MYSORE AREA: TEMPLES, YOGA AND PARKS WITH TIGERS AND ELEPHANTS

MYSORE

Mysore (160 kilometers southwest of Bangalore) is a university town with ice-cream-colored buildings and 1 million people whose industry and modernism haven't destroyed the city’s charms. Amidst the traffic and grey building are coconut groves, grand palaces and friendly markets. Some of the spillover from Bangalore explosive growth has spilled over into Mysore.

Situated on a hill overlooking the city is a maharajah's palace with a golden dome, flower-tree gardens, Muslim arches, onion-domed pavilions, Rajput balconies, and multicolored decorations. Imposing palaces with lapidated mirrored-and-marbled halls illuminate the night with tens of thousands of lights Local families choose this time to go out for an evening stroll. The atmosphere is pleasant and social, a bit like some Spanish and Italian cities when everyone takes to the streets for a wander around.

Officially known as Mysuru, Mysore Mysore is nestled at the foothills of the picturesque Chamundi Betta (Hill) in Karnataka. The city is a melange of the old and the new, its small-town charm well preserved in its palaces and well-laid out gardens. It also holds spirituality close to its heart that is evident from the various temples, churches and mosques here. Among the sights in Mysore are St. Philomena’s Church, Shri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery and Chamundi Hills. The city also contains a teakwood summer palace, many gardens and parks, fragrant sandalwood factories, temples with stone carvings of gods and beats, and a government silk factory. Elephants are sometimes seen walking along the tree-lined boulevards.

Popularly called the Ivory city as most of its buildings are painted in ivory color, it has excellent infrastructure and plenty of options for accommodation options ranging from the modest to the luxurious, and it offers an abundance of places of historical and natural significance. It also has a host of eateries that serve delicious South Indian fares. Shopping malls and high-end retail centers sit beside gullies selling authentic Mysore silk saris; thelas (mobile food stalls) serve hot, fresh snacks to hungry travelers, as five-star hotels prepare feasts fit for a king. The city is also home to many yoga and wellness centers that have been set up to cater to the needs of the tourists. Day trip destinations include Srirangapatna, Ranganathittoo, Brindavan Gardens and Somnathpur.

See Separate Article on SRIRANGAPATNA

Karnataka

Mysore is in Karnataka, a state between the west coast of India and the Eastern Ghats that embraces Bangalore and Mysore. Most the people in Karnataka speak Kannada, a Dravidian language with its own script. Kanarese make up two thirds of the population. Tamils are a large minority.

Karnataka state covers 191,791 square kilometers (74,051 square miles), is home to about 61.5 million people and has a population density of 320 people per square kilometer. About 39 percent of the population live in urban areas. Bangalore (Bengaluru) is the capital and largest city, with about 8.5 million people. It is a global technology center known as the Silicon Valley of India.

From 1578 to 1947 most of Karnataka was the kingdom of Mysore, ruled by a maharaja based in Mysore City. It was also part of the culture rich kingdom of Hooysalas (A.D. 1007-1336) and a polity of the Vijauanagar Empire (1336-1565). In the 18th century the Muslim adventurer Haidar Ali and his son Tipu Sultan led four wars against the British. During the Mysore war of 1780, a 3,700-man battalion led by Col. William Balliee was defeated by Haider Ali. Balliee died as a prisoner. The British got revenge in 1799, attacking the sultan's palace, killing Tipu and opening the way for the British conquest of South India. The British never ruled Mysore directly they preferred to t pressure it indirectly by propping up the Maharaja of Mysore

Karnataka is borderd by Andhra Pradesh and Telegana to the east, the Arabian Sea to the west, Maharashtra and Goa to the north and northwest, and Kerala and Tamil Nadu to the south. A land known historically for its silks, spices and sandalwood, Karnataka is known today for its wildlife, national parks, monuments and heritage sites and pilgrimage sites. The 320-kilometers-long coastline dotted with un-spoilt beaches. Important cultivated crops in the state include millet, rice, sorghum, tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, potatoes, onions, turmeric, cardamom and chilies. the primary plantation crops are coffee and coconuts and to a lesser extend tea and rubber. The famous Kannada novelist and poet U.R. Ananthamuthy was born in Mysore and died in Bangalore.

History of Mysore

For around 150 years, Mysore was the capital of Karnataka’s Wodeyar rulers (1399-1947) who started the magnificent celebration of the ten-day Dasara festival. In 2010, the event completed its 400 years. Mysore was also ruled by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan in the late 18th century during which period many battles took place with the Marathas, Nizams and British.

During the 4th Anglo-Mysore war in 1799, Tipu Sultan was killed and the kingdom was transferred to British allies. According to legend the name Mysore came from 'Mahishur', which means the home of Mahishasura. Despite modernisation, the city has not lost touch with its past and its reflections are still visible.

The descendants of the maharajah still lives in the palaces and ride through town on elephants during the Dussenhra festival. For a while tourists could join the maharajah for the dinner at the end of the festival for a fee of $250. There is a lovely view from the hill, which can reached by car or by foot by climbing 1,000 steps. About a quarter way down the steps is a 16-foot statue of the sacred Nandi bull of Shiva the Destroyer carved from one piece of solid rock in A.D. 159, painted with stripes and anointed with oil.

