By this point in my Indian sojourn, I had been traveling for 8 hot, dusty days. I’m not embarrassed to say that after returning to Bengaluru from our 3 day excursion to Agra, I spent a day doing absolutely nothing at the JW Marriott Bengaluru. A little spa, a little reading, a little swim, a little glass of wine. A perfect little breather in bustling India.
Following this needed respite, Oldest and I set off to enjoy a full day private tour from Hidden Gems Tours, a local Bengaluru-based tour company. Our day started at 6:30 am because the company’s owner and our guide, Praveen, wanted to explore a new stop on this tour: an open air flower market along the Mysore road.
Flower Market, Bengaluru
As with many things Indian, the flower market is unstructured. There is no official opening and closing time, and no official location. As early as 4 am, sellers begin lining the streets with flowers including jasmine, roses, and orchids. Shoppers at the market can purchase flowers, or scrutinize potential vendors for future parties and weddings.
Breaking dawn revealed the colorful, noisy, fragrant, and chaotic market. An apt metaphor for Bengaluru itself.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (sort of)
Next, we headed off down the Mysore road. Out of the packed city environs, and past fields of sugar cane, we stopped for breakfast. Audrey Hepburn was not to be seen, but Maddur Tiffanyss, about half way between Bengaluru and Mysuru, was a great pit stop. Praveen selected our meal, which included Maddur Vada, a delicious grainy fried pancake with dipping sauces.
Notably, Maddur Tiffanyss does not enjoy the greatest online reviews. Perhaps those negative reviewers did not have the advantage of an experienced local to place their order? I thought it was delicious.
Somanathpur and its Temple
Keshava (Somanathpur) Temple was our first and most intriguing historical stop. Constructed over a 5 year period beginning in 1268, Keshava Temple was built as a place of worship and a symbol of the power and prestige of the medieval Hoysala dynasty under Narashima III. Crafted of soapstone, the temple’s interior and exterior contain incredibly intricate carvings of various Indian gods and goddesses, along with elephants, war scenes, and flowers.
While I found the Taj Mahal fabulous in its marble beauty, I was simply awestruck at the level and longevity of Somanathpur’s craftsmanship out of basic soapstone. I must have said “Wow” about a hundred times. No doubt, our visit was enhanced by the fact that there were only a couple of small groups visiting when we did, creating a huge contrast to the crowds at the Taj Mahal. We almost had the place to ourselves, allowing for quiet introspection. Thanks are due to the Archaeological Survey of India for restoring and maintaining Somanathpur beginning in the 20th century.
The 245,000 square foot Mysore Palace is located in central Mysuru city. The Palace is a large scale example of Indo-Saracenic architecture, which is characterized by a fusion of Indian, Islamic, and European styles. Glorious in its detail, the vibrant three-storied structure is made of fine gray granite. Open courtyards are scattered throughout. The colorful Palace is heavily decorated throughout with intricate carvings, detailed arches, stained glass, and a plethora of domes, turrets, and towers.
The Maharajah Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, descendant of a family who ruled Mysore for over 500 years, commissioned the current palace in 1897. It was completed in 1912. Although their power was abolished with independence from Britain in 1947, the progeny of the Wadiyar family still enjoy status and privilege in modern Mysore.
I was impressed by the palace’s sheer size, opulence, and stature. However, something about the simplicity and lack of dazzle at Keshava Temple felt more authentic.
Lunch followed at the Hotel Mayura Riverview on Srirangapatana Island, just outside Mysuru. A peaceful oasis on the river greeted us, as well as a friendly monkey!
Next, we remained in Srirangapatana to visit the onetime summer palace of Tipu Sultan, which also served as the home of Governor Cornwallis. After the other two sites, this one felt quieter and more approachable. It is a smaller, two story home decorated with open air porches and beautiful tilework. I was reminded of the film “The King and I”, imagining ancient Asian royalty roaming these walkways.
Thank you, Hidden Gems Tours, for an unforgettable day trip to Mysore, Somanathpur, and Srirangapatana. In addition to challenging my spelling abilities, this tour illuminated the history, beauty, and culture of southwestern India. When compared to India’s more famous “Golden Triangle” of New Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, the Mysuru region is often discounted as a travel destination. But its history is just a rich, its beauty just as diverse, and the crowds are notably less. I urge you to consider adding this region to your India travels.