mysore palace india

Magical Mysore

Mysore PalaceThe south of India is so different from the north in the way it feels, I could be in two different countries. Outwardly, of course, the appearance is the same: crowded streets, rubbish strewn in piles, wandering cows. But how the south conducts itself seems different. The people are more relaxed and open. Most are friendly without agenda. The “Where are you from?” comes mostly from genuine interest rather than an attempt to manufacture a conversation or a connection with the express intent of selling me something.

It is in Mysore I really experienced this difference quite acutely, but it started earlier, in Goa. Wandering from my hotel to the Mysore markets, men and women and children of all ages smile and wave and are happy for me just to look at their shops—some of which have been in the family for generations—and take their pictures. I passed flour mills and spare parts and pots and pans and handkerchief and old newspapers shops, with friendly shopkeepers not minding s strange white woman stopping for a photo.

The night market of Mysore is a living, breathing explosion of colour, activity and aroma. The scent of sandalwood hangs heavy in the area, mixed with the smell of ripe bananas, garlic cloves, lemon grass, cinnamon, coriander and jasmine. Vendors ply their wares from the footpath, carts and stalls, some sitting silently waiting for customers, others attracting attention with a loud call. I am greeted with a “Yes, please, madam” or “Scarf for you, madam” as I smile and pass by. Goods for sale include garlands of jasmine and marigold flowers, bananas, watermelon, pomegranate, rice, spices, oils and incense.

But it’s not just the markets that are a key feature of Mysore: the palace—practically every large city in India seems to have one—looms large and opulent in the centre of the town. But as ostentatious as it is outside, it is only once inside, that one truly understands the obscene nature of princely wealth in India. Stained glass from Scotland, Murano glass chandeliers, rosewood doors inlaid with ivory, hand-carved teak doors, expansive marriage and meeting halls underpinned by brightly painted cast iron pillars, murals celebrating palace life, paintings of the royal family, and gold, bejeweled elephant carriages are all on display.

It truly is the stuff of fairy tales and it has me that convinced I had the singular misfortune of being born into the wrong family.

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