History of Srirangapatna

Mysore is about five kilometers away from the medieval fort and temple town of Srirangapatna. The report submitted to UNESCO says: “According to the local tradition, the great sage Gautama lived here for a while and worshipped the lord Sri Ranganatha Swamy. Even today, a small island to the west of the main island in the course of river Cauvery is called Gautama Kshetra. The local people associate this place with sage Gautama and says that here in a natural cave sage Gautama did the penance and lord Sri Ranganatha blessed him. According to another tradition the principal deity of Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple of Srirangapattana was built by one Devadasi namely Hambi. This is referred in one of the works of Timmakavi, namely Paschima Rangakshetra Mahatmam. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The history of Srirangapattana commences from the 9th Century, as revealed in the record of a Ganga chief namely, Tirumalaiah. The record is dated 894, which credits the Ganga chieftain namely Tirumalaiah, founded two temples - one dedicated to Sri Ranganatha Swamy and the other to his tutelary deity Tirumala Deva, and named the place as Srirangapura or Srirangapattana. A record of Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple states that grant was given by the Hoysala king Ballala II to the Brahmanas and created the Tiruvaranga Narayana Chaturvedi Mangala at Srirangapattana. There are references to state that Udayaditya, the brother of Vishnuvardhana, built the town in 1120. The fort at Srirangapattana was built by Hoysala Udayaditya brother of Hoysala Vishnuvardhana around 1120 C E. In all probability this could be the fact. After the fall of Talakadu, it was necessary to build strong military reinforcement to stop the recapturing of this region by the Tamil forces.

“After the fall of Hoysalas the Srirangapattana region came under the sway of the Vijayanagara Empire. The works on the history of Mysore, states that Timmanna Hebbar the descendants of Nagmangala chiefs, visited the court of Devaraya at Vijayanagara and got an order to build the fort at Srirangapattana. Then, he was designated as Danayaka and ruled the region as feudatory of the Vijayanagara Empire. The descendants of this Hebbar family of Nagamangala seems to have continued to rule the region until the Ummattur chiefs rose to power and annexed it to their territory. The Srirangapattana city along with its adjacent region was captured by the chiefs of Ummattur and they strengthened the fortresses. This might have happened during the reign of Immadi Raya of Ummattur or earlier. This is very evident in the light of Venkataramanayya’s surmise. He surmised that the sons of Immadi Raja of Ummattur appear to have divided their ancestral estate. The elder kept the family seat Ummattur with independent territory and the younger was ruling from Srirangapattana and its neighbourhood.

“Srirangapattana was attacked by Salva Narasimha Nayaka (1485-1503 A.D.) the king of Vijayanagara who defeated the Ummattur chiefs and subjugated the Srirangapattana fort. Later on the Vijayanagara king Krishnaraya also attacked this fort to subdue the rebellious chiefs of Ummattur. Krishnaraya’s attack on this region concluded between 21st January 1511 and 3rd November 1511. He also appointed a governor at Srirangapattana province. After the attack of Krishnaraya of Vijayanagara on Srirangapattana, it became the seat of the Viceroy of Vijayanagara kingdom. From then on, the fort was ruled by the viceroys of Vijayanagara kingdom up to 1610, when Raja Wodeyar took over its possession.

“In 1610 C. E., when Thirumala Raya, the Viceroy of Karnataka Empire stationed at Srirangapattana, the ruler of Mysore, namely Raja Wodeyar, invaded the fort and captured it. Some sources say that the capture of Srirangapattana by Raja Wodeyar was without military action. According to some reliable sources Raja Wodeyar had an official order Rajanirupa to occupy the vice regal seat at Srirangapattana. In 1610 Raja Wodeyar captured the vice regal seat of Vijayanagara at Srirangapattana and started his rule as a subordinate king of the Vijayanagara kingdom. An inscription of Raja Wodeyar states this fact. From then onwards, it continued as the capital of Mysore until 1799, when the English captured it. Between 1610 and 1799, Srirangapattana was busy with political activities, especially during the period of Haidar Ali and Tipu Sultan, i.e., between 1761 and 1799, it was the center of South Indian political activity.”

See Separate Article on SRIRANGAPATNA

Transportation and Shopping in Mysore

Getting There: By Air: Bengaluru International Airport is the nearest airport. Mysore also has an airport, but flights are few and far between. By Road: Good roads connect Mysore with all the major towns and cities in India. By Train: The nearest railhead is Mysore Junction which is connected with all major cities in the country.

