India had never been a place that held much appeal for me and I didn’t have plans to ever visit. However, when a close friend was sent there on business and asked me to tag along at the expense of his company I jumped at the chance. My destination was Bangalore in the south of the country, affectionately known as the Garden State. This article covers my thoughts and experiences in the city and offers a few suggestions to help you prepare and survive if you decide to follow in my footsteps.
- Before setting out for India you will need to apply for an eTV (e-Tourist Visa). You are required to fill in a very comprehensive set of questions and this will take some time to complete. You will be required to upload a passport photo and the information/photo page of your passport so make sure you have these scanned and ready. People who have visited Pakistan should expect a more difficult time of filling in this application than people who have not – be warned!
- A taxi ride from the airport should cost you less than 800 rupees. In order to get an airport taxi, exit Kempegowda and head to your left. You will eventually come across a taxi rank where all the cars are marked with Airport Taxi signs. Avoid the people trying to push private cars upon you inside the airport itself as these cost substantially more.
- If you are trying to catch a cab at other points during your stay look out for vehicles that have yellow number plates. Autorickshaws are very common but, as a foreigner, you will be grossly overcharged – we only had one honest driver engage the fare system during our entire visit! Additionally, some drivers might try and take you on a detour to markets and stores where they receive kickback – tell them no firmly and stick by your decision even in the face of their frantic persuasive efforts. Still, it is worth catching at least a few autos during your visit, just for the experience, but remember to haggle down your price before jumping into one to avoid being ripped off on arrival at your destination.
- A cheaper alternative when travelling is to use the Uber service. Install the app on your phone, highlight your location and wait to be picked up. This service is by far the most convenient and is even cheaper than regular taxis.
- Roads are a free for all and it can feel like you are risking life and limb travelling from place to place! If you are sensitive to loud noises prepare for frayed nerves as horns are constantly honking a discordant racket. Certain autorickshaw drivers flagrantly disobey the rules of the road, driving down the wrong side of traffic, ignoring red lights and turning into oncoming traffic. Transport in India is not for the faint of heart – prepare to dice with death!
- If you ever find yourself needing a hotel in Bangalore then I can highly recommend the JW Marriott. Rooms are available from around $150 per night which is not to be sniffed at when you consider the resort is 5* and the luxury of the rooms and the amenities on offer. The hotel has a complimentary pool, jacuzzi and gym and the breakfast for guests is something to behold with dishes from every corner of the globe – including, strangely, various ice cream flavours! If you are looking for nothing more than to put your feet up around a pool in a fantastic hotel for buttons (which is pretty much what I did), then I’d highly recommend you look into a stay at here – the weather was hot, the staff attentive and the total bill for the entire trip was almost negligible. Should $150 a night be too rich for your tastes, other respectable hotel rooms can be acquired for as little as $30 per night.
The Place Itself
- In Bangalore poverty and affluence coexist hand in hand, often metres apart from one another. It is not uncommon to find beggars around high-class hotels and shopping malls and when they see a foreigner they can be extremely persistent. I was followed for almost a mile by a child at one point which I found very uncomfortable. Before I am labelled heartless, you are strongly encouraged not to give money to beggar children in India as it dissuades them from attending school. Peddlers will try and force their wares on you when you are stuck in traffic – this can be particularly uncomfortable when riding in windowless autorickshaws. Try and be firm when saying no, even if it makes you feel like a bad person. It’s best to ignore them, as difficult as this can sometimes be. Additionally, popular and beautifully done out pubs and eateries are frequently situated near underdeveloped areas, many of which are home to large amounts of discarded refuse.
- Bangalore was nowhere near as dirty as I expected it to be. The Garden State is actually quite green and, compared to other areas in India, is actually quite tidy. While I was out and about, I saw numerous street crews working to clean up dropped waste and prune overhanging trees and foliage. That said, some areas near Commercial Street especially had garbage mountains and an unpleasant pong and I did see a rat as big as a cat in Lalbagh Gardens.
- It is worth noting that you are required to take off your shoes well in advance of entering temples and other religious sites so be prepared for dirty feet if going barefoot (take particular care as to where you step if this is the case) or to discard your socks when you return to your hotel – the two pairs I had to throw out were well beyond being salvageable!
- If you are coming to Bangalore to sightsee then you will find yourself disappointed. There are not a lot of landmarks worth seeing here. Of course, there are temples, gardens and governmental buildings to be observed but none of them are all that exciting and you’ll likely find yourself being badgered for donations by the holy men and opportunists around the livelier sites. To find anything worthwhile we had to travel 140km away to Mysore which has an assortment of busier and more impressive temples, a grave marker situated at the point where Tippu Sultan’s body was found after being murdered by the British and the magnificent Mysore Palace which is one of India’s most popular tourist attractions. There is also a massive bull statue based atop nearby Chamundi Hill which affords fantastic panoramic views of Mysore but the access road was closed when we arrived and we could not visit. If you find yourself in Mysore be sure to try Mysore Pak which comes in soft, dough-like slabs and tastes a bit like a pliable version of Scottish shortbread.
- If, however, you come to Bangalore looking for food and drink, you won’t be disappointed. If, like me, you are a lover of Indian food you will be in your element. You can pick up sizeable meals including curry, rice and naan for a couple of quid at a time. Meghana Foods offers a great (and spicy) boneless biryani for tiny prices with quick service; long-established Queen’s offers a wide range of dishes that are extremely affordable and delicious; Nagarjuna has all-you-can-eat meal sets served on banana leaves available for a meagre 180 rupees a pop. Be warned: people not accustomed to spicy food should expect some tummy aches and frequent toilet stops while their body adjusts! There are also lots of opportunities for beer drinking and new craft breweries are popping up with increasing regularity. Craft places worth checking out include Toit, Arbour Brewing Company, Brewsky and Prost. Those looking for a vast selection of better known world beers could do worse than checking out Beer Cafe. These places are widely spread out across the city so be prepared for lengthy travel times between places (often exacerbated by heavy traffic) if bar hopping.
- The people of Bangalore are extremely friendly, in my experience. During my visit I was frequently approached by talkative locals in pubs and restaurants and was able to start conversations with strangers with ease – if you are a British male expect to chat about Manchester United as all football fans in India seem to follow them! My travel companion and I were invited to a barbecue by a hospitable local who fed us extremely well and refused all offers of money towards his expenses. He and his friends integrated us into their group immediately, talking with us as if we had been friends for years instead of mere minutes! I was also approached by at least four or five groups of Indian men during my visit to Lalbagh Botanical Gardens and asked to pose for selfies with them – made me feel a bit like a celebrity!
Health and Comfort
- There are frequent electrical brownouts so don’t be surprised if you find your light switches don’t work in the middle of the night or that your hotel TV cuts out at the climax of that great film you are watching!
- I was told by a number of locals that visitors are strongly recommended to avoid getting tap or shower water in their mouths and eyes as this can cause problems for some people.
- Mosquitoes carrying dengue fever are prevalent in and around Bangalore so make sure you wear long sleeves and trousers when possible or slather yourself in DEET or other repellents to deter these bothersome insects from feasting on you.