Chapter 8: Downtown Bengaluru

For our Ganesha Chaturthi 3-day weekend, we decided on a full downtown Bengaluru immersion. And just like that, we fell in love with this city.

On Friday morning, we called Madesh for a ride to our home for the weekend, the Oberoi Hotel. Melissa had requested an 11 am check-in, but the traffic was so light (likely because of the Ganesha Chaturthi holiday) that we got there just after 10. Nonetheless, they had a lovely room ready for us, overlooking the 100-year old rain tree. Check in at this beautiful 5-star hotel was a very formal process that included an introduction to the ipad that we’d use to control the lights, temperature, and TV; order food or special pillows; or request the services of our butler (!).

The hotel is located on the Mahatma Gandhi (MG) Road which was classified as a national highway, and a new law passed last year makes it illegal to serve alcohol within 500 meters of a national highway. While it was unfortunate that our hotel was dry, we were prepared with our own bottle of wine and pleased to have gotten a good deal as a result. (This week the MG Road was reclassified and is no longer a national highway. Huge relief for all of the bars and restaurants clustered around it.)

Our plan for the day included a lot of walking so we could see as much as possible of the downtown area while hitting a number of key places. The plan was to start with lunch at the Mavalli Tiffin Room, famous for huge, delicious, south Indian meals. Luckily (or perhaps sadly), we checked on the way there, though, and determined that they were
closed for the holiday. We hastily looked for nearby options and salvaged the meal with a visit to Bangalore Brew Works, forever on a quest for a good India Pale Ale in India. The 10th floor rooftop pub was perfectly pleasant, if not ecstasy inducing. The best part was the lovely view of the city, really showing what a green city it is.

20170825_120710
View of downtown from the roof top restaurant

The walk gave us exactly the orientation we hoped it would. We walked through a super clean, fancy district, a neglected bit of street, a bustling commercial district that seemed to be mostly car and bike shops, and what seemed like the Catholic district — schools of all ages, a convent, and a church.

Friday and Saturday walks_LI (5)
The blue line shows our Saturday walk, while the red shows Sunday.

The next stop on our walk was Lalbagh Botanical Gardens where we spent a few 20170825_152221hours walking nearly every path of the park. The gardens are lovely, and it would have been entirely relaxing if not for the 15 or so “selfie” requests. These requests are difficult because 20170825_143704there is absolutely nothing wrong with any one of these lovely, happy people asking for a photo – it just becomes a problem when we don’t get 10 minutes free between posing. We’re not models.

By the time we left, we were hot and tired and needed a break, so we headed for the Soho Bar and Grill, walking through a really fun and lively bit of town on our way there. Soho, however, is not a place we’ll revisit. Tom’s beer was ok and Melissa’s cosmopolitan was fine, but Soho seems to specialize in hookah, with smoke wafting over both of their otherwise lovely decks. When we finished our drinks and asked for our check, they brought two more and told us it was two-for-one day (or maybe the two-for-one time of day – not totally sure). We had a couple more sips, but didn’t really want two drinks at that point so got going pretty soon.

img_1935

From there, we started our walk to the National College. In an effort to avoid the noise of traffic, we went down a quiet alley filled with motorbikes and happened upon a huge Jain temple with service in progress (Paryushana is 20170825_174254an 8-10 day holy event focused on forgiveness, but we didn’t know that when we happened upon the temple). Right next door to the Jain temple was an equally impressive Hindu temple.

 

 

We continued our walk, arriving at the National College Grounds for the Bengaluru Ganesha Chaturthi. Quite a spectacle! By 7:45, the main performance hadn’t yet begun and we were fading after having walked about 10 miles that day so headed back to luxuriate in our hotel room.20170825_175525.jpg

On Saturday morning, we headed down to the hotel lobby at 7:30 to meet up with some of our new friends (Ivana, a second grade teacher from Spain who taught previously in South Korea; Sarah, a middle school teacher from Virginia who taught previously in South Korea and Puerto Rico; and Colleen, Ethan, and their kids who joined us on our outing to the Nandi Hills, from Lopez Island of all places) and Tej, our guide from Unventured Tours. For the next 5 hours, Tej took us on the Downtown Market Tour – it was great!

