Mysore’s Lalitha Mahal Palace has got to be the fanciest hotel I have ever lived in. I almost always stay in budget hotels, but since I was in Mysore for only two nights, my friend Sreyashi suggested this luxury hotel, built by the Wadiyar Kings of Mysore. It wasn’t frightfully expensive, plus I thought I’d have the chance to live in and photograph an actual palace, so we went ahead with the booking, and I can tell you, the Lalitha Mahal Palace did not disappoint.
The Hindu Wadiyar Dynasty have been rulers of Mysore since 1399. Their reign was interrupted for a short period of 39 years when Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan usurped power. The Battle of Seringapatam (or Srirangapatnam) in 1799 restored the Wadiyars to power, and they continued to reign until 1947, when power passed to the independent Government of India. The current titular King of Mysore is the young Yaduveer Krishnadatta Chamaraja Wadiyar, who ascended the throne on the 28th of May, 2015 (incidentally, the day I visited Mysore). The Lalitha Mahal Palace was built in 1921, during the reign of Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV (officially Maharaja Sri Sir Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, GCSI, GBE) the 24th ruler of Mysore, who is said to have been a great patron of the arts. The Wadiyars at this time were second only to the Nizam of Hyderabad in terms of wealth and an astronomical sum was spent in building the Lalitha Mahal Palace to serve as a guest house for the British Viceroy of India and other important European guests. The foundation stone was laid on the 18th of November, 1921 and it was inaugurated as a hotel on the 13th of September, 1974.
Lalitha Mahal Palace was designed by the Bombay (Mumbai) based architect, E.W. Fritchley and took around 9 years to build. Fritchley was part of Gosling, Chambers & Fritchley which worked on many of Bombay’s landmarks, such as the Taj Mahal Hotel (which was attacked by terrorists in 26/11) and The Cathedral of the Holy Name on Nathalal Parekh Marg. The architecture has been variously described as being reminiscent of English Manor Houses and Italian Palazzo. Americans will note that there is a startling similarity between the Lalitha Mahal Palace and American capitol buildings, especially the Texas capitol at Austin and the California capitol at Sacramento. Visitors from Calcutta (Kolkata) will probably think that it looks rather like Calcutta’s Victoria Memorial thanks to its central dome, corner cupolas and colonnaded frontage. That central dome is said to be inspired by London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, but I am a little sceptical about that. British authors seem to find St. Paul’s look-alikes wherever they go! The projecting porch has a pediment which contains Mysore’s royal crest, with the Gandaberunda, the mythical two-headed bird, at its centre. The grandeur of the interiors of the Lalitha Mahal Palace made me gape. The staircase of Italian marble, the lampshades of Belgian glass, the glittering chandeliers, the spiral staircase and the ornate elevator meant for royalty and state guests are things that one would not see in any conventional hotel. Then there is the baroque ballroom, which is now the restaurant, with its three colourful glass domes.
The Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel is operated by the Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), and while it is a luxury hotel, it is not comparable to a conventional 5 star hotel. You wouldn’t find bacon in the breakfast buffet for instance. The breakfast is sumptuous though, and there is variety. I found the puri-sabzi to be quite delicious. There was also fresh juice, cereal, toast with jam and butter, a live omelette station and a variety of South Indian options, such as kara bath. Reviews on the net use terms such as “faded grandeur”, but to be honest, I didn’t find anything seriously wrong with the Lalitha Mahal Palace. Our room was comfortable, large and had a veranda with a beautiful view. Room service was prompt, although I was somewhat irritated when I asked for some snacks with my beer at around 3:30 in the afternoon and was told that I couldn’t have any. But to be fair, I have faced this particular issue in other hotels in South India as well. When I took a closer look at the exteriors of the hotel through my telephoto lens I did find cracks and other signs of wear, but nothing a round of routine maintenance wouldn’t fix. The one night I had dinner there, I ordered the “Sultan ki Thaali” and found that 2 thalis, with a variety of vegetable curries and a choice of chicken, mutton or fish, was more than enough for 3 people. It would be well worth it to take a few hours to just wander the palace and explore its grounds. There is a swimming pool in which we found guests splashing about from dawn to dusk. Since the palace is located on rising ground a little on the outskirts of Mysore town, it commands a magnificent view of the town and of Chamundi Hills. Sunsets can be rather spectacular.
Note to photographers
Do bring a telephoto lens if you are planning to shoot here. It will allow you to get close up shots of the architectural details. Also the areas around the swimming pool and the grounds that surround the Lalitha Mahal Palace are full of birds, including the Brahminy Kite. Bringing along a tripod wouldn’t be a very bad idea either, since the Lalitha Mahal Palace is beautifully lit up at night and long exposure shots look quite spectacular. There is also a group of monkeys that visit the palace in the afternoons. They do make for fascinating photographs, and generally do not bother humans, although I would advise you to keep your distance. Since I wanted to shoot the interiors in the evening, I used a tripod indoors as well. For this I sought prior written permission via email and I advise you to do the same. Even if you aren’t staying at the Lalitha Mahal, you can visit and photograph the palace, but you will be charged an entry fee of Rs. 100/-.
- by Deepanjan Ghosh
FOR TARRIFS AND BOOKING, PLEASE VISIT THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE, http://www.lalithamahalpalace.in/
- I am grateful to my friends Prasenjit Das and Sreyashi Chaudhuri, who arranged for my stay and transport when in Mysore. They did most of the basic groundwork for me as well. Shantadeep Das gave me some great photography tips.
- I am also grateful to author Brian Paul Bach, whose inputs have been invaluable. Brian has written many books, among them a scholarly volume on Calcutta’s architecture called Calcutta’s Edifice, and one on his travels around India and Pakistan entitled The Grand Trunk Road from the Front Seat.
- Thanks also to the manager and staff of the Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel for permitting me to shoot inside the property.
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