The Bangalore-Mysore Toll Road is a two-lane dual expressway with paved shoulders. A limited access toll road, linking Bangalore and Mysore. It has a continuous barrier on both sides and passes near Bangalore where it serves as part of the city’s ring road. Also links the NH 4 (Bangalore-Pune) and NH 7 (Bangalore-Hosur). An elevated road runs from the expressway to Bangalore’s city center

Sandalwood soaps and oils, as well as incense sticks and wooden figurines also make good buys. Gold jewelry in Mysore is very intricate, and the heavier pieces featuring gods and goddesses, or some form thereof, are known as temple jewelry. Exclusive silk saris that come in a selection of colors, patters and designs, unique to the city are a major attraction here. Light in weight with a soft texture, the sheen of these saris remains the same even after multiple washes. Known as Kanjeevaram, the saris are particularly coveted for the zari work that adorns them. Zari is gold or silver thread that is used to create patterns and motifs on the saris. This thread work determines the value of the Mysore Silk saris, and pure zari (gold) saris can carry price tags of lakhs!

Sights and Activities in Mysore

Lalitha Mahal Palace (on a hillock at the foothills of the Chamundi Hills) is the second-largest palace in the city of palaces, as Mysore is fondly called. A unique amalgamation of Renaissance and English manor and Italian palazzo styles, this palatial building is mesmerising. The two-storeyed structure has a projecting porch and it is supported by double columns. The center of attraction is the dome above the entrance hall. As you enter the Guard House, as the decorative entryway is called, you are greeted with breathtakingly beautiful and and intricately carved walls and ceilings. Belgian crystal chandeliers, cut glass lamps, Persian carpets and exquisite marble floors add to the grandeur of the palace.

Built in 1931 on the design made by Mumbai (now Mumbai)-based architect EW Fritchley, the construction of Lalitha mahal palace cost Rs 13 lakh. It was made as a guest house for European visitors who arrived in the city to meet Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, the ruler of Mysore (1894-1940). Now, it is used to host special events, like vintage car rallies, and marriages and other ceremonies. Inside, the palace has large, well-appointed bedrooms, baroquely decorated halls with high ceilings and accent walls. A lawn at the back is equipped with a swimming pool and walkway. Now, Lalitha Mahal has been converted into a luxury hotel, and plays host to noted politicians and film stars.

Brindavan Gardens (near the Krishnaraja Sagar Dam, on the outskirts of Mysore) is modeled after the renowned Mughal Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir. An endless expanse of green, dotted with colorful blooms, the terraced gardens are well laid, with neatly manicured lawns, trees, shrubs, flowerbeds, water chutes, and water channels. They are spread over an area of 60 acre, and admired for their symmetrical design. The highlight for visitors, however, is the famed musical fountain. A water ballet of sorts, with lights and music, is put up every evening for visitors to enjoy. Other places of interest at Brindavan gardens include the statue of Goddess Cauvery, children's park, fishery, pyramid fountain, inverted basket fountain, hydraulic research station and several others. There is something for everyone, and the sights, sounds and fragrances of the gardens are worth experiencing when you're in Mysore. The credit for the creation of the gardens and their beautification goes to the then dewan of the princely state of Mysore, Sir Mirza Ismail. The gardens lie around 145 kilometers from Bangalore]

Sky Diving In Mysore: (from a camp at the base of Chamundi Hill) is done from helicopters. Visitors can try tandem or static jumps or choose an accelerated freefall. Tandem jumps are done with an instructor, who will accompany you on the way down and open the parachute for you, while the latter is performed alone. You are taken to a height of about 10,000 ft, and then asked to take the leap from a helicopter. Once you sign up, you have to undergo rigorous training to ensure that you are physically and mentally able to perform the jump. The training usually takes place over two days, with mock drills and other simulated scenarios conducted beforehand. It is a must-try experience when in Mysore.

Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary (just north of Mysore) is home to birds such as spot-billed pelicans, painted storks and black headed ibis. The sanctuary was created by a local maharaja in 1940 to conserve a group of small islands in the Cauvery River

Yoga in Mysuru

According to Lonely Planet: This world-famous center for yoga attracts thousands of international students each year to learn, practice or become certified in teaching Ashtanga. Indeed, the city's connection with yoga is so profound that it is linked with a practice of yoga, Mysore Style, that's recognised around the world. This style was established by K Pattabhi Jois, and its ideology is more about developing Ashtanga asanas than following an instructor's moves. There are more than 20 established yoga schools in the city.

“For the most part, students are required to be austerely committed to the art, and will need to stay at least a month. While in more recent times there’s been a growing trend for drop-in classes or week-long courses, long-term students will need to register far in advance, as courses are often booked out.

“Most foreign yoga students congregate in the upmarket residential suburb of Gokulam. Several schools offer accommodation – check Facebook groups Ashtanga Community in Mysore and Mysore Yoga Community for accommodation rentals. Yogis in India no longer need a special student visa or to register with the police.

“Yoga Centers: 1)) Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute Founded by the renowned teacher K Pattabhi Jois, who taught Madonna her yoga moves. He has since passed away and the reins have been handed over to his grandson Sharath, who is proving very popular. You need to register at least two months in advance. 2) IndeaYoga Offering hatha and Ashtanga yoga with guru Bharath Shetty (who practiced under the late BKS Iyengar) and his wife, Archana. Courses include anatomy and yoga philosophy. Drop-in classes and student accommodation are also offered. 3) “Nirvana Yoga Shala Offers a diverse program covering hatha and Asthanga, meditation and lectures. Suspension-yoga teacher training is also available. Suitable for short- and long-term students at all levels. There's accommodation (studios with kitchenettes), a sauna, a plunge pool and a cafe.

