10 Awesome things to do in Mysore city!

 

Mysore is a city in South India that is famous for a number of things. Although for Indians, Mysore is known for being royal, it is also known for four things to tourists: silk, incense, yoga, and Ayurveda. It is also famous for its tree-lined avenues and the fragrance of fresh jasmine in the air.

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Mysore sandal soap is one of the best ones out there and you also have to try some of the delicious Mysore Pak. This Indian sweet is usually made out of clarified butter (ghee) but you can also find some vegan versions (which are usually cheaper!) that are made with vegetable fat (dalda) instead. So let’s jump into our list and discover some of the most fun things to do in Mysuru!

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1. Leaf meal at Anima Madhva Bhavan

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This is an amazing place for you to try out a traditional South Indian leaf meal. It is located at 12th Cross Rd, Gokulam 2nd Stage, Vani Vilas Mohalla, Mysuru, Karnataka. It is traditionally eaten sitting on the floor and this is how food is usually served at weddings and other family ceremonies. They have floor seating and low tables in the inside rooms and chairs and tables outside. There is only one item on the menu and that's the unlimited thali and it’s possibly the best one in Mysore. The food is not too oily and not too spicy and overall the taste is great. They will serve you each dish one by one and you can start digging in once the rice lands on your leaf. Remember to sprinkle some water on your leaf and clean it with your hand first. It would be a disaster to try and eat this meal with a spoon so give it a go with your hand. If that doesn’t work you can always ask for a spoon. Everything on the menu is vegan except the Buttermilk (majjige). The meal cost 130 rupees on weekdays and 180 rupees on weekends. You get a holige (a sweet roti made with jaggery) as well as part of the special meals on weekends. They won’t be able to tell you the names of all the dishes as they are quite busy serving everyone and it's a traditional sort of restaurant. Don’t take this as a sign of rudeness.

2. See the Mysore Palace fully lit

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The Mysore Palace is one of the icons of Mysore. It was constructed by a British architect for the Maharaja of Mysore after the previous wooden palace burnt down in 1896. It is the ancestral home of the Wodeyar dynasty and it was constructed in the Indo-Saracenic style which is a combination of Hindu, Mughal, Rajput and Gothic styles. You can visit the palace during the day for an entry fee of 70 rupees (this was revised in 2019) and it is the same for both locals and foreign tourists alike. Once you enter, you will have to drop off your shoes at the shoe drop of counters and continue the walk barefoot. You will need to pay 2 rupees per pair of footwear for this service. This has been done to protect the delicate mosaic tiles that the palace is floored with. The palace itself is beautiful on the inside and the tour itself can be completed in less than half an hour.

You’ll have to come back in the evening on Sunday to watch the palace illuminated. The lights come on at 7pm and are turned off at 7.45pm. There is also a sound and light show that happens on all weekdays. It’s really a sight to behold!

3. Walk at Kukkarahalli lake

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Kukkarahalli lake is one of the most peaceful places in the city of Mysore. It has a walking track which is 4.5km long and it is a great place to come just to relax and have an evening stroll. It is open from 6am to 9am in the morning and from 4pm to 7pm in the evening. You can take some really beautiful photographs here and it is one of the best places in Mysore to go for a run.

This lake is home to more than 180 species of birds, some of them aquatic. During the migratory season the lake plays host to a variety of winged visitors, some from as far as Siberia. The birds found in the lake are Spot-billed Pelicans, Little Cormorant, Painted Storks, Open-billed Storks, Eurasian Spoonbills, Black-crowned Night Herons and Oriental Darters.

4. Visit for the Dasara celebration - see the elephant procession

If you are in Mysore during the end of September/ early October, then you are in for a treat. The whole city is abuzz with activity and the whole place is lit up for the Dasara festival which goes on for a whole 10 days! You can find a lot more information on the Mysore Dasara website. The Hindu festival of Dasara, Navratri and Vijayadashami celebrates the victory of good over evil. It was the day in the Hindu legends when Goddess Chamundeshwari (Durga) killed the demon Mahishasura. Mahishasura is the demon whose slaying by the Goddess gave the city the name Mysore. The Mysuru tradition celebrates the warriors and the state fighting for the good during this festival, ritually worshipping and displaying the state sword, weapons, elephants, horses along with Hindu Devi goddess in her warrior form (predominantly) as well as the Vishnu avatar Rama. The Dasara festival in Mysore completed 400th anniversary in the year 2010, while evidence suggests the festivities were observed in Karnataka state by the Vijayanagara Empire kings in the 15th century.

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What I would like to focus more on is the role of elephants in the Dasara celebrations and whether it makes sense to continue old traditions just for traditions sake. We are all for elephants to be left free and wild in the forests and I’m sure that no one in their right mind thinks that elephants (or any other animal for that matter) likes being tied up and kept in captivity. These giant friends of the forest don’t exist for our entertainment and they sure as hell don’t willingly want to be marched out in front of thousands of spectators far away from the peace and quiet of the forest. Anyway, on that note, let me tell you some more about these elephants - where they come from and how they end up being part of the Dasara celebrations.

