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 nearly twelve 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.
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.
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, although Indiranagar further east is the up and coming area for leisure. 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.
Bengaluru International Airport is 35km northeast of the city in Devanahalli. It’s the busiest in south India and the most spacious in the country, with top-notch facilities. Until the much-discussed high-speed rail link is up and running, you can get into the city by Meru Airport Taxi or efficient a/c Vayu Vajra bus; the most useful routes to visitors are the round-the-clock #9 to/ from Central Bus Stand and #7A to/from MG Rd. KSRTC also runs direct FlyBus services from the airport to Mysuru, Madikeri and Tirupati, plus an overnight service to Kundapur on the coast, via Mangaluru and Udupi.
Bengaluru is well connected by train to all parts of India. Bangalore City railway station is west of the centre, near Kempe Gowda Circle, opposite the main bus stands; for the north of the city, it’s better to board or disembark at Bangalore Cantonment station north of the centre. Bangalore City has prepaid auto-rickshaw and taxi booths in the forecourt, and is connected (via Majestic station) to MG Road and points east in the city by Namma Metro’s Purple Line. Trains to Goa and a handful of trains to other destinations leave from Yeshwanthpur railway station in the north of the city, on the Namma Metro’s Green Line.
The computerized reservation office at Bangalore City is in a separate building, to the left as you approach the station; counter 14 is for foreigners.
Government buses Long-distance government buses, including those from other states like Goa and Maharashtra, arrive at the busy Central Bus Stand, opposite the railway station. There is a comprehensive timetable in English in the centre of the Central Bus Stand concourse. Most services can be booked in advance at the computerized counters near Bay 13.
Tickets for the numerous private bus companies can be bought from the agencies on Tank Bund Rd, on the opposite side of the bus stand from the train station; operators include Sharma, Vijayanand Travels or VRL, Paulo, SRS and National, which all advertise a multitude of destinations, including sleeper coaches to Goa and Mumbai.
Bengaluru’s extensive bus system radiates from the Kempegowda Bus Station, near City railway station. Most buses from platform 17 travel past MG Rd. Along with regular buses, BMTC also operates a deluxe express service, Pushpak, on a number of set routes (#P109 terminates at Whitefield, by the famous Sai Baba ashram) as well as a handful of night buses. Other important city bus stands include the City Market Bus Stand at Kalasipalayam, near the railway station, and Shivaji Nagar to the northeast of Cubbon Park.
In June 2017, the first phase of Bengaluru’s Namma Metro was completed. The east-west Purple Line links the main train and bus stations (via City Railway and Majestic stations) with points east including Cubbon Park, MG Road and Indiranagar. The north-south Green Line travels south via Yeshwantpur before intersecting with the Purple Line at Majestic and continuing south via Chikpete, KR Market and Lalbagh. Trains run every 10–15min from 6am to 10pm, and tickets cost ₹10–60. Payment is by single-use tokens or Varshik smart cards, which give a slight discount.
The easiest way of getting around is by metered auto-rickshaw, which can now even be summoned by app. Fares start at ₹25 for the first kilometre and ₹13/km thereafter; one-and-a-half or double-meter rates usually apply 10pm–5am, and there’s an extra surcharge of ₹20 to suburban areas. Most meters do work and drivers are usually willing to use them, although you will occasionally be asked for a flat fare, especially during rush hour. Expect to pay ₹120–150 from the Kempegowda Bus Station to MG Rd.
Due to the great number of business visitors it receives, Bengaluru offers a wealth of upmarket lodgings, as well as serviced apartments. Decent budget accommodation is also available, mostly concentrated around the Central Bus Stand and railway station.
Bengaluru’s profusion of cafés and restaurants makes up for its deficit of tourist sights with a gastronomic variety unparalleled in south India. Around MG Rd, and in Indiranagar (east of the centre) and the southeastern suburb of Koramangala, pizzerias, burger chains, ritzy ice-cream parlours and gourmet restaurants stand cheek by jowl with regional cuisine from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bengal and Punjab, besides Mumbaichaat cafés and snack bars. Stand-up local eateries called darshinis are popular for a quick bite.
Bengaluru’s progressive outlook has fostered a thriving nightlife for urban youth and tourists alike. A night on the town generally kicks off with a bar crawl along the old colonial quarter of Brigade Rd, Residency Rd and Church St, which are lined with scores of swish pubs. Drinking alcohol does not have the seedy connotations it does elsewhere in India; you’ll even see young Indian women enjoying a beer with their mates. While some prefer an elegant tipple in five-star hotels, it’s the latest crop of microbreweries serving craft beer that are now all the rage. Most clubs operate a couples-only policy.
The bustling area around MG Rd is the hub of Bengaluru shopping, with lots of stores along its main section selling designer goods a little cheaper than in the West, as well as quality Indian clothing and accessories, and handy including UB City, Bangalore Central and Garuda Mall. Dickenson Rd and Commercial St nearby are particularly strong on good jewellery and clothing. The free Travel & Shop magazine carries a huge list of establishments. At occasional flea markets like Kitsch Mandi and Soul Santhe you can find the traveller’s garb and trinkets so evident in places like Hampi or Gokarna, and Raja Market and the crowded lanes of Chickpet are atmospheric for shopping for ethnic items.
