We’d never have described ourselves as ‘city people’ before arriving into Bangalore and so we were both surprised by the sense of relief and excitement we felt as we drove in past the many shops, restaurants and bars.
The feeling didn’t last long. Four days later and we are ready to declare ourselves country folk again!
Our second night bus experience in India wasn’t quite as smooth as the first, unfortunately, and we arrived into Bangalore at 6am feeling slightly worse for wear after being thrown around our bunk for eight hours.
We were greeted by the usual crowd of tuk tuk drivers, although since we were the only tourists on the bus this time we were twice the target. Feeling pretty bewildered at 6am in the morning, we’d prepared ourselves for the usual painful negotiation over the fare and were delighted when the guy told us ‘No, no – we have a meter!’.
Great, we thought, the rickshaw market in Bangalore is obviously more tightly controlled. What a relief not to have to worry about haggling.
Our relief soon turned to horror when the meter, which started on 25 rupees, started going up and up at an alarming rate. By the time we got to our hotel, it was well over 500 – almost double what we’ve paid for our longest rickshaw journey so far. We were even more confused when the driver insisted that we actually owed him a thousand to cover his return journey. ‘Out and back’, he kept saying, ‘that’s how it works here – out and back.’ After a tense few minutes we gave up and walked away, ignoring his shouts and feeling pretty confident that he was just trying his luck. Turns out the journey was only supposed to cost 150 rupees and we were ripped off by a rigged meter.
Indian city rip-off number one. A theme for the days to come…
Bad first impressions aside, we were presently surprised by Bangalore. And not just because we finally had a quiet hotel room with hot water and a duvet after a week of cold showers!
On our first day in the city we headed for a stroll around the upmarket student areas of Koramangala and Indira Nagar.
Our first stop was at the Hole Lotta Love café, a trendy brunch joint in Koramangala. Such a treat to have western food and we went slightly over the top with decadent waffles and ‘Wake Me Up’ coffee and banana smoothies.
Fuelled with sugar, we headed off on a mooch around town. It’s been really interesting to see the modern face of India in Bangalore and, to us, it feels a bit like the Indian version of London. Koramangala and Indira Nagar are kind of like the Clapham and Brixton of Bangalore – both full of leafy side streets with nice international restaurants, fashionable bars and quirky boutiques. And of course, the obligatory hipsters with top knots.
But Bangalore is a massive city and we definitely underestimated the distances! After hours of walking, we stopped at one of the city’s famous craft beer breweries in search of a refreshing cold beer. Delicious but eye-wateringly expensive after everywhere else in India and we felt a bit out of place in our scrubby backpacker gear.
Still feeling pretty disgruntled by the rickshaws, we took the local bus up to Indira Nagar. Like everywhere else we’ve been in India so far, the transport network in Bangalore is extensive, great value and ends up quite good fun. The only trick is to make sure you’re ready to jump on and off while it’s still moving!
They have separate sections for women and men which I found a little strange at first, but actually works really well in practice. If you’re travelling as a couple you can just stand in between the two sections and it minimises the stares and discomfort. We did attempt to brave the metro at one point but its still a work in progress and was impossible to figure out where we were going so we gave up and stuck to the bus.
Some more mooching and a beer in Indira Nagar and back to our hotel to attempt to plan our onward travel to Mysore.
We’re still finding our feet here and have been finding it really frustrating to figure out the best way to get around. In Goa and Hampi, everyone told us to book buses through travel agents. We now know that you can just rock up to the station and hop on to nice air conditioned state run coaches, but back then we were none the wiser.
Where we were staying in Bangalore, there were no tourists or travel agents at all, we were miles from the main bus stop and no one seemed able (or willing) to help us figure out how to get the bus to Mysore. A frustrating two hours trying to book online, followed by an even more frustrating few hours walking round the hectic streets being turned away from travel agent after travel agent.
