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. Once a sleepy cantonment, the charming, verdant “Garden City” of just over 600,0000 people at Independence has been completely transformed by the technology boom into both a trendy, racy business hub and a bustling, smog-choked megalopolis of around 8.5 million, perhaps the fastest growing city in India. These days, signs of the West are thick on the ground: big-brand fashion stores and branches of CCD or Barista on nearly every corner; a swanky international airport and ultramodern metro (still far from completion); and legions of hard-working, free-spending twenty- and thirty-somethings in designer T-shirts and miniskirts.
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Despite its lush environs and cosmopolitan air, Bengaluru’s few attractions are no match for those elsewhere in the state. That said, it’s an efficient transport hub, well served by plane and bus, and paired with first-rate shopping, dining and nightlife, and a calendar packed with big-ticket events in music, dance, art, literature, theatre or folk arts, this vibrant city can still deliver a few days’ respite from south India’s more taxing inconveniences.
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 by nearly forty percent to 5.7 million in the decade ending in 2001, and is now approaching eight and a half 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, the first section of a much-needed subway system – known locally as the metrorail – has opened and started to alleviate the city’s infamous traffic jams. The international airport, opened in 2008, facilitates the smooth passage of tourists and business visitors alike. Longtime residents may never regain their urban idyll, but with compromise and elbow grease Bengaluru may yet inspire civic pride.