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I had never been to Bangalore, or India for that matter, and the chance to set foot there was a bit daunting. This is a country which boasts one of the oldest civilizations on earth, but most people just know less than the basics. Someone mentions India and everyone thinks of the Taj Mahal or maybe the Ganges River. The problem is, those areas are nowhere near Bangalore. India is huge and its major cities are very far from each other.
Bangalore is the capital of Karnataka state and boasts quite a bit of history. It is also not so far away from Mysore – one of the attractions of Karnataka. That area alone is loaded with places to go. Let’s just take things one at a time.
First, check if you need a visa to get there. The process does take a few days and a little money, so make sure you do this a few weeks before your trip and bring the printed e-visa with you.
People from the Philippines will have to go to Singapore first since there is no flight straight to Bangalore and the layover may last anywhere from three to eight hours. You can roam around Singapore but make sure you’re in the airport in time.
The trip is more than four hours long, and since you have to cross the Bay of Bengal, there will be some turbulence. Have a stuffed animal along if you need to grab hold of something when the turbulence makes the trip a little less smooth.
Once in Bangalore, find the e-visa line for your immigration requirements.
Bangalore Palace is a great stop for new visitors. There is an entrance fee of INR 500, and if you want to take pictures inside, you have to pay another INR 635. Seems a little expensive, but you have to realize that this is one of the few places allowing photos. That considered, the price doesn’t seem unreasonable.
The interiors make you feel you’re walking in the footsteps of royalty, with the design patterned after the Windsor Castle of England with its Tudor architecture.
The floor area is roughly 45,000 square feet and the total land area is 454 acres. The place exudes power and style not only with the gardens but with the severed head of a conquered elephant on its walls. It is easy to imagine all the royal and powerful people of old Bangalore walking these halls especially once you see the Durbar Hall (audience hall) or any of the courtyards or waiting areas with their ornate décor.
If intimidation is part of the construction of a government building, then the Vidhana Soudha has this down. This is the largest legislative building in India, with Mysore Neo-Dravidian style and elements of Indo-Saracen and Dravidian styles.
A visitor will unsurprisingly gawk upon first approaching the area and the structure’s towers first piercing the sky in one’s view. With things already as impressive as they are, can you imagine how it looks when it is lit at night?
Amusingly, the main entrance has the words “Government work is God’s work” written above.
Cubbon Park and Bangalore Public Library
Cubbon Park is one sure way to get friendly with the locals. The people of India are quite friendly and, interestingly enough, will even ask for a photo. If you have a camera, they will pose willingly or, if they like you enough, ask to have a photo taken with you. Share the photo with them (just show the LCD screen), exchange a few smiles, then move on. If you’re up to it, the Seshadri Iyer Memorial Library is at one end of the park.
Bangalore has numerous stores and bazaars and you can get some very unique items. There are the wood carvings, and many of these are toys like tops, stacking rings, or cars, but some are more reminiscent of Indian life – representations of the god Ganesha (the remover of all obstacles), ladies with water jugs, male musicians, processions with royalty on elephants – and some surprises like matryoshka dolls.
Pashmina or silk scarves or Persian rugs are also easy to find, but you really have to know your budget. Many are tourist traps, and if you don’t know how to stick to your guns or you don’t know how to negotiate for a lower price, you stand to lose quite a bit of money.
If scarves or rugs are not your thing, there are a lot of statues you can choose from – elephants (an Indian favorite) and lions. You just have to admire the different carving styles for elephants. You can also expect statues of the Hindu gods, especially Ganesha. If you want an almost life-size brass lion, prepare to spend around INR 350,000. A replica of the Taj Mahal? Around INR 200,000.
Something to be experienced is the tuk-tuk ride. It can be an adventure since you experience your surroundings more. First, the caution: All tuk-tuks have a meter to determine how much you pay, but it seems accepted practice for the driver to set a price for a trip. Since you will face that situation more than once, it’s best to ask someone you can trust like the hotel concierge how much a trip to your destination will cost. For example, a trip to the Bangalore Palace can cost INR 100, but if a driver knows you’re a foreigner (an easy thing), you may get charged INR 400.