We were just starting to feel the effects of no sleep when my flip flop decided to break. It goes without saying that Bangalore is not a fun city to walk around bare feet…
Aside from the endless dust, there are also regular five foot deep holes that just pop up in the pavement, an astonishing amount of litter everywhere and I’d even nearly stepped on a dead rat earlier that day. Not a fun hour but we did eventually find one random guy who ran a ‘travel agent’ desk on top of a local shop. He was extremely scatty to say the least and Jamie ended up doing it for him on his computer, but, never mind, we finally had tickets out! The guy then proceeded to look Jamie up on Facebook and scroll through all his photos which was also quite strange…
Feeling much more refreshed the next day, we headed back to our favourite brunch spot. Felt just like being in London and we even had to queue. Some more ‘Wake Me Ups’, a stop at the supermarket (think Tesco Extra but condensed to a quarter of the space and with its own collection of in store touts) to replace my flip flops and off into central Bangalore to explore.
We took a stroll along the main Mahatma Gandhi road, full of swanky jewellery shops, street food sellers and designer clothes shops.
Then through Cubbon Park, the Bangalore equivalent of Hyde Park with lots of Indian families picnicking. Indian picnics are much better than our versions – they have proper saucepans with hot food, plates and all sorts.
We were really impressed with how progressive Bangalore is. It was nice to see women drinking in bars, there are signs up about the anti-Transgender discrimination act and the anti-Superstition act, we saw a mobile library, signs about mental health awareness and the park was even designated a ‘no-plastic zone’. (Edit: since writing this I’ve realised that lots of places in India are supposedly ‘no-plastic zones’ but the signs sit above mountains of discarded water bottles on the side of the road).
A full day of exploring and we even found a nice little pub, almost like a British one but with cricket instead of football – and they served actual pints! Helped to ease the homesickness a little after three months on the road.
There are lots of Tibetan people living in South India and particularly, it seems, in Bangalore. For dinner, we tried out our first Tibetan food at ‘Momo Corner’ in Koramangala. Momos, some spicy chicken and some Tingmos (big rice flour buns). Delicious and we’re excited to try some more further North.
Back up at an ungodly hour for our bus to Mysore. We were sad to leave behind the nice food and drink in Bangalore and really enjoyed having a couple of days in a city that feels more like home – as well the convenience of being able to stock up in the shopping malls and supermarkets. And no selfies!
But, despite its advantages, Bangalore is still a big Indian city and we were hoping for slightly less chaos in Mysore.
After arriving bright and early, we set off for a stroll around town. Mysore is a very pretty city, and apparently the cleanest in India (although that’s not saying much..).
There are all sorts of weird and wonderful things to be found – including some guys working on traditional typewriters alongside the edge of the road; an old school Ambassador, the proud owner of which insisted we get inside and check out the ‘Made in Britain’ dashboard; and even some yellow cows!
Before long, however, we discovered that everyone wants to be your best friend in Mysore. Several ‘friendly locals’ wanted to know where we were going and offered helpful suggestions on places to visit. ‘Of course, I’d be happy to take you there in my tuk tuk for free. No charge – I have to go over that way anyway.’
Sensing a scam and still feeling reluctant to trust rickshaw drivers, we politely declined them all (even the ones that drove alongside us) and insisted on walking. A few streets on and we bumped into another friendly guy – one who, we thought, seemed genuine. He didn’t seem to have any agenda and just pointed out a good spot to get lunch, gave us some advice on the buses and told us a bit about the market up the road.
We took his advice and headed to a local joint for veg thali. We’re very happy that Jeelan gave us a heads up on the right way to eat with our hands as there’s no cutlery in most of these restaurants, and we always get an appreciative smile and head wiggle from those around us.
After the thali we strolled around some more and, surprise surprise, we ‘coincidentally’ bumped into our friendly fellow again who just happened to be on his way to get chai by the market. Being very British and unsure how to say no to someone who is apparently just being friendly, even when we suspect an ulterior motive, we ended up with an impromptu tour guide.
