A centre of sandalwood-carving, silk and incense production, MYSORE is one of south India's more appealing stops. The erstwhile capital of the Wadiyar rajas can be disappointing at first blush considering the compliments often heaped on it: one is not so much embraced by the scent of jasmine blossom or gentle wafts of sandalwood as smacked by a cacophony of tooting, careering buses, bullock carts, motorbikes, and tongas. Nevertheless, it's Karnataka's most popular tourist destination by a long shot, attracting about 2.5 million each year. Mysore remains charming, old-fashioned and undaunting, changed by neither an IT boom nor its newfound status as a top international yoga destination. Give it a few days and Mysore will cast a spell on you.
In the tenth century Mysore was known as Mahishur – "the town where the demon buffalo was slain" . Presiding over of many villages, the city was ruled from 1400 until Independence by the Hindu Wadiyars. Their rule was only broken from 1761, when the Muslim Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan took over. Two years later, the new rulers demolished the labyrinthine old city to replace it with an elegant grid of sweeping, leafy streets and public gardens. However, following Tipu Sultan's defeat in 1799 by the British colonel, Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington), Wadiyar power was restored. As capital of Mysore state, the city thereafter dominated much of southern India. In 1956, when Bangalore became capital of newly formed Karnataka, its maharaja was appointed governor.
Mysore is a great city simply to stroll around. The characterful, if dilapidated, pre-Independence buildings lining market areas such as Ashok Road and Sayaji Rao Road lend faded grandeur to the busy centre, teeming with vibrant street life. Souvenir stores spill over with the famous sandalwood; get a sense of what's on offer at the Government Cauvery Arts and Crafts Emporium on Sayaji Rao Road (closed Thurs), which stocks a wide range of local crafts. The famous Devaraja Market on Sayaji Rao Road is one of south India's most atmospheric produce markets: a giant complex of covered stalls groaning with bananas (the delicious nanjangod variety), luscious mangoes, blocks of sticky jaggery and conical heaps of lurid kumkum powder.