My first trip to India happened few years ago, in 2011, and I was not impressed. I won’t say anything else, as I want to detail that trip in a future post, hopefully by 2021 🙂
I believe in a saying “You always meet a person a second time, so you’d better think carefully how you treat them”, and I am starting to think the same about places/countries visited. It seems I end up at least one second time in some countries, so I’d better be careful about sharing my impressions.
Thanking my work again, we scheduled a meeting in Bangalore for beginning of September 2015. Initially I was reluctant to go, my mind still being set with that first bad experience in 2011, but since its work related, obviously some things would be different, like a better hotel, more safety, and better people surrounding me. So of course I couldn’t say no.
I flew on Sunday September 7th with KLM, via Paris. I think there are other cheaper and faster flights available for Bangalore, but I chose KLM mainly for the miles and my membership (which proves quite fructuous, as this year I managed to buy at least 4 free flights using the miles, most of them trans-oceanic). We all stayed at The Leela Palace Hotel, a 5 stars hotel, which was amazingly cheap for what it had to offer (even without the corporate rate, the hotel is still cheaper than a 5 star hotel in Europe). The hotel was great, the rooms were new, nicely furbished, big and very clean, and it has a very nice surrounding area, with a pool, garden, outside bar and even a shopping center within the hotel premises. But if I was traveling for personal reasons, I would have never chosen it, rather go for a hostel 🙂
I arrived around 11 PM, so the drive from the airport to the hotel was pretty easy, even if it was long, took about 1 hour to get there, and there was still traffic, for which in my mind I was already complaining about :). Silly me, I completely forgot the Indians invented the word “traffic” and I was about to see in the next days how bad can it get.
Since we were there for work, we didn’t get to visit a lot, as we were in the office from 9 to 6-7. And most of the evenings we spent them having dinner with the teams there. But I did hear about some nice places to see in Bangalore, and I think I can also mention some nice restaurants to go and some places for shopping. But before these things, lets talk about impressions and expectations.
What did I expect, having in mind my trips to Delhi, Goa and Kolkata? I expected dirt. Of course, traveling for work, you don’t get to walk through the dirtiest parts of a city, but Bangalore really seemed more organized and clean than Delhi for example. Keep in mind we are still talking about India, so there is dirt on the streets, the sewage is rudimentary, up in your sight, and sometimes not working, but overall much cleaner than other parts. Maybe because Bangalore is more of a “business” city, lots of multinational companies have a site there, sometimes even one close to another, like HP and Oracle buildings for example, you can literally see from one building to another, and with a help of a binocular you can take a peek at their laptops 🙂
I was expecting crazy traffic. And we got it, hectic traffic, with unknown rules of driving, and constant honking. But one difference that I did not expect to see, there were more cars than scooters, and even less tuk-tuks. Also, we were lucky to have a van for all of us, with a nice driver who knew all the shortcuts and his time getting better and better each day. Still, you had to be brave sitting in front row seat and seeing the “potential hits” avoided by the driver every 3 minutes. And you had to have patience with the cows, holly animals, which cannot be disturbed or honked even if they are sitting in the middle of a crowded intersectionJ. Since we spent 1.5-2 h every day in the car, we created a nice game by counting the cows we see each drive. Maximum was 15 if I remember correctly. So… don’t rent a car in Bangalore, count on taxi’s. If you are brave enough, rent a scooter.
I was expecting burglars and beggars and people trying to cheat you every step. And we really didn’t have any such experiences. But maybe because we were in our own corporate bubble, and our team took us to only safe places. Or maybe because these crimes decreased since 2011, and it’s a much safer place now. Still, I wouldn’t go out in the middle of the night on a dark street as a single traveler, carrying all my valuables with me 🙂
I was expecting people staring, taking pictures, and even men being rude enough to try and touch you/your bottom 🙂 (yes, true story, from Delhi, happened a couple of times). And… It didn’t happen… well, sort of. We mostly spend time in “Europeanized” areas, with people used to see foreigners and work with them all the time. Still, there were times when people stared, luckily nobody tried to touch me, and there were lots and lots of pictures, selfies, with the local team there. Especially with me, a white close to blonde woman, as I was explained, being an achievement to have a picture with such a specimen, thus hundreds of selfies in 2-3 hours during one of the events we had. 🙂 I was not bothered by it, and it should not be taken as an offense by my Indian colleagues, just that it’s a different culture than Europe/US.
I was expecting food poisoning. Not for me, rather for my American friends, with a more sensitive stomach 🙂 As you know me, I can eat from the dirtiest food corner on the streets, and not get sick, actually funny enough, the only 2 times I had food poisoning were In US :). And, surprise, nobody got sick, the food was as amazing as I remembered it, maybe too much of it, as we all gained weight while there.
So… another lesson to never have expectations of any kind, really difficult to do, but saves you a lot of time and feelings. After this trip, I am seriously considering to change my Indian status from “never going back” to “let’s give it another chance”, so I will never exclude this country again from my plans.
Now, in terms of what you can see, as I said we didn’t really get to see any visiting sites, but I did hear some feedback about the following: of course temples, you have so many nice and different that you can spend a couple of days seeing them (Sri Radha Krishna-Chandra; Gavi Gangadhareshwara ; Ragigudda Anjaneya ; Bull Temple etc.) ; Bangalore Palace, St Mark Cathedral and St Mary’s Basilica if you are into architecture ; Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain if you like such things ; Pyramid Valley if you have a day to spare, and in search for quietness and loneliness, around 35km from Bangalore.
In terms of shopping, things are not how I remembered them since 2011 , Bangalore is filled with shopping malls, where bargaining is no longer a thing , but you can still find nice things cheap : UB City, Phoenix Marketcity, Orion Mall and Mantri Square are just a couple in which you can spend hours and hours. For a more local flavor, head to Commercial street, Tasker town, definitely an experience.
Now, let’s talk about food 🙂 I love Indian food, so I might be bias, because I can literally say great things about any snack bought on the dirtiest street :). Together with the team, we went to some nice restaurants, some of them pretty Europeanized, but still nice places: Barbeque Nation (where you need to remember to say stop to the appetizers, otherwise you’ll miss the main course, as we did) and Toit ( for a minute you feel you are in US, plus they have a tuk-tuk popping out of a wall) in Indiranagar, as well as the great party and dinner we had in Hilton Bangalore for more than 150 people. Fun fact, in my first trip to India, I fell in love with a dessert that I didn’t know the name of how it looked like, and I found it again in Bangalore, and will make sure never to forget them again: Gulab Jamun! Thanks to one of my colleagues, we got to cook it for our colleagues in Palo Alto end of September, and I also have one box of the mix at home, waiting for me :). Other things you must try: Kulfi Icecream and Meetha Paan( Betel) – something which cannot be explained in taste, so you need to try it ( with or without tobacco).
That’s about it. India, I am sorry for initially not wanting to give you another chance, I would gladly come back after this new experience. And for you travelers … just go with an open mind and heart, and remember the cultural differences, if something is not as you are used to, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
P.S. – unfortunately my phone broke during the stay, so I’ve got only a few pictures left :(. On the other hand, you can always use google for better pictures than I would have ever taken :).