We are a bit behind on our posts after touching down in India 17 days ago. We were quickly swallowed up with the chaos of the cities, the beauty of the country and limited by the spotty and constrained Wi-Fi networks here in India.
Our entry point was Bangalore where we scheduled a few days to adjust to the new time zone, deal with jet lag and regroup for a bike ride from Bangalore to Cochin. We were flying from Cape Town which is only a 4 hour time difference but flew Emirates (nice airline) through Dubai on a red-eye.
We quickly learned that there is very little relaxing in India’s large cities. Bangalore is India’s 3rd largest city and continues to grow rapidly fueled by its IT hub and international customers. There is a beautiful new airport, road construction everywhere, residential and commercial construction projects and traffic that rivals the traffic jams of Manila, Bangkok, and Jakarta decades ago. The honking and road noise is constant and makes Manhattan seem quiet and tame. The horn is as important as the gas and break pedals for Indian drivers. It takes some getting used to, but after a couple weeks, you can become somewhat comfortable with it.
Navigating the city was a little tricky during our initial forays. We got stuck in mad traffic from the airport. The hotel recommended, auto-rickshaw driver for our first outing to an art museum tried to take us to three other locations and could not find our destination. We missed out on a booked tabla performance because it took us an hour to find a taxi willing to take us the 9 kms to the performance – which ended up taking us another 90 minutes to drive to the location of the performance. Although, in the course of the taxi hunt, we met a lovely and feisty, elderly Afghani woman, Mrs. Khan, who reprimanded the young taxi drivers for 20 minutes for refusing to help us. (In hindsight, we cannot blame the taxi drivers given the traffic that night).
So after spending 4+ hours in taxis and a few more in auto rickshaws in the first couple of days, we decided it would be best to stay local and walk for the remainder of our visit. We were staying only a few blocks from the MG Road area where there are plenty of good options for restaurants that are kind on visitors’ stomachs and a plethora of microbreweries – a relatively new addition over the last few years that has been driven by local entrepreneurs and the local government. We were impressed and enjoyed visits to Arbor Brewing Company, The Biere Club, Brewsky and Toit. We also had an excellent meal at Karavalli – pricey by local standards but well worth it.
Walking is better than sitting in the traffic of Bangalore, but it is not without its challenges. Walking is slow going- dodging the people, the cars, the scooters, the bikes, the cows and hundreds of other obstacles. Streets and sidewalks are often pockmarked with holes. Stairs and steps do not always comply to standard sizes making them awkward. Garbage is piled up on sidewalks, and often it is burning. It is a bit chaotic and sounds a bit crazy but this is part of the charm of India; it is a full assault on all five of your senses!
The biggest downside to walking is all the ogling. Given our limited wardrobe, Susan mostly has sport skirts and skirts are not very common here. A Westerner in a skirt is very uncommon and apparently quite the site. The staring is constant, aggressive, and from males of all ages. (It has continued in the countrysides where a cycling western female in a skirt is extremely exotic but more on that later).
We have enjoyed the food a lot and are eating Indian 3 meals a day. There are Western options – the burger and pasta is often there – but the Southern India dishes are too good. We are mostly sticking with veg options so there is a lot of dahl, aloo gobi, paneer dishes of all types. Dosas and idlis with sambar as well as tomato and coconut chutneys are our preferred breakfast. Bread options are fantastic with far more options than the standard naan in the States- e.g. parathas, parottas, chapaties, rotis, and more. The range of pickles are amazing as well and tasty- mangos, limes, lemons, dates, papaya, garlic, bamboo!
Our visit to Bangalore was more about prepping for our cycling rather than sightseeing, but we did a little and visited the Modern Art Museum (where we were followed by security guards in every one of the 20+ rooms – I think it was Susan’s shifty looks), the Parliament building (beautiful), and the oasis of calm that is Cubbon Park.
During our last couple days and night, we found the neighborhood of Indiranagar that was a bit easier to tour on foot and filled with a bunch of interesting restaurants and shops. We would definitely recommend this spot if you find yourself visiting this city.
Bangalore was the perfect entry point. There was a bit of an adjustment period, but it has been fun jumping into the chaos, taking in some of the sights and enjoying the local dishes. Stay tuned for details on our cycle trip to Cochin.