A journey through southern India
Southern India is a world like no other, and in a way, it’s completely different to other parts of India, particularly Northern India. India is a growing destination for visitors, lured by the thoughts of a more exotic destination, and intrigued, as I was of its growing importance in the world economy. Not content to just visit locations that we adored, and knew more about, it was time to get outside of our comfort zone and explore a country that isn’t known for being beautiful on the surface.
I commenced my Indian adventure by first taking a luxury train in southern India. This trip was incredible and opened up my eyes to so much history that I knew nothing about. At the same time, it kind of eased me into the Indian surroundings in a more sanitised way, leaving me open to much greater contrasts later in the trip.
Over time, I’m going to take you exploring with me as we first visited so many wonderful locations in the south. Later, and as far away from the luxury train as one could imagine, we’ll take you on more of the personal journey that Stirling and I ventured on, in the north of India. Writing all of this in pieces will allow me to continue to sort through the mess of thoughts and opinions that I have in my head about India.
Our train journey saw us travel mostly within the state of Karnataka, a region bordered by Goa in the west, Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the south, Andhra Pradesh in the east and Maharastra in the north. Ask a few spontaneous questions of anyone about the parts of India they will know and the answer usually results in a couple of common names. The Taj Mahal (although you’d be surprised how many people don’t actually know that this icon is in India and they certainly won’t know which city) or the Golden Circle (a combination of cities Delhi, Agra and Jaipur). At a pinch, some bright spark who knows a little more about India than I did, might also pull out Bengaluru, the capital of the state of Karnataka. That’s usually about where it ends. So, it was refreshing to be able to get to know the eighth largest state in India a little more.
I felt slightly more knowledgeable when I realised that Bengaluru was formerly known as Bangalore. It was good to see my years of watching test cricket had provided something worthwhile. Bengaluru is known as a mini-Silicon Valley, starting to rival its namesake in the US with the number of business start-ups and universities, particularly those favouring entrepreneurial activities and IT. Heavy public funding of education, particularly in the IT area saw this city flourish, with many universities opened and large global companies making Bengaluru their base. With a population of over 12 million, creating learning opportunities for jobs that don’t require physical space was a clever move.
The state of Karnataka is diverse in its geography and its history. Dating back thousands of years, the area has seen countless battles and changes of imperial ownership and name changes. There’s also something else you will see plenty of. Temples, forts and palaces. Having adored palaces all over Europe, I was quite surprised to see so many here. A different type of structure, and clearly a different set of circumstances for building them, but beautiful nonetheless. Karnataka is also home to some of the most incredible ruins I’ve ever seen and various other World Heritage sights.
Mysore Palace – Southern India
We got to Mysore Palace relatively early but the place was still heaving with people. It’s something you very quickly adjust to seeing in India, even if you might not ever truly like it. That being said, the instances of crowds in the south of India are far less than in the north. Inside the palace, however, the large crowds make it difficult to move around freely and I felt as though we were constantly being moved along too quickly, leaving behind the opportunity to observe some of the beautiful rooms and inclusions more thoroughly.
As is the case in many of the important buildings and monuments, it was necessary to remove our shoes before entering the palace. Temporary footwear, akin to something you might put on your head in preparation for an operation is available to protect your feet as you walk around.
The large, bright yellow Mysore Palace, also known as Amba Vilas Palace is one of seven in the city of Mysore. The building site has seen more change than most, with the original palace built in the 14th century for the Wadiyar Dynasty. This family ruled the Kingdom of Mysore from the 14th century until 1950. The wooden palace was destroyed by fire in the late 19th century and centuries earlier lightning had struck it. Today’s version was designed by a British architect and completed in 1912. The final ruler of the kingdom made further extensions in 1940.
It is surprising in many ways that the palace still exists, having been collateral in one of the many ongoing fights for supremacy in the kingdom between the Wadiyars and Tipu Sultan. Even the name Wadiyar changed from its original spelling of Wodeyar.
The palace is spectacular on the outside, with its many arches, colour and the sheer size of it all. The ornate yellow gates that greet you are fancy enough to feel as though they are part of the palace itself. Inside, however, it is the halls and the rooms that will take your breath away. All are different in their look but alike in the level of intricate detail and attention given to the various designs. Indian architecture, with such a mishmash of influences, was completely new to me. If you are the same, then a visit to Mysore Palace is a must for any visit to southern India.
Inside Mysore Palace
The main palace stretches for what seems like an eternity and rises three storeys high. Once a wooden palace, it is now constructed mainly from granite and pink marble. Red onion domes sit atop many of the towers.
One of the first glimpses into this extravagant past is the marriage hall. Gold and green colours dominate, along with the gilding of the decorative carving on the columns. The huge domed ceiling sits atop this octagonal room, with stained glass windows adding to the overall beauty. If you think this is beautiful, and it is, the viewing only got better as I continued on the tour.
The Durbar Hall
The term durbar was a new one to me also, referring to a grand room, usually, a ballroom, used by the rulers of the palace to impress their guests. The Durbar Hall at the Mysore Palace was my favourite, as I would expect it to be for most visitors who set their eyes upon its opulence.
Columns, intricately carved and gilded, rest underneath equally beautiful carved archways. Perhaps the most exquisite, and certainly the feature that creates the “wow” factor is the bold turquoise colouring throughout.
Ambivalasa is the second opulent room in the palace, similar in design to the Durbar Hall, but with more gilding evident. There are also steel cages in the roof.
Ambivalasa was used for special guests and contains a shrine dedicated to Lord Ganesha, one of the most important Gods in the Hindu faith. The ceilings are stained glass and impressive chandeliers hang prominently in the centre.
The gardens that surround the place are beautiful also and worthy of spending some time wandering throughout them.
Note: It is forbidden to take photos or videos inside the palace without special permission. As a guest of the Ministry of Tourism, India, I had special permission to do so.
How to get to Mysore Palace
We arrived at Mysore Palace as part of our train trip aboard the Golden Chariot. Mysore is located approximately 140 km from Bengaluru. By car, you would need to allow approximately three hours. You don’t get anywhere quickly in India by car!
Mysore Palace Information
Whilst there are three gates that provide access to the Mysore Palace, only one is accessible by the general public. At the South Gate, visitors may line up at a ticket office to purchase tickets for inside. Like all entrance prices in India, there are prices for Indian adults, Indian children and other concessions and what they note as foreign nationals. Foreign nationals always pay at least double what the usual asking price is. But remember, this is India, and even with such a markup, entrance prices are very low.
If you choose not to have your own tour guide, you can purchase an additional audio guide. At all Indian places of interest, there are plenty of official (and not so official) tour guides willing to take you around for a very small fee. Personally, I’d had my fill of tour guides by the end of the week here. They work so hard and are generally good at what they do, but they have unfortunately learned everything by rote. This means they are unable to engage in unscripted conversation about the place of interest and actually quite dislike being interrupted as it puts them off their script. Even on occasions when we intimated that we had heard a particular piece of information previously, they would still go through the entire spiel, as leaving it out also puts them off track.
Mysore Palace is open every day except for special public holidays. In the evenings (excluding Sunday and public holidays), a light and sound show takes place, lighting up this three-storey palace in spectacular fashion.