So full disclosure, this blog post was originally supposed to be about Mysore and Coorg. But…well, Coorg didn’t really work out. I’m working on a separate post chronicling that story, because it’s quite the misadventure, so stay tuned.
For now, though, let’s talk about Mysore! This wasn’t a city I’d heard a lot about when I first started doing research on traveling in India, and there didn’t seem to be any sort of consensus on it as a travel destination. Some people raved about it, others insisted there was nothing to do there. So I kept adding and removing it from our itinerary.
But once we actually got to India, things sort of fell into place. I’d heard Mysore described as South India’s answer to Rishikesh - lots of yoga-loving travelers who came here for teacher training and decided to linger. You might remember that we wound up cutting Rishikesh from our itinerary as it was too far north, so I was jonesing for a place with a more chilled out vibe. Reports of tasty South Indian food and beautiful sights added to the allure, and it was conveniently on the way between Kerala and Hampi, fitting perfectly into our travel path.
Well, sort of perfectly. We had to take a train from Ernakulam (the Kochi station) to Bangalore, and then from Bangalore to Mysore. Except this is India, and scheduling connecting trains with less than a 3 hour window is a bad idea, but of course we didn’t know that until after we did it. Long story short, we arrived in Bangalore as the Mysore-bound train was pulling out of the station (without us on it), and had a hectic morning of navigating local buses to find the long-haul bus station servicing Mysore. We got on a nice luxury bus, though, and at the end of the day only lost an hour or so of time.
We had a fair amount of difficulty trying to get accommodations in Mysore. We were booking just a couple days in advance so there was almost nothing available online, and what was available was really expensive. We wound up using booking.com, which has been tremendously useful to us here in India. Honestly, I just don’t think the backpacker/budget accommodation scene has really taken off yet in Mysore yet. There are a lot of mediocre budget hotels available, though - just make sure to check reviews.
I’m not sure if we picked a bad week to go or if prices there are just generally higher here, but we paid 2000 rupees for a private room in a hostel called The Mansion 1907. This made it by FAR the most expensive room we had in India - in Udaipur, which we found more expensive overall for food/drink/activities, our room was only Rs. 1000 a night and was comparable in terms of amenities (A/C, ensuite bathroom, working hot water). Our room in the Mansion was fine, just nothing memorable. When we came back to Mysore after our failed trip to Coorg, we stayed in a hotel called Banyan Tree Comforts, and were really happy with our room. It was cheaper than the Mansion (we paid Rs 1500/night for an AC room) and it was an actual hotel!
In terms of attractions, the big ones in Mysore are the Mysore Palace and the Zoo (aka the Zoological Gardens). We were walking distance from the zoo, and a quick Uber (yes, thankfully Uber is available here) from the Palace. The rest of our time was spent wandering around, exploring the many cafes and restaurants around the city,
The zoo was easily our favorite tourist attraction in Mysore. It’s huge, and everything is organized along one long central path so everyone sort of walks in the same direction through the zoo, which makes it streamlined and less crowded. The bird section was really amazing - there were dozens of different species of tropical birds, including some we had never seen before like toucans! And there were, of course, plenty of big cats that were surprisingly active considering it was the middle of the day, and rhinos, elephants, and hippos.
I’ve mentioned before that whenever we visit a tourist site in India, we’re asked to take tons of selfies with locals (mostly teenagers). The zoo was no different - I think we took more selfies here than anywhere else in India. I seriously don’t think we went more than five minutes without being asked for a photo…it honestly felt like we were one of the exhibits! But it’s all in good fun, and people are generally really nice - the kids were excited to meet us and wanted to know where we were from. It was less cool when older dudes would ask for pics with just me, and I’d turn down those requests because it weirded me out, but with the kids and families we were totally up for it.
The Mysore Palace is absolutely stunning - I’ve been to a number of palaces in my day but this is definitely one of the best. It’s actually still the home for the Mysore royal family, and so security is a bit strict here and you don’t have free reign to roam around the whole plaza but you can still see a lot - it’s kind of like how you can tour parts of the Vatican, but it’s still a residence so some parts are off-limits.
