Bengaluru – A Modern Metropolis with an Ancient History
An old town and a youthful metropolis. Bengaluru has a reputation like no other city in India. The country’s youth know it is a happening, vibrant and entirely modern place to work, live and play. Technology thrives there, and its pulsing lifestyle is a national pacesetter. Like most cosmopolitan cities, however, there is even more below the surface. It is also a city that is also conscious of a proud and venerable history of more than 500 years that has been marked by events that have made Bangalore what it is today – and will continue to guide its future. The city’s development is truly astonishing. Once a hasty structure of mud, now a city of unlimited possibilities. Both nature and man have made their contributions to Bengaluru’s remarkable heritage – grand palaces and green parks are equally representative. The city’s natives are conscious of their heritage and are proud, but not arrogant – but proud as a parent of their child and a child of its parents. And like either, they are patient. But when they feel their city under threat, they rise up in activism. Then, once the crisis has passed, they settle back down, content in the bosom of their city.
Bengaluru has won nationwide fame for what it was, is, and has become. It is the Pensioner’s Paradise, the Garden City and India’s Silicon City – but not only these. It is a city of moderate climate. Sprawling on a plateau over 900 meters above sea level, it avoids the extreme heat and humidity that characterizes so many of India’s large cities. And despite its size, despite the mass population, and sometimes impossible traffic, Bengaluru is a mother that embraces many small towns and neighborhoods – which is what makes Bengaluru so special. One could say, it is actually a collection of villages that are like siblings – each related and each with its own character.
History and Heritage
The history of Bengaluru is a colorful pageant of events that is representative of many Indian cities but has also made the city what it is today. The year 1537 is widely regarded as the beginning of Bengaluru’s history. In that year, the lord Kempe Gowda I, a vassal of the Vijaya Nagara kings, built a mud fort and named it Bengaluru. Yet there are some tantalizing earlier mentions of the name Bengaluru. According to one legend from a time 300 years earlier, King Veera Ballala Raya II received a handful of boiled beans. This episode is supposed to explain the city’s name: Benda Kalu = boiled beans, Uru = town). So, the supposed original name ‘Bendakaluru’ literally means ‘Boiled Bean Town’. The name was then shortened over the centuries to Bengaluru. The British anglicized the name to ‘Bangalore’ – a name that may be more familiar to you.
Some historians are doubtful about the legend and the ‘Beantown’ name. Yet there is no doubt that Kempe Gowda I and his son, Kempe Gowda II, had a great influence on the city’s establishment and eventual rise. The two rulers are responsible for the construction of temples, the creation of lakes, and set up commercial centers – all of which led to significant growth. The son also undertook fortification of the city. Four watchtowers that indicate where the original walls ran are still there today. The Sultan of Bijapur defeated Kempe Gowda III and took control of the city in 1638. He gave it to Shahji as a jagir (feudal estate). The Mughals then defeated Shahji’s son and conquered the area in 1686. They leased it to Chikkadevaraja, who built a second fort and joined it with the first with an esplanade. This new fort eventually became today’s Krishnarajendra – or City – Market. The Marathas eventually threatened the city, but Hyder Ali and later his son, Tipu Sultan, were able to resist, furthering fortifying the city. British Lord Cornwallis captured the fort during a war against Tipu Sultan in 1791. The British handed over the administration to Maharaja of Mysore in 1799, but and the area remained under British control until Indian independence.
Bengaluru grew as a commercial center, but its development was greatly influenced when the British created the ‘Cantonment’ there in the 19th century. This was directly controlled by them and led to the introduction of European influence, including the construction of buildings and the creation of distinct neighborhoods. Technology and learning also took root there and thrived further after independence. Today, it is India’s premier technology center.
Old Forts and Palaces
Bengaluru’s history has left behind numerous traces that one can still see today. The four Kempe Gowda Towers (already mentioned) mark the city’s boundaries at that time. Parts of the Bengaluru Fort, located in the city’s center, still remain. It consists of high stone walls and sports elaborate carvings – and even dungeons! Even more, remains of Tipu’s Palace. Tipu Sultan built it on the site of the old mud fort, and it later became the summer retreat for the Mysore rulers. The palace is constructed mainly of wood and consists of fluted columns, arches and balconies. It also serves as a museum displaying artifacts from the period. The ceilings are especially marvelous with their intricate carvings and bright colors – a breath-taking witness of a glorious past. Tipu named the palace ‘Rash-e-Jannat’ (Abode of Peace). Hyder Ali’s Armoury and another fort of the era are located nearby.
The Bengaluru Palace is more recent and even more spectacular. It was built in 1887 by the Mysore Maharaja Chamaraja Wadiyar in 1887, who was obviously inspired by Windsor Castle. It is a wood and stone structure set in a 400-acre green area. The interiors remind one of a Tudor castle and boast impressive carvings and moldings, wonderful paintings, and Gothic architectural elements.