“4) Atmavikasa Center Classical hatha yoga school set up by Acharya Venkatesh and Acharye Hema offering training, therapy and workshops. Enjoys a garden setting in a peaceful suburb 5km southwest of the palace. 5) Ramesh Shetty's Yoga Shala The Ashtanga vinyasa and hatha yoga teacher training here gets good feedback; courses are linked to Yoga Alliance for accreditation. 6) Yogadarshanam Classical Indian yoga center offering classes, teacher training, workshops and retreats. The one-month foundation course covers yoga fundamentals and is perfect for beginners. Meditation classes are also offered. 7) Yoga Bharata Ashtanga vinyasa and hatha yoga classes with experienced teachers. Linked to IndeaYoga. Drop-in classes ( 300) are available.

Pattabhi Jois

Krishna Pattabhi Jois (1914-2009) has a strong association with Mysore. He was a prominent and influential yoga teacher who drew a global following that included Western celebrities like Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sting. Known to his followers simply as guruji, a term of respect for teachers, Jois (pronounced JOYCE) was based in the southern Indian city of Mysore.

Vikas Bajaj wrote in the New York Times: “Long before yoga studios sprang up in shopping centers and gyms across America and Europe, Mr. Jois began teaching yoga at the Sanskrit University of Mysore in the late 1930s, according to a biography on his Web site. He eventually opened his own school, the Ashtanga Yoga Institute, which has drawn students from around the world. [Source: Vikas Bajaj, New York Times, May 20, 2009 ^^^]

“The son of a Brahmin priest and astrologer, Mr. Jois was inculcated in ancient Hindu teachings from an early age. He was first exposed to yoga when he was 12. He learned from Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, a guru who also taught another famous Indian yogi, B.K.S. Iyengar. Mr. Jois popularized the school of yoga known as Ashtanga, which literally means eight limbs and is characterized by fast-paced exercises that involve pronounced, but controlled, breathing while holding varying postures. Unlike some other forms of yoga, Ashtanga is meant to induce profuse sweating, which Mr. Jois said was necessary to cleanse the body. ^^^

“Though he enjoyed success and international acclaim in recent decades, Mr. Jois had a difficult early life. According to his biography, he left the village of Kowshika, in Karnataka State, with two friends and 2 rupees (about 4 cents at today’s exchange rates) when he was 14. He hoped to attend the Sanskrit University in Mysore, which is about 90 miles east of Bangalore. ^^^

“In a chance encounter, he reconnected with his yoga guru, Mr. Krishnamacharya. Later he met the ruler of Mysore, who made it possible for him to teach yoga at the Sanskrit University. While there, he married Savitramma, who died in 1997. They had three children, two of whom survive him: a son Manju, who lives in Encinitas, Calif., and a daughter, Saraswati, who lived with him in Mysore. His son Ramesh was killed in an accident. He is also survived by three grandchildren, including Mr. Rangaswamy, and four great-grandchildren. ^^^

“Mr. Jois’s following in the West brought him fame and influence, but people close to him say that it did not appear to have changed him much. He never altered his early morning prayer rituals and put all of his students, including the celebrities, through the same tough regimen, Mr. Rangaswamy said. “Everybody got the same training,” he said. “There was no difference.”

Yoga Class with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore

Describing a class by the then 84-year-old Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, Rebecca Mead wrote in The New Yorker, “Jois doesn't teach in the manner of a Western aerobics class, by standing in the front of the room and yelling instructions. Instead each student shows up at an appointed time and works through the series of postures at his or her own place, while Jois, barrel-stomached in black Calvin Klein briefs and, and bare-chested except for his Brahmin stings performs what are known in the yoga business as adjustments---winching a leg into place or leaning heavily on a student's back to stretch him or her further." [Source: Rebecca Mead The New Yorker, August 14, 2000 \=/]

“All the men are stripped to the waist, the women are in spandex, and all of them are slick with sweat as they twist their bodies in unimaginable knots or deep into breathtaking backbends, seeming to hang suspended in the air they jump from one position to the next...The room is silent but for the subtle chorus of long, repetitive, nasal hisses, and occasional pigeon English command from Jois, who barks, “Nooooo! You go down!...It is a serenity born of concentration and pain---torture meets bliss." \=/

On her first 5:00am lesson Mead said that Jois “had alarmed me while I was attempting a forward bend by coming up behind me, grabbing my hips, and tipping me over so that my head hovered inches above the ground and my feet almost slipped out from under me: it's hard to think about meditating when the only thing preventing your head from crashing on the concrete floor is the physical strength of an octogenarian." Initiates often have castor oil smeared all their head an body, a process that is supposed make them more supple but often makes them physically sick. \=/

