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In December 2001 I spent several luxurious-for-me nights in Mysore in a former palace, the Green Hotel. Admittedly, it bore little resemblance to the main palace, an Indo-Saracenic extravaganza in the middle of town, and I had the cheapest room in the house (avoid the motel-like building in the grounds), but I loved the palace, the gardens, and the food. (Not to mention the library of English-language books!)

The Green Hotel, aka Chittaranjan Palace

So why was I staying in the Ginger Hotel this time? Partly because I thought the Green was too far out of town – I got tired of the perpetual fights with rickshaw drivers who flatly refused to use their meters. Partly because I wanted to check out Tata’s new chain of budget business hotels.

I should have stayed at the Green. Initially I thought the Ginger stark but functional. Then I discovered the downsides: no free wifi, a useless  shower curtain, a hair dryer with a plug that didn’t fit the sockets, a rapacious travel desk, no food options aside from a boring buffet, and a headache-inducing band pounding drums in the lobby my last night.  And I still needed a rickshaw to get into the center of town.

Hoysala temple

Hoysala temple, detail

Mysore itself charmed me for a second time. Cleaner, greener, and with more interesting buildings than most Indian towns its size, I found it a welcome oasis in the wilds of Karnataka. It is also a comfortable base for visiting the exquisite Hoysala temples at Belur and Halebid, but I chose not to make the day-long trip a second time. Instead, I revisited the once-fortified island town of Srirangapatnam, capital of Tipu Sultan’s empire in the late 1700s and site of his final defeat at the hands of the British. Besides wandering among the towering columns of the Sri Ranganathaswamy temple, and lingering over the detailed frescoes adorning the walls of Tipu’s summer palace (no photos allowed), I went down to the river bank, where I found a number of alfresco religious ceremonies in progress.

Tipu Sultans summer palace

Naturally, I revisited the main palace, built for the Wodeyar dynasty at the turn of the 20th century. Again, no photos are allowed inside, which is a pity, as the lavishly-turreted exterior only hints at the over-the-top decoration inside. The Wodeyar’s signature peacocks are everywhere, from mosaic floors to  stained-glass ceilings, solid silver doors confront the visitor outside the durbar hall, used for public audiences, and the ceiling of the hall itself, 155 by 42 feet, is supported by a dizzying array  of oddly chubby columns. Foreigners are eligible for a free audio guide, although that hasn’t deterred the would-be guides at the gate.

The approach to the palace

Mysore Palace

Mysore is a shoppers’ mecca, known for its silk and sandalwood. I already owned three delicate sandalwood deities (Ganesha, Lakshmi and Saraswati), but I did embark on an unsuccessful search for a salwar suit. I had more fun at the huge Devaraja market, where I was especially taken by the stalls selling religious paraphernalia and those heaped with blossoms, which are sold by weight for crafting garlands.

Potions and powders in the market

My next stop was Coonoor, up in the Nilgiri Hills, which I hoped would

Garlands

have cooler temperatures and good scenery. Finding the quotes for a car and driver rather high, I signed up for a day tour by mini-bus to better-known Ooty (now renamed, by some sadistic bureaucrat, Udhagamandalam). A short ride down the mountain would then get me to Coonoor.

The tour was cheap enough I had no expectation that the sight-seeing would be worthwhile – how many wild animals can one realistically expect to see from a noisy bus driving through a National Park? – but I had hoped for a better bus and a faster departure from Mysore. I should have asked more specific questions, as the bus I was shown on booking bore little resemblance to the one I rode out of town, and although my pick-up was scheduled for 7:30 (actual time after 8:00) we didn’t leave town, with me crammed into the backseat, until 9:15. But we did get to Ooty, and the guide did arrange a car to take me on to Coonoor, and the bus ride only cost me 250 rupees.

Dont mess with the Wodeyars!

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