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Issue 66 / Exploring Mysore's Mystical And Modern Ways!

Exploring Mysore’s Mystical And Modern Ways!

Jan 06, 2017

    Once one of the Indian subcontinents most progressive princely states –with a royal swag that rivalled nawabi friends further south – Mysore‘s au courant avatar is getting the French treatment, casually modish, but always flavoured with a zesty byadagi chilli.

    Karnataka’s cultural capital is all about legends – emphasizing the financial, cultural and societal affluence of its erstwhile maharajas – and there are several, but I have a clear favourite from among many. In the twenties, Krishna Raja Wodeyar IV ordered Rolls Royce cars only in a fleet of 7, because it was his lucky number. To honour this plum customer, the British company coined a special term – ‘doing a Mysore’ – for buying cars in bulk!

    While the city doesn’t boast of one of the richest men in the world any more, the swag is pretty intact. Landing at Bangalore airport for my stay at Grand Mercure, Mysore, I meet one of the hotel’s drivers, Manohar. Having arrived on time, he’s texted, Whatsapped and looks like he belongs in an IT office instead of behind the wheel. Nifty maneuvering through Garden City’s notorious traffic results in us zooming on Mysore Road in no time. Within three hours, we’re in la Mysuru, and curving around Nelson Mandela circle on Sayaji Rao Road to arrive at the fresh-as-a-jasmine property.

    The Grand Mercure, Mysore
                                                                            The Grand Mercure, Mysore.

     

    Namaskar, welcome to our city!
                                                                Namaskar, welcome to our city!

     

    Dasara and Dosas

    The 146-room hotel’s location is vital to its popularity. Mysore’s prime attraction  – it’s spectacular annual Dasara procession – passes through Sayaji Rao Road. The city’s Nadahabba fever reaches a crescendo on the tenth day of the festival, with the Jamboo Sawari (elephant procession) when the idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari (who killed the demon Mahishasura, thus giving the state of Mysore its name) is carried from the palace to Bannimantapa, and the night is further illuminated by the stunning Panjina Kavayathhu (torchlight parade)  Instead of jostling with five 5 lakh people poured out on the roads, a guest of Grand Mercure gets the royal treatment, and they can view the festivities from a breezy viewing gallery on the sixth floor of the hotel, over cocktails or a tumbler of invigorating filter coffee. This October, the management had also constructed a tiered stage at the hotel gate for everyone to get a good look at the world-famous event.

    A snapshot of Mysore's famous Dasara procession
                                                          A snapshot of Mysore’s vibrant Dasara procession.

    Dasara isn’t the whole and soul of the city (and the hotel, by extension) as I discover during my brief stay packed with a bundle of things to do and see. After a warm welcome with sandalwood tilakmerci beaucoup; traditional kumkum peeves my skin – and a lovely lariat necklace from Channapatna, I make a beeline for La Uppu, the hotel’s all-day dining, multi-cuisine restaurant, ostensibly to inspect it civilly, but intent on getting my greedy hands on that other city icon – the Mysore Masala Dosa. Executive Chef Mukul Jha follows the dosa to my table and explains how it’s made traditionally without the voluminous gloop that restaurants in Mumbai stuff inside it. This one is thin and crisp with a thin smearing of Karnataki byadagi chilli and garlic paste, all accompanied by a shiny brass tumbler and davara of soul-searing filter coffee. Chef’s a Mumbai boy – we’re almost neighbors in the same overcrowded suburb – so there’s much chatter over Bombay Duck and such, but my mind’s firmly entrenched in the here and now.

    Before anything else, a filter kaapi and sizzling news du jour
    Before anything else, a filter kaapi and sizzling news du jour. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

     

    Executive Chef Mukul Jha is the go-to man for long chats on the fascinating world of biryanis, chaaps, maddur vade, kori gassi and more...
                 Executive Chef Mukul Jha is the go-to man for long chats on the fascinating world of biryani,                                                                   chaap, maddur vade, kori gassi, nalli nihari and more…

     

    The Mysore theme continues inside my Deluxe, jewel-toned and cheery
     The Mysore theme continues inside my Deluxe Suite, jewel-toned and sunshine. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

     

    Lovely little touches by the housekeeping team include all-time favourite Channapatna wooden toys
    Lovely little touches by the housekeeping team include that all-time favourite childhood memory, Channapatna wooden toys. Photo Credit: Aparna Pedneka

     

    Homes that cheer

    Grand Mercure in Mysore in association with Bangalore’s Brigade Group is the latest in the plush India portfolio of French hospitality brand, Accor Hotels. Spread across India, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and China, the brand is all about championing local flavour and heritage with a universal sense of hospitality (The new year will see one open in another erstwhile princely city, Vadodara, adding further heft to the group’s heavyweight loyalty program across Sofitel, Novotel and Ibis hotels ) From the traditional welcome to Mysore silk furnishings at the reception, gorgeous framed photographs of the city’s famous monuments and the two-headed eagle state emblem, the hotel is all about Mysore, combined with dollops of bright, contemporary charm and cheerful Indian hospitality that makes one feel right at home.