“At Jois's daily afternoon conference...students are invited to sit with him and ask questions about yoga theory and about his life...The atmosphere is more one of companionable comfort than pedagogical rigor: on many afternoons, Jois, who is known as Gurji, will settle in his chair in his tank top and dhoti...and immerse himself in the newspaper, while his students sit cross-legged in beatific silence at his feet." Most of the participants in Jois's classes are Westerners who engage in normal backbacker activities when they are not in the classes. Local Indians often have little time or little interest in yoga. Those that are interested in it are often in to it as way to make money from Westerners. \=/

Museums In Mysore

Wax Museum has a vast collection of musical instruments, along with life-size statues of musicians playing instruments from India and across the world, all made in wax. The 19-gallery tour comprises 110 life-size statues and over 300 musical instruments. A statue of the king of Mysore, Shri Krishnaraja Wadiyar, is a popular attraction amongst locals. Given its proclivity for all things musical, the museum is also known as Melody World Wax museum. The building in which it is housed is said to be over 90 years old! Carnatic, Punjabi, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Tribal, Jazz, Hip Hop and Rock music are all represented here in some form or another. Wax Museum was established in October 2010 as the brainchild of Bengaluru-based IT professional Shreeji Bhaskaran.

Sand Sculpture Museum (near Chamundi Hill) is a one-of-its-kind place.. Over 150 of the art monoliths at the museum have been made with around 115 truckloads of sand, water and a little glue. They feature 16 themes. The more interesting ones include a giant Ganesha, Tom and Jerry and Goddess Chamundeshwari, as well as the king of Mysore Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar decked on the occasion of Dasara. You can also find monoliths representing Lord Krishna and Arjuna, a laughing Buddha, a christmas tree and Santa Claus, characters from Disneyland, ancient Egypt, the zodiac wheel, scenes from Arabian nights etc. The museum was conceptualised by prominent sand sculptor, MN Gowri, who took four months to create it.

Rail Museum contains a plethora of galleries highlighting the growth and development of the Indian railway network. The museum also has coaches, locomotives and a wide collection of photographs and paintings connected with the railways. Don't forget to view the rail coaches that were once used by the Maharaja of Mysore, and the Maharani's saloon carriage that was imported from the United Kingdom. Mini train rides and a kids play area are also part of the museum.Another highlight of the museum is the Chamundi gallery, where a whole host of pictures and graphics are displayed. Another attraction is the Austin railway car, initially built in 1925 to run on road.

Folklore Museum (at Jayalakshmi Vilas mansion) is one of the best of its kind in Asia, with a collection of 6,500 or so art works, artefacts and handicraft items related to literature, dance, drama and music from ethnic groups in Karnataka. Palaeolithic tools found during excavations at the districts of Koppa, Banavasi and Rajghatta are preserved also here. The part of the palace that once was a marriage hall, is now the site where personal belongings of famous poets and writers are kept, including clothing, pens, umbrellas, diaries and original writings. Another section is dedicated to performing arts such as Yakshagana (traditional theater form) and Kathakali (classical dance form); masks, crowns and ornaments used by the dancers are also on display.

Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery (in Jagmohan Palace) boasts over 2,000 paintings by famous artists, both Indian and foreign. The gallery has the works of renowned painter Rembrandt, as well as Titan, PP Ruben, Jiladin Ville, Nikolai Roerich, and Aless Caddy. Gunoy's miniature paintings are also housed here. Indian artworks on display include those of such noteworthy painters as Raja Ravi Varma, Rabindranath Tagore, SL Haldankar, Raja Rama Varma, meters Veerappa, Ishwardas, and Subbakrishna. The Jagmohan Palace was constructed in 1861 and converted into an art gallery during the period of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV. It has a wide variety of glass, chinaware, furniture along with western sculptures, musical instruments and decorative art. Once used as the royal auditorium, it is still open to public.

Mysore Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the country. It is involved in the captive breeding of rare species of animals and birds and has about 1,450 animals from 168 species from over 25 countries, including tiger, leopard, Asiatic and African elephants, anaconda, white rhino, antelope, chimpanzee, gorilla, Capuchin monkey, swamp deer, mouse deer and nilgai. Spread over an area of 37.25 hectare in a beautifully laid-out garden and serene surroundings, the zoo is officially known as the Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens. A favorite weekend getaway for locals, it receives over 3 million visitors a year. It opened to the general public in 1892.

Temples, Monasteries and Churches in Mysore

Melukote (in the Mandya district, easily accessible from the Bengaluru-Mysore highway) is a well-known pilgrim center for the Vaishnava community that attracts lakhs of devotees during the famous Vauramudi festival.. It is situated on land where the saint Ramanujam walked over a thousand years ago, Yaganarasimha Swamy and Cheluvanarayan Swamy temples found here are centuries old. The Cheluvanarayan Swamy Temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, was at one time frequented by the kings of Mysore, and has a lovely collection of jewels. At the time of Vauramudi (an annual spiritual event), the idol of the god wearing a diamond-encrusted crown, is carried out of the temple as part of a procession. The Academy of Sanskrit Research is also based in Melukote, which was once famous for its handlooms.

