Bengaluru is bursting with complaints. Old residents bemoan the influx of outsiders. Recent migrants grumble about the autowallahs. Expats fret about the air quality. People from Mumbai and Delhi whine about the 11.30 p.m. curfew in restaurants. Everybody gripes about the traffic. But most Bangaloreans admit that there’s no other place they’d rather be.
“There’s a certain type of Bangalore morning, a certain type of rainy evening, a certain something in the city’s DNA that makes people want to live here,” says Sanjyukta Mohan, founder and art director of a design company called Banyan Tree. On a more practical note, Bangalore is cheaper than Mumbai and safer than Delhi. The city’s economic vibrancy, the dreamy weather, the signature breakfast of masala dosa with filter coffee, the green spaces, the genuine cosmopolitan air all help Bengaluru score big on the liveability quotient.
Big-spending Bangaloreans can splurge on the sophisticated dining scene (there are also Facebook-spawned foodie groups that passionately deconstruct and discuss the city’s dining options), hip cafés and bars, gourmet food stores, quirky shops, high-end boutiques, home-grown organic and upcycling movements, and weekend craft and flea markets. Culture vultures have plenty of art, music, dance, and theatre to fill weeknights as well as weekends. Then there are the city’s three current obsessions—running, cycling, and photography. Almost every professional Bangalorean between the ages of 25 and 55 pursues one of these activities and has the gear to show for it.
So whatever Bengaluru is, it isn’t dull. If you are in the city on work, or in transit, do more than eat out and see more than the insides of a mall.
South Bengaluru is not so much a geographical identity as a state of mind. This is a part of Bengaluru where tradition comfortably cohabits with the modern. Kannada Brahmin households let space to software start-ups. Vedic scholars are also often electronic engineers. College bands sing Carnatic fusion. Octogenarians with multiple-entry US visas engage in West Coast vs. East Coast debates. iDevice-toting retirees attend theology discourses and FaceTime with grandkids in the same evening. Jet setting professionals keep their date with Ganesha and Gowri. And there’s no better place to see these apparent contrasts than Basavanagudi, the cultural heart of South Bengaluru.
Basavanagudi is among the oldest neighbourhoods in Bengaluru and still retains an idyllic air. It was created in the early 1900s after an outbreak of plague forced administrators to build new suburbs. It gets its name from the “bull temple” that is located at the heart of the area: in Kannada basava means bull and gudi is a colloquial term for a temple. The temple, with a giant monolith statue of Lord Shiva’s mount, Nandi, was built in 1537 by Kempe Gowda, the founder of Bengaluru. Also pay homage to Dodda Ganesha next door; this 18-foot-high Ganesha is the go-to god for thousands of locals looking for blessings before big events. The idol is smeared with white butter on special days. From the temple, walk south to the Ramakrishna Ashram circle, a roundabout that houses a statue of Vivekananda (the Ramakrishna Mutt, located across the road, is great for a mid-afternoon stroll).
Make a right turn to Gandhi Bazaar, a hive of commerce with bursts of local colour and flavour. On any given day, and especially on major festive days like Ganesh Chaturthi, the market is a riot of activity with street vendors, pushcarts, make-shift stalls, shoppers, tourists, pedestrians, and vehicles jostling for space. The road is as delightful as it is clamorous and you can find the season’s freshest produce here—fruits, vegetables, banana leaves, and an eye-popping profusion of tropical flowers. Stores on Gandhi Bazaar Main Road sell everything from silk saris and jewellery to incense, spices, snacks, sweets, ayurvedic medicines, herbal concoctions, and assorted puja articles. Weave your way through these stalls and click away—the shop-owners here are good sports. Stop by at Vidyarthi Bhavan for masala dosa and coffee and be aware that you are about to partake of a tiny part of Bangalore lore. This tiny, no-fuss eatery has fans as well as detractors all the way from New Jersey to Jayanagar. Portraits of Kannada literature icons grace the walls and stare down at regulars who would kill to defend the ghee-soaked dosas. Old timers claim it has tasted just as perfect since 1938 (Gandhi Bazaar Road, Basavanagudi; Mon-Thur 6.30-11.30 a.m. and 2-8 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday, and government holidays 6.30 a.m.-12 p.m. and 2.30-8 p.m.; ₹120 for two. For guided walking tours around the suburb of Basavanagudi, visit www.bangalorewalks.com).
