Bangalore is India’s 3rd largest city, IT capital and has a population of 8.5m. As one of the top 10 entrepreneurial hubs IN THE WORLD you might expect it to be Hi Tech City but, no, it is a sprawling hotch potch of ugly buildings interspersed with slums and clogged by horrendous traffic. When you think it used to be a hill station, a green and cool refuge from the sweltering heat of the Deccan plains, home of Tippu Sultan, and was laid out with wondrous gardens and Mogul buildings, you want to weep.
In role as accompanying spouse, was herded into back of plane while husband sipped champers in the front, but on arrival found ourselves in 5 star hotel; alas much advertised infinity pool empty of water (victim of playing over-exhuberant Holi), so had to settle for 3 mornings in gym with personal trainer Ramesh, who certainly put me through my paces while watching a Jackie Chan film; a massage and pedicure; and then to while away the hours by sight-seeing toute seule! Any down time spent reading and cataloguing Mama’s letters – now up to mid-1946, but only one mention of my father so far, whom she married by the year-end! its very exciting, actually, like reading a novel….
Not normally a shrinking violet, and put off by recent press stories of rapes and general nastiness, decided to act the Memsahib and take a car and driver because it had a) aircon and b) driver who spoke English! In fact I made three sorties and learned a lot about life in Bangalore: for instance, there is only water for 2-3 hours per day; one driver comes 90 kms daily by train to work, leaving at 4 am; despite being predominantly Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities live happily side by side -‘its all politics’, that most road accidents – of which there are surprisingly few – only happen when drunk, and usually at night; on the other had the standard of English is distinctly ropey and it took me ages to work out that all these ‘world’ things meant simply ‘old’! Acha!
Off to Shiva temple, where led down dingy, dark and pee-smelling corridors with display of linga temples in India, compete with mechanised snakes, buffaloes and even the Lord Shiva himself, waving at me…very tacky indeed. Head branded with sandalwood, lit a candle and threw holy sticks on fire, and circled a shrine three times, for Louise; and said lots of prayers as urged by various priests.
Then to 400 year old Bull Temple complete with huge eponymous granite figure – again advised by priest to make donation for ‘good luck’. Hmmm. Drove around for hours at snail’s pace, glimpsed various Churches and the historic National Parliament building (why does traffic always speed up at crucial moment, or huge bus/lorry get in the way?), the Vidhana Souda, surrounded by wire and fences so invisible – see pathetic attempt at photo.
Highlight was Bangalore Palace, still with resident Maharajah (offshoot of much grander Mysore Palace family). Took some illegal photos; a soap opera was being filmed which was fun to see.
Determined to get some lovely new kurtas for me and shirts for Ross, driver instructed to find Fabindia…oh no, here is much better ‘local’ shop, guess what, run by Kashmiris! I have every sympathy for the poor old Kashmiris, but they seem to have a baksheesh deal with all drivers in India; the next day ditto!
Finally I found Fabindia within 10 minutes of our hotel (wah!), and very pleased with my purchases. And bought some spices to take back to Singapore.
So now to the big rip off! Frustrated by driver on day one not allowing me out much – ‘nothing to see, too expensive’ etc etc, decided as such an expert of Botanical Gardens, simply had to see the Lal Bagh (red gardens), second largest in India at 240 acres, with a replica of the Crystal Palace glass house, famous rose garden and trees planted by heroes ranging from QE2, to Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
Slightly nervous on my own (wasn’t sure what to expect) and concierge no use at all in 5 star hotel – I had read there were buggies that you could go round on, they said not, and best thing to get a guide, driver would organise. So after an hour in standstill traffic, arrived, found guide, who said he would charge R550 for 30 mins and R1100 for the hour. Driver said this was right (crumbs, I thought, it’s a small fortune in India, but what to do?). Agreed and he took me off, and started the old sob story about parents being ill, the while picking flowers and leaves (strictly forbidden I noted) and was rather objectionable. Anyway he showed me round, insisted on taking loads of photos of me ‘say cheese!'(some here for you to laugh at) and then pounced on me to pay him when least expecting it…fumbling with money I ended up giving him just about all I had as he was breathing down my neck and could see what was in my purse. Wah, wah, wah! What a fool! I felt intimidated though…and then had to stop on the way back to get some more cash from an ATM as a tip for the driver!
Still feeling furious and writing blog to exorcise this demon…
Not sure I will come back to Bangalore; it is not India’s finest monument to development, in fact it is distinctly depressing seeing all the huge malls, apartment and office blocks going up everywhere, and now, having done my homework and read Dalrymple’s Age of Kali and Tully’s India in Slow Motion (both out of date but recommend), feel thoroughly disheartened by all the corruption that goes on, everywhere, all the time e.g. the lack of water, planning permission, half-finished metros and flyovers everywhere, just to name a few obvious ones), and the gap between rich and poor simply gets wider…nevertheless India is a fascinating place, so much energy, lovely people (on the whole!) and I am returning in one month, to Hyderabad and Mumbai…