Namdroling Nyingmapa Monastery is the largest teaching center of the Nyingmapa school of Tibetan Buddhism in the world. The monastery belongs to the Sangha community and it is here that the teachings of Lord Buddha are preserved intact for worldwide propagation. It was founded by His Holiness Pema Norby Rinpoche in 1963 as the second seat of the Palyul monastery (one of the six great Tibet Nyingma Mother monasteries). The monastery is home to over 5,000 nuns and monks and also has a retreat center where 30 monks have undergone an intensive three-year retreat.

Nimishamba Temple (on the River Cauvery, two kilometers from Mysore) honors Nimishambha (Goddess Parvati's incarnation). Constructed by the then king of Mysore almost 400 years ago, it has the idols of Sri Nimishambadevi, with Sri Moukthikeshwara Swamy and Sri Lakshminarayana Swamy, as well as idols of the gods Surya Deva, Lord Ganapati, and Lord Hanuman. Goddess Nimishamba is an avatar of Goddess Parvati, and it is believed that she removes obstacles in a minute (Nimisha means minute in Kannada). Her idol is beautifully decorated, seen to be wearing jewelry, and garlands of roses. Srichakra is carved into the stone in front of the goddess's idol.

Thala Cauvery (in the Brahmagiri Hills near Coorg) is famous pilgrim center and popular picnic spot where the River Cauvery originates. Sitting at a height of more than 1,250 meters, it offers excellent views of the valley and the river below during the monsoon season. On the day of Cauvery Changrandi (the first day of the Tula Masa) in October, thousands of pilgrims come to Thala Cauvery to witness the spout of water that gushes up from a spring. Goddess Kaveramma is the main deity of the temple here, along with Maha Ganpathi and Lord Agasthiswara. The temple located at the confluence of the Kabini and Kaveri rivers, and the Spatika sarovara (known as Tirumakudalu Narasipura) is also dedicated to Lord Agasthiswara.

St Philomena's Church is considered the second largest church in Asia. Built in Neo-Gothic style, on the same lines as Germany’s Cologne Cathedral in North Rhine-Westphalia, it boasts stained glass windows that highlight Christ’s birth, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ, it is truly a sight to behold. The spires are 53 meters high, with the church’s architectural style reminding one of St Patrick’s Church in New York City, the USA. Every spire has a 12-foot-long cross adorning it. The pillars of the church have been embellished with carvings of flowers. The marble altar has a statue of St Philomena, which was brought to India from France. About 800 people can be accommodated inside at one time. The church was built in 1840, and gained popularity under the reign of Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, ruler of Mysore (1894-1940). It was initially constructed to cater to the small community of Europeans who had settled in Mysore at the time. However, as the community began to grow, the need for a larger church grew, and St Philomena’s was expanded. It is believed to have been designed by a French artist named Daly.

Places an Hour or So from Mysore

Shivanasamudra Falls (65 kilometers east of Mysore) is a spectacular sight and popular tourist attraction created by River Cauvery. The water cascades down a height of 75 meters, plunging into a rocky gorge to form two falls: Gaganachukki and Barachukki. While the former resembles a horsetail and has strong currents and a deep gorge, making swimming difficult, the latter is relatively placid and one can take a coracle ride to the mouth to enjoy the natural beauty. The best time to visit the falls is in monsoon when they flow in all glory. Asia's first hydroelectric project, established in 1902, is located downstream. A score of food vendors have set up stalls near the parking lot, selling ice cream, churmuri (a Mysore delicacy made with puffed rice and shredded carrots), golgappa and other snacks, and tourists can enjoy some delicious savouries while drinking in the serenity of the scene.

Bylekuppe (90 kilometers from Mysore) is known for handicrafts, incense and carpet factories as well as monasteries. It is one of the largest settlements of Tibetans in the southern part of the country. The most important of monasteries here include Sera Mey and the Great Gompa of Sera Jey. Also located here is the Mahayana Buddhist University with an enormous prayer hall. In the neighbouring settlement is Tashi Lhunpo, which is known as the seat of the Panchen Lama. This place is most famously associated with the Namdrolig Nyingmapa Monastery, which is the largest teaching center of Nyingmapa, the lineage of Tibetan Buddhism in the world. It was founded by His Holiness Pema Norby Rinpoche in 1963 as the second seat of the Palyul Monastery (one of the six great Tibet Nyingma Mother monasteries). It.

Madikeri (120 kilometers from Mysore) is located in Coorg, the hill town of Madikeri was once the capital of Kodagu king Mudduraja in 1681 and was known as Mudduraja Keri. It later became famous as Madikeri. Lying at an elevation of about 1,170 meters above the sea level, the town is famous for its oranges and coffee. Believed to be the descendants of Alexander the Great's soldiers when the country was invaded in 327 B.C., Kodavas is a fiercely independent clan that could never be conquered by Tipu Sultan or by the British forces. Madikeri is a preferred weekend getaway, and there are plenty of things to see and do here. You can visit the Bhagamandala temple, Madikeri fort, Omkareshwara temple, Kushalnagar, Nisargadhama (picnic spot), and Abbey falls. The falls are a part of a coffee plantation.

