7:00pm. I’d seen upstairs, in the room that used to be mine, the notebooks were still there. From that year I’d lived in this house. The year I would sit, at 7pm, studying geography or biology, math running through my head. An odd, out-of-body feeling, I wasn’t sure if perhaps tomorrow, I should be back in the car going to school. I needed to go sort my tie and find the wretched leather belt. Check facebook, see what I missed. But that was three years ago - facebook and school. The problem with this house, with this place, was that it was so deeply caked in memories, every thing was a time suck. The house was big, too big for my grandparents really, with high ceilings. Grandma had planted succulents in little terracotta pots; the Dutch clogs that were a gift from dad years ago, grandpa had cleaned the photos on the walls. You’re home, the grandparents said to me, feel at home. Straight away, I did.
Bangalore moved quickly, scrambling to stay ahead; a socialite at a shiny dance. A new mall had come up, next to our old haunt, we went in anyway. Some kind of smug satisfaction in thinking ‘ok so there’s a rooftop bar here, but you’re still not as cool as Phoenix’. In Phoenix, the old haunt, Zara was still packed with the cool crowd, every foreigner was queuing at Starbucks, the Apple store sold tech like the Belgians sell hot waffles on a snowday. Our bookstore still had the dusty, musty shelves of old books, the old Macleans you can’t find anywhere else. But there was a Le Creuset store now, across from it. I was happy, but it was strange; Sephora and it’s sensory overload were taking over real estate, there was a Kiehl’s next to an ayurvedic cosmetics place. At the gated complex where my grandparents lived, the boys had switched from obsessive cricket to football. One wore a Chelsea shirt, another’s dad drives a Jaguar, more and more of the girls were wearing shorts, a bunch of people had adopted rescue dogs. I stood, at the end of our road one day, watching a kid in a Barcelona shirt kick a football. The perimeter fence of the compound was behind him, bougainvillea grew there too. In the distance against a powdery evening sky, the silhouettes of buildings, they never used to be there. The ball bounced, a truck hooted, a dog barked. I could’ve been anywhere. But it was India and my grandparents’ place for sure.
I knew it was, because grandma would take us to her grocery store, and I could find pomegranates bigger than baseballs. I would sit on my grandparents’ swing, the jula on the patio, and I could hear the sing-song Hindi ads interrupting grandpa’s cricket matches, and grandma would be sorting the coriander leaves, or perhaps popping mustard seeds in a steel pan. The maids of the people behind us were washing clothes on a stone slab, someone was looking to buy an electric car. I went out in the heat, looking for the family of kittens Layla and I had adopted; one was stuck in a drain, we coaxed him out. There was a stray dog who had befriended the guards, I called her Jessie. The old tomcat Bob was embroiled in bitter feuds with a younger, fitter male; he ended up with a bloody leg, sleeping on top of the Jeep belonging to a woman who fed all the strays.
Three weeks went by, I felt at home, people stared at me at the mall like they’d never seen a girl in shorts before. I took an auto rickshaw; we went to a doctor’s office deep in a leafy Bangalore suburb; we avoided people we knew, years and lives ago. It was a foggy morning on our last day, my grandparents were wearing matching red fleeces, a stray dog sniffed at the hand luggage. We had tight connections and they wouldn’t let my grandparents into the terminal; procedures madam. We waved to them, I waved goodbye to the concrete jungle that the garden city was becoming, block after block of flats, grid after grid of housing complex. Cars, trucks, bikes on the road. I thought of my family of kittens, Jessie, my grandparents, Bob and his fights, change. ‘Wait for me’, I whispered, as the plane took off. Practical info My sister has also done a stunning Bangalore/Mysore/trains guide on her site, where she has kindly used my photos and added a lot of useful info, so I'd recommend reading that post if you'd like some more details.
Sleep: well we stay in a rather nice Mediterranean style townhouse in a gated community with a tennis court, pool, palm trees... no I totally do not mean to make you jealous. There are lots of reliable chains like Taj and Oberoi in the city centre and knowing Indian hospitality I'm sure they're amazing, and also less out of the way.
Do, see and shop
The area around MG Road is what I am going to call the center; it's where it all happens. There are great places to find nice sandalwood carvings and un-tacky souvenirs, jewelry stores for real gold stuff and great atmosphere in general.
You should visit the Vidhana Soudha which is really impressive as the seat of the Karnataka state government. From here you can get to Cubbon Park which is also great for culture - picnicking families Indian style, frolicking young couples, lots of plants. It's also car free.
Not in the same area (nearer MG road again) is Lalbagh Gardens for similar sights but there's also a lake which is nice for a walk around.
Phoenix Market City is my mall!! I know it's a mall but you have to visit, ok? Also they have one of the best stores for really worthwhile souvenirs that are both nice looking (I would buy all the plates and dishes and dark wood chairs) but are also made working with local artisans and craftsmen; keeping all those arts alive. That's Fabindia but there are quite a few other home furnishing stores that are worth a visit. Also Om Book shop for cheap books and older books (Dick Francis, alistair Maclean) and the sales at many known brands - Zara, Steve Madden, Aldo - are way better than in Europe. And also Apple products... and you might as well to go Big Bazaar because it's fun. There's groceries toys clothes houseware the works.
The other mall that's worth a trip is UB City which is in town near MG road etc and it's where the cool kids go... I was invited to a party there when I was a cool kid (yes those days existed) and it's got all the designers - both international and local talent. It's all fountains, glitzy tiles and great people watching. Also all the above mentioned cool kids used to go get smashed and have an ahem fun time in a neighbourhood called Koramangala (in the south-east). I've never been because I'm not that cool (if at all) but it was the place with all the nightlife, bars, etc, so if you're into that sort of thing, it all used to happen there :)
If you don't have time to take a train trip to see some of the everyday India I would recommend taking a drive - my old drive to school believe it or not was a really nice insight into village life- cows, pastures etc. Try a drive from the Whitefield road area to Indus international school :)
Eat Go to my grandparents' house and ask my grandma to make you chappatis with my vegetables - I wouldn't know the name but they're a colourful combination of carrots, beans, peas and some unpronounceable gourds in a broth-y spicy mix. Also ask for sambar - lentils, carrots, raddish, pumpkin, some other guord, a secret spice blend. Ok I joke but at Phoenix mall the places for Indian food that are always always packed are Copper Chimney which is pretty fancy and also Raj Dhani where you can get all these different chutneys, lentils, rice, veggies... in steel dishes, on banana leaves. Also try the Indian version of Starbucks - Coffee Day, which all my friends used to swear by.
Just a heads up that the traffic in Bangalore is bad. Like, really bad. A 5 minute drive can take 35 if a tractor parks somewhere inconvenient. So always leave with plenty of time. Taxis themselves are quick and cheap, they are also really into Uber these days. And there's also the good old auto rickshaw. Oh and the Metro works in the centre-sort of area around MG Road, it's very clean, safe and efficient.
Hope some of you found this helpful/interesting. The snow is starting in Norfolk... big hugs xx