Bengaluru’s more recent history has also left behind impressive witnesses to the development of the city into a modern technology center. Perhaps the city’s most iconic structure is the Vidhana Soudha. It was built in 1956 and is remarkable for its successful combination of Dravidian, Rajasthani, Chola, and Kannadiga architectural styles. This building is the seat of the state of Karnataka and contains both the government and the legislature in its two wings. The whole building occupies an area of 700 by 350 meters. The central section and the wings are topped by onion domes, and twelve massive columns twelve meters high dominate the entrance. The interiors boast painted friezes and various ornamental motifs. It is difficult to get inside, admittedly, but the exterior is very impressive all by itself.
Across from this building is the Attara Kacheri – a structure that immediately draws one’s attention because of its remarkable red color – most of it is brick. It is a two-storied building design in the Greco-Roman style of architecture and includes Ionic porticoes at the center and at both ends of the elevation. A portrait of Sir Mark Cubbon, Commissioner of Mysore from 1834 to 1861, looks down on visitors from the central hall’s high ceiling. The Attara Kacheri is the site of the Karnataka High Court and was completed in 1868. It is the oldest functioning public building still standing in the city. It is not only significant for the history made within. Its very existence was once at stake. There were plans in 1982 to pull it down and rebuild it some decades ago, but the public put up massive resistance to these plans, and the idea was eventually dropped.
A Garden City
That is what many people call Bengaluru – and the city is definitely worthy of that title. In addition to other spaces, two parks have especially contributed to Bengaluru’s green reputation.
Probably the most popular place to get away from the stress and bustle of the city and enjoy nature is Cubbon Park, named for the Commissioner of Mysore. He had the park designed and honored Queen Victoria with a statue at its entrance. The park encompasses 300 acres of green grass, thickets of bamboo, colorful flowers, and beautiful trees. Natural rock outcrops are also creatively integrated into the landscape. It also contains a number of buildings and facilities such as the State Central Library, an aquarium, and Bal Bhavan, which contains a children’s amusement park. Although the park was officially renamed Sri Chamarajendra Park in 1927, it is still popularly referred to by the older name.
About 3 kilometers away from Cubbon Park in southern Bengaluru is Lalbagh, an extremely popular public garden. This 240-acre space was laid out under the rule of Hyder Ali in 1760 on the model of Mughal era gardens and was further developed by Tipu Sultan. Much of its greenery was imported from several areas in India – and even London, it is said. It boasts India’s largest collection of exotic plants and is also home to numerous wild species of birds that enjoy the garden’s 30-hectare lake, as well as other wildlife. Among the Lalbagh’s special attractions are the Glass House, a lotus pond, an aquarium, a mango grove, a topiary – and even a deer park. There is also a lovely old, wooden bandstand. Another big attraction is a tree fossil that is about 20 million years old. A rocky outcrop there is topped by a watchtower built by Kempe Gowda. The outcrop itself – called the Lalbagh Rock – is 3,000 million years old and a national geological monument. The Glass House hosts well-visited flower shows on Independence Day and Republic Day.
Food & Beverage
Like any cosmopolis, you would expect Bengaluru to offer a wide variety of cuisines. Well, you won’t be disappointed! You can find dishes from all over the country as well as from abroad – in fact, almost anything you want. Despite the choices, however, perhaps the most interesting way to enjoy food and an authentic Bengaluru experience is in one of its typical small, hole-in-the-wall food establishments. A very famous chain of restaurants is MTR, which is renowned for its South Indian cuisine and especially for its Rava idli, masala dosa, and vegetarian thali. There are small eateries across the city known for their delicious idlis. Especially famous for those are Brahmin’s Coffee in VV Puram and Veena Stores in Malleswaram. Or try Malleswaram’s CTR for its crispy, delicious dosas. In recent times, Bengaluru has developed a real coffee culture.
Street food is especially popular, tasty, and inexpensive – and available in a dizzying variety. Chaats specialize in Bengaluru fare while dosas offer Chinese and Gobi-Manchurian dishes. Some areas are especially known for street foods. Two of the most popular are VV Puram’s food street and Avenue Road, which are especially crowded at night. Food trucks offer a wide variety of international favorites like burgers, ribs, and Asian food.
There are, of course, restaurants that cater to almost any taste. Two worth checking out are Karavalli at Taj Gateway and Dakshin at The Windsor for regional dishes. Kudla is a restaurant more narrowly pitched at Mangalore cuisine. Other restaurants delight diners with Andhra and Kerala style dishes. You can also find excellent restaurants offering North-Indian, Asian and European menus.
Due to its British legacy, pubs have long been part of Bengaluru’s social scene, and microbreweries have been on the rise. Scattered around the city, beer lovers can experiment with and enjoy a wide variety of special – and sometimes strange – brews. If you are an enthusiast, there are a number of popular places to visit such as Prost, 3 Monkeys Brewpub, Toit Brewpub, Biere Club, Windmills Craftworks, Murphy’s Brewhouse, and The Arbor Brewing Company.
