On to Karnataka!

With rains drowning most of Tamil Nadu’s western ghats, Madhu and I wondered where we could head to next. Ooty and the Mudumalai National Park area were to be our last Tamil Nadu destinations on this route but that was not to be. Looking at the weather forecast and bus/train connections available from Coimbatore, we realized that it would make most sense to head to Bengaluru! So, it was on to Karnataka!

We took a cab from Poondi to Coimbatore train station and then bought General class tickets for Bengaluru-bound express train at 12:40pm. We had more than an hour to kill and I worried how we’ll manage ‘coz most stations are too filthy to sit around in. But to our amazement we found an air-conditioned ‘Waiting room’ where one could sit and wait for just Rs.15 per person per hour. It was just too good to be true! We sat here comfortably reading up on the city we were heading to and relaxed. Apart from us, there were a few other passengers but it was not crowded. The room had a relatively clean bathroom as well; could not have asked for more!

In the past, when we’ve made last-minute train journeys where we haven’t had the opportunity to buy tickets in advance, we bought General class tickets and then asked the train’s ticket master to upgrade us to available seats in the air-conditioned carriages. We then paid up the difference between the General class ticket and the AC class ticket, for which we have always been given a receipt. This time too we hoped to be upgraded but the only seats available were in the Sleeper class; we had no options but to accept them. However, it wasn’t as bad as we had dreaded. For a change it was nice to be able to look out at the passing scenery and enjoy the cool winter breeze. The train was on time and we were in Bengaluru’ Cantonment station by 7:30pm. It had been a hassle-free journey.

Located in the south-western part of Karnataka, Bengaluru (formerly known as Bangalore) is the capital of the state. It is also known as the Garden City because of the numerous green spaces within city limits. In recent times it has gained worldwide popularity as the Silicon Valley of India due to the large number of multi-national software companies with offices here. For software engineers country-wide, Bengaluru has become a great option to consider living in not only because of great job opportunities but also because of its cosmopolitan feel and good weather conditions throughout the year.

We started our first day in the city with a visit to the Bangalore Palace. Built in the early 20th century by the then principal of the Central High School, the palace took more than 80yrs to complete. It was built as a smaller version of the Windsor Castle in England. Even while work was in progress, the palace was first bought by the British and later by the then Mysore ruler, Chamaraja Wodeyar. Today, it is still owned by descendants of the Maharaja. Standing regally over 454acres of land, the palace looks every bit English and completely incongruous to the surrounding Indian countryside. The palace grounds are, now, a popular venue for holding music concerts, exhibitions and even big, fat, Indian weddings!

We were appalled when the security guard outside the palace entrance forbade us from taking pictures of the palace’s exteriors without getting a Photography Permit from the reception desk. We have never encountered this elsewhere; normally, photography permits are obtained only for permission to shoot inside a particular place. When we walked over to the reception desk we were in for another shock – entry ticket (including an audio guide) was Rs.175 per head, which was the highest we’ve ever been charged anywhere in India, and a Photography Permit was Rs.500 additional! We were absolutely livid – it felt like we were being robbed! We noticed that all the other visitors, including foreign nationals, were a little taken aback by the ticket price and especially the photography charge, which nobody bought.

And I’m glad we didn’t bother paying extra either, ‘coz the inside of the palace was really not that grand. The ballroom and common areas were a little gaudy with bright colors and poor workmanship. The only nice part was the inner courtyards around which the royal family’s living quarters were built. Here the stone arches surrounding the courtyards looked absolutely lovely and must have been a great place for the residents to lounge in. However, our visit was a little marred by the presence of a film (or TV) crew that was busy filming something with a few actors. Their equipment lay strewn all over the place and we had to work our way around them; it was a little annoying! Overall, it wasn’t a very pleasant visit!

We took an auto from outside the palace grounds to the lovely LowRes 2010-10-27 01 Bangalore 07 LP Chitrakala Parishath, on the Kumerakrupa road. It is an art institution that has a fabulous collection of paintings and sculptures, and also holds exhibitions promoting state and national-level artists of Karnataka. A College of Fine Arts is attached to it and is on the same campus, which is quite beautifully laid out. When we got there, we found art students all over the place either chatting or working on something – we were envious of their opportunity to study in such a nice place!

The Parishath has 2 galleries with works by Nicolas Roerich, a famous Russian painter, scientist, traveler and author. Another gallery held the private collection of a Mr. Kejriwal and this was absolutely fabulous! But my favorite of all were two halls dedicated to showcasing the Mysore style of painting, which, though very similar to the Thanjavur style, is not as gaudy but grander! Also, 3 or 4 large paintings of Indian village life by a Chinese painter were simply gorgeous and exquisitely detailed. There was also an exhibition-cum-sale of handicrafts from all over the country. I bought a pair of handmade wooden bangles with Warli-style (Maharashtrian folk art) motifs on it . For collectors, the institute has a small store where one can buy originals and prints of the paintings of featured artists.

