Mysore, a city of palaces and Gods.
If you thought that Mysore starts with silk and ends with sandalwood, you’ve missed a lot of the good stuff in the middle. This is a place steeped in history, but quiet in it’s telling of it.
A place where religion is deeply embedded in the goings-on of the day, whether you notice it or not. A place where the people will happily share whatever they have with you, in exchange for a small glimpse into your life. And quite unexpectedly, a place that serves up some of the best food… from other parts of India. The Mysore I was privileged enough to see took me from imposing palaces and colourful markets to ancient temples and endearing rituals.
Just when you think you’re entering yet another crammed city centre, Mysore’s crowds part enough to give you a glimpse of the beautiful Maharaja’s Palace. Once home to Mysore’s Wodeyar kings, it is a living symbol of the opulence of India’s royal past. But aristocracy had to take a back seat. It was lunch-time and we had heard about a roof-top restaurant to the north of the palace that offered great views of Chamundi hills.
Hotel Dynasty is a standard, marble-clad-friendly-staff kind of place when you enter. But insist on the roof-top restaurant. It’s just a humble table and chair setting.
But if you’re the kind of traveller with no itinerary in place, you’ll be able to spot all the landmarks you need to visit from the panoramic view the restaurant offers of the city, including a five-storey cut out of Chiranjivi from the theatre next door. But the real surprise is the food. Authentic, delicious ‘Kerala’ seer fish curry in the heart of Mysore. And it’s from here that the surprises begin. After a hearty lunch, we headed 45 km from Mysore to Somnathpur.
This quiet village is renowned for its beautifully carved Keshava temple. And the entrance to this marvel offers another little surprise.
Perched in the arms of a giant peepal tree is a red letter box. You can send a postcard or letter anywhere in India and it will get the lovely pictorial representation of the temple stamped onto it. The real temple, a few feet away is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Built in 1268 AD by Somnatha– a high officer under the Hoysala king Narasimha III (whose full regal title running into a paragraph, is inscribed in old Kannada on a stone at the entrance), it is a stunning example of Hoysala architecture.
Built on an elevated star-shaped platform, this symmetrical stone marvel has intricate depictions of gods, goddesses, dancing girls, musicians, warriors and animals like elephants, lions and cows from the Hindu puranas. Inside, if you choose to look up at the heavens, you will be greeted by 16 unique, carved ceilings. Sadly, the idol of Lord Keshava, whom the temple is built to venerate, is missing from the sanctum.
If South India is part of your itinerary, make Mysore a definite part of the plan. It has much to offer as you’ll soon discover in this 4 part series.
How to get to Mysore
Mysore is connected with a number of trains to Bangalore. The super fast luxury train the Shatabdi Express connects Mysore to Madras. The quickest and most comfortable way to reach Mysore is via Bangalore.
The nearest airport to Mysore is Bangalore (139 km). All the domestic airlines in India operate their flights to Bangalore from all the major cities in the country. Some international airlines too have flights to Bangalore.
Mysore is 139kms to the south west of Bangalore. The state highway that connects these two cities is very well maintained. Travelling from Bangalore to Mysore by road is a pleasant experience and will take about 3hrs. The Karnataka Road Transport Corporation has excellent bus service to Mysore. There are ordinary buses, semi-luxury buses and luxury buses operated by the Government of Karnataka, every half an hour.
How to get to Somnathpur
The best way to get to Somnathpur from Mysore is by hiring a private car.
Road Route 1: Mysore –> 25km –> Bannur –> 8km –> Somnathpur
Road Route 2: Mysore –> 35km –> T.Narsipur –> 8km –> Somnathpur
In both the routes to Somnathpur, the last few km stretch is a bit bumpy, otherwise you can cover this distance in about 1 hour time.