Bangalore: five ways to get the best out of a visit to India's IT hub
Craft beer, bolts of silk and scrumptious street food: the city - also known as Bengaluru - may be modernising rapidly but it still retains much charm
1. Where to eat
For a south Indian thali, head to one of the four daily sittings at Mavalli Tiffin Room, a favourite among the city’s foodies. A small army of waiters distribute compartmentalised trays and dosa pancakes, crisp on one side, fluffy on the other. Next they dish out rice and as many as 10 different curries and condiments from spotless silver pails. Don’t ask for more – you have to tell the waiters when to stop. Arrive early to beat the queues.
Foodies also head to the VB Bakery (Old Market Road, Vishweshwarapura, Basavanagudi), not only for its selection of cookies and breads but because it is at the top of Food Street, a 150-metre strip of stalls selling many variations on the samosa, idli (steamed rice cake), and creamy potato and crunchy onion-stuffed dosas, often dotted with mild black mustard seeds. Wash it all down with a lassi (drink made with yogurt or buttermilk) garnished with chocolate chip and glacé fruit and served in an earthenware pot. Bring wet wipes and be prepared to eat standing up, sharing the space with dogs, motorbikes, cars and the odd stray cow.
2. Where to relax
Bangalore’s IT crowd have some money to burn – see the Porsche and Lamborghini showrooms for proof. Some of that new money gets spent in places such as The Biere Club and Infinitea Tea Room and Tea Store.
The Biere Club brews its own beer as well as stocking Indian and imported beers. The house IPA went down better than the mango flavour, even if you can’t get more local than the latter. The large buzzy space hosts comedy nights, one of several venues in the city to do so. British comic Russell Brand was flying in on the day we flew out.
Infinitea draws a mixed crowd of local and foreign techies both for the interesting tea selection and the international menu. The teas are excellent but the food will only appeal to the homesick. We had some fine Nepalese momo (steamed dumplings) but the Thai curry tasted like nothing we’ve eaten in Thailand.
3. Where to get your fill of culture
The highlights among the many art galleries in the city are the National Gallery of Modern Art and the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. The first explains the roots of modern Indian art in miniatures and Company Painting, the art of the early colonial era, before displaying modern India at its best. Many works are by Abanindranath Tagore, nephew of the better-known artist and poet Rabindranath Tagore. Among the many statues on display during our visit, we found an HMV-style gramophone with a large tongue sticking out of the horn.
Chitrakala Parishath showcases Mysore art, much of it flecked with gold leaf, and the extraordinary paintings of Russian artist Nicholas Roerich and his son Svetoslav, both of whom spent much of their lives in India, married to local women. Although there are few explanations of what is on view, the art remains fascinating.
The elder Roerich painted different facets of the Himalayas, while the younger painted almost psychedelically intense landscapes and far more sober portraits of leading Indians.
Book lovers will bless Bangalore for its wide selection at low prices. Try Blossoms, which gives a 20 per cent discount on all purchases, and the nearby Bookworm (32, Basement Brigade Road).
4. Where to shop
It’s all about the Mysore silk, metres of it, bolts of it or finished clothes. If you’re not a confident bargainer, the fixed-price department store Mysore Saree Udyog has a good name. We tried to go there but our auto-rickshaw driver took us to the Sri Manjunatha Silk Udyog (26, 6th Cross, 8th Main, Corporation Road, Ashwath Nagar, Ambedkar Veedhi), where we experienced some high-pressure sales tactics and bought a silk stole for 1,196 rupees (HK$140).
We got by far the best deal of our trip, however, in the fixed-price, government-run Central Cottage Industries Emporium, where four metres of silk cost just 884 rupees.
City Market is a long street of shops supposedly famed for its spices, but they’re hard to find amid the dense crowds and stores selling anything from plumbing equipment to school textbooks. More of a people-watching than shopping experience, unless you need new taps.
5. Where to tap Bangalore's civic pride
You can explore some of Bangalore’s history at the small Tipu Sultan Summer Palace (Allbert Victor Road, Chamrajpet), where the king heard grievances and petitions from the population. This has a museum explaining the king’s four wars against the British and how he only lost the last one because Perfidious Albion bribed his leading general to betray him. The museum contains Tipu Sultan’s invention – a rocket with a range of 3km.
The British went on to establish the 97-hectare botanical garden at Lalbagh, which is relatively serene, has great views and a small replica of the Crystal Palace exhibition space that sometimes hosts farmers’ markets – they were selling Alphonso mangoes on our visit. Don’t miss the comically bad topiary garden, where it’s impossible to tell if the bushes are supposed to be birds or teletubbies.
Where to stay
While there is no shortage of high-end branded hotel options, if you want something with more local character try Casa Cottage , in a maze of backstreets in Richmond Town close to the shopping street M.G Bazaar. Behind a high wall, the property is quiet, and a great place to regain composure after the hecticness of Indian street life.
Renovated cottages provide spacious, subtly decorated rooms with ensuite bathrooms, air conditioning, satellite TV and basic tea and coffee facilities.
The stars are the staff, who are patient, friendly and have plenty of local recommendations. They can also find you transport at a reasonable rate and can help with travel plans for other south Indian destinations.
How to get there
Dragonair operates daily flights between Hong Kong and Bangalore