Bengaluru (Bangalore)

IT capital Bengaluru (Bangalore), the subcontinent's fastest-growing city, is the poster boy of India's economic ascendance. Its buoyant economy has cost the so-called 'garden city' and 'pensioner's paradise' its famously cool climate and sedate pace, while its wealthy retirees are long gone. In their place are streets throttled with gridlocked traffic, a cosmopolitan café culture, a lively music scene and dynamic, liberal-minded people, which combine to make the city a vibrant and relaxed metropolis, one whose view of the world is as much attuned to San Francisco as to the red baked earth of the surrounding state of Karnataka.

And there's more to Bengaluru than Wipro, Infosys and call centres: Bengaluru rivals Kancheepuram for silk; it's the site of India's aeronautical defence industry's headquarters; it boasts a mammoth monolithic Nandi Bull temple; has boulevards shaded by rain and flame trees and the great green lungs of Lal Bagh Gardens and Cubbon Park; and holds a number of fine administrative buildings left over from the British. For all its outward-looking globalism, to walk around the jumbles of rope and silk shops, flower garland-sewers, tailors, temples and mosques in the ramshackle old city and the unruly bazaars of Gandhi Nagar, Sivaji Nagar, Chickpet and City Market, is to forget the computer chip had ever been invented.

The 16th-century Magadi chieftain Kempe Gowda built a mud fort and four watchtowers in 1537 and named it Bengalaru (you can see his statue in front of the City Corporation buildings). Muslim king Haidar Ali strengthened those fortifications before his death at the hands of the British, leaving his son Tipu Sultan to pick up where he left off. When the British gained control after 1799 they installed the Wodeyar of Mysore as the ruler and the rajas developed it into a major city. In 1831 the British took over the administration for a period of 50 years, making it a spacious garrison town, planting impressive avenues and creating parks, building comfortable bungalows surrounded by beautiful lawns with tennis courts, as well as churches and museums.

The 1200 ha of
Cubbon Park
in the Cantonment area was named after the 19th-century British representative in Bangalore. The leafy grounds with bandstand, fountains and statues are also home to the Greco-Colonial High Court, State Library and museums, now overshadowed by the post-Independence granite of Vidhana Soudha, the state's legislature and secretariat buildings across the street.

Government Museum
 is idiosyncratic and slightly dog eared; opened in 1886, it is one of the oldest in the country. There are 18 galleries: downstairs teems with sculptures, huge-breasted Durga and a 12th-century figure of Ganesh from Halebid sit alongside intricate relief carvings of Rama giving his ring to Hanuman, and there are Buddhas from as far afield as Bihar. An upstairs gallery holds beautiful miniatures in both Mysore and Deccan styles, including a painting of Krishnaraj Wodeyar looking wonderfully surly. There are also Neolithic finds from the Chandravalli excavations, and from the Indus Valley, especially Mohenjo Daro antiquities. In the same complex, the
K Venkatappa Art Gallery
 shows a small cross-section of work by the late painter (born 1887). His paintings of the southern hill stations give an insight into the Indian fetishization of all things pastoral, woody and above all cold. There is also the story and blueprints of his truncated design for the Amba Vilas Durbar Hall in Mysore and miniatures by revered painter Abanindranath Tajore (1871-1951), alongside a second portrait of Krishnaraj Wodeyar.

Visveswaraya Industrial and Technological Museum
 will please engineering enthusiasts, especially the basement, which includes a 1917 steam wagon and India's oldest compact aircraft. Others might be left cold by exhibits on the 'hydrostatic paradox' or 'the invention of the hook and eye and zip fastener technology'. Upstairs is a wing devoted to educating the inhabitants of Bengaluru on genetic engineering. You might find the debate a little one-sided: “agricultural biotechnology is a process ... for the benefit of mankind,” it states in capital letters. A small corner (next to the placard thanking AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk Education Foundation, Novozymes and Glaxo-SmithKline), is dubbed 'Concerns', but you can see how cloning and genetically strengthened 'golden' rice might seem more attractive when put in the context of the growling Indian belly.

To the southwest lies the summer palace that Tipu Sultan, the perennial thorn in the side of the British, boasted was “the envy of heaven”.
Tipu's Summer Palace
 was begun by his father Haidar Ali and was completed by Tipu in 1789. Based on the Daria Daulat Bagh in Srirangapatnam, the understated two-storey structure is largely made of teak with walls and ceilings painted in brilliant colours with beautiful carvings. A room downstairs is given over to documenting Haidar and Tipu's reigns and struggles against the British.

