The royal city of Mysore, located in the foothills of the Chamundi Hills, is famous for its elaborate celebrations during the Hindu festival of Dasara. The festival begins with Navaratri and ends on Vijayadashami, and typically falls in the months of September and October. The Mysuru Dasara dates back over 400 years and involves ceremonies and a procession that are traditionally presided over by the King.

This year, I visited the city with my colleague Srushti for the last few days of the festival, those with all the major celebrations. Though we had both been to the city many times before and had prepared a detailed itinerary, we were most definitely NOT prepared for the madness that is the city of Mysore during Dasara.

Also Read: How Two Girls (Attempted To) Navigate Through Mysore During Dasara

Dasara Day 1 – 6th October

Mysore Palace

One of the main attractions of the Mysuru Dasara festival is the Mysore Palace; the official residence of the royal Wodeyar dynasty, the rulers of the (erstwhile) kingdom of Mysore, it was rebuilt in 1912. The palace is open to the public to visit throughout the year, but the Dasara festival (and the holidays) bring in huge crowds from across the country. The massive influx of tourists also means that crowd control is next to impossible, leading to loads of bottlenecks, and even more pushing and shoving.

The entrance fee to the palace is ₹70 for Indians during the Dasara rush (though it’s just ₹40 otherwise). We explored the many rooms of the palace, including the Durbar Room. However, with such crowds, it was difficult to see much and we eventually left a bit disappointed.

Credit: TE

Unfortunately, we missed the iconic lighting up of the palace which takes place from 7 pm to 10 pm. Nearly 100,000 light bulbs are lit up over the palace, and many cultural programs are performed on the grounds outside.

Address: Sayyaji Rao Rd, Agrahara, Chamrajpura, Mysuru, Karnataka 570001

Cafe Aramané

Located very close to the Palace Gates, Cafe Aramané is the perfect place to have a meal after exploring the Palace itself. Though the restaurant isn’t very old, it was recently renovated and has an atmospheric old-world charm about it. We ordered two thalis; the South Indian Thali was satisfying, but quite filling, so avoid ordering it unless you’re hungry. The North Indian Thali isn’t as filling but was equally tasty. 

The South Indian thali at Cafe Aramane (Credit: TE)

Address: 194/2, Motikana Building, Sayajji Rao Road, Devaraja Mohalla, Near SBI, Chamarajapura Mysuru, 570004

Bombe Mane

In Karnataka and much of Southern India, as part of the Dasara celebrations, people often put up festive displays of dolls. Known as “Bombe Habba,” the dolls are arranged to depicts various themes or events from Hindu mythology. Located in the Nazarbad area of Mysore, Bombe Mane (literally “Doll’s House”) is a part museum-part store that pays homage to this tradition.

Credit: TE

On the ground floor, you will find dolls all kinds made from a variety of materials such as clay, plaster of Paris and wood. All these dolls and toys are handmade and handpainted individually; no mechanical processes are involved.  On the first floor are spaces for special displays. We saw some depicting the Wodeyars, two about Mahatma Gandhi, a section of collectable Barbie dolls, and one of traditional Japanese dolls, among others.

Address: 91, 1 Floor, Above Aamrapali Sarees, Opp. Reliance Fresh, Near Mylari Hotel, Nazarbad Main Road, Mysuru, Karnataka 570010

Vinayaka Mylari

Credit: TE

Vinayaka Mylari (or simply Mylari) is perhaps one of the most famous South Indian eating joints on Mysore. This tiny, no-nonsense place has just six tables and is best known for its buttery Mysore masala dosa. Served on a banana leaf with a side of coconut chutney or sagu, and topped with a healthy dollop of butter, the dosas are light and fluffy and will melt in your mouth.

TIP: There are lots of restaurants named “Mylari”, all claiming to be the original. But look out for the one on Nazarbad Main Road that has a green board with red letters proclaiming it “Old Original Vinayaka Myalri (We Have No Branch)”.

Credit: TE

Address: Mylari, Shop No. 79, Near Police Station, Nazarbad Main Rd, Doora, Mysuru, Karnataka

Chamundi Hills

From here, we headed up to Chamundi Hills towards dusk. Located on the outskirts, they are known for their splendid viewpoints over the city. However, in keeping with the general crowds at the Mysuru Dasara, the viewpoints over the city on the hill were now blocked by hundreds of locals and tourists, standing along the main roads and sitting on the edges of the barriers and disrupting ongoing traffic, all looking for that perfect sunset picture.

