In this frenetic age, travel plans are cooked in a cauldron of tight schedules with travelogues, articles on places to visit and tailor made tours as the ingredients. It is difficult to look past the stereotypes pinned on a city and feel its real pulse hidden beneath the allure of the major attractions. It is a hassle to accommodate that nondescript museum or the isolated lake or the unknown temple in the packed itinerary. And as we zip through cities and their wonders we forgo the simple delights a city has to offer, the rubies among the diamonds.
The city of Mysore is synonymous with pompous palaces, gold studded thrones, the grand Dasara festival, wall size oil paintings, ivory palanquins, intricately carved rosewood, detailed paper montages and exquisite murals. The grueling walk up the Chamundi Hill, the feeling of amazement when the Mysore Palace is illuminated and the decorated jumbos carrying the lustrous howdahs are the highlights of a visit to Mysore. However, the intention of this article is to not reiterate the expected but embark on a tour of Mysore’s hidden gems, the Karanji Lake and the Rail Museum, and wallow in the discovery of the unexpected.
Karanji Lake, close to the Mysore Zoo, is a haven for migratory birds and also a popular picnic spot. All one needs is a guide book of Indian birds and a keen eye to spot these beautiful creatures. One can spot the Grey Pelican, Painted Stork, Egret, Sandpiper, Purple Moorhen and a host of other species in and around the lake. For a birding enthusiast, a walking trail circles the lake and allows closer examination of the habitats of these birds. Small islands dot the lake and a cacophony of bird calls emanates from these; numerous birds can be seen circling these islands. Benches are placed on the lake-side amidst towering trees which offer the opportunity to capture those elusive photographic moments. Like a white Pelican skimming the water surface and swooping down to grab a fish, a disinterested Kite perched on a floating dead branch, a group of Egrets assembled at the centre of the lake and a pair of spot billed ducks swimming nonchalantly through the trees. One also comes across a bird tower on the trail; a climb up the shaky stairs of this metallic structure is very rewarding. From the top the whole lake is visible; the views of the birds hopping from one island to the other gliding past this tower and the sunset are particularly serene. An aviary is also located in the premises of the lake which is a popular destination for kids and adults alike. An important attraction of the aviary is the Peafowl; these majestic birds with their colourful tails steal the show and often surprise the onlookers by revealing their stunningly intricate plumage.
Another landmark of Mysore which is absent from most travel itineraries is the Rail Museum. The museum is located close to the railway station and can be squeezed into a trip to Mysore. Elderly locomotives are displayed here which have traveled thousands of kilometers across India, from archaic steam locomotives to more recent diesel based ones, they script the journey of the Indian Railways over the years. Visitors can experience the past in the rusty driver’s room surrounded by vintage gauges and levers; or take a walk through compartments with wooden benches. Also on display are coaches belonging to the Maharaja of Mysore; these have elegantly decorated living, dining and bed rooms. Vintage railway telephones, signal lanterns and models of signalling systems that were used in the railways are also exhibited here.
These places of interest certainly cannot compete with the palaces and the rich heritage of Mysore but they surely add a new dimension to the Mysore experience.