Besides Mysore's most famous palace, the Maharajah's Palace, and Keshava Temple, you might want to visit Jagan Mohan Palace (west of Mysore Palace, Dewan's Rd.; Rs 10; daily 8:30am-5pm), which once served as the royal auditorium. The building now exhibits South India's oddest assortment of kitsch memorabilia from the massive private collection of the Wodeyars. Southeast of downtown (3km/2 miles away), Chamundi Hill is where you can join throngs of huffing-puffing pilgrims, some of who recite or read Hindu verses along the way (going by car is also an option). Stop first at the Shiva Temple, where devotees circumambulate the statue in a clockwise direction while a friendly priest dishes out sacred water and dollops of vermilion paste. The summit of the hill is very active with pilgrims come to pay their respects to Durga. You can buy a darshan ticket from the computerized ticketing booth and join the queue for a peek at the deity inside Sri Chamundeswari Temple (3:30-6:30pm); or you can wander around the hilltop exploring smaller temples, many of which serve as bases for bright-robed grinning sadhus (holy persons) wanting to sell you a private photo opportunity. Near the Race Course is the Karinji Lake (8:30am-5:30pm), a particularly beautiful spot during the early morning and evening when you get to see a large number of birds -- it also has a Butterfly Park for which you need a good reserve of patience and luck. Half an hour away from the city center, the Brindavan Gardens (park open from 10am--8pm; light and fountain timings: 7-8pm summer, 6:30-7:30pm winter) are quite a sight -- make sure you go in the evening when hundreds of lights make it very magical and get a taste of quintessential Indian joviality when a lone fountain at the end of the gardens breaks into a "dance" set to Indian film songs. You can also stay on at the Royal Orchid (tel. 0823/6257-257; www.royalorchidhotels.com; Rs 5,000 Queen-Rs 6,000 King doubles): superbly located, overlooking the gardens on one side and the dam with the river Cauvery on the other side. Modern and antiquated simultaneously, it's a nice option if you want to explore the gardens in the morning and enjoy lazing over a book or beer.
Finally, no trip to Mysore is complete without getting lost in the dizzying scents of jasmine, musk, sandalwood, frangipani, and incense as you wander through the city's vibrant Devraj Market. Mysore is also famous for its silk and sandalwood oil, and you can witness the production of both by taking a side trip to Vidyaranyapuram, 15 minutes away. For an escorted tour of the Government Silk Weaving Factory, call tel. 0821/248-1803 (visiting hours daily 9-11am and 12:15-3:30pm; shop hours 9:30am-7pm); the Government Sandal Oil Factory is right next door (daily 11:30am-4pm). If time is short, you can also hop into Cauvery Arts and Crafts Emporium (Sayaji Rao Rd.; 10am-6pm) which is like a one-stop shop for all that Mysore has to offer. Although not open to casual visitors, an absolute eye-opener is the astonishing Infosys Global Education Centre (tel. 0821/240-4101) on the outskirts of the city -- a world class campus spread over 135 hectares (335 acres) for budding IT trainees, it stands as a striking contrast to the stereotype of ramshackle educational institutions across the country. Use all contacts, pull all strings to set foot inside!
Visiting Rajiv Gandhi National Park
Originally the private property of the Maharajah of Mysore, Karnataka's most popular elephant hangout became a national park in 1955, 3 years after the princely state of Mysore was absorbed into post-colonial India. Situated 95km (59 miles) southwest of Mysore, and spread over 511 sq. km (199 sq. miles) filled with teak, rosewood, sandal, and silver oak trees, Rajiv Gandhi National Park is also generously populated by dhole (wild dogs), gaur (Indian bison), antelope, sloth bears, panthers, otters, crocodiles, cobras, pythons, falcons, eagles, and great Indian horned owls. Keep an eye peeled for tiny muntjac deer; they stand only .6m (2 ft.) tall and are crowned by finger-length antlers. The big draw, of course, are the tigers (btw. 60 and 65 reside here), but sightings are subject to a great deal of luck -- although when Goldie Hawn came here to shoot a documentary, she apparently spotted several. Ms. Hawn stayed at the popular Kabini River Lodge, the most practical place to be if you want to have access to the park without any organizational fuss. A charmingly rustic retreat some 6 hours by car from Bengaluru (3 hr. from Mysore), Kabini is spread over 22 hectares (55 acres), incorporating lush forest and largely untamed vegetation, just the way a "jungle resort" should, with the maharajah's original 18th-century hunting lodge as centerpiece. Accommodations with the best positions are the river-facing cottages. Expect small bathrooms, dated green sofas, and lumpy mattresses covered with charming Indian throws. Eyeball the skies for birds like hoopoes and drongos, try a brief coracle (boat) trip, go for an elephant ride or tiger spotting, and -- of course -- partake of the meals and tea laid out for you according to a precise schedule. The lodge was set up by Col. John Felix Wakefield, who at 92 still lives on the premises. Book a room at Kabini well in advance, and plan to arrive there at least an hour before the afternoon safari, which begins at 4:30pm (tel. 08228/26-4402 through -4405; head office in Bengaluru tel. 080/2559-7021, -7024, or -7025; www.junglelodges.com; standard package 2 days, 1 night per person, $160; includes all meals, safaris, park entrance, and elephant and boat rides).
Resorts have also begun to spring up in this hitherto lesser-known area. Across the river from Kabini River Lodge, Orange County Kabini (www.orangecounty.in; tel. 080/4191-1000) offers two kinds of lodging -- private pool huts and Jacuzzi huts, ranging between $360 and $460. The huts -- mud cottages with thatched roofs -- are as close to "spirit of the land" as you'll get, for luxury is the defining word here. All cottages are tastefully designed and spacious, but the pool huts are best for location, with the river virtually lapping at the edges. Those coming for an eco-experience or wanting to be more in the thick of the wildlife will find it a tad commercial -- ideal time to visit would be midweek when the fewest tourists are around. Cicada Resorts (tel. 080/4115-2200; www.cicadaresorts.com) is slightly older and less manicured than Orange County, but their safari vehicles are the best in the area. Standard rooms are bland and overpriced; suites are nicer (Rs 12,000-Rs 18,000). Spend your days kayaking and evenings gazing into the bonfire (there's no TV).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.