Glorious legacy

Print edition : October 10, 2008

An aerial view of the Chamundi Hills near Mysore.-M.A. SRIRAM

Mysore offers the tourist much more than a heritage tour of palaces and historical buildings.

MYSORE, known for its magnificent palaces, majestic buildings, sprawling gardens and tree-lined boulevards, is one of the few cities in India that have managed to retain an old-world charm. The second largest city of Karnataka, it used to be the capital of the Mysore kingdom. The cultural growth of the city during the rule of the Mysore Maharajas earned it the sobriquet the cultural capital of Karnataka.

A visit to Mysore need not necessarily be a heritage tour of the palaces and historical buildings, which dot the city. The Mysore Zoo, Chamundi Hills, Brindavan Gardens, the Ranganathittu bird sanctuary, the St. Philomenas Church, Nagarhole and Bandipur forests, and Srirangapatna, the headquarters of the warrior king Tipu Sultan, are all part of the tourist circuit of Mysore.

Also known as the City of Palaces, Mysore is home to the Maharajas Palace, popularly referred to as the Mysore Palace; the Amba Vilas Palace; the Jaganmohan Palace, which has been converted into an art gallery; and the Lalitha Mahal Palace, which was transformed into a luxury hotel, run by the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), in 1974.

Built in 1911 after the old palace in the fort was burnt down in a fire towards the end of 19th century, the Mysore Palace is one of the main tourist attractions in the city. Situated in the heart of the city, the palace is regarded as one of the finest examples of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. The three-storey symmetric building of the palace with beautiful domes and an ample courtyard, designed by the English architect Henry Irwin, is a must-see in the itinerary of tourists visiting Mysore. Not surprisingly, the Mysore Palace attracts an almost equal, if not a larger, number of visitors as the Taj Mahal does.

The scion of the Mysore royal family still occupies a portion of the palace, which used to be the official residence of the Maharajas.

The Jaganmohan Palace, situated close to the Mysore Palace, was built in 1861 as another retreat for the royal family. It has been converted into the Chamarajendra Art Gallery, which houses a vast collection of paintings, sculptures and handicrafts.

The Lalitha Mahal Palace, which is situated on the eastern side of the city, was the summer palace of the Maharajas and a guest house for their European friends. Nestling at the foot of Chamundi Hills, the magnificent, white-coloured structure, built in 1921 according to the design of E.W. Fritchley, is modelled on St. Pauls Cathedral in London.

Another prime tourist destination in Mysore is the more-than-a-century-old Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, popularly known as the Mysore Zoo. It is home to a variety of birds, animals and reptiles, kept in enclosed natural surroundings. Established in 1892, the zoo is now spread across more than 100 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) beside the Karanji Lake.

At 1,150 metres, Chamundi Hills, situated towards the southeastern side of Mysore, offers a breathtaking view of the city. It has a temple of Chamundeswari, the chosen deity of the Mysore Maharajas. The Chamundeswari temple can be reached by a 13-km road or by 1,000 steps. Situated near the temple is a statue of Mahishasura, the mythological demon vanquished by Chamundeswari.

Brindavan Gardens, 19 km from Mysore, is adjacent to the Krishna Raja Sagar (KRS) reservoir, built across the Cauvery. The lush green gardens, the neatly laid-out fountains, including the musically synchronised ones, captivate visitors, particularly during the evenings when the entire garden is illuminated with different-coloured lights.

St. Philomenas Church, with its twin spires at a height of about 165 feet (50 metres), is built in the Gothic style of architecture.

Some 17 km from Mysore is the Ranganathittu bird sanctuary on the banks of the Cauvery. It consists of a group of islets that are a much sought-after abode for a variety of exotic birds from far-off places.

Srirangapatna, which was the headquarters of the Mysore kingdom for about four decades in the 18th century during the rule of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, also draws a large number of tourists. Other major attractions are the Dariya Daulat Bagh, Tipus summer palace; Gumbaz, the tomb of Tipu Sultan; Colonel Baileys dungeon; Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple and Nimishamba temple; and the Jamiya Masjid.

Somnathpur, situated around 35 km east of Mysore, is a 13th century temple in the Hoysala style of architecture. The Bandipur National Park and the Nagarhole National Park are 80 km and 75 km respectively from Mysore.

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