Bandipur National Park Reserve

Bandipur National Park Reserve (85 kilometers south of Mysore) occupies 874 square kilometers and is part of the lushly forested Deccan plateau. Covered with a mix of deciduous forest, evergreen forests and scrub, well irrigated by the Moyar river, Bandipur has a fairly open forest floor, making it easy for visitors to spot wildlife. There are lots of chitral and ungulates to provide plentiful food for predators such as tigers, leopards and dholes. People get around in the waters in bamboo-and-buffalo-hide coracles.

Animals seen here include Asian elephant, gaur, sambar, chital, muntjac, mouse deer, four-horned antelope, wild pig, black-naped hare, Indian porcupine, pangolin, giant squirrel, flying squirrel, giant fruit bat, slender loris, Hanuman langur, bonnet macaque, sloth bear, tiger, leopard, Asiatic wild dog, striped hyena, jackal, jungle cat, leopard cat, rusty spotted cat, small Indian civet, palm civet, and otter

Among birds spotted in the park are ospreys, grey-headed fishing eagle, crested hawk eagle, serpent eagle, buzzard, shaheen falcon, king vulture, cormorants, teals, herons, wader, ducks, grey jungle fowl, Malabar trogon, Malabar pied hornbill, great black woodpecker, Alexandrine parakeet, Indian pitta, firy blue bird, Malabar whistling thrush, imperial pigeon and hill myna.

Nagarhole National Park

Nagarhole National Park (adjacent to Bandipur National Park Reserve, 70 kilometers west-southwest of Mysore) ) is a 571-square kilometers (220-square-mile park) created in 1955 from a former hunting ground for the Maharajah of Mysore. Also known as Rajiv Gandhi National Park, it is a good place to see gaur (a large cow-like, bison-type animal), tigers, elephants, leopards, crab-eating monkeys and crocodiles. There are 90 or so tigers in the park, It is one of the few places where tigers feed regularly on gaur. Nagarhole means snake stream in Kannada, named so after the serpentine river that runs through the jungle.

Visitors can explore the park by jeep or on foot on hiking trails. The landscape includes deciduous forests with rosewood, ebony and teak trees and swamps fed by the Kabini River. Among the other animals seen here are sloth bears, hyenas, dholes, Malabar flying squirrel, stripped mongoose, chital, sambar deer, marsh crocodile, star tortoise, rat snake, Russell’s viper and Indian python. The best time to visit is between October and March.

Nagarhole National Park is one of the premier tiger reserves in the world along with the adjoining Bandipur Tiger Reserve and is a part of Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Biologists estimated there is an average of 32,385 pounds of meat for every square mile, which is enough to feed large numbers of carnivores. With a healthy predator-prey ratio, the national park is home to tigers and leopards that feed mainly on chital and sambar deer. It is also home to 250 species of birds including eagles, hornbills, peacocks, green-backed woodpeckers, white-fronted kingfishers, buzzards, herons, storks, egrest, ducks, kites, falcons, partridges, lapwing, wagtail, sandpipers, sunbirds, warblers, babblers and owls.

Shoba Narayan wrote in the Washington Post: “The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve straddles the area where three states -- Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu -- meet and covers about 5,500 square kilometers. That's about the size of Rhode Island: not huge, but in populous India, a pretty vast area to set aside just for wildlife, which probably is why UNESCO is considering making it a World Heritage Site to help promote its preservation. [Source: Shoba Narayan, Washington Post, March 22, 2009]

“Most naturalists concur that South Indian preserves such as Nagarhole National Park and the publicly accessible 55-acre Kabini area adjacent to it are better managed than the ones in the north. They also are farther from China, a relative advantage when it comes to poaching for tusks and tiger parts. Much of the core area is off-limits to tourists; entry is controlled by the number of vehicles that are allowed to enter the park each day. Those are all good things for the wildlife.”

Kabina River Lodge at Nagarhole National Park

Many people stay at the Kabini River Lodge, made from a former hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Mysore. The lodge offers early morning and late afternoon safaris, elephant safaris, and water safaris in coracles. Around the edge of the park are coffee plantations and 250 villages. In 1974 the Kabini River was dammed. Some 250 guards patrol the park to make sure the remaining tigers aren't poached. Goldie Hawn saw four tigers when she visited.

Shoba Narayan wrote in the Washington Post: “I drove five hours from Bangalore, the closest airport, to the Orange County Resort in Kabini for my tryst with a giant pachyderm, another charismatic megafauna: the Asian elephant. In the summer, when the water holes in the jungle dry up, the great elephant migration begins. Come May, some 500 of them make their way to the banks of the Kabini River, forming what naturalists say is the biggest congregation of elephants in Asia. [Source: Shoba Narayan, Washington Post, March 22, 2009]

“I chose to stay at Orange County for two reasons: It is fairly new, and it offers a level of luxury comparable to that of the safari lodges of North India. With thatch roofs and adobe-style mud walls modeled after the huts of the honey-gathering Kuruba tribes that populate the region, Orange County's inaptly named Pool Huts blend into the land. Inside, the accommodation is more mansion than hut, with a separate living room, bedroom and bathroom (with tub and shower) and an aquamarine-blue indoor whirlpool bath or pool. The bamboo furniture and rustic-chic furnishings add to the organic feel of the place. The buffet meals (good Indian food and complicated Continental food) are included in the $400 daily price.