For those up for the challenge, there are also 1008 steps built into the western side of the hill that lead up to the summit. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes, and that steps are steepest for the first third of the climb. A good resting point is usually at the Nandi statue, where you will also find vendors and hawkers selling food and juices. Or, you could just take a car or the bus.

A lit-up depiction of the goddess Chamudeshwari on Chamundi Hills, Mysore (Credit: TE)

Chamundi Hills used to be infamous for the many monkeys that used to bother tourists who visited, but during the festive season, it seems that people have well and truly taken over.

Nandi Monolith

While waiting (in vain as it turned out) for the crowds to dissipate, we decided to see the humongous Nandi Monolith. Situated about halfway up the hill, this 7.5-meter-tall statue dates back to 1659, built by the then Maharaja of Mysore, Dodda Devaraja, and is said to be carved out of a single granite boulder. According to Hindu mythology, the bull Nandi was the gate-guardian deity of Kailash, home to Lord Shiva.

Previously a slick gleaming black, the statue has now surprisingly turned a dull grey-white. This was apparently due to the Archeological Department using high-power water jets in 2017 to clean the oil deposits on the statue that had turned it black. As it turned out, when the statue had been built, it was rubbed with coconut oil to prevent it from cracking. Decades of rituals had then resulted in layers of deposits of oil, dirt and dust accumulating on the surface.

Nandi Temple in Mysore, India
Credit: TE

Unfortunately, this cleansing also revealed numerous cracks on the statue. To prevent further damage, the department of archaeology has suggested that the original colour, which served as a protective coating, be restored.

Address: Chamundi Hill Rd, Chamundi Hill, Mysuru, Karnataka 570010

Chamundeshwari Temple

After parking our car at a newly built parking lot near the summit, we walked over to the famous Chamundeshwari Temple. There was a truly festive atmosphere outside the temple, with stalls selling everything from puja accessories to light up novelty horns.

Credit: TE

The temple is another popular Mysore landmark and is dedicated to the Goddess Chamundeshwari (or Chamundi), the family deity of the Wodeyar Kings. According to Hindu mythology, she slew the demon Mahishasura in battle, symbolising the victory of good over evil that is celebrated each year during the Mysuru Dasara. You can find a statue of the demon Mahishasura nearby, standing with a sword in one hand and a cobra in the other.

We spent almost two hours waiting to actually enter the temple, and finally spent less than two minutes in front of the idol. To our surprise, when we came out at 8:45 (just 15 minutes before closing) there was still a long queue of people waiting to get in

Address: Chamundi Hill Rd, Chamundi Hill, Mysuru, Karnataka, 570010

Dasara Food Fair

Coming down from Chamundi Hill, you will pass Lalitha Mahal Palace. Inspired by St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, it was built by Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV in 1921 and is now a hotel. During the Dasara festivities, the MUDA Grounds adjacent to the Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel hosts the Aahara Mela (or Food Fair).

Credit: TE

Here, stalls sell a wide range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods, both traditional and contemporary. Popular dishes include Vegetable Biriyani, Davangere Benne Dose, Dharwad Peda. We walked around for a bit, having the famous “Mysore bajjis” (a spicy snack consisting of battered and deep-fried vegetables such as capsicum, plantain, and banana peppers (mirchi), as well as some delicious Melkote Puliyogre.

Also Read: 20 Wonderful Places To Visit When You’re In Mysore

Finally, tired out and exhausted after our first taste of Mysuru Dasara, we headed back to our Airbnb (a meditation retreat! – almost everywhere else was booked) and collapsed into bed.

Dasara Day 2 – 7th October

We woke up begrudgingly, though it was an hour later than we’d planned (thanks a lot, snooze button!). Skipping the complimentary breakfast at our hotel/meditation centre, we headed out to sample what else Mysore had to offer. 

