Bengaluru, formerly known as Bangalore, is indeed a beautiful mess. Our visit last November was my first introduction to India and I must say that it wasn’t a good first impression. Blondie was there to attend a conference so, naturally, I tagged along, but I wasn’t ready for the full-frontal assault on my senses. The first thing I noticed was the traffic – millions of cars, auto-rickshaws, scooters, trucks, and buses going somewhere fast – all the while laying on their horns using them as part warning and part bat-like sonar. The second thing I noticed was that there were people everywhere. Bengaluru has a population of nearly nine million people and apparently none of them like to stay at home. Thirdly, and I say this not as an insult but more of as an observation, the city has a dire waste management issue as well as a number of other infrastructure problems, but I won’t get into all of them here. There are piles of trash of varying sizes and consistencies all over the city. Someone told me that occasionally the trash piles spontaneously combust, which must be a solid gold drag for the people who live near them. Lastly, one is never truly ready for their first encounter with a gigantic cow ambling down a crowded city sidewalk or the amount of stray street dogs giving you the stink eye – every time I encountered dogs I either felt bad, like I was sitting through one of those Sarah McLachlan animal cruelty commercials, or I felt like they were sizing me up as a possible meal.
I don’t want you to get the impression that the entire trip was a bad one though, because it wasn’t. Photographically, Bengaluru is one of the most interesting places I have ever seen. Also, the food was ridiculously good and, for the most part, people were quite nice to us. The part of the trip that I liked least was that I never truly felt safe. The airports and hotels are locked down tight – every time we entered the hotel compound the car was searched for weapons/bombs and every time I entered the building I had to go through an airport-like security screening. The reason for all of this security is because Bengaluru and other large cities in India have gone through some highly publicized violence in recent years – often aimed at foreigners (that’s us) and the places in which they frequent. The next time I go back, and I will if given the chance, I will line up a trustworthy guide so that I can walk about with confidence and ask more questions rather than just walking out into the wild city with little in the way of mental or cultural preparation. Preparation is key, kids.
Despite safety and infrastructure concerns I was able to go out and experience a little of the natural, the historical, and the spiritual. My day in nature was spent in Lalbagh Botanical Gardens near downtown. Originally commissioned in the late 1700s Lalbagh, meaning red garden, is nearly 250 acres of lush gardens containing over 1,000 species of exotic flora as well as a huge population of birds, insects, and the ever-present stray dogs, which loll about in the lazy streets. The entry fee for the garden is virtually nothing and if I had walked slower I could have spent the entire day without seeing things twice. There are guides available to show you around inside the park too, but be wary if you visit as they are not sanctioned by the park and ask for more money halfway through the tour. Even after all of these years of travel I occasionally let my guard down and get snookered by the assholes of the world. However, the guide did get me inside a few of the closed exhibits so it wasn’t a complete wash.
For my historical venture I made a visit to Bangalore Palace. Currently owned by the royal family of Mysore, Bangalore Palace was originally built in the late 1800’s as a residence for the principal of Central High School. School administration must have been quite a lucrative gig back then because the house is 45,000 sq ft and sits on nearly 500 acres of lush green gardens and fields. Only half of the palace is currently open for viewing because the other half is still lived in by members of the royal family (who I did not see when I was sternly asked to refrain from window peeking). The portion that is open to tourists is a maze of ornately decorated rooms, photo-laden hallways, and bright enclosed courtyards. The passageways and corridors between the courtyards are covered in, what can only be described as, a quirky collection of traditional and western art. Also, there were various bits of furniture made of elephants, actual elephants. Who knew their feet would make good stools?
On my spiritual day I was driven all the way across town and dumped on the front steps of the Nandhi or Bull Temple. Located inside Bugle Rock Park, the temple is actually rather small but the centerpiece is a gigantic granite bull, or murthi, that has been blackened by centuries of oil and charcoal offerings. The temple offers visitors a quiet respite from the busy streets of Bengaluru and I truly enjoyed the little time I spent there. Bugle Rock Park was also an experience I won’t soon forget. Lined with tall trees, the park is the ideal home for giant fruit bats, who I initially mistook for monkeys, and who also make a hell of a racket and shit everywhere. While I was in the park avoiding the poo bombs a strange little man was walking around blowing a whistle at ever-increasing volumes. I did not know why initially, but apparently the park closes during mid-day and he was blowing the whistle at me quite angrily. I played the stupid tourist game and walked out quickly.
When I wasn’t exploring palace halls, dodging bat shit, or getting ripped off by tour guides I was usually in the back of the car (or in the bar) pointing my camera out of the window. Here are a few of my favorite scenes from the colorful streets of Bengaluru.
After visiting a big city in India I want to get out and see some of the countryside on my next trip. I would like to walk the seaside beaches of Goa and the mountain country of the Himalayas. I would like to explore the ancient temples and ornate palaces that I have only read about in books written by authors long dead. Once I have done those things I might be able to form an opinion regarding India, but for now it will remain in my mind as a beautiful mess.
I have finally caught up and posted about every trip that we have taken during our stay in China so in forthcoming posts I will start to show you more about my current hometown of Dalian. This is a beautiful city that is about to emerge from a long cold winter and I look forward to showing it to you. Also, if you would like more reading about what is happening around here or just want to see my byline/pretty face you can check out Focus on Dalian Magazine Online.
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