I’ve lived here for almost 18 months now and it’s not really a tourist town but there are things to do in Bangalore. Generally I’ve found if you’re in Bengaluru, it’s for work, or you’re en route to somewhere else.
So, what’s there to do in this city? Not a lot. It doesn’t have the history of Delhi, or the English architectural influence of Mumbai. It doesn’t have the spirituality of Varanasi or the beaches of Goa. But it does have friendly locals, a high rate of spoken English, and a very modern metropolitan atmosphere for India. I have never felt unsafe here, I wear a mix of salwar kurta and Western clothes, and although I sometimes get asked for photographs, I’m pretty much treated like everyone else. I can mostly get around OK with English although there is a population that really only speak Kannada (the local language). Ubers are safe and easy to use, ATMs are easy to find, and in general it’s a pretty easy city to live in.
Although humans have been in the area since 4000 BC, the city itself wasn’t established until much later. In 1537 AD, Kempe Gowda I picked an auspicious date and time, and four young men on four bullock-driven ploughs started ploughing the ground in opposite directions. Then, he built a mud fort around the outside which had a moat around it. See my handy but very poorly drawn map below. In the area now known as Chickpet, you can see the first four roads- Chikkapete Street and Doddapete Street (which has been renamed ‘Avenue Road’).
Kempe Gowda I was the ruler who established Bangalore in 1537. In 1597, his son, Kempe Gowda II built four towers at the corners of the city- one of which you can find at Lalbagh Gardens. They are marked as red dots on my incredibly technical map.
In 1638, the Marāthās conquered Bangalore and ruled it for 50 years, then the Mughals stole it from them and sold it to the Wadiyar Dynasty of Mysore Kingdom. Then the British captured it in 1799. Administrative control was handed over to the Maharaja of Mysore at that point and then everyone stopped stealing Bangalore off other people. When India declared independence in 1947 and waved the British farewell, the process started of forming a government. In 1956, Karnataka State was formed.
In 1941-51 and 1971-81, there was rapid growth due to immigrants from North Karnataka looking for education and public sector employment. In 1961 it had a population of 1.2 million, the sixth largest city in India. In 1985, the first multinational corporation set up in Banglore and then by the end of the 20th Century, the area was known as the Silicon Valley of India. In 1991, the population of Bangalore was 4.1 million, in 2001 was 5.1 million, and then by 2011, is shot up to a whopping 8.4 million. Today in 2018, estimates of population are around 13 million.
In 2006, the original Kannada name Bengalūru was declared the official name but it swings happily between both names (and with various imaginative spellings- Bengalooroo etc). And now, we’re up to speed and can get into the grand assortment of tourist attractions.
Things to do in Banglore
The Lalbagh Gardens occupy about one square km of land, South of Central Bangalore. It has a beautiful glasshouse, a lake, a bunch of plants, birds, fish, monkeys, an ancient ‘pigeon house’ and the largest known ‘Kapok’ tree. It has four gates, all equally as confusing and crowded as the others. Take the entrance off Double Road/ KH Circle, pay your entrance fee, and immediately you’ll see the Kempe Gowda Tower. Firstly, note the unusual rock this is built on- geologists tell us this is over 3 million years old. It’s been worn smooth by millions of feet over hundreds of years and it’s not uncommon to see people sliding over. It’s also devastatingly hot up there with no tree cover and the heat from the rock itself too. There’s no signage or anything when you get there, but there is a good view of the city, smog notwithstanding.
You can walk around the lake, enjoying the bird life including Parakeets, Pond Herons, and the bird of prey you’ll commonly see flying ominously overhead is the Brahminy Kite. You’ll also find young couples seeking privacy from interfering Aunties and other family members.
It’s worth exploring- take your time and stay in the shade. Enjoy a glass of sugar cane juice or coconut water while you’re there. For the adventurous, head to the local MTR restaurant- the Mavalli Tiffin Rooms are a Banglore institution and arguably the best dosa and idli in town! This branch was the first to open in 1924 and you will have to wait for a table.
Lalbagh Gardens are open from 6am to 7pm year round.
Named after Mark Cubbon, a British chap who helped design the city, I primarily know Cubbon Park as a running space. It’s a small park but with lots of trails you can clock up 10km or so on the various tracks. First thing in the morning, it’s filled with yoga practitioners, group fitness classes, runners and dog walkers. In the mornings from 5am til 8am, traffic is banned in Cubbon park so this is the ideal time to visit and enjoy the peace and quiet and fresh-ish air.
There are gardens, trees, the State Central Library, a statue of Queen Victoria, and K. Sheshadri Iyer.
Easily reached from a variety of gates, you can enter from MG Road, Hudson Circle, or Kasturba Road. It’s open 24/7 and there is no charge for visiting.
Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace
The summer residence of Tipu Sultan, a Mysorean ruler, was built in 1791. The British took it over once Tipu died and used it as a Secretariat. It’s now maintained by the Karnataka Government. It’s a lovely old building made entirely from teak, with Indo-Islamic architecture. Huge pillars, beautifully carved arches, and faded paint hint at what a beautiful, yet simple, palace this must have been. It’s cool on warm days, with an open design that catches the breeze and uses ponds of water as an air-conditioning system.