Elephants are an integral part of the Mysore Dasara Festival. The elephants form the core of the Mysore Dasara procession on the Vijayadashami day. The lead elephant carries the Golden Howdah (Chinnada Ambari) with the Goddess Chamundeshwari in it. The Golden Howdah weighs 750 Kilograms in weight and is purely made of gold.

The Elephants start arriving to Mysore city in groups. They arrive to Mysore a month or so before the start of the actual festivities and they undergo practice for their march on the final day. The elephants are accompanied by their respective keepers or Mahouts. The elephants are usually brought in trucks and are occasionally walked the 70-km distance from their home base in the Nagarahole National Park to Mysore. Villagers greet the sacred animals all along their designated trekking route. The villagers perform folk dances, and beat drums and sing songs to welcome the elephants. This in keeping with the royal tradition of the Mysore Maharajas.

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While in their respective camps the elephants are served 'Ragi mudde', a mixture of ragi and horse gram and fodder branches. But when they are royal guests in the royal city of Mysore preparing for Dasara, they are served with ‘royal’ food till the grand Dasara finale - Jamboo Savari. The elephants get to eat uddina bele (black gram), green gram, wheat, boiled rice, onion and vegetables in the mornings and evenings. They get rice, groundnut, coconut, jaggery and sugarcane with some salt to add taste to the diet after they return from their regular rehearsals. This food is served twice a day. They also get branch fodder like banyan leaves. Extra care is taken while serving food to the jumbos. High-calorie and protein-rich food is served to the elephants to improve their physical fitness. They carry a lot of weight at the procession and for that, they need strength. Hence they are fed with rich food. The food served in the morning is laced with pure butter for flavour. Besides nutritious food, vitamin doses are also injected so as to balance the diet. An elephant eats 400 kilograms of fodder in a day in the forests. The food served to them in Mysore contains high calories and is more than what they eat in the jungles.

5. Try Mysore style yoga

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There are many great yoga schools in Mysore. The ones that we have experienced are Bharat Yoga for daily yoga classes. Prathima is an excellent teacher and she will make sure that you get into the yoga postures without hurting yourself. Mysore style yoga is known for the personal attention given to each student and it will help you improve rapidly. The other place that we’ve heard good things about is InteYoga for its affordable yoga teacher training courses. The walk in classes with Prathima ma’am cost 2000 rupees for 5 x 1.5 hour long classes and yoga TTC at InteYoga costs less than 400$ (prices are from 2019)

6. Enjoy cozy cafes and find organic products in Gokulam

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Gokulam is the hip part of town where all the yoga schools are. This is also where you can get a fully-furnished room on rent on a monthly basis. We pay about 16,000 rupees (226$) for a room for two and it’s very comfortable.

The top 5 eateries and cafes we enjoy in this part of Mysore are -

  1. Tina’s Cafe (open 12.30pm - 3pm and 6.30pm - 10pm) - for awesome homemade North Indian food

  2. Fruit Music Cafe (open 11am - 11pm) - enjoy fresh fruit juices while listening to live music

  3. Depth N Green (9am - 9pm) - for a really good coffee, vegan cakes and energizing smoothies

  4. Govinda’s Yogi Cafe (open 8am - 9pm) - very nice herbal teas, you have to try the chocolate ball

  5. Santosha cafe (open 7am - 3pm) - for really nice unlimited masala chai

Hasiru organics and Dhatu organics are the best places for finding organic products, fruits and vegetables in Gokulam. Hasiru organics has a wide range of books on yoga and spirituality. They also both have a cafe attached to the store. You can also find organic produce at Cocoa Vault and Natures Nectar.

7. Devaraja market in the evening

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No trip to mysore can be complete without a visit to Devaraja market which is right in the heart of the city. This bustling market place is where you will find all the fruits you can ever eat! It’s a raw vegan’s paradise! You can find fruits, vegetables and greens of every type and they are all brought in fresh from the farms in the surrounding areas. This is a wholesale market and this is where you will find the best prices in Mysore. There is also a flower market and as you can imagine, it smells heavenly. Remember to pick up some of the special puliogare powder from here. You can add this spicy blend to freshly cooked rice to turn it into delicious tamarind rice. It is a very common breakfast all over Karnataka!

8. Sandalwood oil and Chocolate

You can find many lovely sandalwood incense sticks at the Devaraja market and you can see first hand how they make it. The sandalwood tree is very precious and extensive felling of these trees has meant that the government now carefully protects them.

Another interesting place to visit is the Government Sandalwood Oil Factory was established almost a century ago in 1917 to harvest the oil to be used for a variety of purposes, most importantly the state’s signature and iconic sandalwood soap. It is a 5km ride from the center of town. Call ahead and check if the factory is open. The set up is largely industrial with boilers, condensers, vats and store rooms though the air is heavy with the scent of sandalwood. A guide usually explains and takes visitors through the process of powdering the wood, then the laborious process of boiling, distilling, condensing and extracting the oil. A store on the premises offers a variety of products made with the oil including soaps, incense sticks, cosmetics and perfumes.

Another really amazing factory to visit is the Naviluna (also known as Earthloaf) chocolate factory which is also just outside of Mysore city. They have the most divine chocolate in all of India and it is a great place to get to know where your premium chocolate comes from.

