The over night train journey from Hospet to Bangalore was pretty uncomfortable albeit down to our own making. We had two side berths which during the day the lower berth converted to two single chairs opposite each other, then at night the backs fold down to make the lower bunk. One of us didn't fancy sleeping in the top bunk alone and so the two of us shoehorned ourselves into the bottom bunk and fidgeted for the next 8 hours, sleepless.
Upon arrival at Bangalore, a crazy, giant mess of a station it seemed that the entire nation had got off the train with us. On top of this, we were bombarded by auto rickshaw drivers touting for business, trying to walk with purpose is difficult when you have no idea where you're going.
We refused the first few touts and when we reached the main road, started looking for the right guy to get us to the hotel. After negotiating a fare with a tout, we were herded in to a rickshaw. We then had the stereotypical journey we had read about in the travel guides. First we pulled up not 200 yards from where we got in, "This is your road" the driver says. "Really? Our map says its 5kms away." he asked to see the map and then proclaims "Ah, that building does not exist anymore". In unison we have a big sigh and said "Yes it does, we have a booking" The driver scratches his head and moves on. Five times he stops for directions, and at one point I escort him into a western style hotel and the receptionist repeats the directions 4 times to the driver. Everyone is getting exasperated. Back in the rickshaw and we pull away again, I spot the right road sign and 45 minutes after getting in the rickshaw, we arrive at the hotel. We gave him a big tip - "Get a map".
Bangalore is a sprawling city and by far the cleanest we have visited so far in India. What is strange is though is that our feet have got the dirtiest, go figure.
At night in the orange glow of the street lights, you can see the dust and fumes that clog your airways throughout the day. This also gives the nights a humid, tropical feel. Many of the roads were lined with sandalwood and tamarind trees whose enormous boughs provide a welcome break from the afternoon sun. Bangalore has huge parks and many open spaces that offer tranquility, shade and a waft of fresh air, piqued with floral aromas.
This is the city that never sleeps, traffic moves quickly and 24/7 the car horns sound their various honks throughout the days and throughout the nights. We very quickly got used to it and our sleep was never disturbed. The pedestrian inhabitants seem to be constantly on the go too, no matter what time of the day there were people out and about, selling chai, eeee pav???? (well that's what he was calling out anyway) or just going about their business.
The location of our hotel was good, slap bang in the town centre, a 5 minute walk from Mahatma Gandhi road which is the hub of the restaurants, bars and shops and there are a LOT of shops. The area has a cosmopolitan feel for sure and this makes up for the absence of any real sense of history. The numerous universities and colleges create a close community of people from all parts of Asia, Africa and Europe and again English is commonly spoken. In Bangalore we found a familiarity and therefore comfort that we'd not had for a while.
There's plenty to keep a tourist occupied, buildings of historical importance, temples, markets and malls. The Metro system is in the process of being expanded throughout the city resulting in many of the places of interest being closed for renovation. However we saw a good few of the buildings, the Vidhana Soudha and Bangalore Palace were highlights and were particularly impressive. At the former, each time we poked the camera through the security fence, a loud announcement in Hindi was made through the tannoy system. On the third occasion, we put the camera away before it was confiscated. The building is enormous and equal to its size is its opulence. It is the largest legislative building in India. Its front has a 'porch' with enormous granite columns, and at it's widest the building is about 215 meters wide. The building is topped with 5 huge domes, the central and largest dome, is crowned with a gold statue of three outward facing lions. The Bangalore Palace is a Tudor style castle, the outside of the building is immaculate. The turrets and ivy clad, circular entrance are very impressive but internally, the palace only alludes to its glory years when the Maharaja lived and entertained there. Sadly, much of the visible areas are becoming increasingly run down and the shine and lustre has dulled and faded. A few of the paintings have had holes poked through them, pigeons have roosted in the main halls and the elephant skin furniture (its feet were made into stools, its trunk a vase) had been picked at for a vulgar souvenir.
Nonetheless, walking round the building was interesting and with not a lot of imagination, we could get a sense of how it was in its hey day. This was assisted by a band of pipers and drummers banging out a tune or two every twenty minutes or so.
The National Gallery was also a great place to visit, the colonial style building is set in some beautiful gardens and in fact part of the visit includes a tour round the grounds to look at the 28 different types of trees that grow there. Once inside the building there is a showcase of predominantly Indian artists work dating back to the 1850s. There was also a large exhibit of the work of Ramkinkar Baij. Not someone we'd heard of before and I'm not sure that either of us were particularly moved by his work, but it was interesting reading about and seeing the work of someone who is clearly considered a national treasure.
One positive thing about the road closures was that we ended up meandering through parts of the city that we wouldn't have normally, along with the 'back street' vibe, we also came across numerous local restaurants that we just wouldn't have ventured to otherwise.
Restaurants in Bangalore range from the basic tiffin houses and cafes, through to McDonalds and KFCs (sadly) to some very posh eateries where the beautiful and wealthy go to be seen. The food we've had, like everywhere else, has been excellent, I had chicken for the first time and tasted like manna from heaven, I also took the opportunity to eat this meal Indian style, just using my right hand and no cutlery. So my half a chicken, rice and dal came up and I did what I'd seen the locals do, scoop some rice on the my plate, pour on bit of the dal and the mix with fingertips only. Then grab a piece of chicken and with one hand only, pull the meat off and then along with a pinch of rice, get it into mouth. Sounds easy right? Well I initially had a few sniggers from people around us, which turned to looks of approval as I got the hang of it. I was finding rice in my ears an chest hair for hours afterwards.
We went to one rather simple cafe and as Jan was finishing her vegetarian meal, she crunched on something, most got swallowed and some was put back on the plate. She is convinced it was a cockroach whereas I think it looked like a mouse's pelvis. Either way, it wasn't vegetarian and she suffered no ill side effects.
Another great restaurant was Koshys, this is advertised as a 1950s diner and is a bit of an institution in Bangalore. So we got dressed up for night of chrome, neon lights and rock and roll on the juke box. As we entered it was apparent that we had got it wrong, the beige walls, the wooden floor and bare tables were indeed from the 50's but obviously this was 1950's India not 1950's America. We had a great meal, our table had the only tablecloth in the building laid upon it and the food was superb, authentic, Indian grub. The atmosphere was buzzing with the various groups of people nattering over a light meal, a chai or a beer. People of all walks of life, young and old, wealthy or not so, the class system doesn't exist at Koshys. We went there twice.
For the gentleman about town, moustaches and flared trousers are very much de rigeur and for the ladies , either classic indian (saris or salwar kameez) or full on western style skinny jeans and t-shirts. We are both being moderately considerate with our attire but Jan's ankles seem to be getting a considerable amount of attention.
We're headed on to Mysore for a few days and then back to Bangalore, our travel plans were slightly disrupted by the Ganesh Chaturthi festival and a national strike making it impossible to take the trains we actually wanted. As it turns out, we're pretty happy to be coming back here as there's still plenty to see and do in this busy, dusty, wonderful city.