The old Hotel Metropole in Mysore

I have fond memories of Mysore’s Hotel Metropole as it used to be. The new incarnation of the hotel is pleasant enough, but the soul of the Metropole is gone. No longer is it a charming place of deep verandahs, outdated furnishings, an antiquated restaurant, and an often equally antiquated staff.

The building was constructed by the Maharaja of Mysore to house his European guests in the early 1920s. It eventually came into the hands of the state government, which leased it to a private corporation to operate as a hotel. The State of Karnataka grew dissatisfied with the corporation’s performance and successfully sued to regain control of the hotel, which it soon closed. Following extensive renovation, it reopened in 2004 as part of the Royal Orchid chain of hotels.

The old Metropole contained, as I recall, only 22 rooms and suites, a few of which were A/C. The rooms were about as wide as those one finds in American motels, but they ran nearly the depth of the building. The suites, on the other hand, were huge; the bathrooms alone were nearly the size of a small apartment; all for less than Rs 1000/night in the 1990s. Rooms and suites alike were furnished in a style that I can only describe as “Inspection Bungalow” – dark wood, utilitarian, and possibly original to the building. If you’ve ever stayed in an IB in the South, then you can easily picture the old Metropole’s furnishings. They gave the place a homey feel, which I liked.

It seemed natural to know many of the staff by name at the old Metropole. For their part, they even seemed to remember repeat guests, or at least they were polite enough to pretend like they did. While I never met any of the chowkidars, I found it oddly comforting to be awaken each night by the chowkidar’s whistle and lathi tapping as he made his rounds of the hotel compound. Less comforting was the equally loud sound of him apparently coughing up his lungs shortly before dawn.

The Metropole’s food was both unpretentious and unexceptional, except, of course, for any meal that one took on the verandah. The kitchen made a Dal Makhani, served with crispy-crispy fried onions sprinkled on the top, that I quite liked. The same could be said for their Gobi Manchuri. Regrettably, they also had their occasional failure, and I left at least one scarcely touched meal out on the verandah to poison the crows. The restaurant itself was old, dark, and seldom saw much of a crowd. On the few occasions when I ate there I felt sorry for the waiters, all of whom would have clearly loved to see bustling tables rather than a nearly empty room.

The best parts of my days at the Metropole were spent on the verandah. Breakfast around 7.30a, followed by some good Mysore filter coffee and the Deccan Herald; again late in the afternoon when I returned from the day’s appointments. A small packet of biscuits, a cup of tea, and a good book on the verandah helped to relieve the stress of trying to get things done in Mysore.

While this may sound pleasant, there was a catch. The Metropole’s verandahs caught (and still catch) the full blast of road noise and air pollution from Jhansi Lakshmibai Road. It took the edge off of the pleasure of sitting on that nice verandah, but one did get used to it. Had it not been for the noise and pollution, the place would have been positively idyllic.

After being shuttered for several years, the Metropole reopened in 2004 as a modern 21st century hotel. I could not resist staying a couple of nights at the new hotel a few months after it opened even though the tariff was more than I wanted to spend. The new Hotel Metropole impressed me as a sound business venture with internet access, flat-screen TVs, and international cuisine. All the old Metropole had over the new hotel was charm. But, then, charm can count for quite a lot.

Over the years I arrived at the old Metropole by many modes of transport – private car, taxi, autorickshaw, two-wheeler, and occasionally on foot.  My arrival on foot late one January morning, saddled with six months worth of luggage and supplies for a new project, sticks most in my memory. I marched onto the hotel grounds and up to the small registration desk at the head of a line of luggage-laden, red-coated porters who had wisecracked and joked their way from the railway station which is only a few blocks away. It made for a quite an entrance and the porters and I, at least, found considerable humor in it.  It was also cheaper than a taxi. I couldn’t imagine making the same entrance at the new Hotel Metropole.  It somehow doesn’t fit the image of a hotel that now greets each new guest with a garland of marigolds after they sign in (this may have changed; it was still into garlands when I stayed there last).

In the end, the only problem that I have with the new Metropole is that it’s not the old Metropole. This said, I’m sure that the old hotel must have bled rupees in every area and operated at a dead loss for years. The renovation and the hotel’s new concept were the correct business decisions, especially if the alternative was to destroy the building or turn it into offices. Thirty years from now, if it’s still in business, some fool will probably lament the passing of the old “new” Metropole. Change happens.

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