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9. Chamundi Hills

Getting to Chamundi hills is very easy. As far as I remember, route 201 goes from the city bus stand to Chamundi hills and you will need to take the same bus to get back. The 1062 m Chamundi Hills and the temple on top dedicated to Goddess Chamundeshwari is an integral part of Mysore’s identity. On the hill there is a fierce and gaudily coloured statue of Mahishasura, the demon who, as per the legend, ruled over the area and harassed humans and divine inhabitants, and was killed by Chamundeshwari. Half way up the hill is a 16ft monolithic statue of Nandi, which is believed to have been carved in 1659. The temple itself was built by the Wadiyar kings in 17thcentury as a tribute to the patron deity of the royal household; it was renovated and added on to, by many others. The gopura, in classical South Indian style, houses the Goddess who is usually dressed in colourful robes and around whom centres the famous Mysore Dasara. Outside the temple, it is fun to wander through the market stalls. It’s also a good place to relax with friends and enjoy a nice view of the city.

10. Explore the city - street food and lots of greenery

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The street food of Mysore is definitely worth a mention. My favourite street foods in Mysore are Nippat masala chaat, Pani puri, Pineapple masala chaat, a crispy masala dosa, samosa, Jelabi and Holige. Let me explain -

In India, “chaat” is a word that describes more than just a set of snacks: It’s a way of life, and a category of food that hits practically every element that makes something craveable—sweet, sour, tangy, spicy, and crunchy. Chaat can be enjoyed anytime. It’s light enough to be eaten for breakfast or as an afternoon snack, but satisfying enough to take the place of lunch or dinner. There are tons of different types, and proper methods of eating each. But at its core, any chaat dish is just a combination of a five essential components, each of which contributes to creating an addictive mash-up of flavors and textures:

  1. The Base: This is usually a carb, be it a samosa, a papdi (fried flour cracker), or puffed rice—but it’s often crispy. This is the base upon which all other flavors will be piled on. Sometimes the base will be neutral (puffed rice, papdi), or it will already be spiced (samosa)—either way, more seasonings will be added.

2. The Sauces: Cilantro-mint chutney and tamarind chutney are the two most common sauces in chaat, as they lend spicy and tangy/sweet elements, respectively. Plain yogurt (you can ask them not to add this to yours if you are vegan) also joins the party, to add a cooling, refreshing note. If you are making chaat at home you can also buy vegan yoghurt from Bangalore based brand GoodMylk.

3. The Crunch: Besides the base (which often gets soft when loaded up with chutneys), chaat dishes will have other crunchy ingredients like thin sev—little spicy bits of fried potato—or masala chana—fried, spiced chickpeas.

4. The Vegetables: Diced onions, tomatoes, and potatoes figure heavily in chaat. The potatoes are usually simply boiled, and the tomatoes and onions are raw—these are meant to add texture.

5. The Umami: Almost all chaat includes a sprinkling of chaat masala, a ubiquitous Indian spice blend that adds a jolt of umami to any dish.

You will also find vegetable masala chaat - a sweet and spicy Indian salad. It’s a delicious mix of grated carrot, chopped onion, tomato, cucumber, beetroot, baby corn and often sprouts and pineapple. All mixed with the goodness of peanuts, coriander, lime, spices and jaggery-tamarind chutney. Don’t miss out on that mouthwatering healthy vegan street food snack!

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Holige is an iconic sweet of the region and it's something that you must try. Bele holige is prepared using wheat flour, chana dal coconut and jaggery. It is cooked with oil but served with additional ghee. For all Vegans: ask to omit the ghee! Try out Basava Shree restaurant for great holige and Malika Veg near Mahatma Gandhi circle for the best Gobi Manchurian in town.

Walk around on the streets of Mysore and try all the street food vendors that look like they know what they are doing. You’ll find the best masala dosa outside The Mansion Hostel in the morning and there is an amazing chaat guy who stands at the same spot in the evenings. Trying the local food is the best way to get to know a place. Don’t be afraid of the roadside vendors. The food here is just as fresh or even fresher than the food served in restaurants. I hope you enjoyed this compilation! Please feel free to leave feedback and additional points in the comments!

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Getting here

Mysore is super easy to get to from Banagalore with several trains plying everyday - almost one an hour. Check for trains on the ixigo website or the ‘Where’s my train’ app. You can buy tickets as soon as you exit the metro station that leads you to the railway station. It is usually between 30 and 75 rupees for a ticket. You could also get here by KSRTC bus from the Mysore satellite bus station. There is also a direct bus from Mysore to Bangalore Airport and Mysore has it’s own domestic airport as well.

About the author

Lakshman handles planning and operations at BeAnimal. A free-spirit and dreamer since birth, he is on a mission to revolutionise the way we humans live with the natural environment. With experience in the natural sciences and a degree in Architectural technology and construction planning from VIA University, Denmark, he is well prepared to design a new wave of sustainable buildings for the world. He is interested in permaculture, sustainable technology, design, riding his road bike and almost everything in between. You'll find him out in nature enjoying the bliss.