The Downtown Market Tour offered by Unventured Tours is also called the Pete (with both e’s pronounced like the E in egg) Walk, and our guide Tej was outstanding. She started by sitting with us in our hotel courtyard and talking a bit about Bengaluru, stressing the fact that she loves her city and the good people in it. In that context, she said, “People will stare at you, but they don’t mean you any harm. They’re just staring at the flamingos.” With that simple statement, she reframed one of the things that has felt really challenging here – of course they’re staring! If we saw a crowd of flamingos walking down the street, or even just one flamingo walking down the stare, we would absolutely stare at it, but certainly without any malice. We might even want to snap a picture 🙂
After giving a brief history lesson, Tej took us to the Shree Jalakanteshwara Swamy Temple, a temple dedicated to Shiva and built before the 13th century. She showed us how to make an appropriate offering of the god’s favorite things (including holy basil, turmeric, coconut, incense, pine resin, and other herbs and spices) and how to then receive the blessing of the priest. The blessing includes waving smoke over our faces, drinking holy water mixed with camphor, sprinkling that holy water over our heads, and then putting a silver cone over each of our heads. Most of these rituals focus on the gods sharing their energy with us.
We walked around the temple and got a very brief orientation to Hinduism before heading to Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace, an absolutely beautiful 18th century building. While there, Tej told us all about Tipu Sultan, a fascinating figure, responsible for not only mightily resisting the British occupation, but also for uniting previously disparate kingdoms to engage in that resistance, a union that ushered in an “Indian” identity for the first time in the long history of the subcontinent.
We then went to the Bangalore Fort, built by Tipu Sultan and still well-maintained and very impressive. One thing you won’t see in forts in the Western World, no matter how old: spikes ten feet up on the door intended to gouge out charging elephants’ eyes.
By then, we were all hungry, particularly the kids, so it was time to eat. Tej took us closer to our final destination of the KR Market, via some very busy streets and then down a long quiet alley to Lakshmi Natraja Refreshments. We would never have found this place without her and it was great! It’s apparently a place frequented by locals in the know, but not tourists, which seemed clear once we were inside. The environment is very bare bones – just metal benches arrayed around the room with no silverware or napkins. Tej ordered for all of us: Puda masala dosa with coconut chutney (sort of a pancake that’s crispy on the outside and soft of the inside, folded over and stuffed with deliciously spiced potatoes, onions, and lentils) and South Indian filter coffee (strong with the milk already added). Heaven! At the side of the room is a sink where you wash your hands when you’re done eating with them.
Then we were ready for the chaos of the market where we saw beautiful produce, stunning flowers, huge metal cookware, bangles, and all manner of other things for sale. Between the aroma of the fresh herbs and the vibrant colors of the strings of flowers, we were in heaven.
Throughout this entire tour, we just kept looking at each other, saying, “Wow! I love this!” Tej was a terrific guide, ensuring that at each step of the way we understood the context for the things we were seeing, which made all the difference.