Bengaluru Beckons: Plan Your Visit

Once a Pensioner’s Paradise, the city of Bengaluru [also referred to as Bangalore] in the southern Indian state of Karnataka has undergone several changes in the past two decades. Vehicular traffic has increased tremendously and the cityscape appears crowded with residential and commercial high-rises.

It is not unusual to hear natives of the city reminisce about “old Bangalore” and I echo their sentiment. However, as Heraclitus said, “The only thing that is constant is change.”

Bengaluru is easily accessed by road, air, and train. There is a wide range of hotels and for your daily commute, you can use on-call taxis or car and driver rentals. Depending on where you are staying, you can always rely on the metro rail.

English is widely spoken. Learning a few words in Kannada, native language of Karnataka, is a good measure for any traveler. Recent migrants to the city might not understand chill maadi or swalpa adjust maadi but a few words in the native language is a good measure for any traveler. For example, Namaskara [Hello], Hegiddera? [How are you?], Oota ayta? [Had food?]. Do remember that during a conversation with a South Indian, a shake of the head from left to right or vice-versa doesn’t necessarily imply disagreement.

There are many ways to discover Bengaluru. What follows is my recommendation and I hope you enjoy maadi.

Traffic

Don't bemoan the fact that you will have to put up with traffic congestion in Bangaluru. Instead, plan extra time to get to one part of the city to another and keep your eyes on the road instead of a screen. You are bound to see some interesting sights that you might not see anywhere else.

Rest and Relaxation

Begin your stay in Bengaluru with some R&R. Try a bit of meditation and get a traditional Ayurvedic massage. Take it slow on your first day; you will need all your energy for the days ahead as the city unfolds itself to you.

Food and Beverage

You will have a wide range of options for food—Chinese, Indian, Italian, Mexican, etc. I recommend that you try a few traditional South Indian meals. The meals are served on a plantain leaf and you will have vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. Ask for rasam [a digestive soup] with your meal. As for a beverage, do try a fresh lime soda and South Indian coffee [pictured above]. Skip the venti or grande macchiato.

Arts and Crafts

Explore the state-run emporiums to get a feel for the arts and crafts of the region. The prices at these stores are fixed [meaning, there is no bargaining unlike at some of the other stores] and the products are genuine. The staff at these state-run emporiums are helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Silk

Visit a reliable silk store and indulge in the luxury of exquisite silk selections for sarees, cloth, drapery, etc. Consult a reliable guidebook or inquire at the hotel front desk. Be prepared to spend some time at the store. Ask questions; for example: What’s the difference between Bangaluru Silk and Mysore Silk?

Markets

There are several markets in Bengaluru that sell everything from flowers to fishes. A visit to one of these markets should be in your itinerary. Some of these markets are held along the roadside. For a few minutes forget you’re a foreign visitor before you visit any of these markets and become a part of the experience.

Temple Architecture

The Kote Venkataramana Temple, located near Bengaluru Fort, was built in 1689. Temples in South India have gopurams [monumental towers] as their entrances, which is unique to Dravidian style of architecture. You may see devotees entering a temple by bowing at the entrance, a sign of touching the feet of the deity, as she/he proceeds towards the sanctum within concentric walls. Temples in India require you to leave your footwear at the entrance.

Houses of Worship

Amongst the several houses of worship in Bengaluru, St Mark’s Cathedral opened its doors in 1812. This garrison church was initially accessible only to officers of the British Army. Among other things, the colors of the 77th Moplah Rifles are displayed inside the church. The restored pipe organ is a major draw. Although modeled on the lines of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, St Mark’s Cathedral has a mix of architectural styles that are the results of a reconstruction of the cathedral after a fire in 1923 and building collapse in 1924.

Day Trip from Bengaluru

Having said at the outset of this story that this is my perspective on a visit to Bengaluru, similarly, my recommendation for a day trip from Bengaluru is either Somnathpur or Talakadu [pictured above is Vaidyeshwara Temple, Talakadu]. If you have two days to spare, I recommend Hampi, where the glory and splendor of the Vijayanagara [1336–1646] is evident in the ruins. If you prefer a more laid-back approach to end your trip, I recommend Coorg.

On A Personal Note

I started my 11th grade at a Jesuit high school in Bengaluru. That was my dorm room—on the top floor with white blinds on the window at the right. I formed many wonderful friendships that have lasted over the years. Many lessons were learned outside the classroom, which makes my life’s journey more exciting. One of my favorite memories pertains to singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” If the dinner bell happened to ring midway through the song, we would dash off to the cafeteria*. Sorry, John Denver; RIP.

[P.S. Can I carry a tune? Of course not but that didn’t stop me from singing “Mujhe Chahe Na Chahe" in front an audience simply because it was a duet with a girl. This was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life but hey, I was young and naïve.]