In fairness, it was actually quite interesting, despite the impending awkward situation we knew was coming. He took us to a local market and told us about Sankranti, the Indian harvest festival. As part of Sankranti, Hindus give thanks to cows for everything that they provide (namely cheese!) and, to celebrate, the cows are bathed in turmeric. Tonight, he told us, we’d find them jumping through fire hoops outside the temples. Guess that explains all the yellow cows wandering around Mysore, some of them with elaborate flowered headdresses.
Our ‘guide’ also told us how there’s a massive problem with Dengue Fever in India and seemed very concerned for our welfare when we told him we were going to Madikeri next. ‘Ah, Madikeri is a jungle. Lots of mosquitoes there – they are all resistant to DEET, you must try water lily oil! That’s what we all use here.’ Given this sage advice, we weren’t particularly surprised when the next stop was a local oil and incense shop. After an awkward tour by the owner, there was an even more awkward pause when we said we didn’t want to buy anything. ‘But what about the mosquitos!’
Anyway, turns out our guide has his own oil and natural remedies shop down the road. He took us there for a ‘friendly cup of chai and some mango’ and, after another hour spent awkwardly trying to escape, somehow we ended up coming away with a small bottle of the bloody water lily oil.
Indian city rip-off number two.
And lesson learned – stop being so British and polite and just say no!
Feeling ashamed with how easily we had been tricked, we went to the Park Lane Hotel for some beers and this helpful advice, a tad too late.
We also googled the water lily oil and, what do you know, it’s an ongoing scam in Mysore and does absolutely nothing to repel mosquitoes.
Ah well. Back over to the Devaraja market which cheered us up with its colourful chaos.
And then up to the palace to watch the absolutely stunning illumination for Sankranti and try to find ourselves some more yellow cows!
Indian cities are hectic at the best of times and even more so during festivals. We tried to find some dinner after the palace but everywhere seemed to be shut, despite the streets being full of people. We ended up back at the Park Lane Hotel (one of the only open places) for dinner before braving the crowds back to our hotel.
Not a fun experience being in a hectic city (again) after little sleep (again). Even more people trying to be our friends and a chubby twelve year old kid tried to grab my bag while pretending to do an over-exaggerated yawn. Luckily I had it over my shoulder with a protective hand on it, but it shook us up a little and, after attempted Indian city rip-off number 3, we were happy to spend the rest of the night safe and sound in the hotel room.
Back out into the mayhem the next day as we headed over to the palace to look around in the daylight.
Even this was pretty hectic as there are hoards of Indian tourists in town for Sankranti, all of whom wanted more selfies but had apparently decided to dispense with the formality of asking permission, just popping up next to us instead.
Beautiful nonetheless, except for the poor palace elephants who are chained up outside.
Keen to escape the city, we headed out in a rickshaw to Gokulam, a supposedly yoga-centric neighbourhood full of hippies. We didn’t find much there except the Pelican Pub where, thanks to my handy gender, we were allowed into the peaceful women’s section, and spent the evening eating butter chicken and Coorg style spicy pork.
Given the fact that India is predominantly Hindu, alcohol isn’t on the menu in a lot of places outside Goa and the larger cities like Bangalore. In Mysore, and especially during Sankranti, it was only really available in some hotels and upmarket restaurants and, even then, everywhere we went that served beer had off-putting warning signs about how bad alcohol is, how damaging to families and how it should be avoided at all costs.
Despite this, there’s clearly a big problem with it here. The only place you can buy any drinks yourself is in these weird little off licenses, crowded with drunk old men who only seem to drink whisky, where the shopkeeper stands behind a metal grille. These normally have ‘bars’ attached to them which are actually very dingy, concrete, windowless rooms filled with drunk men.
A hectic rickshaw drive back into town confirmed to us that, after four days, we’re ready to escape the city. It’s been a fun experience, Bangalore in particular, but we’re looking forward to some more chilled time and less moving around on early morning buses.
Onwards and (literally) upwards to the mountains of Coorg.