Off Work: Bangalore
Established as a British cantonment in the 18th century, the green city of Bangalore, India, is now famous for its late-night call centers, IT companies and BPO units. The gleaming brand names of the Indian information industry–Infosys, Wipro (nyse: WIT – news – people ) and Biocon–are all headquartered here. Together they have spawned the unlikeliest of millionaires and a wealthy young middle class. The image of bullock cart drivers with thousands of dollars’ worth of IT shares is a cliché here, in a driven cosmopolis that is less abrasive than Mumbai and more cultured than Delhi.
Bangaloreans work hard and party even harder. Pubs and nightclubs abound, catering to young techies who work odd hours. Women in tight jeans and midriff-baring T-shirts trawl the malls in search of Chanel sunglasses and Gucci belts–plenty of disposable income here. Seniors meet in Cubbon Park every morning to guffaw for an hour in Laughing Clubs that, in theory anyway, provide a boost to the immune system. Flowering trees border the boulevards, offering glimpses of a genteel past that gave the city its moniker: “Pensioner’s Paradise.”
Unfortunately, most pensioners can’t afford Bangalore anymore. Hotel rooms are scarce and rates are among the highest in the world. Things are busy. When corporate biggies visit, many host-companies call Arun Pai of Bangalore Walks to design customized tours that not only squire visitors around Bangalore, but distract them from the city’s often frustrating traffic congestion. “When they are going from meeting to meeting, we hop in their car or van and entertain them with history and trivia about Bangalore,” says Pai. “We call it ‘the traffic jam buster.’” Ordinary tourists can sign up for Bangalore Walks’ Victorian tour through the center of town or the nature walk in Lalbagh Garden.
There are several lovely hotels: the Taj West End with its colonial history; the new edgy Ista, with the same ownership as the highly rated Ananda spa in the Himalayas; and the Jayamahal Palace Hotel–a recently converted one-time palace owned by the Mysore royal family. Most five-star hotels offer international-class amenities: flat-screen TVs, wireless broadband connection, club-level rooms and personal butlers.
With its yellow-brick facade, columned arches, ornate ceilings and gold-leaf domes, the Leela Palace Hotel looks like it belongs in India–opulent, if slightly over the top. Inside, Citrus serves the best Sunday brunch in town, and Jamavar has exquisite regional Indian food. Stylish locals visit the Leela Galleria mall downstairs to shop for silk bedspreads at Svisti and stunning antique jewelry at Ganjam and Srishti. Contemporary Indian designers show their saris, kurtas and dresses at Mogra, Kalika and Sanchita. Look for fun handmade bags and accessories at Amber and Anokhi.
The oberoi on Mahatma Gandhi Road (MG Road to locals) has lush foliage and soothing water features that camouflage its location in the center of town. It boasts some of Bangalore’s top restaurants. Rim Naan serves alfresco Thai; Szechwan Court serves authentic Cantonese and Sichuan food; and Le Jardin has a rotating buffet of international fare. Most of the rooms overlook the gardens and pool, and a Banyan Tree spa takes care of tired muscles.
Around the corner from the Oberoi is The Park, a hip boutique hotel decorated with splashes of lime-green, aqua and orange. Its I-talia serves the best Italian food in town, and Monsoon serves Pan-Asian and Mediterranean cuisine. The I-bar is popular with young techies, and visiting Indian celebrities sometimes moonlight as bartenders.
Bangaloreans love to eat out, and restaurants get crowded even on weeknights. Dakshin at the Windsor Sheraton dishes up traditional South Indian food on silver platters and often has live music. Baluchi at the Grand Ashok hotel serves aromatic kebabs, a variety of roti flat breads and fragrant biriyani rice dishes. Blue Ginger at the Taj West End serves Vietnamese food in a romantic setting and is a favorite location for proposals–marriage and otherwise. Magnolia and Mainland China are hugely popular for the Indian-Chinese food they serve with dishes such as Gobi Manchurian that fuse Indian spices with Chinese cooking techniques. Koshy’s is a Bangalore institution, a haunt of writers, journalists and the city’s literati.
Malls are still an evolving phenomenon in Bangalore (and in India in general). The Forum, Garuda and Sigma malls offer glimpses into Indian clothes and style. They are good places to spot trends or just people-watch. For a bit of character visit hatworks boulevard and raintree–restored mansions that house high-end boutiques in old-world ambience.
Most top hotels have nightclubs or lounge-bars. Stand-alone clubs include the popular Taika, which serves health-food during lunch and transforms into a Zen lounge at night. Spinn is popular with the under-30 crowd. Hint and Maya play eclectic world music to an international crowd.
Be aware that come midnight, many young Bangaloreans, Cinderella-like, stop dancing and head back to work, perhaps to take those tech-support calls. –Shoba Narayan
Useful websites to get you started:
Karnataka Tourism: (Bangalore is the capital of the state of Karnataka)
In Depth: http://www.bangalorebest.com
Walking tours: http://www.bangalorewalks.com