Bangaluru (Bangalore) may not be an obvious choice for a holiday. It doesn’t have the allure of Mumbai’s Bollywood royalty, Delhi’s fascinating layers of historic lost empires, Jaipur’s photogenically iconic pink city and floating palace, Goa’s chilled vibes or Manali’s chillum-fueled Himalayan spirituality. It’s a sprawling lush green metropolis of over eight million people touted as the Silicon Valley of India, a Garden City, a Pensioners’ Paradise as well as India’s Pub City — quite an eclectic and seemingly contrasting handful of epithets!
On a friend’s whim, and upon realising that it was only a three and a half hour flight from Bangkok on Thai Airways, we decided to visit Bangaluru over the holidays. Our research had us filling our notebooks with fantastic restaurants and pubs to visit. We pledged to one another that we would go off the beaten path and have an adventure, adding 7D cinema, grape stomping, the snow dome and horse racing to our list of to-dos. In order to get in a bit of culture, we booked first class train tickets to Mysuru (Mysore) to take in the grand palace of maharajas past and finalised our preparations by treating ourselves to a lovely suite at Bangaluru’s Le Meridien. Sorted.
Upon arrival at 1am, sans luggage thanks to TG, we found ourselves on a terrifying one hour journey to the hotel, speeding down deserted highways and wending our way through dark empty and rather frightening roads in a city long asleep. First impressions were not great, Bangaluru looked intimidating by night and we were scared, exhausted, and in spite of a bottle of duty free gin in hand, our senses of humour had been left far behind in Bangkok with our suitcases.
But after a good rest it didn’t take us long to perk up, get into the swing of things and enjoy all that city had to offer.
The sights themselves — the main palace, some impressive colonial architecture, a few temples and parks through which to wander — were on the most part underwhelming, tired, run down and nothing compared to the majesty and splendour of other far superior Indian attractions. The city’s traffic was hard to negotiate, as were the rickshaw drivers who would either leer (at best) at us in a most pervy manner or charge us exorbitant rates for a short ride around the block.
But since we had decided that we needed to maintain a good sense of humour, it all unravelled inexactly as planned. There was Grover Vineyards just out of the city, touted as India’s second best vineyard where we toured, took selfies then had an interesting lunch of sauvignon blanc, brie and biryani. The 7D cinema tuned out to have been a small room showing silly 3D anime where we were given fashion-forward glasses, told to strap on our seatbelts and had occasional squirts of water, puffs of wind, aromas of perfume and strange things tickle us in strange places at strange moments as we lurched dramatically from side to side in our volatile chairs. We played indoor mall cricket…badly. We were the only two women at the Bangaluru Turf Club’s races, shouting in excitement as our horses loped towards the finish line (last) and as thousands of men scarily surged around us in excitement. We even made it to Snow City where we frolicked with families and cooing couples in ‘drinking water’ snow, sled down a hill and made snow angels before warming our fingers with a cup of hot chocolate. We had sunset drinks at Skyye’s rooftop bar, sipping our filthy martinis as eagles with seemingly endless wingspans circled gracefully above. We even followed our concierge’s plea to visit his favourite pub and found ourselves travelling back in time to 1983 — when Hard Rock Cafes were still cool — to admire Stephen Tyler’s pantsuit while digging into a decent fish curry. And we braved a vodka masala at the spectacular Soda Bottle Opener Wala restaurant, immersing ourselves in the culture, as spices into the spirit. Take my word for it: Don’t. Ever.
Pretty Indian ladyboys
The train to Mysuru was not first class, but, after we removed the chapati from our seats and the soiled diapers from under them, was perfectly pleasant and the city itself boasted the spectacular Mysore Palace which is well worth visiting. The terribly over rated Brindavan Gardens is best avoided, though provided us great entertainment as we picnicked with families and spent our time posing for selfies with an assortment of strangers who seemed to want to include us in their family mementos. Our evening was spent lounging in the grand but sadly worn Leela Mahal Palace where massive rooms with 19th century teak cabinets and canopied beds smelled of mothballs. Though all was not lost when we discovered the elegant colonial-era bar complete with a 19th century snooker table and moustachioed waiter serving gin and tonics.
Back in Bangaluru we spent our last few days accidentally getting a Bollywood-style hairdo in the hotel salon, an excruciatingly painful Indian massage complete with pounding and other bodily harm, shopping for gee-gaws down the hectic Commercial Street and hanging out in bars along Lavelle Road.
The food during the trip was spectacular, whether it was a cheap thali served on banana leaves or experimental cuisine in Bangaluru’s trendier restaurants. The epithet pub city is apt with great micro breweries, wine bars, live music venues and clubs which rocked and rolled every night…until the 11.30pm closing time.
If you have been to India before you know that it assaults the senses. The smells range from rancid street garbage to seductive South Indian spices. The markets, vibrant with colours and hues are peppered with women swathed in festively coloured saris, and are fabulous to wander through picking up trinkets as souvenirs and sampling snacks and desserts. You can sit by the road sipping a chai while having your hand hennaed or perch on a park bench while chomping on succulent pomegranates.
You can be charmed by gyrating eunuchs pleading for money or repulsed by disgustingly inappropriate strange men. The food is punchy in flavour with saccharine desserts, tear-jerking spices and cooling yoghurts. The city’s cacophony of car horns soon become a background soundtrack accompanying the odd burst of joyful Bollywood tunes blaring from someone’s speaker. But one thing that will never happen, is boredom.
We were fortunate enough to have stayed at Le Meridien which was peopled with fantastic staff who helped us navigate this crazy city, giving us tips, advice and bending over backwards to make our stay wonderful. Bangaluru is nowhere near the first choice for visitors to India, but if you go with an open mind, and your senses of adventure and humour (suitcases would be useful too), you will find yourself utterly charmed by this Southern Indian city.