In downtown Mysore, a slice of history

Travel Destinations Mysore Cities
The Mysore Palace seen through the canopy of a tonga.

By Prasad N P

“Even a small city in India has more history and culture than history textbooks,” goes an old saying. And if there isn’t one, allow me to apply for a patent for it!

Most of us take the historic buildings, palaces and temples around us for granted and look at them only when our foreign friends remark upon their beauty.

Recently, as I was returning from Bandipur wildlife sanctuary, my friend dropped me off at the city bus stand in Mysore, from where I had a bus for Hyderabad at 7:15 pm. I had about three hours to see the city of Mysore. I kept my enormous bag at the bus company’s office and spent the next few hours falling in love with Mysore all over again. I had been to Mysore earlier with the missus and the kids while returning from Coorg but this time I was going to walk around. It’s the best way to discover a city.

Outside the bus stand I admired the smart hats of the Mysore policemen and shooed away auto-wallahs trying to take me for a ride. Looking around I spotted the old St Bartholomew’s Church, built in the 1830s, smiling behind tall palm trees. As I was struggling to take its pictures from a good angle, I spotted the Wesley Cathedral and Hall just across the street.

It was here that an aroma stronger than the smell of a hundred fishes assailed my nostrils. I turned around to see a man frying malnourished fish in what appeared to be oil on the last leg of its culinary journey before it was assigned to lubricate the engines of the waiting autos. But the fish must have been tasty, as the small cart was surrounded by hungry fish-eaters. Being a vegetarian by choice, I passed up the chance and continued towards the clock tower, which seemed to be inviting me. But there were more historic delights on that small road than you might imagine.

As I turned towards Sangam Talkies I spotted a beautiful pink building on a small lane to the left; it appeared as if somebody had picked it up and transferred it from Jaipur. It turned out to be the Sri M L Vardhamanaiah Jain Boarding home and Shri 1008 Parshvanath Digambar Jain Temple (note the aiah-fication of Vardhaman. Welcome to Karnataka). I crossed Sangam Talkies and was admiring the beautiful ivory-white Kakisha Mosque when I saw another slice of Royal Rajasthan in Royal Mysore in the lane behind the theatre – the colourful Sri Sumanthinath Shwetambar Jain Temple. As I clicked pictures, the keeper of the shop in front of the temple invited me inside so that I could get a better angle of the temple, which was over 80 years old. Who would have imagined that in a lane strewn with garbage and surrounded by hardware and sanitaryware stores, you would find such a divine and colourful place?

I continued towards the clock tower and turned left towards the Mysore Palace. The road, like any Indian bazaar, was abuzz with activity: people were eating, talking, getting tattooed… At a roadside tattoo parlour Che Guevara competed with a Playboy bunny to get under your skin.

Before reaching the palace I stopped to look at the imposing Mysore Town Hall, built in 1884. Across it stood a once-beautiful building, which must have been the home of some prominent person, as it is situated so close to the Royal Palace at the corner of Sri Harsha Road. It is a now home for retired pushcarts and movie posters.

I walked to the Jaya Vijaya gate of the palace and started taking pictures. I was soon surrounded by Tongawallahs offering me a ride but I kept walking, moving on towards the Devaraja Wholesale Market to see the old Dufferin Clock Tower in what is the finest example of a town square in India.

All this was so captivating that I forgot I had a bus to catch; but thanks to a mobile phone alarm I was reminded and began to walk back to the bus stand. My entire walk was just about 2.6 km, but it covered a slice of history that was not gathering dust in some history textbook but was alive and kicking.

I want to explore more of it on my next trip to Mysore. What about you?

Prasad N P is a corporate executive most of the week. He pretends to be a photographer and writer at his blog desitraveler to fuel his twin passions of photography and travel

People and professions in Old Hyderabad