Shopping in Bengaluru offer just about anything for anyone in almost any style. Trendy, high-end, Bohemian or laid-back. In recent times, malls have been springing up and offer an even greater variety. They are also popular gathering places for window-shopping, meeting people, dining, or just plain hanging out. There are even malls aimed at appealing to wealthier consumers like Vittal Mallya Road. Its pricey stores pitching global and exclusive brands have earned it the nickname of India’s Rodeo Drive.
There are still the venerable shopping strips that continue to bring in crowds of avid shoppers. The most famous of them are MG Road, Brigade Road, and Commercial Street. Wholesalers and people looking for more traditional articles prefer to visit the city’s business district. Yet the newer malls are so competitive that practically every district now boasts of at least one.
You just might want to take a break and relax. Day trips provide opportunities for escaping from the city’s noise and bustle. Nandi Hills, for example, is only 60 kilometers away and offers a pleasing landscape of rocky hills and steep cliffs. Its altitude of 1,500 meters above sea level also means that it remains cool in summer.
Hiking trails are popular, and despite the rocks, the hills also have very diverse flora and are rich in birdlife (attention birdwatchers!). There are also a number of interesting attractions such as the 600-meter high Tipu’s Drop – where Tipu Sultan ‘dropped’ condemned prisoners. There is the Yoga Nandeeshwara Temple where you can get in touch with body and soul. Before going, get a guide for a comprehensive list of places worth seeing.
Many famous personalities visited the area to cool down and get away from it all. Tipu Sultan was a frequent visitor, and Mark Cubbon built a house there. Among other famous visitors were Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, and Queen Elizabeth II.
The closest forest is located about 25 kilometers south of Bengaluru. The Bannerghatta National Park consists of about 25,000 acres and offers visitors a chance to see elephants in a natural environment. There are also lion and tiger safaris, and a zoo there is particularly popular with children. The park also has a network of hiking trails. The nearby Jungle Lodges and Resorts provide a convenient place for overnight stays.
Another wonder of nature is the gorgeous Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. This forested area, 130 kilometers from Bengaluru, is a 40-acre wonderland of water, enchanting animals, and beautiful flowers. It is, of course, especially known for the incredible number and variety of birds. The sanctuary contains six islands set in the winding Cauvery River, and the dense Ripuarian woodlands offer birds an ideal habitat. Before entering the sanctuary, a park has been laid that offers visitors a chance to just relax and bird watch. To get a closer look, you can take a boat around the many wooded islets. Just a few of the many bird species you could spot here are at least four varieties storks, egrets, herons, kingfishers, ducks, and pelicans. Animals include otters, macaques (monkeys), flying foxes (huge bats), mongooses, and crocodiles. If you really want to experience this best, do not schedule a visit during the rainy season, as the boat tours are suspended then due to the flooding.
If you are more into cultural excursions, Janapada Loka is only 50 kilometers away. It is a museum complex 15 acres in size that features Karnataka’s folk culture. The museum itself houses a remarkable number of exhibits and items illustrating daily life like household equipment and toys. Among the artifacts are also native weapons, fishing and hunting implements. The complex also includes an open-air theatre, among other attractions.
For the history enthusiast, a visit to Srirangapatna is well worth the 125-kilometer trip. This town, completely enclosed as an island in the Cauvery River, is practically a history of Karnataka in miniature. You come across the region’s myths, legends and history practically around every corner. You might even think that the town is still living under the rule of Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan, or the Wadiyar dynasty. The town is set among the ruins of the fort built by Tipu and was the capital of Mysore under his rule. Tipu and Hyder have left their marks everywhere. Daria Daulat, Tipu’s summer residence, is a fascinating wood structure. Gumbaz contains the remains of Hyder, Tipu, and his entire family. Other must-see attractions are the famous and important Ranganathaswamy temple and Sangama – where the Cauvery River and the Arkavati merge. Colonel Bailey’s dungeon is another interesting sight. This was actually a place Tipu Sultan used as a prison for British officers. Tradition has it that Lord Bailey was the only British officer who died there.
Just fifteen kilometers further along is the fabled city of Mysore – the capital of Tipu and the Wadiyars, a city of palaces, gardens, and temples, crisscrossed by boulevards and scented with jasmine. Mysore has inspired writers and poets and is the source of Malgudi – the fictional town that features in the novels of Mysore resident R.K. Narayan. Sights worth visiting are the Mysore Palace, Jaganmohan Palace, Chamundi Hills, Brindavan Gardens, and Rail Museum. If you are searching for interesting souvenirs, you should look at sandalwood items and silk saris – Mysore specialties. And under no circumstances, forget to try Mysore Pak – a delicious sweet named after the city.
How To Get There
Bangalore is served by Kempegowda International Airport (40 kilometers from the city center) and can be easily reached by air from all major Indian cities, so you can easily connect to the regional airport. The city is also a major regional train and bus hub.
When To Go
The average temperatures in Bengaluru are mildest from September to February, but the heaviest rainfall stretches from May to October.
Some Images From Our Trip To Bangalore