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Published: January 26th 2017
This huge, imposing building houses part of the state government.
I have made countless observations in my two months in India so far that have ranged from the interesting to the unusual, and from the shocking to the downright incomprehensible. Definitely in the latter category is the apparent national obsession with photographs and in particular, selfies. It seems that when Indians decide to get into something, they tend to do so with a manic fervour unmatched anywhere else in the world, whether it be cricket, Bollywood or...selfies.
I witnessed this phenomenon once again along with Immy and the typically tall Dutchman Jasper in the town of Hospet, as we had dinner while we waited for our overnight buses down to Bangalore.
Even more than the females, Indian males appear to be the vainest I have ever seen, constantly taking pictures of themselves. What is this fuelled by? Bollywood? Hollywood? Celebrity culture? The seeming gender imbalance? Many of them have also asked me to take photos of them with my camera, even though they'll never have the pictures. Practice rounds perhaps? Some simply want to see themselves on an DSLR, which is kind of cute.
I also don't quite understand why so many locals want pictures with foreigners. In rural places or
Arguably the most popular dish of South India.
places less frequented by tourists, I'd understand - but you still get mobbed in places saturated with tourists such as Goa, Gokarna and here, a transit hub for Hampi. So it can't be because they've never seen foreigners before. I do think they look up to Westerners sometimes - or at the very least are fascinated by us - as if we are the ideal they look up to in terms of beauty, wealth, success or the way that one should live their life. It's as if we're celebrities.
I had a spare seat next to me on the bus that I could rest my bag upon and it made the ride much more comfortable; but it was still a rocky one nevertheless. Due to open windows rather than air-conditioning this time, it was another freezing night's sleep, the fifth I've had in a row after four of them in Hampi
. But it was just one last one to endure before getting back to warm nights - and hopefully, hot showers!
Arriving in the mayhem of Bengaluru - which for all intents and purposes, goes by its old name of Bangalore - I then needed to catch a
Showcasing the wealthy side of Bangalore/
dreaded tuk-tuk to my hostel. The tuk-tuks are metered here however, so there was less chance of getting ripped off.
Wrong. I'm pretty sure that my driver's meter was well and truly rigged as it went up 100 metres every 20 metres. By the end, a 5km journey was supposedly 20km according to the meter. I suppose I should have refused to pay the entire ₹350 but grogginess and an unwillingness to have an argument with someone who couldn't speak English stopped me from doing so. And then the motherf*cker had the cheek to try and keep my ₹50 of change! I wasn't having any of it and demanded every last bit of my change that I was owed. He only gave me back a bit at a time too and I had to asked him about five different times to give me my change back. I've hated this aspect of India, hated it
. Some locals can be so conniving. Give them inch and they'll take a f*cking mile. Indians like this have been the most exasperatingly difficult and the most oddly behaved people I've ever had to deal with.
I then had to try and find the hostel
You can buy just about anything in Bangalore's central market. The most colourful - in more ways than one - part of the market is the flower market.
which was almost just as difficult. Bangalore has a fairly unique and confusing address and street name system involving roads that are named after their width and "cross" roads that are numbered depending on how many turnoffs a road is from a particular junction. It had me going round in circles when I arrived at the supposed address of my hostel. The system reminded me a little of Brasilia's
If there was one positive to come out of everything it was having my first hot shower in two weeks and my first warm night's sleep in a week.
After passing the f*ck out for a while thanks to the overnight bus journey, I then got myself up for a night out - it was a Saturday night after all in a city known for its lively night life and progressive youth culture.
Taking an Uber from where I was staying along with Brit lad Zishan to the centre of town to meet up with Immy, there were two things I noticed; first, that traffic here is diabolical; second, that Bangalore is a mixed-up, melting pot of contrasts. Here, there are gleaming shopping malls, chic gastropubs and plush office buildings
The Biere Club
Trendy microbrewery that wouldn't look out of place in the Shoreditch area of London.
- the bright lights of Brigade Street made me feel like I was in Seoul
again - amongst the crumbling pavements, smelly litter and crazy bazaars of normal India, the two different walks of life often juxtaposed alongside each other. There are pockets of affluence in the city, such as Koramangala, where my hostel was situated. It is suburbs like this, where the houses are all nice and new and the residential streets are leafy and quiet, where many of the newly-rich yuppies of this "Silicon Valley Of The East" reside. With chain stores and a shopping mall nearby, it was kind of comforting for me - it has been a while since I have seen a place like this and I felt similar to the way I did when I was in Lima
just over a year ago.
Such creature comforts were reflected in my night out, which was more along the lines of what I was used to back in London; a beer in a flash microbrewery, one of many in Bangalore catering for the ever-increasing sophistication of taste amongst the city's well-heeled young professionals. Unfortunately, the "Club Special" I tried at The Biere Club was an
I never fail to be impressed by the intricacy of the carvings in/on Hindu temples.
IPA (Indian Pale Ale) - they're a bit too bitter for my liking - but otherwise the place could've been any other brick microbrewery pub you might find in Shoreditch district of London.
