The first time we saw Mysore Palace, it was through the giant iron gates on the southern side. The first fingers of dusk were smudging the sky; the uniformed security officials on the other side were ushering out the last loiterers. Suddenly, without warning, 97,000 electric bulbs lit up the sprawling façade of the palace. The almost synchronized gasps of breath of a hundred people still rings in my ears.
But would the magic survive the sunlight? When we made our way back next, a couple of weeks later, it was through the unkempt parking lot and a medley of makeshift shops hard selling suspect sandalwood, plastic hats, seashell dividers—the usual kitsch you find in tourist spots from Puri to Panjim. Next, we had to negotiate a long queue for tickets (the palace rivals the Taj in annual visitors) but it moved fast and was relatively well-ordered.
Inside the gates, like every other tourist, we overlooked the holding room for cameras and headed across the paved expanse to the palace entrance. Shoes aren’t allowed inside (a very good idea, considering the magnificent inlaid tiles we’d be treading) so we had to surrender our footwear before joining yet another queue. At its end, though, metal detectors sniffed out two cameras—and, this time, we had to negotiate the scorching cement in bare feet to meekly surrender the offending digicams. The facility’s free: The Indian tourist without the camera is as much of an anomaly now as the American without his khakis.
Protected: Thanks to constant vigil, the Mysore Palace remains a well-preserved piece of history.
Back to the line, and on to a pleasant surprise: A kiosk offers audio guides in multiple languages, including Kannada and Hindi, for Rs100 apiece. Though the first I’ve personally seen in an Indian tourist spot, it’s also available at the National Museum, New Delhi, Mehrangarh fort, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer fort and a couple of other museums. Headphones around our necks, we rejoin the queue, waved in by brusque palace board officials. Some groups have certified guides (available near the entrance); others are simply wandering around open-mouthed at the splendour.
It may be the evidence of so much life—this, after all, is no mausoleum, but an erstwhile royal residence—that induces respect. But barring the odd lumpen element, everyone follows rules, including the aunty in her sequinned synthetic and the farmer in spotless white. Or maybe it’s the splendour of what we see, from arches to artwork, family portraits to furniture, giant elephants to gilded palanquins, that leaves us speechless.
There is the occasional vandalism—one isolated section housing royal armaments, in particular, is scribbled over with the “Sathish-loves-Vani” type of pronouncements—and tired tourists can be seen squatting anywhere they can. Yet the overwhelming impression we carry away is one of orderliness. Outside, the noon sun effectively nips high jinks; inside it’s the constant supervision of no-nonsense officials.
Constant supervision—that may well be the secret to this pleasure palace. As a people, we are too denied, too deprived to have a sense of ownership over history and over public spaces. Till we reach that stage, we may need to pay a price for our liberty. Otherwise, we’ll be looking on longingly from the gates.
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