When 20-somethings Rohan Kini and Nikhil Eldurkar started a store for high-end bikes on their parents’ rooftop seven years ago, neither imagined that they were about to start a mini cycling revolution in Bengaluru. But Bums On The Saddle, or BOTS as it is called by regulars, ought to take credit for putting Bangaloreans of all ages, sizes, and shapes back on the seat. Today, the city has several bike stores, as well as biking holiday companies, but BOTS continues to have a cult following as it sells more than just high-end bikes. The store organises workshops, does repairs, hosts events, and teaches bike virgins how to cycle. Bangalore Bikers’ Club—better known as BBC—is the most popular BOTS-spawned online forum and had close to 4,500 members. Cyclists use the forum to trade maintenance tips, compare notes on equipment, share training schedules, plan rides, and most of all, connect with like-minded folk. This is perhaps the best way to meet a bunch of friendly locals and see a bit of the city’s surroundings. For organised, all-inclusive bike tours, look up www.artofbicycletrips.com (BOTS, Jayanagar; daily, except Tuesday 10 a.m.-7.30 p.m.).
There are few places in the city more beautiful than Lalbagh and Cubbon Park on a misty morning. They are to Bengaluru what Central Park is to New York. Runners, amblers, couples, families, amateur photographers, park-bench sitters, birdwatchers—the parks are frequented by all, and a perfect start to a Bangalore day. Lalbagh, in south Bangalore, is a 240-acre botanical garden commissioned by Hyder Ali in 1760 and finished by his son Tipu Sultan. Lalbagh houses over 1,800 species of plants and trees, shaded paths, formal gardens, a glass house, a bandstand, a nursery, and a lake that attracts migratory birds. Cubbon Park is located in the heart of the city, west of M. G. Road. The 300-acre park is less manicured than Lalbagh and integrates natural rock outcrops, thickets of trees, massive bamboo clumps, grassy expanses, and flower-beds. Parts of the park are motorable and house buildings such as the Government Museum and the Seshadri Iyer Memorial Library that are elaborate neo-classical buildings painted a deep red (Lalbagh is open daily 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.; entry free from 6-9 a.m. and 6-7 p.m.; ₹10 at other times; Cubbon Park is open daily, 24 hours; entry free).
Bangalore has a thriving theatre and moving arts scene. There are big and small stage performances all year round. To catch a play on an impulse, head to Rangashankara, a multilingual venue that practices a “play a day policy”, six days a week. Located in the residential suburb of J. P. Nagar in south Bengaluru, it is run by Sanket Trust, an organisation mentored by veteran actress and thespian Arundhati Nag. Rangashankara has a bookshop, a laidback café, and an auditorium that can seat 320 people. Across town in Vasanthnagar, the Alliance Française de Bangalore, is favoured by small theatre productions. Set in a leafy compound, this institute is also a hive of experimental art, culture, and theatre (Rangashankara, JP Nagar; www.indianstage.in; free seating; plays start at 7.30 p.m. and ticket holders are expected to be there 15 minutes earlier; café open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Alliance Française, Vasantnagar; bangalore.afindia.org).
Woodlands Hotel (part of the Woody’s group) is a 1970s-style business hotel in the heart of town, near Cubbon Park. Tucked away in a corner of the six-acre property is a no-nonsense pedicure clinic where you can get the best care for your feet in the city. The treatments are performed by third-generation chiropodist, Mahboob Shariff, and are meant for people with feet ailments, but the centre is also open to those who want a pedicure from a perfectionist. Getting an appointment for a 45-minute session at one of the three modified dentist’s chairs can take months. While this is a no aroma-oil, nail-colour treatment, you are guaranteed to walk away with happy feet (Rajaram Mohan Roy Road; 08065976678; open 9.30 a.m.-5.30 p.m, Sundays closed ₹500).