    The next day, I hop out for a ‘sightseeing’ tour, judging I’ll be back by afternoon for the promised Karnataki thali. But Mysore’s attractions unfurl one after the other, starting with a pair of roaring lionesses mirroring each other at the zoo – one of India’s better ones –moving on to iconic author R.K Narayan’s residence-museum at the upscale Yadavgiri neighborhood – delightfully sparse.

    Just 10 minutes from the hotel, a seemingly innocuous address is the city's most famous =
    Just 10 minutes from the hotel, a seemingly innocuous address bears the city’s greatest literary fame.             Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

     

    The citys No 1 tourist attraction - the splendid Mysore Ambavilas) Palace
        The city’s No 1 tourist attraction – the splendid Mysore Ambavilas) Palace. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

     

    Chicken saaru with a side of Insta-royals

    With the hotel gamely obliging to extend my little sightseeing expedition by another day and a half, there’s a culinary detour at the hotel. I have to admit, my weak sweet tooth has never taken to Mysore’s beloved pak. (In defence, it’s just gram flour, ghee and sugar!) But the kitchen’s whipped up a meaty panacea to cure my pak blues. There’s a relaxed Saturday night vibe – live music included – at the rooftop poolside restaurant, By the Blue, which specializes in delightfully named North-West frontier cuisine – Dastane Khumb, Galouti Kebab, Paneer-e-Lukhme Rattan, Kundan Kaliya and my favourite, Mugewala Kukkad.

    That’s gluttony for another day though. This starry night, Chef Mukul and his lovely team in the kitchen serve me a non-vegetarian Karnataki thali, a most resplendent feast of donne biryani, fried fish, gorikai kara (cluster beans curry) bele tawe (dal), neer dosa, akki roti and that delish saaru, a Gowda style spicy chicken curry. (Full disclosure; as if this wasn’t enough, I’m served a glorious lunch of Mandya chicken curry and vade platter the next day).

    La Uppu restaurant has a lovely al fresco area with a kiddie play zone
            La Uppu restaurant has a lovely al fresco area with a kiddie play zone. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

     

    The thali that launched a thousand smiles
                                         The thali that launched a thousand sighs … and burps. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

     

    By the Blue, an easy breezy choice for a dinner date
                                         By the Blue, an easy breezy choice for a dinner date. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

    Nobody could blame a woman for drifting into a food coma, except that I’m at a hipster table and phones are doing the round and there’s an Instagram page that catches my attention. It’s the very swish, sunshine account of the 27th Mahajara of Mysore, officially known as Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar. (But he’s ‘ykcwadiyar’ on Insta; follow away!) The Boston-educated prince married Trishika Kumari of Dungarpur this year in a glittering ceremony at the Mysore Place, and barely a month ago, the dapper young pair of royals inaugurated the restaurant I’m currently stuffing my face at.

    Royalty in the house... By the Blue inauguration by the Maharaja, Maharani and Raj Maata Pramoda Devi Wadiyar
    Royalty in the house… By the Blue inauguration by the Maharaja, Maharani and Raj Maata Pramoda Devi Wadiyar. Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

    I’m told they’re the type of blue-blooded millennial couple who could just drop by unannounced. And not upon either of the two elephants that the palace owns! Like the other guests at La Mercure – laid back , à la mode, but proud of their heritage – they seem to typify the evolving face of the city. It might be a good idea to call out for another chicken saaru and hang out here a little more. La vie est jolie en namma Mysuru!

     

    Main Image Photo Credit: Aparna Pednekar

    Original Post Date: November 26, 2016

     

     

      Aparna Pednekar

      Aparna Pednekar

        Author

         Aparna is an India - based travel writer for leading lifestyle and fashion publications. She's also a gemologist and jewelry designer. New cities, new food, cats, dogs, snakes, hours of walking and driving fuel her incurable ADD.

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