48 Hours In: Bangalore
New flights make it easier to explore the elaborate architecture and spice markets of this buzzing Indian city, says Cathy Packe
Saturday 04 November 2006
WHY GO NOW?
Bangalore is a dynamic city at the heart of the "new India". The pace of change is extraordinary - bars opening up, designer shops moving in - but there is still room for tradition. Next Friday and Saturday, for example, 10-11 November, an annual festival will be taking place at the important Hindu Bull Temple during which peanuts are solemnly offered to the statue of the bull.
The only non-stop link to Bangalore from the UK is with British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) which flies daily from Heathrow. Starting this week, Emirates (0870 243 2222; www.emirates.com) flies from Birmingham, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow and Manchester via Dubai. City taxis can reach the centre in anything from 10 minutes to an hour depending on the time of day. Expect to pay around Rs130 (£1.50) for the eight-mile journey. Autorickshaws charge around Rs75 (90p) for the same journey, and take roughly the same time, although the journey can be hair-raising.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Bangalore is expanding quickly, but most places of interest to visitors are contained within a compact area. This stretches from the City Market district to the west, as far as Ulsoor Lake to the east. These areas are linked by the city's main thoroughfare, Mahatma Gandhi Road. Universally shortened to MG Road, this was once the artery of the area colonised by the British. The main branch of India Tourism (1) is centrally located at 48 Church Street (00 91 80 2558 5417; www.incredibleindia.org). It opens 9.30am-6pm Monday to Friday, and 9am-1pm on Saturday. To find out what's on in the city, check out page three of the local Deccan Herald, which runs a daily column called "In the City Today".
By Indian standards, hotel prices in Bangalore are astronomical. The Taj West End (2) at 55 Race Course Road (00 91 80 6660 5660; www.tajhotels.com) is the oldest hotel in the city, a Bangalore institution that is worth visiting for its colonial-style building and lush tropical gardens. Expect to pay US$448 (£249) for a double, including breakfast and one-way airport transfer. The Park Hotel (3) is a boutique-style establishment, designed by Terence Conran, at 14/7 MG Road (00 91 80 2559 4666; www.theparkhotels.com). Double rooms here start at $392 (£230) including breakfast. The Hotel Ramanashree (4) at 16 Rajaram Mohan Roy Road (00 91 80 4135 0000; www.ramanashree.com) has single rooms from $84 (£49), doubles from $95 (£56) including breakfast.
TAKE A HIKE
Explore Bangalore's history by starting at the fort (5). It was constructed by Kempe Gowde when he founded the city in the 16th century. The stone walls you see today were rebuilt some 200 years later by a Muslim ruler, Haider Ali, whose son, Tipu Sultan, built the palace (6) that faces the fort across a busy square. Made from local teak, it is a masterpiece of Indo-Saracenic architecture, a mixture of Islamic arches and pillars with Hindu influences. After Tipu's defeat by the British in 1789 it temporarily became the headquarters of the East India Company. The palace opens 8.30am-5.30pm daily, admission Rs200 (£2.40). Head back across the square, continuing beyond the fort, and wander through the narrow streets of the City Market district, where traders barter, carrying goods in vast packages on their heads or pulled by buffalo carts. The main market (7) is now housed in purpose-built premises, where colourful spices are piled high, and marigold flowers are sold.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
Head further east to the triangle formed by MG, St Mark's and Residency Roads. Look out for Bangalore's various coffee chains - places like Barista and Coffee Day - which serve sandwiches.
TAKE A RIDE
A hop-on hop-off open-topped tour bus service (00 91 80 2558 0660; www.cityswaps.in) started up this summer. It runs every half-hour between 10am and 6pm Monday to Friday (except Tuesday), and stops at 16 of the main city sights including Cubborn Park (8) and Vidhana Soudha (9), the State Assembly. Tickets cost Rs300 (£3.50) and are valid for 24 hours.
Bangalore is best known for its silk shops. At Karishma (10), at 45 MG Road, a seven yard
length of silk - enough for a suit or sari - costs Rs600 (£7); making-up costs start at Rs250 (£2.90) for a dress. Shopping malls are opening up all over the city. Closest to the centre is Bangalore Central (11).
The obvious drink is Kingfisher beer, Bangalore's home-brew, although the area around the city is becoming known for its vineyards.
Bangalore, unlike much of the rest of India, has a lively pub culture, although the recently imposed 11.30pm closing time is a subject of discontent. Stay in the MG Road area and order a drink at Taika (12) in the Pavilion building (00 91 80 4151 2828).
DINING WITH THE LOCALS
Try Ebony (13) on the 13th floor of the Barton Centre at 84 MG Road (00 91 80 2558 9333), where the menu is a mixture of European and South Asian dishes.
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
St Mark's Cathedral (14) at 1 MG Road (00 91 80 2221 4021) is the most important of the many churches built in Bangalore by the British. Founded in the early 19th century, it has been extensively rebuilt, and became a cathedral in 1947.
OUT TO BRUNCH
Brunch became popular a couple of years ago, and now everybody's doing it. Olive Beach (15) opened up last year at 16 Wood Street (00 91 80 5112 8400). Forget about ham and eggs; this is a groaning buffet selection of cold dips and appetisers, salads, seafood, hot meat, pasta and desserts, for a flat Rs1,400 (£16). The current house cocktail is a surprisingly tasty combination, a glass of Indian sparkling wine sprinkled with cinnamon.
The Bull Temple is another important monument built by the city's founding father, Kempegowda. Each of the Hindu gods has a "vehicle", or animal with which it is associated, and the bull represents Lord Shiva. The temple contains a vast statue of the bull, carved out of a single piece of granite and turned black by being rubbed with peanut oil. The temple opens at 8am, when the priest wakes up the bull with a Sanskrit song, undressing it and offering it food. The temple is open daily until 8pm, admission free.
A WALK IN THE PARK
Lalbagh Botanical Garden is a pleasant open space containing more than 2,000 species of trees. It was founded in the 18th century and later expanded by the British, who added a glasshouse, a replica of Crystal Palace, to make themselves feel at home. The garden opens 6am-9pm; admission is free until 9am during which time the garden is full of joggers; after 9am, the entry charge is Rs7 (8p). At the north side of the garden is a granite mound, at the top of which is one of the watchtowers of the original city. The tower itself is closed, but from the rock there is a view over the rapidly developing city skyline.
WRITE A POSTCARD...
... from the main Post Office building (16) while you admire the city's architecture. To the right, in the leafy surroundings of Cubborn Park (8), are the State Assembly building, the Vidhana Soudha (9), built in south Indian style, and the High Court (17), a red-brick colonial structure that was originally the headquarters of the East India Company. To the left is Bangalore's cricket ground, Chinnaswamy Stadium (18).
THE ICING ON THE CAKE
While cricket is the national passion, racing is also extremely popular in Bangalore. The winter season begins today at the Bangalore Race Course (19) (00 91 80 22262391; www.bangaloreraces.com), and will continue until March. Tickets cost from Rs20 (25p).
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