Kumerakrupa is a pretty tree-lined street with a nice suburb feel. We ate lunch at a fast-food joint near the end of the street and then asked an auto-rickshaw driver to drop us off at Cubbon Park. Bengaluru people, including auto-drivers, speak decent Hindi or at least understood it well. In the whole of north and central India we managed all communications with Hindi, in Maharashtra with broken Marathi, in Kerala with Malayalam and in Tamil Nadu with a crazy mix of Tamil & Malayalam. But since we didn’t understand a single word of Kannada, we expected communication to be a big problem for us in Karnataka. Moreover, people in South India are not particularly known for their Hindi-loving attitude. That’s why we were happily surprised to hear it spoken so freely in Bengaluru; a true sign of the city’s cosmopolitan tag!

Cubbon Park is one of Bengaluru’s popular parks, right in the heart of the city. It was built back in 1870 by a British engineer and is spread over 100 acres of land. At its western end are a museum and an art gallery that we visited first. The Government Museum was quite small and was housed in an old but charming heritage building. It had a nice (but not spectacular) collection of sculptures and other works from the region. The collection was spread over 2 floors. Next to it, housed in a more modern building, is the Venkatappa Art Gallery, which displays the work of the famous Mysore artist, K. Venkatappa. The paintings were lovely and totally worth a look. The gallery displays contemporary work as well at times but not when we were there.

We entered Cubbon Park from behind the Government Museum LowRes 2010-10-27 01 Bangalore 08 building and immediately noticed how green the place looked. However, on closer look we realized that it wasn’t maintained all that well. The original garden of the 19th century must have been quite grand but today it is a little dilapidated. Parts of it were really nice with green lawns and neatly trimmed bushes but other parts with large trees looked completely neglected. One corner was taken up by homeless people who had set up temporary tents as well. We walked around a bit, drank chai from a street-side vendor, got bored and left.

Just across from Cubbon Park, on Vitthal Mallya Rd (VM Rd), is United Brewery’s (maker of Kingfisher beer) grand shopping mall called UB City. It houses only the most exclusive Indian and international brands, and looks absolutely chic! On its top floor, is a food plaza with cafes and restaurants where one can dine with a view of the skyscrapers around! We loved this space and vowed to stop by someday for dinner when the city lights would look awesome! Later we walked along VM Rd admiring the luxury apartments and bungalows along the way – it is probably one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods!

The following morning we visited the 18th century Mysore Low 2010-10-27 01 Bangalore 13 LP king, Tipu Sultan’s Palace in the city. It is located at a busy intersection of a market and seemed the most unlikely of places for a palace. However, once we stepped into the palace courtyard, it completely blocked the chaos outside. The courtyard has nicely maintained lawns which front the beautiful, two-storied palace. It has wonderful teak pillars and colorful murals in the inside rooms; we were mesmerized! A small museum within the palace gave us information about the king and his fight against the British. Just by the palace, taking up some of its courtyard space is the Venkataraman Temple.

Our next stop was the famed Bull Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva’s favorite mode of transport, Nandi. It’s located atop a small hillock and is accessed via wide steps that lead up to it. The temple is not architecturally significant nor is the large image of Nandi in the inner sanctum very special. We paid our respects and left. We’ve heard and read that in the evenings this hillock has a nice ambience and is very popular amongst locals – maybe we should have visited later in the day. At the base of the hill is another temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha.

Our final ‘sight-seeing’ stop in Bengaluru was another of the city’s popular parks: Lalbaugh. After the Cubbon Park visit we didn’t Low 2010-10-27 01 Bangalore 18 have many expectations from this one, but thankfully, we were proved wrong! Spread over 240 acres in the south of the city, Lalbaugh is one of the finest botanical gardens we’ve been to. This 18th century park was commissioned by Hyder Ali but completed by his son Tipu Sultan. The park is bordered by a tank at its southwestern edge where tons of birds can be spotted. At the center of the park is the gorgeous Glass House, which is modeled after London’s Crystal Palace. There is a Japanese Bonsai garden as well but it was closed when we were there. Just across from the Japanese garden is a rocky outcrop, which has been certified by geologists to be one of the world’s oldest! We climbed to the top of it from where views out to the city were fabulous. However, the place was a little too littered to hang out for long!

In the evening, Madhu’s college mate, whom he hadn’t met for the last 15yrs, took us out for drinks and dinner. We have heard a lot about the city’s ‘pub’ scene patronized by the young software engineers who have money to spare. So we were thrilled to experience a part of it at a pub called Purple Haze, a popular place that plays loud 90s rock music. It was a nice pub but a little too loud for conversation especially since the guys were trying to catch up on each other’s lives. For dinner we went to Ruby Tuesday, an American chain that has been done up exactly like its American counterparts. It is located on Church Street, which is full of eateries and bars; a very lively place to hang out. Food at the restaurant was a little disappointing, though, and definitely over-priced.

We liked Bangalore’s cool vibe and friendly people. There’s nothing much to see here but it definitely felt like a decent place to live!

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