It’s set on some beautifully manicured grounds and is a nice half-hour diversion if you’re in the area, a short auto-ride north-west of Lalbagh Gardens. There’s an old replica of Tipu’s Tiger- a mechanical toy that represents a tiger savaging a European man to death, complete with flailing arms and wailing noises. Tipu was not a fan of the British and this gave voice to how much the Indian ‘tiger’ needed to overpower and kill the British invaders. Sadly the tiger doesn’t operate (somewhat ironically, the original is at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London) but still, very interesting.
It’s open 10am to 6pm on weekdays, and 8.30am – 5.30pm on Sundays. Foreigners pay Rs. 200 to visit, locals Rs. 15. It’s a 30-minute wander through.
National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA)
While art doesn’t feature heavily in Bangalore, if you are interested in art then NGMA is worth a look. What was a grand home has been transformed into a lovely airy art gallery. There are a range of exhibitions as well as permanent collections. There are works by Raja Ravi Varma, Rabindranath Tagore, and I fell in love with some beautiful art by A. Ramachandran and Jagdish Swaminathan. There’s a café on site and lovely gardens to enjoy, with towering trees and chirruping squirrels.
Open 10am-5pm Tuesday- Sunday, you can find it at 49 Palace Road, north-west of Cubbon Park.
Built in 1537, the Bangalore Fort was originally a mud fort built by our friend Kempe Gowda I. It was replaced in 1761 by the stone fort you see today. During the siege of Bangalore in 1791, the fort was captured by the British East India Company. This is really the only action it saw as Bangalore was really an afterthought- an outpost- of the Indian empire.
What’s left today is only the ‘Delhi Gate’. The remainder has been demolished. There used to be a church, a cemetery, and a school within the 1km-long fort. In 2012, workers building the metro uncovered two huge iron cannons, complete with cannonballs… so the history is there, long buried and forgotten. The fort is now a small empty shell with tidy brick walls and a relatively impressive front door with spikes that would deter even the bravest of elephants.
Located a short walk from Tipu Sultan’s summer palace, it’s open 8.30am-5.30pm Monday-Saturday. There is apparently an entry fee of Rs. 100 for foreigners and Rs. 5 for locals, but I saw no evidence of that the day I visited. This will take 30 minutes to explore, maximum!
Built from 1874 – 1878 during the famous Woodeyar Dynasty, it was built for Maharaja Chamarajendra Wadiyar X (pick a spelling you like, it varies across sources). The gardens were landscaped by the renowned Mr. Cameron Lalbagh and now contains an amusement park called ‘Fun World’ and the performance spaces, among which Iron Maiden performed their 2007 concert.
It’s now a beautiful but slightly faded attraction. There are an incredible number of personal possessions of the local royal family, photographs, and information.
It’s open from 10-5pm 7 days a week, and costs Rs. 230 for Indians, Rs. 460 for tourists, and there are camera fees. You get a free audio tour with your entry fee, which comes in a variety of languages. It might take your an hour or so to get round the palace.
Commercial Street for shopping (and Chikkapete Street if you’re brave)
Bangalore has a variety of modern malls. Forum Mall in Koramangala, and UB City and Phoenix Market City in Whitefield are all lovely and modern, with a variety of local and international brands. However, once you step inside these places, you could be anywhere in the world. Bland, generic, and about as exciting as watching paint dry.
If you want to go shopping- really shopping- with cows, dogs, pigeons and haggling- then you need to head to Commercial Street. Not far from MG Road in the centre of town, Commercial Street is a series of streets that house everything- from modern brands in air conditioned shops, to tiny shops underground with racks of kurta so tightly jammed together that you can’t remove coathangers without dislodging a landslide of colourful cotton. A vast array of people and smells await you on the street. Clothes, shoes, jewellery, curtains and cushions, whiteware, kitchen implements… Commercial Street has everything, you just have to know where to find it!
Commercial Street is open 7 days a week. It’s quiet in the mornings and shops don’t open til 11am-ish.
If you feel like living dangerously, go to Chikkapete Street. This is one of the original four roads of Bangalore. Narrow streets with buildings jammed in shoulder-to-shoulder, throngs of people, and noise. Taxi drivers refuse to even get close to Chikkapete Street so just get as close as you can and walk the remainder of the way.
This stretch of stores is famous for the sari shopping. You’ll find buildings four floors tall, each floor grander than the rest. Cotton at the bottom, silk on the second floor, chiffon on the third, and sarees dripping with bling and sparkle on the fourth. You’ll be out with the Aunties, the women shopping for bridal wear, and everyone else. Most saree shops are staffed by men with no women shop assistants.
Banglore has a lovely climate, and three seasons. Summer is in the middle of the year, with temperatures varying from 20oC overnight to 36oC ish during the day. In winter, November- January, it can get as low as 12oC overnight, and hits about 27-30oC during the day. The wet season is my favourite- around September. It starts raining about 5pm for an hour or two, pours down with lightning and thunder, then it’s fine for the rest of the evening. Floods happen very quickly and roads degrade fast with the constant traffic and water, which makes life a bit harder during the wet season.
See!? There’s lots of things to do in Bangalore!
Stay tuned for my next two blogs:
Things to do around Bangalore
Best food in Banglore