14-15: Mysore

by - January 22, 2014

Maharaja’s Palace, Mysore

Day One: Maharaja’s Palace

With Bangalore thoroughly explored we had a lazy breakfast before making our way over to the train station for the two hour journey to nearby Mysore where we would be spending two nights.  The journey cost about £4.00 each for a comfortable seat in an air conditioned carriage with food provided – a very painless journey anyway, even without the opportunity to indulge in my new ‘Game of Thrones’ addiction.  We left at 11am and arrived just before 1pm (perfectly on time).  After grabbing a rickshaw to our hotel (a ‘Ginger’ hotel – a new chain run by Tata Group that is a bit like Travel Lodge etc), we had lunch and set out sightseeing.

Inside the palace (taken from website - no cameras)
As mentioned in the Bangalore post, Mysore is a very important place in Indian history.  It is now a relatively small town (a population of less than one million – small by Indian standards) but is a major tourist hotspot in the south.  Lonely Planet boldly states that “you haven’t seen the south of India unless you have seen Mysore”.  The main attraction is the grand Maharaja’s Palace at the centre of the city, completed by the British in 1912 to replace an old wooden version that had been destroyed by fire.  It was home to the Wodeyar family – the rulers installed by the British after the Tipu Sultan was defeated in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war.  The palace is astonishingly beautiful – supposedly the most impressive in all of India.  Unfortunately cameras were not allowed inside, but we were able to get a few good snaps of the outside.  Mysore is home to a major festival that originally was held in Hampi before the decline of that city caused it to be moved.  This festival, the Dussehra, is held in October and is a grand parade including ceremonial soldiers and elephants amongst others.  The inside of the palace was very crowded with families (being a Sunday) but was spectacular nonetheless and the whole front section was designed with the Dussehra in mind – the front of the palace is open to the elements, allowing the Wodeyar family and their guests a clear view of the proceedings.

The palace grounds
Aside from the palace itself, the old living quarters were also open to the public – allowing a look at the day to day lives of the Wodeyar family.  In much the same way as with the equivalent royal palaces back in England, you can’t walk around without feeling a slight tinge of annoyance about the supreme opportunities these families received by total fluke of birth… But that’s another story.  The palace, being a relatively new construction (just over a hundred years old) was built with a fully functional electricity system and every Sunday the building and the grounds are lit up by over 90,000 light bulbs for a brief 45 minute period (we joked that they probably turn off the electricity for the rest of the town to power the light show).  We killed an hour or so in a nearby restaurant before coming back to see the lights, which were definitely worth coming for.  Everywhere was ablaze with colour and a local band sat outside the front of the palace playing traditional music – a pretty special experience really.

Day Two: Seringapatam and Chamundi Hill

The modern battlefield from the city walls
As Mysore is a relatively small city we felt we had no real time pressure and I decided that I wanted to visit the nearby town of Srirangapatnam (anglicised to Seringapatam) – a place that, while quite small and unassuming, was very important to the histories of Britain and India.  It was here that Tipu Sultan (see previous posts) had built his main fortress to defend Mysore and the surrounding region and it was here that the British ended the fourth Anglo-Mysore war in 1799 by besieging and capturing the city.  Tipu Sultan was killed in the fighting on the walls.  This event, as well as being historically significant to British India, also has other significance.  It was here that a young Colonel Arthur Wellesley was to fight in one of his first major victories – the man who would go on to defeat Napoleon at Waterloo and become the Duke of Wellington (and later a British Prime Minister).  It was also the scene for one of the first ‘Sharpe’ novels by Bernard Cornwell – okay, not particularly important historically but interesting culturally for us Sharpe fans.
Gumbaz, Seringapatam
Murals inside Tipu’s Palace
We started by visiting the ‘Gumbaz’, the onion-domed mausoleum which contains the bodies of Tipu Sultan himself as well as his mother and father (Hyder Ali).  The grand structure is well maintained and is obviously seen as an important place to teach local children about - we were joined at the mausoleum by a big group of school children who insisted that we stand in the middle of their group photo.  From here our rickshaw driver (a man who called himself ‘Master Blaster’ and said he would drive us around for the morning for 500 rupees) drove us to the Tipu Sultan’s summer palace.  Sitting outside of the fortress walls in beautiful grounds, the palace was built to commemorate Tipu’s victory against the British in the First and Second Anglo-Mysore wars – the walls were covered with murals of flailing British soldiers and glorious Indian cavalry charges.  The British would end up having the last laugh however as after Tipu’s defeat the palace was given to Colonel Wellesley to set up his headquarters.

Tipu’s Death Place
From here we entered the walls of the fortress itself, through the main gate.  Our driver first took us to a small garden against the north wall where a plaque marks the place where Tipu Sultan’s body was found.  It was Colonel Wellesley who first decided to commemorate this location and the Archaeological Survey of India has now set up a small memorial.  Nearby were the old dungeons where several unfortunate British officers spent several years as Tipu’s prisoners – the dungeons were built into the walls and it was here that we were able to climb up and survey what was the battlefield.  The British (or actually Scottish Highlander) soldiers had to wade across a river before storming a breach in the walls made by repeated cannon bombardment.  The only difference to the site now is a modern bridge that has been built – and named the Wellesley Bridge.  We looked inside the town temple and then jumped back into “Master Blaster’s” rickshaw – a nickname that was quite well founded as he had a great music taste and we made the thirty minute journey back to Mysore listening to music ranging from Springsteen to the Spice Girls. 

Making traditional wooden pictures
As we had grown fond of our rickshaw driver we decided to double his money and get him to drive us around for the afternoon.  He returned the favour to us by showing us around some of the lesser known sights in Mysore – a traditional cigarette factory, a carpenters and a natural oils seller.  It was good to see where the local produce came from and Sergei and I bought a few souvenirs with the knowledge that the money was going to the right people – and also that the price was a lot better than we had been quoted in the touristy areas.  After spending a few hours going from shop to shop we headed up Chamundi Hill, a large hill that overlooks all of Mysore.  The rickshaw strained its way up the majority of the way, but the last part of the journey had to be made on foot to a temple.  The temple was extremely crowded, but the journey was made worth it by the beautiful views back over Mysore.

Views over Mysore

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