Pic: Kind of how how we felt when we arrived in Bangalore
It felt like a geocaching mission – that recreational activity where you use a smart device to hide and seek treasures called caches. We had some of the elements right. We were already running around the Bangalore train station, following pointed hands and reading signs and symbols that seemed to get us closer to our treasure but actually further from the truth.
Our cache was WIFI, which we assumed would be an easy find in the heart of India’s Silicon Valley – Bangalore. We had 16 hours between trains and wanted to know how to spend those wisely and thriftily. Top prize was a place we could sleep in the shade, eat in a local restaurant and view some cultural artefacts all within one taxi zone. We would settle for a clean patch of anything to rest our weary heads. Also a tall order in a country where the line between public spaces and public ablutions has been spat on.
The problem was that the device we were using were our fuzzy, sleep-deprived heads that had not been properly recharged the night before on the train from Pondy to Bangalore. We were running on half battery and couldn’t pick up much of a signal.
It started with this image…
Which sent us to a station kiosk, where we thought we could buy the paid voucher. But instead we got sent to this office…
…via a few counters and queues.
As it turned out, the actual kiosk that sold the vouchers was closed. But it was a moot point. We would still need a local SIM card to register anyway. Game over.
At least we had killed one hour. Just fifteen to go, but where? We decided to go with the flow and just hoped that ours didn’t end up like most water sources in India – stagnating in the gutters.
We had one tip: Nandi (the bull) temple (thanks Clem) and decided to ride that bull until it bucked us off.
Pic: Nandi (the bull) temple in Bangalore.
I am never quite sure how to enter Hindu temples. There are rituals that money and blessings that I don’t understand, none the least one that is centred on paying homage to a giant bull squashed into a small temple. Do I courtesy? Offer up some dried dung as incense? Too insensitive?
We were told it was “natural” and that the temple was built around it. We wondered if they had been smoking some of their own cow dung.
Pic: Raj and the dog he brings biscuits for every day, along with the crows and pigeons.
Outside the temple we met Raj. We were relaxing under the tree when he entered the scene on his scooter like the comic relief character on a Bollywood set – a big man with a small helmet and a large character. We liked his energy even before we saw him go about his daily routine – offering seeds to the pigeons, breaking up chapatti for the crows and apologising to the local dog for not bringing his daily ration of five biscuits. Apparently Raj lives across town but that doesn’t stop him from using his lunch hour to fulfil his personal duty to the temple. “We all need to give”.
Pic: A man crafts a Sitar on the streets of Bangalore
Around the back of Nandi temple is a park that is all but canopied by the giant trees that give the park its character and shade. There are patches of grass, but they are cordoned off and protected by a man with a whistle. And he means to use it. When a group of giggling teenage girls went “beyond the rope”, the whistle official went into combat mode, blowing off a wail of whistles and shouts that sent the girls running out of the “no go” zone. So the grass wasn’t an option to lay our wary heads. Instead we had to settle for a kind of amphitheatre with a seating area made of natural stone, ie cold, uneven and uncomfortable. It didn’t matter. We set up camp and hoped for a whistle free hour of rest. To our surprise, the amphitheatre came alive with natural entertainment. This urban forest is home to hundreds of large fruit bats that spend their days flying, preening and stretching their wings in spite of the obvious daylight. It seems caves are for the birds. It was a fascinating display that kept us craning our neck for hours. We were now half way to our 10pm goal.
Pic: You know the clown. you know the food.
Back on the WIFI search in an area not frequented by tourists, we did what any traveller must do – we sought out a Western chain of restaurants, knowing they would have free WIFI. Starbucks would be top prize but we settled for the freaky clown about town – Ronald McDonald. An expensive (and weak) coffee later and we looked set to be beamed up into cyber space. Except that we weren’t. Scotty was clearly on a tea break. That old gambit of registering a local cellphone number to access the free Wifi made its second appearance of the day. We left the establishment looking like we had just eaten a very unhappy meal.
Pic: Inside Bierre Republic, Bangalore.
Church Street: Bierre Republic
We made it to the hipster part of town (Church Street) and stumbled on a sign for our kind of Republic – one that sells craft beer made by an inhouse microbrewery. So when a guy in a sailor suit came up to us and offered us a free tasting of its 4 craft beers, we excused the themed costume and didn’t question why he was leading us through a deserted shopping mall. We were resolutely focused on “free” and “craft” and just hoped that this Republic wasn’t modelled on a Kafka novel. Our skipper led us to a large rooftop restaurant, with a series of oxblood leather sofas and a large seated area. The décor was completely devoid of anything nautical. Not a rope, net or anchor anywhere. So why the costumes? We didn’t care that they got the branding wrong because they got the beers just right. They were all delicious, if not a bit unusual. The stout was sweet not bitter and the lager fruity not fluffy. I managed to get myself on a personal tour of the brewery with my own free tasting downstairs. So we really milked that deal and took advantage of the free WIFI (no registration required) and comfortable sofas. We were nearly high fiving each other over our nachos when we realised the Disclaimer – they had terrible taste in music and an even worse understanding of how to use it to create a “vibe”. Apparently you can just layer songs, you don’t have to actually mix them side by side, especially if you are going to play them so loudly that people won’t be able to recognise the music anyway, let alone hear what their dinner partner next to them thinks about the atmosphere. You know the music is that bad when you actually choose to leave your comfortable WIFI zone in favour of a noisy, drafty train station with 3 hours still to kill. We might have mentioned something to that effect on the comments card they gave us (along with some drunken smiley faces for the crafty beer).
Pic: cheers to craft beers
Tour over. The Bangalore zombies were about to head north to Hampi.
[cover image: a group of coolies (bag carriers) in Bangalore City Station]