Hampi: Lest We Forget

The city of Vijayanagara, known by its modern name, Hampi, is a small town in the Indian state of Karnataka. The city of Vijayanagara was founded around the year 1336.

Hampi is located on the banks of River Tungabhadra. When I first visited Hampi, the ruins were rarely visited and my first impressions were the sights of behemoth red and brown granite stones. They left me with a vivid and lasting impression of this once glorious city that was destroyed by invaders in 1565.

Today, Hampi is a destination for tourists and travelers. The glory and splendor of the Vijayanagara Empire is evident in the ruins.

Entrance Tower of Vitthala Temple

Built in the 15th Century, the Vitthala Temple is dedicated to Lord Vitthala, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. An outstanding example of Dravidian style of architecture, the Vitthala Temple exhibits features that are characteristic of South Indian temple architecture. Dravidian architecture, which flourished under the Vijayanagara Empire, is characterized by large dimensions, cloistered enclosures, and lofty towers over entrances that are encased by decorated pillars.

Stone Chariot

The Stone Chariot, a shrine for Garuda, was built in the 16th century. Garuda, a mythical bird-like creature, is the mount of Lord Vishnu. The chariot might seem like a monolithic structure carved out of a giant stone. Instead, the structure was built using several granite blocks and the joints are hidden by exquisite carvings. Elephants appear to be pulling the chariot but they do not belong to the original structure. Tails and hind legs of the original horse structures can be seen behind the elephants.

Ranga Mantapa

Situated in the Vittala Temple complex, the Ranga Mantapa is renowned for its musical pillars. Visitors are restricted from tapping on the pillars due to damage that has resulted from tapping over the years. The emission of musical notes from stone pillars has been a mystery for centuries. Two pillars were cut to see if they were hollow on the inside and those cut marks are still visible. The pillars are carved out of single pieces of resonant stone.

Musical Pillars

Each main pillar that supports the ceiling of Ranga Mantapa is surrounded by smaller musical pillars. You can see the wear that has occurred on the smaller musical pillars. Tapping on different pillars emit the musical notes 'DO RE MI' and so on. There are a total of 56 musical pillars.

Pushkaranis – Sacred Water Tanks

The water tanks with large stone steps allowed people to get to the water easily. The water tanks are connected to an extensive network of stone aqueducts and canals. Around 1339, a huge dam was built in the Tungabhadra river as well as an aqueduct several miles long from the river into the city, cut out of the solid rock base of the hills.

The Queen’s Bath

The Queen’s Bath is an elaborate structure with a simple exterior and an ornate interior. The bath is a rectangular pool, surrounded by arched corridors with pillars, and ornate balconies with windows. Only women of the royal family were allowed to use the bath.

Haraza Rama Temple

Hazara Rama translates to "a thousand Rama" and refers to a host of relics depicting the deity of the temple, Lord Rama. Inside you will see the famous relics and panels depicting the story of the epic Ramayana. The outer walls portray processions of elephants, horses, soldiers, etc., who are taking part in the Dasara festival.

Lotus Mahal

The Lotus Mahal [Palace] is situated among the ruins of Hampi. A wider view of this structure manifests the shape of a lotus bud. The archways are designed to resemble petals of a lotus. Viewed from the inside, the arches are covered with intricate carvings. An interesting feature about the Lotus Mahal is that it was air-cooled with a water pipeline that runs above and between the arches and on the sides of the roof.

Elephant Stable

This stable for State elephants has a row of eleven domed chambers, large enough to accommodate two elephants at a time. The domes represent different styles of architecture and there are remnants of stucco and plaster ornamentation on both the inside and outside the stable.

Lakshmi Narasimha Statue

The most imposing sculpture of Hampi, the Lakshmi Narasimha statue, is also its largest monolith statue. Narasimha is the fourth incarnation of Lord Vishnu and appeared on Earth in the form of half human [nara] and half lion [simha]. The sculpture portrays Narasimha sitting on the coils of Adishesha, the sacred guardian snake of Lord Vishnu, which rises behind him with its seven hoods that acts as a canopy.

Chandikesvara Temple

The Chandikesvara temple has a hall situated at the front of the structure and it's most interesting aspect is the richly carved pillars. A brilliant piece of architecture in itself, these pillars have been crafted out of stones and depict several themes of the Hindu mythology.

Hampi

This ornate structure in Hampi has weathered 500 years of natural and man-made destruction. Although damaged to a large extent, the structure reflects the beauty and grandeur that was once attached to it. Under the initiative of the Archaeological Survey of India, the Archaeological Museum at Kamalapura was established to undertake the responsibility of preserving the ruins of Hampi.