A welcome green space in the heart of the city, shaded by massive clumps of bamboo, Cubbon Park is entered from the western end of MG Road, presided over by a statue of Queen Victoria. Several prominent historic landmarks are located within its sprawling expanse, including the State Central Library, one of the oldest and largest in the country, housed in the impressive red Sheshadri Iyer Memorial Hall, and the colonnaded, red-brick High Court of Karnataka (Attara Kacheri), while the famous Chinnaswamy cricket stadium and domed St Mark’s Cathedral sit nearby.
Inspired by the splendid gardens of the Mughals and the French botanical gardens at Puducherry in Tamil Nadu, Sultan Haider Ali set to work in 1760 laying out the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, 4km south of the centre. Originally covering forty acres, just beyond his fort – where one of Kempe Gowda’s original watchtowers can still be seen – the gardens were expanded under Ali’s son Tipu, who introduced numerous exotic species of plants, and today they house an extensive horticultural seedling centre. The British brought in gardeners from Kew in 1856 and built a military bandstand and a glasshouse, based on London’s Crystal Palace, which hosts wonderful flower shows. Now spreading over 240 acres, the gardens are pleasant to visit during the day, but tend to attract unsavoury characters after around 6pm. Great sunsets and city views can be had from the central hill, which is topped by a small shrine.
Just southwest of the crowded City Market (aka KR Market), near the fairytale-like Jama Masjid – whitewashed and rambling and still in regular use – lies Tipu’s Summer Palace, a two-storey, mostly wooden structure built in 1791. Similar in style to the Daria Daulat Bagh at Srirangapatna, the palace is in a far worse state, with most of its painted decoration destroyed. Next door, the Kote Venkataramana Swamy Temple, dating from the early eighteenth century, was built by the Wadiyar rajas.
Lying 6km south of the Kempegowda Bus Station, in the Basavanagudi area, Kempe Gowda’s sixteenth-century Bull Temple houses a massive monolithic Nandi bull, its grey granite made black by the application of charcoal and oil. The temple is approached along a path lined with mendicants and snake charmers; inside, for a small donation, the priest will offer you a string of fragrant jasmine flowers.
Don’t miss the Dodda Ganesha Temple, featuring a mammoth monolith of Ganesha, 5.5m tall and 5m wide, below the Bull Temple.
Some 8km north of the centre lies ISKCON’s (International Society of Krishna Consciousness) gleaming temple, a hybrid of ultramodern glass and vernacular south Indian architecture. Also known as Sri Radha Krishna Mandir, it’s a huge, lavish showpiece crowned by a gold-plated dome. Barriers guide visitors on a one-way journey through the well-organized complex to the inner sanctum, an octagonal hall resplendent with colourfully painted ceilings and golden images of the god Krishna and his consort Radha. Collection points throughout and inescapable merchandizing on the way out are evidence of the organization’s highly successful commercialization.
Set in a former Wadiyar mansion, the beautifully designed and laid out National Gallery of Modern Art (one of three in India – the others are in Delhi and Mumbai) is a fabulous repository of 17,000 paintings, sculptures and graphic prints capturing Indian art from the early eighteenth century to present times.
While most visitors push straight on to Mysuru, there are several places of interest within easy reach of Bengaluru, especially for those with interest in folk culture, wildlife or spiritual renewal.
Anyone wishing to see or study classical dance in a rural environment should check out Nrityagram Dance Village, a delightful, purpose-built model village 30km northwest of Bengaluru, designed by the award-winning architect Gerard de Cunha and founded by the late Protima Gauri. Gauri had a colourful career in media and film, and eventually came to be renowned as an exponent of Odissi dance. Attracting pupils from all over the world, the school hosts regular performances and lectures on Indian mythology and art, and also offers courses in different forms of Indian dance.
Some 60km north of Bengaluru in Chikkaballapur district, Nandi Hills is named after the hilltop shrine of Yoga Nandishwara, dedicated to Shiva. The erstwhile summer retreat of Tipu Sultan and the British, the hills rise to almost 1500m and offer panoramic views and invariably pleasant weather. You can hike to Tipu’s Drop, a dreaded 600m clifftop from which convicts were hurled to their death by Tipu Sultan, while other draws include the spring-fed Amrita Sarovar tank and Nehru Nilaya, the guesthouse where ex-PM Jawaharlal Nehru stayed.
The key attraction of the 104-square-kilometre Bannerghatta National Park, 22km south of Bengaluru, is a compact “biological park”, which houses a zoo, butterfly enclosure, crocodile farm, reptile park and aviary. Safaris are organized to see lions, tigers, herbivores and sloth bear in a wilderness habitat.
The Janapada Loka Folk Arts Museum, 53km southwest of Bengaluru, gives a fascinating insight into the region’s culture. The collection is impressive: there’s an amazing array of hunting implements, weapons, ingenious household gadgets, masks, dolls and shadow puppets, plus carved wooden bhuta (spirit) sculptures and larger-than-life temple procession figures, manuscripts, musical instruments and yakshagana theatre costumes. A small restaurant serves simple food, and the adjacent KamatLokaruchi restaurant is a popular stopover for Bengaluru–Mysuru travellers.
Top image: Vidhana Soudha the Bangalore State Legislature Building, Bangalore, India © Noppasin Wongchum/Shutterstock