The Old House

The Old House Mysore
Credit: TE

This delightful restaurant is on the terrace of a heritage house dating back to 1902, now turned into a boutique store. The restaurant is known for its Italian and continental food, with ingredients sourced from all over south India. We ordered pancakes, which arrived with great big dabs of butter and a pot of maple syrup, along with the Spanish Omelette, which thankfully just came with a side of bread. 

After gorging ourselves, we realised that the restaurant was also famous for its wood-fired pizzas. But, we couldn’t eat anymore and resolved to come back soon. To work off some of that food, we explored the shop next door, and I bought some of Mysore’s famous sandalwood soap and incense sticks (at what I thought was a good price of ₹40 for 25 sticks). 

Pancakes Gif
Breakfast pancakes at The Old House (Photo Credit: TE)

Address: 451, JLB Road, Near Big Bazar, Chamarajapuram Mohalla, Mysuru, 570005

Jagan Mohan Palace

The Jagan Mohan Palace was built in the year 1902, to mark the coronation of King Krishnaraja III. Today, it houses the Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery. Here you can see a host of interesting artefacts, including antique furniture, musical instruments, ivory, and ceramics.

Tickets for Indian Citizens were ₹150 (₹45 for children) while foreigners must pay ₹225/₹74. These tickets come with a free audio guide (you just have to provide a valid photo ID). These are quite informative, and also have lots of interesting tidbits about the Wodeyars and the city of Mysore.

Credit: TE

Don’t miss the traditional gold leaf paintings from Mysore, works by Nikolav Roerich of Russia, magnificent paintings by the renowned 19th-century artist Raja Ravi Verma, and rich tapestries from the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III. Unfortunately, photographs are not allowed inside the gallery.

Address: Jagan Mohan Palace, Deshika Rd, opp. City Bus Stand, Devaraja Mohalla, Chamrajpura, Mysuru, Karnataka 570024

Guru Sweets 

When it comes to Mysore, one of it’s most famous sweets is undoubtedly Mysore Pak, and when it comes to great Mysore Pak, there are two places most people talk about: Guru Sweet Mart, and Mahalakshmi Sweets. While the latter has branches all over the city and have even branched into flavoured Mysore Pak, the former has only one modest location – Devaraja Market. Guru Sweets is also supposed to be where it all started, as the founder of the shop (Kakasura Madappa) is said to have served in the royal kitchens where he came up with the sweet over 75 years ago. So, obviously, this is where we headed. 

Guru Sweets is located next to the Chikka Gadiyara in Mysore (Credit: TE)

Mysore Pak comes in two varieties, one ghee-infused and fudgy and one more dry and powdery. However, at Guru Sweets, the Mysore Pak lies somewhere in-between. It is made with ghee (clarified butter), gram flour, sugar, cardamom, and turmeric. One of the current owners, {Shivananda}, was manning the stall when we visited, surrounded by stacks of milk barfis, pedas, and sweets of all colours.

Still-warm trays of the Mysore Pak sat in from of him, and he handed us two small blocks of the delicious sweet, dripping with ghee, on a piece of newspaper. Its rich flavour has none of the crumbliness or pastiness that marks bad Mysore Pak, and it is surprisingly delicately textured and flavoured. It’s quite difficult to describe exactly what it tastes like, so you’ll just have to come check it out yourself!

The Mysore Pak from Guru Sweets (Credit: TE)

The sweet is sold in large blocks measured in quarter-kilos, rather than in individual squares. Avoid placing it in the fridge, and the best way to enjoy it is to warm up the desired amount in the microwave and dig in. 

Address: 1, Devaraja Market Building, Near K.R. Circle, Sayajji Rao Road, Devaraja Mohalla, Mysuru, 570001

Devaraja Market

After the piping hot Mysore Pak, we walked into Devaraja Market from the entrance near the “Chikka Gadiyara”. Over 100 years old, this market bustles with vibrant colour and noise. Piles and piles of everything from fruit to bangles, perfumes, spices, incense sticks, cooking pans, rangoli powders, and flowers can be found here for very low prices. Just be prepared to haggle when you’re buying something. 

Devaraja Market Mysore
Inside Devaraja Market (Photo Credit: TE)

Of course, this also means that I found a pack of the same sandalwood incense sticks (150 pieces) for the same price as in the fancy boutique, but by then, it was too late for my wallet. Despite the holiday and the festival, the market itself wasn’t that crowded which was a pleasant surprise for us, especially after our visit to the Palace the previous day. Also in the market were bright and colourful chillies, eggplant, and betel leaves. 

