Mysore is hailed as the second largest city in the southwest state of Karnataka. Located a few hours south of Bangalore, Mysuru (as it is locally called) has a lot to offer: Chamundi Hill, St. Philhomena’s Church, and the famed Mysore Palace, along with hundreds of restaurants, bakeries, and shops and much much more.
Mysore has also been a sister city to Cincinnati for the past 3 years, which was the main reason I wanted to visit. According to cincinnatisistercity.org, the “the International Sister City program, [was] created by President Eisenhower with a mission to promote mutual understanding, [and] has expanded to include a full range of exchanges and benefits between two cities.” After visiting Mysore, I would say that the “City of Palaces” is a fitting sister city for our dear Queen City.
A main highlight at the beginning of the trip was that we actually made it to Mysore. As we set off to find a rickshaw to take us to the bus stop, it was (fittingly) monsooning, which didn’t make things any easier. Something I didn’t really think much about until our trip was that addresses here don’t really exist. As in, our bus stop said it was located “near Gilma Showroom, Bank of India, in Gachibowli.” It is all very vague, and attempting to communicate where we were going to a rickshaw driver who didn’t really speak any English, while desperately trying to get out of the pouring rain, led to us being dropped off outside of a building which was most definitely not the Gilma Showroom, Bank of India, or bus station.
Luckily, there are some really kind people here who take pity on us clueless Americans, and a young couple helped point us in the right direction and hail a rickshaw. We arrived at the bus stop (a good 15 minutes from where we had been originally dropped off) with 5 minutes to spare, and climbed aboard for our 11 hour journey. The bus was pretty nice, kind of like a coach bus in the U.S. except the chairs reclined more. It did have air conditioning (praise the Lord) and we watched a very interesting movie called “Turning Thirty.” I fell asleep before it finished, but if you like middle-age-crisis rom-coms that feature lots of swearing, then this one is for you!
Early Thursday morning we arrived in Mysore, and solicited another rickshaw driver to take us to our hostel (address: near St. Philomena’s Church). It was pretty easy to find, and, though a little sketchy (there may or may not have been mold on our wall and the bathroom and shower were combined into one) it did have wifi, hot water (from 7 – 9am), and was conveniently located!
Besides knowing that we wanted to see the Palace and hike up Chamundi Hill, we really had no plans for our two days here. On a whim, we decided to try and walk back towards the center of the city, following signs along the road for Mysore Palace. After a few wrong turns, some cow sightings, and 4 miles of walking, we made it there!
Mysore Palace is the former seat of the Wodeyar maharajas. It was completed in 1912 (making it relatively new considering the other architectural works here). It is absolutely breathtaking in every way: stunning from a distance, the detail on the inside is even more amazing up close. Regretfully, photography on the inside of the palace is forbidden, but if you google “mysore palace inside,” you can see many photographs that attempt to capture its beauty.
Everything inside is painted in excruciating detail: from portraits depicting life during the Edwardian Raj era, a stained-glass dome (featuring an intricate peacock design), carved wooden doors, and mosaic tiles; it is really no wonder that this is second only to the Taj Mahal in the amount of visitors it receives per year.
After a tour inside and pictures outside, we decided to bum around the city for a bit until dusk- when the palace is illuminated by nearly 100,000 light bulbs.
The people (men, really) in Mysore were a lot more aggressive than I have experienced here in Hyderabad. People would come up to us on the street as we were power walking along “Hi where are you from?” “What country you come from?” “Hi what is your name?” While I don’t usually feel threatened by questions like this- it usually occurs when we’re in a well-populated area, and none of us go out alone- but it does get annoying after a while. My roommate and I eventually just started saying “I don’t speak English” in either German (her) or Spanish (me), and that was enough to deter them.
Despite a variety of brief encounters, we managed to explore the marketplace that stretches in front of the palace, sampling grilled street corn (10/10 -recommend) and smelling incense along the way.
St. Philomena’s Church, located next door to our hostel, was absolutely beautiful. Built in 1936 in the Neo Gothic style, it was a unique example of a blending of the cultures. Marigold garlands decorated the entrance (which is customary in Hindu temples) and the inside had beautiful portraits of the Stations of the Cross, rimmed in bright, LED lights.
After meandering around the church, we headed back over towards the palace for the lights! Dodging various people asking to take pictures of us, we found a place on the cement to sit and wait until nightfall, making sure we were in what I decided was prime “picture taking location,” watching the palace elephants parade by as we anxiously awaited the lights.
In my opinion, the palace was almost more breathtaking before it was fully lit: gently illuminated against the sky, which darkened from a pale blue to a deep, almost indigo color, before finally fading into black. Almost instantaneously, the palace was suddenly glowing, the nearly 100,000 bulbs burning bright.
The lights made me rather wistful for Christmas decorations, spinning in a 360 degree view of the palace and the gates, it was a radiant sight.
We basked in the glory of the palace for the full 30 minutes that it was illuminated, before heading out to catch a quick bite to eat. We also saw a Kuchipudi show that was going on right outside the gates; Bethany and I laughed over how we’re expected to dance like that in a little over a month.
The next morning, we woke up early in order to get breakfast and get to Chamundi Hill before the heat of the day was upon us. Breakfast was unremarkable, besides the “bread omelet” that one of the girls ordered. We were all picturing an omelet between two slices of bread, because that would make sense.
Instead, she received what quite literally was a bread omelet, as in two full slices of bread folded into an omelet. It could just be me, but this is one of the funniest food items I think I have ever seen.
After breakfast, we hailed a rickshaw to take us to the base of Chamundi Hill. Some fast facts on Chamundi Hill: a grueling 1000+ stair climb will lead one to the top of the hill, where the Chamundeshwari Temple (honoring the goddess Chamunda, the Hindu Goddess of War). Along the way, you’ll get beautiful glimpses of the skyline and cityscape of Mysore, spread out in the valley below. The stairs are decorated with kumkuma; as we
confidently power walked slowly trudged to the summit, we saw people pausing on each stair to wipe a streak of the brightly colored powder on the lip of each stair.
Once at the top, after catching our breath, we wandered around the temple, eventually finding some steps where we sat and appreciated the countryside around us, and the cool breeze!
The way down from the temple was possibly more difficult than the way up. The steps, which were carved over 300 years ago, are not exactly what you would call “even” or “uniform,” but we luckily made it down with minimal issues!
We caught a rickshaw ride back to the palace (as a central point in the city, it was easier than trying to explain where our hostel was) and treated ourselves to some well-deserved ice cream, then wandered around the city for about an hour or so, before realizing that we really had no plan, and it was getting hot and we had already walked 6.5 miles that day. We decided to head back to the hostel for a brief siesta before embarking on our evening activities, which mostly consisted of finding out where the bus station was, so we would be able to make it to Coorg, a “hill station” a few hours from Mysore, where we had reservations in a hotel for the following night.
After many wrong turns and much searching, we eventually located the bus station, and decided to take the 5 am bus to Coorg, so we’d arrive bright and early in order to make the most out of our brief “vacation within a vacation.” Plans firmly in place, we headed back over to the palace, hoping to catch the lights for a second evening in a row. Unfortunately, for some reason, they were not illuminating the palace this (Friday) evening. However, we still enjoyed a lovely dinner, which cumulated in the discovery that “kajoo” means “cashew” i.e. the kajoo masala we ordered was actually “cashew masala,” forever my favorite Indian dish, which was quite a pleasant surprise.
A few wrong turns later (but hey, at least we found the sari district of Mysore) we were back in our hostel, ready for bed so we could be bright eyed and bushy tailed for our 4am wake up call!