Still exhausted from my overnight bus despite my afternoon nap, my night out in Bangers was curtailed after just one beer.
Bangalore isn't blessed with blockbuster sights but I nevertheless spent two days getting around this rather large city to see them. Koramangala is a bit far from the city centre and you have to navigate Bangalore's bus network (or call Ubers - very handy, but adds up) to get there, which has good coverage but is fairly infrequent and often packed. I simply caught a bus in the general direction of town and just saw where it took me - much to the annoyance of the ticket attendants aboard the buses as they need a destination to charge me a price and I had no idea where I or the bus was going! Everything more or less worked out in the end though!
While the Venkataraman Temple was closed, Tipu Sultan's Palace alongside it was a little disappointing. The palace is quite small and while
Vendors doing their thing in the Krishnarajendra Market. These flowers and garlands are presented as offerings to the Hindu gods.
the teak columns are fairly intricately carved, there isn't much more to the place apart from a little bit of history on Tipu Sultan, who was the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in the 18th century and who was one of the great resisters against British rule. He supposedly was one of the first to use rockets as weapons. Bangalore Fort - what's left of it - is also rather disappointing, and although the city's main mosque is huge and impressive, it didn't look like it was a place that tourists and non-Muslims could just enter.
The Krishnarajendra Market was 'real' India again; the market is housed inside a big concrete building within which the flower market was the busiest and most fascinating part. Garlands were on sale and loose flowers were also being peddled at great volume, and the colours on display allowed for some great photo opportunities. I don't think I've ever experienced being in a place which had such good and bad smells at the same time thanks to fresh and trampled flowers respectively. Trying to capture flower merchants at work which was a little difficult; some really wanted their photos taken but then the shot
Lalbagh Botanical Gardens
A sanctuary away from the chaos of the city that surrounds it.
wouldn't be candid anymore; while others didn't want their photos taken at all. I was rather conspicuous as a foreigner so it was hard taking sneaky photos. I felt I got some good ones though.
All manner of other things are on sale at the market too, which is separated into sections like the ones in Latin America except there was more than just food sold here - there was everything and anything from spare car parts, to rope, to metal pots. The building and the market setup reminded me of the mercado centrales
in Latin America, particularly the one in La Paz
Cubbon Park is a nice park to wander around - much like the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens - and is home to several remnants of British architecture including the State Central Library and the High Court. Nearby, the imposing but ultimately impressive Vidhana Soudha (State Government Building) resembles a grand European parliament building.
The Government Museum is in a gorgeous red colonial mansion and contains many archaeological artefacts which honestly all look the same all over the world. The most interesting part of the museum was the Venkatappa Art Gallery, which displayed the unique works of K Venkatappa, which
You'd almost think it's Windsor Castle.
were sharp, watercolour landscape paintings. Venkatappa was the court painter to the Wodeyar royal family who with the help of the British, ascended the throne of Mysore after the death of the aforementioned Tipu Sultan.
The Visvesvaraya Industrial & Technical Museum is basically an interactive science museum for kids which was however, hours of fun for both kids and adults alike, based on the scenes I witnessed inside.
The final sight I visited was Bangalore Palace. Looking very much like Windsor Castle on the outside, the scheme was gothic and Victorian on the inside, but with the ballroom and audience hall painted bright yellow to give it a bit of Indian flavour. At times the castle's interior reminded me of Neuschwanstein
. It was overall very European in design, as it was only built in the late 19th century. It was lavish and cool to see - I could and probably should have snuck some photos dammit but the fees for taking photos inside were extortionate. It was already almost ₹500 just to go inside and a photo pass would have doubled the overall cost. With such high camera prices, I was thinking that perhaps they might be a bit more
This rice cake with a polenta-like texture is a South Indian staple.
strict in enforcing their photo policy.
Without blockbuster sights, I thought that I'd try and get underneath the city's skin a bit by eating my way through it.
Compared to the food further north and the same-y, multi-cuisine fare I got used to in Goa
, the food here in Bangalore has been a bit different. Dosas
rule supreme here and why not, they're delicious. Among other things, I also tried the South Indian staple of idli
(small polenta-like cakes made from rice and lentils) as well as thepla
, which is a kind of paratha
I enjoy South Indian food but I think I prefer the richness and heaviness of North Indian curries. I think that South Indian food is a bit light for my liking too.
South Indian food is also noticeably spicier than North Indian food and my stomach was certainly letting me know. On my last day, with a slightly dodgy stomach and a three hour bus ride ahead of me, I decided I needed a break from the spiciness - but yet I was still tempted to have one last South Indian set meal. In the end I opted for sensibility and
Hogli & Usli
The two snacks I sampled on Food Street.
had Burger King - which was whoppingly
expensive! It seems that small, locally run restaurants don't pay the 35%!V(MISSING)AT that bigger, "fancier" places and the corporate chains have to pay. The taxes are not included in the price either, much like in parts of the US
so you always get a nasty surprise when the bill comes. Maybe the potential diahorrea later would've been worth another masala dosa...
