaprakash (www.mysoredasaprakashgroup.com). Popular among locals, and set in what feels like a school canteen, it offers great north and south Indian thalis for less than 100 rupees (Dh6). Reputedly the home of the original Mysore dosa, Hotel Mylari provides an authentic Indian breakfast experience. The buttery dosas melt in your mouth and are served with a fresh and mild coconut chutney. Further afield in Vani Vilas Mohalla, the trendsetting Dhatu (www.rasadhatu.com) offers the ultimate in organic cuisine, with a stylish decor and friendly staff. Try the spinach paneer pakora or the sprouted moong dal curry.
Devaraja Market is a must, as much for the experience as for the shopping. Fruits, vegetables, incense, perfume oils, coloured powders, kitchenware, arts and crafts all provide a fantastic assault on the senses, but the flower market is a particular gem. The Cauvery Emporium (www.cauverycrafts.com) is the only government-run arts and crafts outlet, selling everything from jewellery and incense to handicrafts and silks. The quality is guaranteed and the fixed prices mean there’s no need to haggle. A second branch is housed within the palace complex, but beware of impostors who claim to be licensed.
What to avoid
As always in India, don’t drink the tap water and beware of being cheated or overcharged, especially by rickshaw drivers and touts. Monsoon season is from June to September when you can expect at least one downpour a day.
Mysore Palace (www.mysorepalace.gov.in) has magnificent architecture and Sunday evenings make for the perfect romantic setting as the palace is lit up by nearly 100,000 lights from 7pm to 7.45pm.
To the south-east lies the sacred Chamundi Hill, providing panoramic views of the city. The Chamundeshwari temple at the top is worth a visit, as is the friendly swami who lives in a cave halfway up the hill behind a huge granite statue of Nandi, Lord Shiva’s bull. A taxi or rickshaw will drive you to the top, or keen hikers can take the 1,008 steps. The less energetic can be dropped at the Nandi statue and walk the remaining 200 steps.
Published: December 11, 2014 04:00 AM