Lal Bagh Gardens
 were laid out across 97 ha by Haidar Ali in 1760 and are second only to Kolkatta's in size. Tipu added a wealth of plants and trees from many countries (there are over 1800 species of tropical, subtropical and medicinal plants) and the British brought a bandstand. Sadly, the Indian affection for botanical beauty means that the rose gardens are kept behind bars. At dusk, Lal Bagh is popular with businessmen speed-walking off their paunches, and courting couples and newlyweds who sit on the banks of the lotus pond eating ice cream. The rocky knoll around the Kempe Gowda tower has great city views, and is popular at sunset. There are fortnightly Sunday evening performances of Kannada folk theatre, song and dance; go on for supper at
MTR
for a pukka Bengaluru evening. The
Glass House
, with echoes of London's Crystal Palace and Kew Gardens, holds flower shows in January and August to mark Republic and Independence days.

Further south, the hefty
Nandi Bull at Bull Temple
 was carved at the behest of Kempe Gowda, making it one of the city's oldest temples. The monolithic Nandi was believed to be growing unstoppably until a trident was slammed into his forehead: he now towers nearly 5 m high and is 6 m in length. His huge proportions, draped imperiously in jasmine garlands, are made of grey granite polished with a mixture of groundnut oil and charcoal. Under his hooves you can make out the
veena
or south Indian sitar on which he's resting. Behind him is a yoni- lingam. Just outside the temple are two bodhi trees, with serpent statues draped with sacred strands in offering for children. To your right as you exit the temple lies Bugle Park, a pretty little patch of wood whose trees are packed with fruit bats. It also holds one of Kempe Gowda's four 16th-century watchtowers. You can walk past the old fort under the subway to reach the atmospheric City Market, and from there to the busy market area of the Old Town around Avenue Road and Chikpet.

For those interested in ancient Indian astrological practices, the
Palm Leaf Library
 is supposed to be the repository for everyone's special leaf, which gives accurate details of character, past, present and future. Locating each leaf is not guaranteed.

Sri Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple
is most remarkable for its two quirks of architecture. First, the 'open window' to the left of the temple, which only once a year (on
Makara Sankrati Day
, 14/15 January) allows a shaft of light to shine between the horns of the stone Nandi bull in the courtyard and to then fall on the Siva lingam in the inner sanctum. The second quirk can only be seen by bending double to crouch around the back of the cave shrine. The Dravida-style
Venkataramanasvami Temple
is where the Wodeyar Maharaja chose to worship first, when his dynasty's rule was reinstated at the end of the 18th century, before entering the palace.

The grand, Tudor-style
Bangalore Palace
 built by Chamaraja Wodeyar in 1887, was incongruously inspired by Windsor Castle. The entry price buys you a tour of the Mysore mahahrajas' collection of art and family portraits.

The sprawling modern
International Society for Krishna Conscious temple complex
(
ISKCON
)
holds five shrines, a multimedia cinema showing films on the Hare Krishna movement, lofty
gopurams
and the world's tallest
kalash shikara
. Around 9000 visitors make the pilgrimage every day;
bhajans
(religious songs) are sung daily.

Around Bengaluru

Whitefield
, 16 km east of Bengaluru, is known for the
Sai Baba Ashram
at Brindavan. It also has the International Technical Park, a modern self-contained community of high tech workers.

Nandidurg
, Tipu's fortified summer retreat in the Nandi Hills, lies on top of a granite hil with sheer cliffs on three sides 10 km from Chikballapur, to the north of Bengaluru. Literally 'the fort of Nandi', the place, today a minor hill resort with great views from the 60-m-high 'Tipu's drop', was named after Siva's bull. The ninth-century
Bhoganandisvara Temple
at the foot of the hill is a good example of the Nolamba style; its walls are quite plain but the stone windows feature carvings of Nataraja and Durga. The 16th century brought typical Vijayanagar period extensions such as the
gopuram
at the entrance.

Nrityagram
 is a dance village where young dancers learn all disciplines of traditional Indian dance. It was founded by the late Odissi dancer Protima Gauri. Guided tours include lunch, dance demonstrations and a short lecture.

Bannerghatta Bio Park
, www.bannerghattabiopark.org, covers more than 100 sq km of dry deciduous forest, and is home to wild populations of elephant, bison, boar, deer and the occasional leopard. A portion has been fenced, and the Forest Department run a range of minibus safaris to see tigers, bears and Asiatic lions at close range in almost-natural surroundings; many of the animals here have been rescued from circuses. The park also contains a butterfly garden and an unappealing zoo.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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