The political hub of the region, Bengaluru is a world apart from the rest of the state and in many ways India’s most westernized urban centre. From a charming, verdant “Garden City” of just over 600,000 at Independence, Bengaluru has been completely transformed by the technology boom into both a trendy, high-speed business hub and a bustling, smog-choked megalopolis of eight million. These days, signs of the West are thick on the ground: Starbucks-like Café Coffee Days on nearly every corner, a flash new airport and ultra-modern metro (set for completion in 2011) and legions of hard-working, free-spending twenty- and thirty-somethings in designer T-shirts and mini-skirts.
Bengaluru’s few attractions are no match for those elsewhere in the state, and the city’s comparative local advantages are ten-a-penny in the West. That said, it’s an efficient transport hub, well served by plane and bus, and at nearly 1000m the climate is relatively mild. Paired with first-rate shopping, dining and nightlife, this vibrant city can still deliver a few days’ respite from south India’s more taxing inconveniences.
The centre of modern Bengaluru lies about 4km east of Kempe Gowda Circle (and the bus and railway stations), near MG Road, where you’ll find most of the mid-range accommodation, restaurants, shops, tourist information and banks. Leafy Cubbon Park, and its less than exciting museums, lie on its eastern edge, while the oldest, most “Indian” part of the city extends south from the railway station, a warren of winding streets at their most dynamic in the hubbub of the City and Gandhi markets. Bengaluru’s tourist attractions are spread out: monuments such as Tipu’s Summer Palace and the Bull Temple are some way south of the centre. Most, if not all, can be seen on a half-day tour, but if you explore on foot, be warned that Bengaluru has some of the worst pavements in India.
A stone inscription near a tenth-century temple in the eastern part of the city describes a battle fought on this ground in 890, in a placed called “Bengaval-uru,” or the “City of Guards.” This marks the earliest historical reference to the city that was renamed Bengaluru in 2006. The city was established more firmly in 1537 when Magadi Kempe Gowda, a devout Hindu and feudatory chief of the Vijayanagar empire, built a mud fort and erected four watchtowers outside the village, predicting that it would one day extend that far (the city now stretches far beyond). During the first half of the seventeenth century, Bangalore fell to the Muslim sultanate of Bijapur and changed hands several times before being returned to Hindu rule under the Mysore Wadiyar rajas. In 1758, Chikka Krishnaraja Wadiyar II was deposed by the military genius Haider Ali, who set up arsenals here to produce muskets, rockets and other weapons for his formidable anti-British campaigns. He and his son, Tipu Sultan, greatly extended and fortified Bangalore until Tipu was overthrown in 1799 by the British, who established a military cantonment and passed the administration over to the maharaja of Mysore in 1881. With the creation of Karnataka state in 1956, the erstwhile maharaja became governor and Bangalore the capital.
Until well after Independence, political leaders, film stars and VIPs flocked to buy or build homes here. The so-called “Garden City” offered many parks and leisurely green spaces, not to mention theatres, cinemas and a lack of restrictions on alcohol. Following a slow growth in the communications and defence sectors, the 1990s high-tech boom saw skyscrapers, swish stores and shopping malls springing up, while the city’s infrastructure buckled. The stumbles prodded several multinationals to decamp to Hyderabad, itself a growing technology centre, upsetting the local economy and temporarily threatening Bengaluru’s treasured status as India’s main IT hub. Led by rapid growth in the international telecom and call-centre sectors, the city has bounced back in recent years.Read More
In recent decades Bengaluru has experienced a seismic societal shift, predominantly due to the endless job opportunities presented by computer software and back-office services. The population grew nearly forty percent to 5.7 million in the decade ending in 2001, and is now approaching eight million. By late 2007 every fifth city resident hailed from a different state and Bengaluru‘s software industry had become a US$8 billion behemoth.
Many locals blame IT professionals for skyrocketing living costs, choking pollution and the rise of a liberal, West-leaning bar and disco culture, not to mention traffic jams, regular power failures and crippling seasonal water shortages. In addition, due to higher salaries and bright futures, IT professionals are favoured in the competitive marriage market, creating further tension.
Yet hope springs eternal. After more than two decades of hand-wringing and debate, work recently began on a much-needed subway system to alleviate the city’s infamous traffic jams. The new international airport, opened in early 2008, should smooth the increase of business and tourist visitors. Longtime residents may never regain their urban idyll, but with compromise and elbow grease Bengaluru may yet inspire civic pride.