Our Bangalore trip: Fun galore in Bangalore (well, not quite)
I’d been to Bangalore before, in 2004, to accompany my husband to an academic convention at the Leela Palace. Our Bangalore trip consisted of two nights at a two-star hotel near the railway station, riding a cab from there to the five-star convention venue in the morning and taking the auto rickshaw back to our hotel to change, before heading downtown in the evening. A couple of unremarkable trips in the city’s retail area and a mildly amusing pub crawl were all we could squeeze in the schedule. That Bangalore trip was really nothing to write home about, but I remember loving the pleasant weather, the balmy mornings and surprisingly chilly evenings were a far cry from Chennai’s 24-hour stifling heat in August.
More than ten years later, I was back in Bangalore for another short visit in April 2015, this time with my favorite traveling companion. I had worked out an itinerary that would be right up my eight-year-old’s alley: a science museum, an aeronautical museum, a nature park, a historical market, and satisfying stops at McDonald’s in-between. In the end: we managed only two, not including the lunch breaks at Mickey Ds. But I’m getting ahead of my story.
The distance from Chennai to Bangalore is approximately 350 kilometers, which I had intended to cover via the Shatabdi express train. Then we would hire a tourist car and driver when we got there. My husband, thousands of miles away, would hear none of it. Why not take the car, he asked. That’s how most people with cars travel between the two most famous cities in South India. Before I could argue that I’m not like most people, my father-in-law had already reached out to his connections to get Motito and me a driver. Father-in-law had assured me that the driver was a professional who had made many trips between Chennai and Bangalore. I had my reservations but resignedly looked on the bright side.
The driver knew enough English to be able to understand me and make himself understood. More importantly he drove expertly. He switched lanes and passed trailer trucks with just the right amount of boldness and aggression but never to the point where I began to regret telling my loved ones a final “I love you.” He was a likable fellow, really. The problem was he knew as much about getting around Bangalore as I did: which was zero, nil, nada, nothing at all. The first sign of “trouble” was when we narrowly missed our exit in Hosur. This was followed by some aimless tooling around in Electronic City, punctuated by several halts to ask for directions. To make matters worse, I am geographically dyslexic, a simpering member of the unacknowledged tribe of the chronically lost. Had it not been for Google Maps, we would’ve lost twice the time we’d squandered trying to the get to our hotel.
We reached the hotel at around 2PM (We’d left Chennai at a quarter to 7AM). Judging from its circular atrium and glass-encased lift at the center of the lobby, one could tell that HM Suites & Studios in Bangalore was an apartment building in its former life. This was actually a boon for us, as the hotel offered free parking, as well as spacious rooms with an attached balcony, a kitchen on every floor, common sitting areas, and a rooftop terrace and restaurant. HM Suites & Studios is located on St. Marks Road, right smack in the center of the hip and happening downtown Bangalore.
At the hotel, we scarfed down our McDonald’s takeaway, took a nap and freshened up for an afternoon stroll at the Lal Bagh Botanical Garden. Sprawling over 240 acres of landscaped terrain, the Lal Bagh Botanical Garden was initiated in 1760 by the famous Mysore ruler Hyder Ali. Boasting centuries-old trees and over 1,000 species of plants, the garden has lovely footpaths and flower beds, open spas, lotus ponds, and ornate garden structures. As it did in Mumbai, the monopod I was carrying attracted a lot of curious glances. Fascinated by my selfie stick, a few kids approached me and asked to be included in our selfies. We sat on a bench to take a breather, while I reconsidered our itinerary for the next day.
It had taken us two wrong turns, five stops to ask for directions, and the frustrating feeling of going around in circles to get to the garden, which was only four kilometers from our hotel. How would we able to cover all the places I wanted to visit, driving cluelessly in the midst of weekday traffic, stumbling upon one-way roads and construction sites, while I disorientedly consulted Google Maps on an intermittent data connection? We were going to have to pare our itinerary down again. By 5:30PM dark clouds had quickly gathered and threatened rain. Half-way through the drive to the hotel, a sudden downpour pulled the evening temperature a couple of notches south.
Back in the hotel, Motito mentioned something that would derail our sightseeing plans again. Reminding me that the Avengers: Age of Ultron movie was opening the next day, he begged to see it on the day itself. That’s all it took for us to chuck the HAL Aerospace Museum in favor of seeing Iron Man and the gang kick serious villain ass on the first screening day. Call it a silly waste of our vacation time, but had we gotten a driver who knew his way around the city, we would’ve stuck with the original itinerary. I got online and booked us seats at a nearby multiplex.
The following day, we caught the 10AM screening of the Avengers at an Inox cinema in Garuda Mall. I won’t describe the movie-going experience since it was just like watching a film anywhere else in Manila. There were college kids who looked like they bunked classes so they could catch the movie on its first day of showing, young professionals, a few retirees, and couples on a date. After lunch at KFC, we headed to the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum.
Housed in a four-story building with over 4000 square meters of built up space, the hands-on science museum features cool engineering and technological displays, fun exhibits on the science of sound, light and fluid mechanics, and highly informative galleries on biotechnology, space sciences, and the history of space exploration. We spent the longest time on the various contraptions that explained simple machines and how everyday objects like the zipper, ballpoint pen, and camera aperture work. Other exhibits we enjoyed were the animatronic Spinosaurus, a life-size replica of the Wright Brothers’ aircraft, a space center mission control, and tableaux of data analysts using a second-generation computer and a scene at a semiconductor manufacturing plant. I was awed by the Visveswaraya museum’s tribute to Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian-American astronaut and the first Indian woman in space. Kalpana and her six colleagues perished in the tragic re-entry of the space shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003. It was Chawla’s second space mission. It was a half-day well spent, and we left the museum completely satisfied and more informed than when we came in.
We checked out of the hotel the next day. I had to give the flower market at the K.R. Market a miss, so that we could leave early and avoid the rush-hour traffic. Compromising on a planned itinerary can be very disappointing, but knowing that Bangalore is only five to six hours away dangles the very real possibility of going back there and giving the Bangalore trip another shot.