Saturday, January 26, 2013

Hasseraghatta and Kuteeram - A weekend near Bangalore

There was a birthday to celebrate, and we had the weekend  to ourselves. Thanks to a very benevolent sister we had bookings at the Kuteeram at Hasseraghatta. We had heard positive reviews about it before, but largely about the Nityagram dance village opposite which it is located. 

Hasseraghatta is a small village / township approximately 18-20 kms to the outskirts of Bangalore, approximately an hour's drive from the city center. The area was originally known for a large man-made reservoir, which used to have a prominent yatch club, but now the reservoir is completely dry. Nityagram is a dance-village and school established by the famous Odissi Dancer Protima Gauri in the early 1990's, and boasts of a famous dancing ensemble and celebrity visitors.

The drive to the location is quite a maze, but we had an easier time due to the mapmyindia navigator device with us. The Taj Kuteeram is an offbeat hotel with 15-20 rooms modeled after the vintage houses of Karnataka. The rooms are spacious and well-maintained, but in a rustic village setting with gardens and trees all around. The hotel's restaurant is  centrally located overseeing a fountain and a small stream of water, with ducks bounding about. The food is pretty good, but the downside is that one has to chose from a preset menu. Besides that, there are a few games that one can play, learn pottery and see a magic show or two. 

The Kuteeram is a great getaway from town, particularly on a weekend, and if one wants to do nothing but relax and enjoy the peace. We loved it because of the quiet and calm of the location, after a stressful week at work. But more activity-seeking individuals, and in particular kids may not find it as much fun. Yet, it is a great weekend getaway to consider from Bangalore, and is often available at a value price.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A weekend in Mysore

The Mysore Palace - at night
Mysore is Karnataka's second largest city, and is situated at a distance of 120 odd kilometres from Bangalore. Known for its beautiful gardens and its gorgeous Palace, the erstwhile capital city of the Wodeyars is bustling with historical treasures too. That besides, it also forms a stopping point to tourists visiting the National Parks of Bandipur and Nagarhole. Given the long weekend, we decided to do a quick drive to explore the city and its environs. 

The drive to Mysore took us a little over 3 hours, largely because of the Metro construction work going on along Mysore Road inside city limits. Once on the highway though, it was a breezy drive. 

Our first stop was the Mysore Palace. The palace is an old monument, documenting the life, times and objects of the Kings of Mysore. Wierdly though, cameras are not allowed to be taken into the Palace and so is any footwear. From 7 to 8 pm each night, the Palace has a beautiful sound and light show highlighting the life and times of the Mysore state. Sadly, this show is set in Kannada, leaving all out of state and out of country visitors scratching their heads. However the show culminates with a fully lit palace, decked up with a million lights, making it worthy for everyone around.

The next day, we did an early morning drive to Nagarhole, or the Rajiv Gandhi National Park as it is called, located at a distance of ~100 kms from Mysore. The Safari runs between 6-9 AM in the mornings, so we had an early start and covered the distance in about 2 hours. In January, Nagarhole is brown-green, with the trees having just about shed their leaves and new shoots on the way. The Safari ran for about an hour, and we saw a few elephants and lots of deer, but could not chance a glance at the elusive tiger for which Nagarhole is famous. 

Iruppu Falls
The Iruppu falls or the Lakshmanatirtha falls was our next port of call. Located 15 kms away from Nagarhole, the route runs along the scenic coffee plantations and is a worthy drive. The falls are located at a 100-odd steps of a climb up in the Bramhagiri range and have a quite a bit of water in January. Its a popular pilgrimage spot too with lots of people taking a shower in the falls and visiting the Rama temple nearby.

Enroute back, we decided to spend a few hours at the Jaganmohana Palace, which hosts an Art Gallery we had heard much about. The exhibit was quite impressive in the breadth and nature of the paintings  - the originals of Ravi Varma, Haldenkar, Tagore, and Roerich amongst others. However, the state of neglect with which these are maintained is quite sad, with dust everywhere, and holes and tears on the paintings and artifacts (wonder why a plastic/glass cover could not at least be put up). Yet, this is a worthy visit for all art lovers out there.

Overall, Mysore is an interesting city and a worthy weekend getaway. Close to Bangalore, yet much quieter, and with a lot of culture and tradition. Some of its elements could be maintained better, but a city to explore nevertheless.

For those who intend to follow our trail:

a. Do try to take the outer-ring road / Nice road to get out of the city. Despite being longer, given all the construction going on Mysore road, its a much faster way.

b. One of Mysore's most common scams is of auto/horse-cart drivers telling you that a certain monument or museum opens one or two hours later than the present time, and offering to take you to a convenient shopping destination till then, from which of course they receive a commission. Quite shameful to see this happening, but seems like a common enough occurance to which we were almost subjected twice, till we realized the game.

c. We stayed at the Mango suites at Jayalakshmipuram, and would recommend it to others. With pricing usually in the range of a Ginger, it offers spacious, clean rooms and a comfortable bed. Plus its located in a convenient area.

d. The Mysore Palace opens from 8.30 AM in the morning till 6 PM everyday. The Art Gallery opens from 8.30 AM to 5 PM each day. Nagarhole is open between 6AM and 6PM each day. Let nobody tell you otherwise, particularly the auto-drivers.