By Mariellen Ward
Bengaluru, Bangalore, Garden City, Silicon Valley of India. By any of its names, it is a city of amiable contrasts — greens abut concrete, traditional bungalows share a boundary wall with plush residential complexes, and simple coffee bars brush shoulders with jazzy coffee lounges. It was called Bengaluru as far back as the ninth century, but when the English made the town their regional administrative base in 1831, they anglicised the name to Bangalore. In November 2006, Bengaluru got back its old name at the behest of noted writer U.R. Ananthamurthy.
Bengaluru is one of the fastest growing cities in Asia. Its economic boom is not restricted to IT: it includes the aerospace, aviation and automotive industries, the biotechnology sector, rose exports and silk manufacture. I spent a week exploring, eating, shopping, meeting people and trying to sense the essence of Bengaluru.
One morning, I got up before dawn and took an auto rickshaw to Malleshwaram, a flower and vegetable market in one of the oldest parts of the city. I arrived when the night was just about to give way to day. The stalls were just opening for business, the colourful produce piled on simple tables. The atmosphere was unhurried and friendly. From here I visit the century-old City Market, also known as K.R. Market, in central Bengaluru. Here mounds of cilantro, coils of flowers, pyramids of coconuts and other fresh produce spill out of a Victorian building.
After walking the market, I have worked up an appetite and head for, where else but, Brahmins’ Coffee Bar. Little more than a hole in the wall it is an institution in the city. It has only five items on the menu: idli (steamed rice cakes), vada (fried lentil cakes), kharabhath (a dish made with vegetables and semolina), kesaribhath (a sweet made with saffron and semolina) and coffee and is always crowded.
Over the course of my stay in the city, I also have breakfast at the legendary Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (MTR), started in 1924, and lunch at Koshy’s Restaurant, which was established sometime in the 1950s. Wood panels and line drawings on the walls gives the place an old-world charm.
The Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens is, perhaps, an important reason why Bengaluru is known as the garden city. It sits imperiously in the centre of Bengaluru like a queen. Spread over 240 acres, it started out in 1760 as a private garden of the then ruler of the region, Hyder Ali. Part of the sprawling complex is the Glass House, modelled on London’s Crystal Palace, where a flower show is held every year. Another attraction is the Lal Bagh Rock, one of the oldest rock formations in the world that dates back 3,000 million years. Yes 3,000 million years.
Next, stop is the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited Heritage Centre and Aerospace Museum, one of India’s few public museums on aviation. Set up in 2001, the museum’s biggest attraction is its aircraft collection exhibited outdoors, designed, developed and built by HAL. It gives a glimpse of how the Indian aviation industry has grown.
As I make my way around Bengaluru, I feel a sense of fluidity and change, and I am able to get glimpses of the old city, of the way things used to be when it was still a small town. I also glimpse the exotic that exists along with the modern, and the old sitting pretty with the new.