If you encounter a driver who immediately activates the meter, then good. Otherwise, know how much is an acceptable amount.
Want to go to where Winston Churchill went to church when he was stationed in this area before he went to Afghanistan? That’s Holy Trinity Church. It’s not an Anglican church, but of the Church of Southern India. All around the church, you can see markers honoring not saints, but the dead from the British military.
You can also find your way to the St. Mary’s Basilica. It is from this parish that other Catholic parishes in Bangalore sprang. This gothic church features a 160-foot tower and a six-foot statue of the Virgin Mary dressed in Indian saree, the traditional garb of an Indian lady, and holding the Christ child. As Catholic feasts are usually noteworthy for their pageantry, a good goal is to try and be there on September 8, the parish feast day. Catholic feast though it may be, this festival is a time for people all over India – regardless of religion, race, or caste – to come and participate. That, in itself, is worth coming for.
A taste of Germany
St. Philomena’s Church in Mysore is a few hours’ drive from Bangalore. It is worth the trip for a number of reasons: This is one of the largest churches in the whole of South Asia, and it is inspired by the gothic architecture of the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. Its twin spires? An astounding 175 feet in height.
In the altar is a statue of St. Philomena, and in front of that area is a staircase heading to the catacombs. While there are signs specifically stating that nothing should be written on the walls, a lot of people have done so but not for your plain vanilla vandalism. These are prayers of the faithful.
The church itself is 200 years old, but the cathedral is much younger, having been built in 1956. It is something to behold both inside and out, but as a good many places in India, photography is prohibited. Bummer.
Reaching for the heavens
This is India – expect temples all around. One regular pilgrimage area is the Shri Chamundeshwari Temple at the top of the Chamundi Hill. No photos are allowed inside, but you can keep shooting outside. There are numerous stores selling offerings for Chamundeshwari, the fierce form of Shakti, the deity held in reverence in this site, with its seven-story Gopura or monumental tower featuring intricate figures.
Some distance below the temple is the 15-foot tall Nandi bull, believed to be the mount of the god Shiva and his foremost disciple. He is also believed to be a medium by which to reach Shiva. As such, the statue, carved out of a single piece of black granite, is supposed to be approached with much reverence and a person has to remove all footwear.
Of kings and men
The Mysore Palace is always suggested as one of the “must-see” places in Mysore and can be as popular as the Taj Mahal. It is certainly nothing short of amazing, especially for those of us less than royal.
As soon as you go through the gates (which are impressive on their own, mind you), you are held in awe by the sheer grandeur of the place. While you can’t take your camera with you (they will actually point you towards a locker area where you absolutely have to surrender your photo gear), make sure to bring your mobile phone. There doesn’t seem to be too many qualms about bringing that, but once inside, you can’t take photos of any of the halls and there are CCTV cameras to keep tabs on you. Outside, go ahead and use the mobile phone camera.
Once inside, you have to make sure that your lower jaw is always in the right place because it may just keep dropping with every ornate and grand display. More so than the Bangalore Palace, this place is just something to behold and you have room upon room upon room. The first such room is the Durbar Hall, the main audience hall where the Maharajah sits on an enormous diamond-studded golden throne to receive guests. Another hall faces the palace courtyard, allowing the Maharajah to see the entire area and all the people below. You get to stand there and get the feeling of how it is to be master of all you survey.
Bangalore and Mysore are two places that can easily overwhelm a person just with a few famous tourist areas. If you’re the type of person who spends more than the time to shoot a selfie, you may just be spellbound. I was. In a way, it was actually a bit fortunate that photography was barred in many areas. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have spent an hour or two in one space. It would easily have been three times as long. More, you really get to marvel at the beauty and heritage behind each place.
One thing’s for sure: If you go to India or any part of India, make sure you have more than a few days. One day is just not enough.
Note: Do your research before you get there. The little travel guides in your hotel lobby won’t cut it. I learned that the hard way.