Contrary to appearances, this genteel city can burn quite a hole in your pocket! From the ganjifa paintings to the silks, there are many things in Mysore that will make, even the most unwilling shopper, loosen his purse strings.
Ganjifa was a card game that was very popular with the Kings of ancient India. The playing cards, cut out of handmade paper, were either circular or rectangular and carried exquisite paintings of Gods and Goddesses and scenes from Indian Mythology. Some of these cards even had precious and semi precious stones embedded in them, after which, they were lacquered so as to make them non sticky and easy to handle. Mysore has seen a great revival of Ganjifa art, thanks to the Royal Family of Mysore. The International Ganjifa Research Centre at Mysore has taken on the onus of preserving and propagating this fine art.
Mysore Silk has been popular for decades. It is almost a tradition for every bride of South India to include a Mysore crepe silk saree in her trousseau. Available in a variety of colours and textures, Mysore silk is also used to make garments or even furnishings. Mysore silk, in any form, is truly a piece to covet.
Sourced from the forests surrounding Mysore, sandalwood is another must-buy of Mysore. In fact, Mysore Sandalwood is a nomenclature in itself. Mysore Sandalwood is put to a variety of uses. The bark of the sandalwood tree is cut and carved into exquisite handicraft pieces. It is also powdered and filled in sachets, which when kept in wardrobes and cupboards, impart the distinct yet subtle fragrance of sandalwood. A portion of the bark is crushed to yield sandalwood oil. Mysore Sandalwood also finds its way into bath soaps, talcum powder, incense sticks, aromatic candles and garlands that normally do not fade.
The best place to pick up sandalwood, in Mysore, is the Cauvery Emporium, which is the Karnataka State’s Handicraft Emporium, because the prices here are regulated and reasonable, the merchandise is genuine and the handicrafts are of a good quality. Cauvery Emporium showooms are located inside the Mysore Palace and on Sayyaji Rao Road. There are any number of private emporia as well that sell silks and sandalwood. These emporia often get into informal arrangements with travel agents so that they bring tourists directly to them. Try to steer clear of them, as they push up the price first and then offer a nominal discount. Also, one cannot vouch for the quality of merchandise stocked by them.
Mysore City Market
The best place to get a feel of the real Mysore is the Mysore City Market or the Devaraja Market. While you may not be able to carry back much from here, browsing at the City Market is an experience in itself, right from the building, which is symbolic of the heritage of Mysore, to the flowers, fruits, vegetables, hand rolled incense, perfumes, spices and a hundred other things that make up the Indian ethos. Go to the City market early in the morning or late in the night - is a 24x7 venue.
“Mysore Mallige” or Mysore Jasmine is specific to Mysore. Look for it in the Mysore City Market and keep it with you for a while, the fragrance will stay with you till you reach home!
Knicks-Knacks and ‘what-nots’
The Devaraja Market on Sayyaji Rao Road is a great place to browse. Fresh flowers of all colours and hues, vermillion powder and henna used by Indian women, bangles and trinkets and a hundred other knick knacks are all here, infusing the place with a great charm and great chaos! Little lanes running off the arterial roads, viz. Devaraj Urs Road, Sayyaji Rao Road and Albert Victor Road may often throw up some rare books and handicrafts.
There are some old and very reputed bookshops in Mysore where you can lose yourself and let the world pass by.Although the founders are dead and gone, their heirs have taken care to retain the old worlde culture of enabling the visitor to browse to his heart's content, even if he does not buy anything! These bookshops contribute greatly to the charm of Mysore.The Landsdowne Building is home to at least three noted, old and well stocked book stores that cover the entire gamut of publishing.
Mysore Pak, Mysore Masala Dosa and Mysore Rasam.
You cannot leave Mysore without sampling its Mysore Pak, the Mysore Masala Dosa and the Mysore Rasam.
Mysore Pak is the sinfully rich, calorie ridden sweet dish made from chickpea flour, sugar and ghee(clarified butter). It was invented almost a hundred years back by sheer default, by Malappa, the chief cook of the Mysore Maharaja. Though almost every sweetmeat shop sells Mysore Pak, there are a few shops that have an age old reputation of being the best in Mysore Pak. Guru Sweets is the shop set up by the descendants of the creator of Mysore Pak and can rightfully lay claim to his legacy. Mahalakshmi Sweets and Bombay Tiffany also serve authentic Mysore Pak.
Mysore Masala Dosa is a crisp rice based pan cake which is stuffed with a filling of spicy poatoes and onions. Akshaya Restaurant at Dasaprakash Gandhi Square, Mysore Mylari, GTR, Bombay Tiffany's and Dosa Point score high on Mysore Masala Dosas. Mysore Rasam is a spicy tamarind based drink which is eaten with rice. You can carry back some Mysore Rasam Powder from shops at the market, store it for months and use it with tamarind extract as and when required. Mysore Rasam is an ideal pick-me-up on cold and rainy evenings!
Shopping Malls and Convenience Stores
Mysore also has a number of malls and convenience stores where you can pick up your basic necessities. There are many shops on Sayyaji Road, Krishnaraja Circle, Devaraja Urs Road, Ashoka Road and Dhanvantri Road that stock the bare necessities and some more.
New Supermarkets have sprung up all over the city. They stock almost everything from bread, eggs, mineral water, ready-to-eat food packets and fresh fruits to toilet paper, socks, raincoats, t-shirts, towels and even mobile prepaid cards! Some of the better stocked supermarkets are listed here, but the list is, by no means, exhaustive. These are few of the better known supermarkets and are easily identifiable by car and auto rickshaw drivers. Most of the outlets open by 9.00 in the morning and remain open till late into the night.
“More” supermarkets are located at Chamundipuram Hebbal, JP Nagar,Kalidas Road, Kuvempu Nagar, Siddharth Layout, Thonachikoppal, Vijaynagar and Vontikoppal. Loyal World and Easy Day are two well stocked super markets in the yoga district. Reliance Fresh and Big Bazaar also stock a wide spectrum of essential and not so essential items!