A new wave of experiential travel in Mysore: Sunaina Sharma Manerkar, General Manager, Grand Mercure Mysore
For those leaning away from one-size-fits-all tourism, Mysore is a remarkable destination for experiential traveling writes Sunaina Sharma Manerkar.
The past shines on through the colourful alleys, bustling markets, and abandoned buildings of Mysore. Once an indomitable kingdom whose territory stretched through Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the reminders of what–and who–Mysore was can still be experienced in the splendid architecture of its temples and palaces, the treasured pieces of its art galleries, and the delectable mix of ingredients of its cuisine.
Every hotel in Mysore infuses the rich culture and history of Mysore into every chandelier, every painting, and in miniscule details of its architecture and décor. For centuries, the face of Mysore has been that of the Wodeyar dynasty, who instilled progressive policies and a dedication to infrastructure, art and institutions. One of the most notable rulers was the twenty-fourth maharaja of Mysore, Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, a philosopher-king who envisioned his kingdom as a balance of tradition and modernity. He campaigned for women’s education at a time when it was considered ridiculous, and was responsible for Mysore becoming the first region in India where women were allowed to vote. The kingdom under him was considered a ‘Rama Rajya’, a reign comparable to that of Lord Rama.
Mysore wakes up early. Mornings here often break with the hypnotic sound of brooms swishing through the streets, and the aroma of fresh coffee wafting from hole-in-the-wall stalls where makers pour it into tumblers from overhead heights. As you meander through the lanes of the old town, you will discover its pulsating daily life– the laughter and shrieks of children in the midst of a game of street cricket; old women who gather on stoops to drink their evening tea and catch up on gossip; the clanging bells of temples while devotees push through to offer handfuls of flowers and coconut to seek the Lord’s blessings.
Mysore remains one of the few renowned places where you can witness genuine culture and tradition, and not just a show for tourism’s sake. The booming tourism industry of recent years and the rise of social media influencers point out that travellers today have a greater idea of where they were, they want to travel, and how. For those leaning away from one-size-fits-all tourism, Mysore is a remarkable destination for experiential traveling.
Annual tourism numbers is currently below 1.5 million, yet even with the expanding tourism industry, Mysore still enables visitors to connect with its essence. Additionally, it is frequently cited as one of the cleanest cities in India, and a well-planned one too. In recent years, Bangalore’s IT industry has been spilling over to Mysore, and in between the traditional buildings you may see the gleam of glassy software offices. But the locals still retain the friendly helpful demeanour of Mysore’s small-town days when no one was a stranger, and this makes it a safe region to explore in the day.
With everything Mysore offers, there is much to be learned. History may be written in books, but it is also engraved in Mysore’s architecture. The exquisite Mysore palace is illuminated every Sunday evening from the light of over 97,000 bulbs, and is understandably on the bucket list of travellers everywhere. Yet, even in throng-infested sites like the Mysore Palace, there are secrets to discover. The jostling crowds are usually concentrated in and around the palace entrances. Along the palace grounds, there are century-old temples that are relatively less visited. Unknown to most visitors, underneath the palace cellar there are secrets tunnels leading to confidential areas, used by royalty in times of war and emergency. Beyond the sights of Mysore city, there are architectural splendours in the island town of Srirangapatna, located approximately 15 kilometres away. Learn about the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ by visiting the palace and gardens of Daria Daulat, the intricately carved mausoleum called the Gumbaz, and the mighty Srirangapatna Fort. Even further away in the town of Somanathapura lies gems like the Chennakesava Temple. The first sight of its grandeur and symmetry can be overwhelming–horizontal bands of intricate artwork are stacked over each other, depicting scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagavata Purana.
There are numerous ways to understand and embrace cultures, but sampling local food is debatably the best way. Coffee lovers arriving in Mysore will not be disappointed–the mountain areas around Mysore, like Chikmagalur, are home to hundreds of coffee plantations. And although every local establishments in Mysore may swear that they serve the best masala dosa in town (while their customers nod their heads in agreement with their mouths stuffed), you must be the judge. After all, each restaurant serves their own signature batter and masalas.
For an adventure that merges both local food and culture, stroll through the colour and chaos of the century-old Devaraja market, located less than 3 kilometres away from our hotel.
Whether it is recognizing and savouring every exotic flavour in the food, or learning how glorious Mysore silk sarees are made, or transformational experiences like studying the ancient art form of jewellery making, or cooking with a local family–the plethora of options and paths available in Mysore allow you to create a personal experience, instead of choosing tourist paths that are trodden to death.
Inspired by the stories and ideals of the Wodeyars, hotels like Grand Mercure Mysore strives to provide modern facilities but without forgetting the genteel face of tradition. Staying true to the spirit of Mysore, the hotel’s décor has been carefully selected to blend heritage and contemporary designs, allowing you to have the best of both worlds. Grand Mercure Mysore invests itself in the little details, marrying vibrant colours and historical patterns with contemporary interiors. The resort even features a viewing gallery on the sixth floor that overlooks the world-famous Dasara processional pathway, so that visitors can enjoy the splendid October festivities from above. Grand Mercure Mysore passionately invests itself in all these little details to bring stories to life.
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