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Published: April 21st 2017
Maharajas of the Wodeyar dynasty have been lording it over the people of Mysore since 1399 when King Yaduraya first claimed the site and built a palace. Being born to such a lineage can be considered a blessing or a curse depending on how you view such things but the various incarnations of palace buildings, culminating in the present day grand opulence are surely recompense for any of the more onerous aspects attached to those fated to rule.
We are standing inside one of the five entrances to what is now the most visited building in India after the Taj Mahal. Six million visitors a year become 6 million and 15 as we make our way to the turn stile and shoe depository - bare feet are necessary as it seems verucas haven't sufficiently gotten a hold in India so far and need a little helping hand - or foot! We are joined by a new guide Mr Ramish who we've been warned is somewhat humourless and serious. If we step out of line he is likely morph into bossy Maharaja mode!
He explains, whilst simultaneously waving other visitors past our group like a traffic policeman, that the last
Maharaja died four years ago childless and therefore without an heir. Stepping up to the plate is his great nephew Yuduveer Krishnadata Chamaraja Wodeyar who had to be adopted by the previous Maharaja's widow to make it legal. Sounds a bit convoluted for something that these days is so utterly outdated, but at least he gets the palace to himself for the six days of the year the hoi palloi is kept out.
The current palace was built just over a hundred years ago after fire destroyed most of the previous building. British architect Henry Irvin was given the commission to go completely over the top on the extravagance richter scale and along with chief engineer Mr Raghavulu Naidu they created the opulant magnificence we see today. The architecture is a mixture of Hindu, Muslim, Rajput and Gothic styles with domes, arches and towers creating the completed look.
Once inside the palace traffic cop PC Ramish gesticulates with one hand that we should gather closer to him whilst simultaneously waving other visitors past our group. He points out the massed decorative boxes made from sandalwood and inlaid with ivory that were gifted to the Maharajas over the years.
There is a lady sat in a chair next to this display blowing a whistle at errant individuals who are doing the equivalent of dive bombing at the swimming pool, going the wrong way or taking too long looking at the exhibits or some other such heinous crime. We are waved on to follow PC Plod further into the palace and look up to see what he's pointing at... two taxidermied elephant heads mounted on either side of a doorway!
We move into the main hall. It's huge with a central glass dome decorated with what look like peacock tail feather designs. Much of the object d'art decorative features come from Europe; marble from Italy and chandeliers from Venice for example. The outer walls include 29 mural paintings, mostly of battalions of soldiers in their red coats. One is of the Scottish band and pipers, another shows the state carriage and accompanying bullock cart and there is even one with an ambulance carriage with a red cross on the side. To show the acceptance of the Maharaja's rule by everyone there's a painting of St Philomena's Church with 'God bless the Maharaja' written above the entrance gate. We pass
into another room where is housed an 80kg real gold 'howdah' or elephant carriage.
We more through various other grand areas called Durbar Halls, built for the Maharaja to confer with his ministers or to receive people to the palace. There are grand columns in these rooms and a special silver door that only his mightiness is allowed to walk through!
We return to the shoe place where our bucket load of shoes are unceremoniously dumped in a pile on the ground for us to retrieve. We say goodbye to Mr Ramish who doesn't even crack a smile and make our way back to the cool of our minibus, a few more selfie photos requested from passing Indian visitors to the palace who really love to see our weirdness and capture it on their mobile phones!
We return to the palace in the evening for a special light show. Basically this is the equivalent of turning on the Christmas lights at the house with the most decorations in the street - the whole palace is covered in white bulbs which are suddenly all turned on at once at the flick of a switch. We are amazed that
the hundreds of pigeons roosting on palace ledges don't all fly off, scared by the light going on.
We get the craziest tuktuk ride back to the hotel, our guy making some hair-raising maneouvers, even managing to overtake his buddy in the ride in front of us. He got a massive cheer on arrival outside our hotel.
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