The interiors are so incredibly detailed, and everything from the ceilings to the wall columns to the tiniest details in the windows were made with care - tons of rich colors, exquisite patterns and ornate carvings. I’d read online that you are not allowed to take photos inside the palace, but on the day we were there we didn’t see any signs prohibiting photography, and everyone around us (it was really crowded) was snapping pics on everything from phone cameras to intense-looking telephoto lenses. There were tons of security guards around and none of them stopped us from taking photos, so I’m guessing either they relaxed the rules or the guards just didn’t care that day.
Once we had the tourist sites out of the way, we were able to spend the rest of our time in Mysore doing our favorite activity - EATING! Luckily, Mysore is a relatively walkable city, at least in the central part of town, so we could burn off some calories walking to and from our chosen restaurants, and of course there’s Uber for getting farther away.
First I’ll start by saying that if you go to Mysore, there are two restaurants you CANNOT miss. They’re both truly authentic, hole in the wall type digs that serve some of the best food we’ve had in all of India. I honestly feel like these two spots alone are worth spending a day or two in the city if you’re passing through on your way to Hampi or Bangalore.
First, there’s the little dosa corner known as Vinayaka Mylari. This is hands-down the most beloved restaurant in Mysore, and it was walking distance from our hostel. They serve Mysore style masala dosas (spicy potatoes in a spongy, thick dosa instead of the huge crispy one you see elsewhere in India) with homemade coconut chutney and nothing else. Dosas cost Rs 40 a pop, and they’ll keep serving you until you’re full. We had to share a table with a random local, because the restaurant is tiny - it’s literally a hole in the wall - but it was worth the slight awkwardness, because the dosas are just unbelievable. I wish we had taken a photo, but we wolfed down our dosas too fast. Sorry.
Second is the humble institution known as Hotel RRR (pronounced ‘triple-R’). This place is the real deal - all-you-can-eat vegetarian thalis served on banana leaves, with servers refilling your plate until you’re so full you might explode. The curries and chutneys here were all mouth-watering and full of amazing South Indian flavors like coconut and tamarind, but with a delicate heat that wasn’t too spicy, just perfect. The real winner, though, is the rice. It’s flavored with coconut and is so warm and fluffy without being sticky. It’s the perfect vessel for mixing with the curries and shoveling in your mouth, because there are no utensils here - you eat with your hands, Indian style! Trust me, it’s the best way to eat.
We also spent a lot of time at Depth 'N' Green, a cafe in the yoga neighborhood known as Gokulam, across town from where we were staying. You can read Alex’s take on the cafe in his Roasts Around the World post on it. There are actually two locations on the same block - the primary location is right on 1st Main Road, and there’s a smaller offshoot just around the corner in the alley to the left. The primary location serves a full menu of vegetarian and vegan items, while the smaller location just does coffee and kombucha (but does it really well). We ate here 4 or 5 times during our stay in Mysore, and everything on the menu is absolutely delicious from the green smoothies to the buddha bowl to the various sandwiches. We loved both locations so much that we’d go to the big cafe for lunch and then head over to the small one for espresso after! We’re nerds.
My final recommendation for Mysore is a little cafe/organic shop called Dhatu Organics and Naturals. It honestly felt like an independently-owned Whole Foods in the best way (and if you know me, you know I LOVE Whole Foods). There are tons of amazing curries to choose from and everything is organic, duh, hence the name. The multigrain chapati here is the best chapati we’ve ever eaten - it’s rich and flavorful without being heavy. And the little shop next door sells all kinds of organic and Ayurvedic skincare products and grocery items, and I’m a total sucker for that stuff so I spent more than I want to admit on turmeric creams and ashwagandha powders.
Beyond the suggestions I’ve listed here, Mysore is chock full of amazing food options and you really can’t go wrong - these are just our favorites. The city itself seems to be really popular with Indian tourists but not so much with foreigners. It’s a shame, because it’s a lovely city with a lot to offer, and we found the people to be helpful and friendly, with a little bit less hassle than you’d find in popular tourist cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Varanasi. If you’re traveling through South India and seeking a unique experience, Mysore is definitely worth a look.