Relatively young as institutions go, Blossom Book House on Church Street opened in 2000, and is the place to hunt for that out-of-print copy of Sex by Madonna. The store is spread across several levels. The ground floor houses new books, and upstairs there are floor-to-ceiling stacks of used books. Occupying pride of place above the cash counter is a handwritten letter by Rabindranath Tagore from 1931, which Blossoms’ owner Mayi Gowda found in a copy of the Golden Book. An ardent fan of the store runs a website dedicated to stray remarks that float through the air called overheardatblossoms.tumblr.com (Church Street, 25320400; daily 11 a.m.-9 p.m.).
A recent addition to Bengaluru’s cultural landscape is the National Gallery of Modern Art on Palace Road, a short distance from the Central Business District. It houses a permanent collection of 500 exhibits tracing the trajectory of Indian modern art from the 1850s to the present. Set aside half a day to view the entire collection and explore the 3.5-acre premises of the Manikyavelu Mansion, once owned by the Mysore royal family. The gardens are delightful, and the café serves comfort food like aloo parathas, kheema pao, and Nutella sandwiches (Palace Road, daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Mondays; entry ₹10).
The Ants Café serves comfort food and stocks crafts, fabrics, and pottery from the North East (Indiranagar; 08041521742; daily 9 a.m.-8.30 p.m.).
Caperberry is one of India’s finest molecular gastronomy restaurants, run by award-winning chef Abhijit Saha (Ashok Nagar; 080-25594567; daily 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Meal for two ₹2,000).
A Hundred Hands is a fair-trade collective with a heart that preserves traditional arts and crafts; hosts workshops and bazaars (ahundredhands.com).
Chilli Billi stocks fun clothing and accessories from a host of local indie labels (Indiranagar; 080-25293289; daily 11.30 a.m.-8.30 p.m.).
Yogi-sthaan in Indiranagar houses a new-age yoga studio and organic café(Indiranagar; 080-40914888; yogisthaan.com; daily 7 a.m.-9.30 p.m.; Meal for two ₹ 600).
Opus hosts tremendously popular karaoke nights. The loungey restaurant with a Goan vibe, also has indie music gigs, comedy shows, and quiz nights (Palace Cross Road and Whitefield, myopus.in).
The Daily Dump encourages Bengaluru to adopt terracotta home-composting pots and sustainable living ideas (Indiranagar; 080-41157311; dailydump.org; daily 9 a.m.-7 p.m.).
Monkey Bar is owned by Mumbai chef Manu Chandra. The gastropub plays retro tunes and serves jazzed up bar food. Pork belly sliders and foosball, anyone? (Ashok Nagar; 080-41116878; mobar.in; daily noon-11.30 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m.-11.30 p.m. Meal for two ₹1,500).
The Orange Bicycle’s shelves abound with kitschy home accents and boho chic clothing (Indiranagar; 080 41255242; The Orange Bicycle; daily 11 a.m.-7.30 p.m., except Mon).
My Sunny Balcony is filled with pots, plants, and functional garden accessories for space-starved green thumbs in Bengaluru (Malleswaram; 080-42035252; mysunnybalcony.com; Mon-Sat 11 a.m.-7.30 p.m.).
Rangoli Metro Art Centre The refurbished promenade on shopping central, M.G. Road, features a tree-shaded walkway, a play area for kids, quirky art installations, and craft stores.
Appeared in the October 2013 issue as “Beyond Beer and Filter Coffee”.
Hema Ramaprasad is a writer, hobby photographer, slow traveller, vegetarian, breakfast enthusiast, and a lover of all things beautiful and hand-made. She lives in Mysore and tweets as @writeclcktravel. She creates content for a living and travels for the joy of it.