A few weeks ago I wrote an article in Catalan, which attempted to be a brief guide of the city of Bangalore. Here is the English translation (if you want to read the Catalan version click here).
Bangalore is the Indian city I know best, because it is close to the projects with which I collaborated. This article provides a brief guide of the city, hopefully useful to people visiting it.
This guide is mainly aimed at independent travelers who try to know the reality of where they go. If you are looking for five star hotels and tours in AC buses, you do not need to read on.
Bangalore (or Bengaluru) is the capital of Karnataka state, in southern India. It is known as the "garden city" due to the large number of parks and trees it contains. But do not be fooled by the nickname: Bangalore, like all big Indian cities, is heavily polluted and crowded. More than 7 million people in its metropolitan area make it the fifth biggest city in the country, behind Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and Chennai.
Today as a large city and growing metropolis, Bangalore is home to many of the most well-recognized colleges and research institutions in India. The city is known as the Silicon Valley of India because of its position as the nation's leading IT exporter.
The city is well connected with other Indian cities and overseas through its new airport. The other way to get there is certainly the train. The Bangalore City Railway Station is an important hub in southern India.
While the travel guides recommend many places, the truth is that Bangalore is a city that is not particularly outstanding for its historical buildings and temples, nor have many tourist attractions. My recommendations are a little different.
- Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens: I think this is worth a visit. There are 97 acres of botanical gardens, with over a thousand species of plants and impressive trees. A good place to meet someone and walk.
- Shivajinagar: is an old neighborhood near the center of Bangalore. It is advisable to wander its streets. You can find Jumma Masjid, the oldest mosque of Bangalore, or visit the impressive St. Mary's Basilica. It is also easy to find small hindu temples across the district. Shivajinagar is an important commercial area. I recommend to visit the Russel Market, one of the oldest markets in the city. Don’t forget Commercial Street area, but try to go through side streets, with fewer crowds.
- MG Road and Brigade Road: these are two important shopping streets of the city. You have to walk these streets to see how modern India is, and to see the contrasts caused by this modernity. It is especially recommended to walk Brigade Road on Saturday afternoon or evening, when huge crowds of young people are wandering in search of leisure and fun.
- Ulsoor Lake: it is a lake within the city. It has 50 hectares and some small islands. The water quality will not invite you to swim, but the place is interesting and you can have beautiful walks.
Bangalore is an expensive city compared to other Indian cities. My proposals are a modest hotel in Shivajinagar and a Catalan NGO with projects in Bangalore.
- Kamat Hotel Mayura: this hotel is very gentle, somewhat old and deteriorated, but very decent and clean. Not a tourist hotel, so do not expect to find westerns. It is located near the center, in Shivajinagar, almost opposite the Jumma Masjid mosque (so be prepared to hear the call to prayers five times a day). A room with bath and without AC can cost between 400 and 500 rupees (6.50 - 8 EUR), a little more expensive than in other Indian cities. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Associació Neem Bangalore: if you are traveling alone or in a very small group, you can visit the projects of this NGO. The organisation focuses its work especially on improving the lives of leppers and their families. They have a home/office on the quiet neighborhood of Indiranagar. If you alert them with enough time, and there is an available room, they will let you spend some nights there. After so many years in India they have many interesting stories to tell. Email: email@example.com.
Eating and drinking
- Breakfast: I recommend eating a typical indian breakfast in the restaurants of these two hotels: Kamat Hotel Mayura and Brindavan Hotel. My recommendations are masala dosa, paper dosa and poori, with chai (black tea with milk).
- Koshy's is a classic in Bangalore, with over 50 years history. Very central, just off MG Road. Average prices. I recommend tandoori chicken.
- Ruchi in Cambridge Road is an excellent restaurant, but very well priced. Indian Cuisine with an excellent price/quality ratio.
- Casa Piccola is a restaurant near the intersection of St. Mark's Road and Residency Road. Average prices. A nice place to eat a good plate of pasta or some other mediterranean meal.
- The only place is definitely the place to go if you want to eat beef in Bangalore. Their steaks are generous, delicious and not particularly expensive. After days of an almost vegetarian diet, this restaurant in Church Street can be an oasis that is worth knowing.
Around Bangalore there are some interesting trips which can be achieved with one or two days each. I highlight three below. Public bus is the best way to get there.
- Shravanabelagola: it's a city 158 km from Bangalore. The site is one of the most important pilgrimage centers for jains, and is especially known for the statue of Gomateshwara. The vast and monolithic nude figure (17 feet and cut in a single block of granite) is located atop a small hill. To access it you must climb over 500 steps carved into the stone of the mountain. You have to climb barefoot because it is a sacred place, so if the weather is sunny you can find the rock boiling. Take socks just in case.
- Belur and Halebid: separated by only 16 km between them, and about 200 km from Bangalore, these cities are famous for their temples. A true wonder of the age of Hoysalas empire (12th century). The sculpted exterior walls are impressive. Truly better than other more famous temples.
- Shanti Bhavan: if you are interested in education and human development, there is a very interesting non-profit project near Bangalore (50 km from the city). Shanti Bhavan is a rural school and part of the projects of The George Foundation. They give quality education to children from families below the poverty line (mostly Dalits, untouchables). It’s a residential school with the mission to fully develop the most vulnerable children of India’s lowest caste to enable them to aspire to careers and professions of their choice through world class education and globally shared values. You have to send an email beforehand if you want to visit them: firstname.lastname@example.org