When we parted company with Tej, we went to Arbor Brewing, an off-shoot of a brewery started in Ann Arbor and finally had a really tasty IPA along with some pretty good food.

From there, we began a crazy odyssey in search of the Zefo warehouse sale. Zefo had been recommended to us as a good place for second hand and overstock furniture. Since we’re in need of a household worth of furniture, the sale sounded like a good idea to us. According to the map, it was in Southeast Bangalore where we had not yet ventured, so we called an Ola (Bangalore’s alternative to the ubiquitous Uber) and piled in with Sarah and Ivana. When we got to the address, it was a residential street, and we pulled up to what looked confusingly like an apartment building. As we were trying to figure out what to do, we asked a passing young man if he knew where Zefo was and he told us it was on the 4th floor of this unmarked building. We unwittingly let our Ola driver go and made our way up to the 4th floor only to discover that these were the offices of the Zefo internet company. Baffled, we asked some folks there where to go and they gave us an address 30-45 minutes further southeast. Sarah and Ivana had had enough and wanted to go home so we called them an Ola and sent them on the 90 minute drive home only to then discover that we couldn’t have two Olas in action at once. Tom downloaded the app and we called another car and then we waited and waited and waited.

Finally our driver came and took us to the warehouse which was a disorganized zoo with most of the furniture still packed up and salespeople showing it to you on their laptops – not so different from what we could have done from the comfort of our homes. Actually, it was less comfortable than doing it from home because the demand on the wifi was enormous, so it was slow and frequently dropped. Then we learned that the “sale” was 5% off which didn’t even offset the cost of the transportation to get there.  On the upside, they did have unwrapped couches and chairs so we were able to sit on them and determine that many were no more comfortable than what we have (although they all smelled better). We picked out a few things, but felt pretty done with the whole experience and decided to head back to our hotel and continue the shopping from home (which we did – we’re expecting it all by the end of the week).

Back at the hotel, we prettied up in our luxurious room and headed down to Rim Naam for a glorious thai meal that concluded with complimentary dessert, a gift of Oberoi mugs, and, yes, a request from our waiter for a selfie.

On Sunday, we awoke just before our coffee and masala chai arrived with lovely little cookies, and allowed ourselves a leisurely start to the day. We slept fitfully the first night in the hotel (I guess we’re just not used to comfortable beds anymore), but the second night was lovely. At check-out (another formal, seated process), we rather awkwardly asked for assistance making a brunch reservation at the Leela Palace where Melissa had previously gone for a meeting of the Overseas Women’s Club. Not only did he make our reservation, but he also offered to get us a cab. He was clearly surprised when we told him we wanted to walk the 3 km, and perhaps we should have paid attention – it was not a pleasant walk. It was long and muggy, not terribly interesting, and required passing a couple foul smelling dumping sites. Such a relief to arrive at the beautiful Leela Palace where we had a little time to explore before our reservation.

Citrus, the restaurant serving brunch, has a really nice outdoor area with live music and a pretty water feature, but we’d had enough humidity to be pleased with an indoor table. The food was incredible and varied, but perhaps the most exciting part was the cheese. Oh, glorious cheese! This is not a land with many cheese options other than paneer. The “milky mist” cheese is a bit rubbery and doesn’t melt. Even the imported cheeses don’t seem quite the same. But at the Leela Palace, they had camembert and provolone and emmentaler and so many more delicious cheeses. So good!

After our very relaxed and enjoyable brunch, we headed out to walk to Ulsoor Lake, but got caught in a downpour and decided that we were ready to return to our little apartment in the north, entirely contented with our weekend.