St. Philomena’s Cathedral

Looking for a quiet respite, we headed to picturesque St. Philomena’s Cathedral near Sayyaji Rao Road. It is said to be the second tallest church in Asia and has a wonderful stained glass interior. While the cathedral grounds were a bit crowded (though nothing compared to the Mysore Palace), the inside was cool and peaceful.

Credit: TE

Address: Lourdes Nagar, Ashoka Rd, Lashkar Mohalla, Mysuru, Karnataka 570001

Malgudi Coffee Shop

The Green Hotel in Mysore (Credit: TE)

Situated in a covered courtyard of The Green Hotel, this cafe is known for its excellent coffees and teas, as well as its delicious homemade cakes. We tried the lemon drizzle cake, and it was one of that finest I’ve ever had. This unusual cafe is also almost completely run by women who were trained by French bakers, and the profits go towards helping disadvantaged communities. 

Snacks at the Malgudi Cafe (Credit: TE)

The hotel itself is the former Chittaranjan Palace (built for royal princesses) that was restored to its former glory. It features landscaped gardens with formal lawns and old-fashioned flowerbeds, that were lit up in honour of the festival. The Green Hotel has also been named one of the top budget hotels in the city, though sadly it was booked up on this busy Mysuru Dasara weekend. 

Address: 81, Hunsur Road, Near University of Mysore Campus, Mysuru, 570006

Also Read: Has Mysore Allowed Its Culture To Take A Back Seat During Dasara?

Dasara Day 3 – 8th October

On our third day in Mysore, we quickly headed to the Palace to beat the roadblocks that go up on Dasara day at 11 pm; with no time to eat breakfast, we made it to the Varaha Gate just as the barricades we going up. We were meant to meet Srushti’s contact who had our passes for the Jamboo Savari event. However, we realised that Karnataka’s Chief Minister Yediyurappa had suddenly decided to attend the Mysuru Dasara, and so security had been greatly heightened. 

Mysuru Dasara
The crowds at the Mysore Palace gates on Dasara Dat (Credit: TE)

This then meant that the government aide who had our passes couldn’t leave the seating area and get the tickets to us. So, after waiting around for two long hours in the hot sun, and witnessing multiple scuffles between people trying to enter without passes, scammers trying to sell people tickets to the event (2019 had introduced a lanyard pass system, which meant these tickets -had- to be fakes), and the people just coming along to see what the fuss was about. 

Finally, we were told to head to the Main Gate (Aramane Gate), but the massive crowds there plus the arrival of the CM’s convoy forced us to move ahead. However, these crowds were nothing compared to the crowds we encountered at the Hanuman Gate. This was the second time we questioned what cruel forces had sent us to the Mysuru Dasara. 

Crowds, Crowds, And More Crowds At The Mysuru Dasara

You may think you’ve seen crowds before – on the metro, train, or maybe at a music festival – but if you haven’t been to the Mysuru Dasara celebrations, you probably haven’t really. The selfie sticks we had taken (slightly begrudgingly on my part) came in very handy to keep wandering hands at bay while we tried to fight our way to the gate to meet a local contact. 

Mysore Dasara Parade Crowds
Crowds at the Mysore Dasara Parade (Credit: TE)

Finally, we found him, and after getting crushed and suffocated for a bit, and once again questioning why we were there in the first place we made it out. With a quick stop for a much-needed lunch at the restaurant Om Shakthi, we headed to a place with a good vantage point to view the procession; first to the slightly less crowded Bamboo Bazaar, and then to the elephant fountain from where we saw the elephants, performers, tableaus, and finally, the elephant (named “Balarama”) carrying the goddess Chamundi herself.

Also Read: Celebrate The Triumph Of Good Over Evil With These Dussehra Destinations

TIP: If you want to see the Mysuru Dasara procession without the hassle of getting a pass and waiting in line to enter the palace, skip the areas directly around the palace completely. Instead, head to areas along the procession route, such as the aforementioned Bamboo Bazaar, Sayyaji Rao Raod, or even Binni temple, the final point along the route. 

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