Launched in July, the sharp enterprise takes passengers around city streets to leading landmarks and scenic viewpoints. The first city where its fleet of Suzuki Gypsy trucks operates is Mysuru, the former royal capital of Karnataka, the southern state now best known for its largest city, Bangalore.
Unlike Bangalore, Mysuru (also called Mysore) isn’t overwhelmed by construction or vehicles. It has lots of slowdowns, though, particularly around its namesake palace, and traffic generally moves at a sloth-like pace. The jeep tour allows for a perspective that would not be possible in countries where road safety laws prevent passengers from riding at the back of a flatbed truck while standing. In India, though, it’s all good.
“We plan to do other cities. We wanted to test it in Mysuru first because it is a smaller city with lots to see,” says Shiva Prasad, the business manager for Open Jeep Tours.
Those sights start with Mysuru Palace, the second-most visited attraction in India — surpassed only by the Taj Mahal. It is a colossal structure reminiscent on the outside of the Palace of Versailles. Mysuru Palace was the seat of the royal family of Karnataka for 24 generations. Its halls feature marble columns, ornate frescoes, and walls of portraits. There’s a Hindu temple that visitors can enter as long as they remove their shoes (which stay stored on shelves at the entrance during the temple viewing). The exterior is bold yellow encircled with 96,000 bulbs that light up every Sunday in a spectacular display of illumination that may remind some onlookers of the flagship Harrods store in London.
Another palace stop for Open Jeep Tours is Lalit Mahal, a former summer residence of the Wajhid royal family that has been transformed into a luxury hotel and choice wedding venue. Its British Colonial exterior is eye-catching in stark white with accents of blue and gold.
Mysuru also features a flower and fruit market that has been operating since 1846. The Devaraja Market has 624 vendors, including Guru Sweets, a fourth-generation confectionary that dates eight decades. Its best-selling treat is Mysore Pak, a fudge-like sweet invented by chefs who served the royal family. Mysore Pak, which retains the British name for the city, is made with ground chickpea flour, turmeric, sugar, and ghee (clarified butter).
For views to savor with your treats, hold onto the handrails on the back of your jeep until Open Safari Tours carries you nearly 3,500 feet to the top of Chamundi Hills — the highest point in Mysuru and a place of pilgrimage for Hindus. Chamundi Hills is believed to be ruled by the Hindu goddess Chamundeswari, who defeated a demon named Mahishasura for control of the mount and the territory surrounding it.
Today, souvenir sellers and coffee and tea stalls dominate the peak, as does a fierce statue of Mahishasura. A temple devoted to Chamundeswari is also on the mount but views of the landscape are blocked off by fencing. So, the jeep tour takes guests to an overlook a few hundred feet below the summit.
From that spot, you can breathe fresh air and gaze on Mysuru, its palaces and immense racetrack, and the sprawl of concrete and asphalt extending into the horizon. For those who demand wildlife with their safari experience, macaque monkeys can be spotted on the viewing platform and nearby trees. The sight is a reminder you’re in an urban jungle, which underscores the potential of Open Jeep Tours. The joy ride had a touch of wildness, and moments of bliss.
This concept of driving through India’s congested traffic in a way that turns a frustrating experience into a three-hour immersive tour figures to have plenty of, um, wheels.
MORE ABOUT OPEN JEEP TOURS
Cost: The tours are an absolute bargain. The price for the city tour of Mysuru is just 599 Indian rupees (about $9 USD) per person. Tours can be booked online.
Be Prepared: One passenger can sit in the front next to the driver. Other passengers can stand in the back or sit on benches that fold out from the walls of the flatbed truck. Hold on tight to the handrails and your mobile phone, which you will no doubt be tempted to use to capture photos and videos of this fun and inventive experience.
About Mysuru: Like many cities in India, Mysuru was the subject of a name change during the era of British rule. In 2014, the Government of India officially renamed the municipality. The pre-colonial name was Mahishooru, meaning in Kannada (the language of Karnataka) “The City of Mahishasura”, the mythical demon. The British, in an error of language and cultural understanding, shortened it to Mysore. Today, as Mysuru, it is a magnet for tourists, with more than 3.5 million people visiting each year. It has a population of 1.5 million and is far more comfortable to explore than Bangalore. Along with its palaces, Mysuru is noted for clean air, reasonable cost of living, and proximity to nature.
Where to Stay: Courtyard Inn & Suites is a comfortable and very well-maintained three-star hotel with a restaurant that serves quality dishes for dinner as well as a large buffet breakfast with Indian and western selections. Based on a recent search of the property’s website, nightly rates can be secured for less than $40 USD.
Getting There: Mysuru is 90 miles (145 kilometres) southwest of Bangalore, and can be reached via National Highway 275 or public transit (bus or train). A small airport has flights to Bangalore and a few other destinations within India.