My Indian Burger King experience was an interesting one however; there's no beef on the menu so I got a mutton "Big Boss" burger instead. Mutton patties just aren't the same; they taste so gamey. The burger was alright though, with a sweet BBQ sauce. But I couldn't even escape spiciness at Burger King; there were jalapeños in the burger...
There were however, two culinary highlights in Bangalore.
First, was Food Street, a short stretch of road where a couple of dozen food stalls and hole-in-the-wall kiosks serve street food snacks. In the early evening, the sidewalks are chocka-block in what has become a Bangalorean institution. Looking at the various menus, I didn't know what anything was so I picked a couple of random dishes. Avarebele usli
is an interesting mix of chickpeas,
The "towel" that makes up the bottom half of the waiters' uniform at the Mavalli Tiffin Rooms is quite a common sight in South India.
onions, peanuts, coriander, corn and spices, while holige
is a sweet flatbread (similar to a crepe). I then looked at what other people were eating and went for something popular (once I found out the names of various dishes the locals were eating) and had what was probably the best dish I had that evening, which was gobi Manchurian
- deep fried cauliflower served in a spicy, glutenous, stir-fry sauce.
Bangalore's second culinary highlight was the Mavalli Tiffin Rooms, or MTR. I love how Indians have hung on to some old English words not in common use today - "tiffin" (shorthand for a light meal) is one of them. Another Bangalorean institution, I had four attempts at this place and I finally got to have lunch here after going to the wrong restaurant a couple of times (there are multiple MTRs) and coming to the correct one on the one day it was closed. It was totally worth all the trouble though.
You pay ₹240 at the cashier downstairs before making your way to a waiting room. After about ten minutes, a waiter will then call everyone in the waiting room into a dining room where you then pick a
One of my new South Indian favourites.
table to sit at. Everyone in the room then gets served a set menu at the same time, with waiters filling up your thali
dish with various curries. After a tumbler of grape juice, masala dosas
(crispy crepes filled with masala mash potatoes) get served first and they were honestly the best dosas
I've ever had. When they came around with round two, I jumped at the chance to scoff down a second dosa. Curry and rice then gets served next and I got a couple of servings of this too, although perhaps I should've got two servings of the third round instead, which was biryani
. Again, perhaps this was the best biryani
I have ever had - especially when you mixed them both together. Your lunch is topped off by a serving of fruit salad and ice cream. This place has been popular since 1924; no wonder.
There was a place just around the corner from the hostel that also did pretty good food.
At this place, I had idiyappam
(noodles served with coconut milk and curry - absolutely delicious and one of my new favourites) and adai
(a hard bread with herbs and vegetables
Bangalaore's main mosque is huge.
cooked into it and sorta looks like an omelette). As this was a thoroughly local joint, everything is eaten off a banana leaf and everything is eaten by hand - no cutlery at a real South Indian joint like this. It takes a while to nail your technique but the best way is to clump your food into balls and then use your fingers like a spoon while pushing the food into your mouth using your thumb. The adai
came with what looked like hard, raw sugar, which complemented the coconut curry amazingly well. I finished off everything with a glass of chai
- although I have to say that chai
in the north has been much better. South Indian chai so far has been pretty bland.
Service in India generally isn't great but the service in Bangalore has been utterly appalling. At restaurants there are loads of staff but half of them are just standing around. There was one young bloke who just could not get my order right, would keep forgetting to bring stuff out and was just all-around useless.
Indians serving you can also be incredibly inflexible and sticklers for rules; yet when they drive on
Better on the outside than in, if I'm honest.
the road, no-one gives a sh*t! Sometimes though, I reckon they'll tell you that they can't do something because they're lazy. Curiously, some items on a menu are only served on certain days, which to me is quite a curious practice.
Away from restaurants, some things can be ridiculously bureaucratic.
Take getting a local SIM card. Data is cheap and can come in handy when needing internet on the go; especially when the wifi is sh*t or non-existent. However, when you can practically buy a prepaid SIM card over the counter in most countries, here, because of security concerns, i needed two passport photos, a copy of my passport, a copy of my visa and a letter from my hostel stating that I am staying with them. The guy working at my hostel was of course, too lazy to write me a letter (I'm not sure he would've have known what to write in any case) so I continue my Indian journey without mobile data. FFS.
I ended up spending five nights in Bangalore but you probably don't need to spend that long here. I was comfortable here though, as I had everything I needed close by and
Tipu Sultan's Palace
The palace is elegant but not really much of a spectacle.
the internet was excellent for a change - something you'd expect in an IT hub. It allowed me to buy my flights to and from Sri Lanka (I now have just over two weeks to get through the rest of South India), plan my trip there, as well as my journey afterwards.
I was going to skip Kolkata but will now go (I had originally wanted to check the city out, but it was a bit out of the way) as it is far cheaper to fly (I wasn't keen on a 30-hour train journey that would only have cost £10 less than a flight) there than to Varanasi as originally planned; I can then take an overnight train from Kolkata to Varanasi.
Next however, I will continue to explore South India starting with the old imperial capital of the south; Mysuru (Mysore).
ಆಮೇಲೆ ಸಿಗೋಣ (Āmēle sigōṇa),
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