“What makes these safari lodges worthwhile is the incredible array of birds, beasts, flowers and foliage that make up the Indian jungle, those both familiar (thanks to "The Jungle Book") and eerily primitive. That, after all, is why we seek to experience wildlife: because it takes us back to the time when mastodons roamed the earth, because it peels back the layers of evolution and allows us to reach back to our souls, both as a species and as an individual.”

Safari in Nagarhole National Park

Shoba Narayan wrote in the Washington Post: “The jungle is an exercise in patience; it deals with visitors on its terms, revealing its secrets only when it chooses. During my safari, I saw hundreds of deer, a family of boars with the youngest trotting after the mother, a sloth bear sniffing its way through the undergrowth, and countless birds and monkeys, but no tiger or elephant. That perhaps is the difference between the jungle and the zoo: no guarantees. That night, I drowned my sorrows in mediocre local Big Banyan wine. [Source: Shoba Narayan, Washington Post, March 22, 2009]

“I was luckier the next morning on a boat safari through the backwaters of the Kabini River. Mist rose from the water, making the landscape look like a Japanese painting. Ospreys roosted on branches, white egrets poked around the bank for worms, a Brahminy kite circled above, and pond herons skimmed the surface.

“An hour later, we saw a tusker right by the water. Our speedboat raced to the far bank, and the driver cut the engine as we got close. The elephant was busy eating. His long tusks were almost intertwined as he methodically tore off green bamboo stalks and stuffed them into his pink mouth to chew awhile before swallowing. Elephants have big molars and poor eyesight. Each day they need to consume about 350 pounds of grass and about 40 gallons of water. Of the pachyderms (the word means "thick skin"; the other members of the group are the rhino and hippo), elephants are the most interesting and, I dare say, the most intelligent. They follow a matriarchal system, and bulls in sexual must can trumpet all they want, but the female decides most things, including when to mate and where to take the herd. To watch a herd of elephants is magical. One emerges from the bushes, then another and another, and sometimes a calf. The phrase "amble majestically" seems like an oxymoron but is perfectly apt for these gentle vegetarian giants.”

Elephant Round-up in Mysore

One of the last great elephant round-ups was held in the Begur State Forest near the town of Mysore in southern India in 1969. To capture the elephants, a mob of several thousands of beaters making noise with whistles, bugles, shotguns, bamboo clappers and shouts and a group of 35 domesticated elephants known as kumkies surrounded a herd of 66 elephants and drove it into an 11-acre stockade made with 8000 twenty-foot-long teak logs and bamboo fencing. [Source: Harry Miller, National Geographic, March 1969]

The wild elephants were surrounded in a forest and gentle as possible directed towards the stockade by the beaters, mahouts and kumkies. Fires were light along the river to keep them from escaping in that direction and great care was taken not panic the animals into a stampedes. A large tusker guarded a position next to stockade that was the most likely escape route. A kumkries and mahouts were like horse and cowboys rounding up strays and returning them to the herd.

The stockade was built with teaks logs that were sunk in four-foot-deep holes dug with out incredibly long-handled shovels. Pumps were put in a nearby the river and showers were set up in the stockade to keep the elephants cool and damp and to prevent them from wilting in the sun. At the opening of the stockade was hinged wooden drop gate, supported by two 27-foot-high teak logs, that dropped when the animals were inside.

Stands for set up around the stockade for spectators who paid as much as $66 a piece for their seats. In addition to the beaters, watchmen and support people were hired. A total of a 1,500 people paid 40 cents a day and given food for the duration of the round-up.

Getting the Elephants into the Stockade in Mysore

The most difficult part of the round up occurred when the herd of wild elephants approached the stockade. Sensing there was a trap the herd stood outside the gate for 15 minutes. One of the female elephants charged the kumkies to protect her calf, but in the end she and others gave up their stand entered the stockade. When they were all inside a rope hold the gate open was slashed with a knife and crashed shut.

The captured elephants were later enticed into the roping stockade with sugar cane where they were elephants assistants ran underneath the wild elephants and slipped ropes around their hind legs so the animals could be tied to a tree. Kumkies pushed against the wild elephants to keep the wild elephants distracted so they wouldn't fatally kick the assistants who were paid a salary of $20 a month. And a crowd watched as some men lassoed the wild elephants around their neck and others scrambled onto kumkries like rodeo clowns escaping from a bull. It took 10 days to secure all 86 elephants to a tree.

Mahouts were assigned to each wild elephant. For the younger mahouts it was their first elephant. They stayed with elephants around the clock eating and sleeping with the elephants, dressing the wounds from the ropes. Punishment for bad behavior was meted out with a stick and good behavior was rewarded with chunks of sugar cane. After being broken and trained In 1969 38 of the elephants were auctioned off for $22,093.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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