On the trees are tacked mom-and–apple pie maxims that seem strangely out of place amid all the luxury: “Humility usually wins the race of life”; “Keep your mind away from all ego, desires, and attachments.” There are three good restaurants that serve both Western and Indian cuisine, the decor is tasteful, and there are a slew of activities to keep everyone busy. I enjoy reading books in the library and drinking endless cups of cappuccino made with homegrown coffee beans while my kids spend most of their time in the activity center, playing chess and table tennis and making friends.
On our first morning, we take a group hike through the forest with a guide who points out chili bushes, silver oak trees imported from New Zealand, and cardamom and cashew trees, as well as several types of coffee bushes. After an hour’s walk, we reach the Cauvery. Frolicking in a river is an experience that doesn’t come often to us city dwellers, and we enjoy it immensely. My nine-year-old learns from an older boy how to skim a rock over the water; Malu simply dips her feet into the water and squeals every time a fish nibbles at her toes. In India, rivers are viewed as young, tempestuous women, and I can see why. I enter knee-deep water that gushes and gurgles around my feet.The following day, we go to the Dubare Elephant Camp, next door, where for a fee you can give elephants a bath as they loll in the river. I learn that elephants have tough skin and giant rumps. I also learn that an elephant can defecate while you are washing him, and that if you aren’t careful you will be covered with dung-laden water from the ensuing splash—all of which makes me look like an idiot but elicits peals of laughter from my kids. Thankfully, I have brought a change of clothes.
Next, we drive to Bylakuppe to see the Tibetan settlement. When the Dalai Lama took refuge in India in 1959, about a hundred thousand people came with him. In 1974, the Karnataka government allocated two hundred acres of land for these Tibetan refugees, and thus began the second-largest settlement in India. Today, Bylakuppe has a thriving Tibetan monastery with some five thousand resident monks, many of them sponsored by American Buddhists. Busloads of tourists come, especially on weekends, to see the Namdroling Monastery. Inside is a temple containing three giant golden statues that look down benevolently on the devotees. Prayer flags flutter, Tibetan women sell beads, young monks run around in sandals, and the grizzled ones sit in a corner drinking butter tea. One of them fans himself furiously. I smile. They have traded the Himalayas for the heat, but they seem happy. What an odd place, I think—a slice of Tibet in interior Karnataka.
Soon it is time to return to Bangalore. My girls exchange e-mail addresses with their newfound friends and promise to keep in touch. We buy a packet of Siddapur coffee in the gift shop before checking out.
As we drive back, I wonder what it is about nature that so inspires us. Spotting wildlife, no matter where, is a startling experience; it raises the hair on the back of our necks, makes us go still. Of course, one reason is that the animals are so rare, but I also believe that seeing them touches a primitive part of us that layers of evolution have covered up. In wildlife, we see the part of ourselves we’ve left behind; the part that is freer and more formidable but also—in today’s world—more vulnerable.
It is late afternoon when we reach Bangalore. Traffic is at a standstill, horns honk, and there is concrete as far as the eye can see. I miss the verdant green of Kabini, the cool waters of the Cauvery, and the unpolluted air of Coorg. I miss the majestic elephants, the elusive tiger, and the inquiring gaze of the langurs. At a stoplight, we rear-end the car in front of us. A furious man gets out, and I steel myself for yet another wildlife encounter—the bipedal kind.
Places & Prices
Bangalore is temperate throughout the year. It is also a progressive city, so women can wear anything, including halter tops. Orient yourself by taking one of the witty and knowledgeable three-hour city tours offered by BangaloreWalks (98455-23660; bangalorewalks.com; $11 per person). It is safe to hire taxis and auto rickshaws in Bangalore; the drivers are honest and use a meter to record the fare.
The country code for India is 91. A visa is required. Prices quoted are for October 2006.
The opulent Leela Palace is arguably the city’s best hotel (80-2521-1234; theleela.com; doubles, $450–$620). The leafy, white Taj West End, which opened more than a century ago, reflects Bangalore’s British colonial past and has the wonderful assurance of a grande dame (80-5660-5660; tajhotels.com; doubles, $420–$425). Well-situated on Mahatma Gandhi Road—MG Road to locals—are the sprawling yet serene Oberoi (80-2558-5858; oberoihotels.com; doubles, $400–$475); the edgy, design-conscious Park Bangalore (80-2559-4666; theparkhotels.com; doubles, $350); and the businesslike Taj Residency (80-6660-4444; tajhotels.com; doubles, $290–$400). The Grand Ashok—a favorite of politicians and dignitaries—is across from a golf course and has a spanking-new spa (80-3052-7777; bharathotels.com; doubles, $325–$400).
Jungle Lodges & Resorts operates all of the wildlife retreats mentioned in the article, and can arrange transportation to and from the city (80-2559-7021; junglelodges.com; doubles, $80–$240). Orange County is the largest resort in Coorg (80-2558-2380; trailsindia.com; doubles, $183–$300), though home stays in rustic but comfortable bungalows are available at a fraction of the price (see “Reading” for where to find them).
I-talia, at the Park Bangalore, serves genuinely fine Italian food (14/7 MG Rd.; 80-2559-4666; entrées, $10–$13). The Legend of Sikander does fantastic kebabs in a vaguely Egyptian setting (Garuda Mall, 4th fl.; 80-5125-2333; entrées, $3–$6). Mainland China serves Indian-Chinese fusion cuisine to a packed house (14 Church St.; 80-2559-7722; entrées, $3–$7). The Mavalli Tiffin Room doesn’t take reservations, so you’ll have to queue up for the rich, tasty South Indian food (14 Lalbagh Rd.; 80-2222-0022; entrées, $2–$3). Olive Beach, an outpost of Mumbai’s acclaimed Olive, is set in a lovely Moorish bungalow. The kitchen is still finding its feet but has a lovely meze and a delicious lobster risotto (16 Wood St.; 80-4112-8400; entrées, $7–$19). Rim Naam, at The Oberoi, has great Thai food, including stir-fried squid with cashews and lemongrass (39 MG Rd.; 80-2558-5858; entrées, $10–$18). Sunny’s, a local institution, makes superb salads and thin-crust pizzas (34 Vittal Mallya Rd.; 80-4132-9366; salads and pizzas from $4). Citrus, at the Leela Palace, has the best Sunday brunch in town. Book way in advance (23 Airport Rd.; 80-2521-1234; buffet brunch, $17).
The Daily Bread chain makes excellent bread, muffins, and pastries; the one near Ulsoor Lake is particularly good (Forum Mall, inside the Fabmall outlet).
When you pass through Mysore en route to Kabini or Coorg, have lunch at the opulent Lalitha Mahal Palace hotel, just below Chamundi Hill (821-247-0470; entrées, $5–$11).
Decleor does one of the best facials in town (32 Cuningham Rd.; 80-2235-5881; facials from $25). Rejuve, at the Grand Ashok, has a color therapist who aims to balance your energy using colors, prisms, and gemstones (80-3052-7777; color therapy from $120). Soukya, an hour from Bangalore, has half- and full-day packages that include a hot-stone massage and lunch (Soukya Rd., Whitfield; 80-253-18405; soukya.com; half-day, $40). The Spa at the Leela Palace is a great place to get your eyebrows “threaded” into shape—the preferred method among Indian women (80-2521-1234; eyebrows threaded, $4). Dr. Bhanu Moorthy, of Prithvi Natural Healing & Yoga, will provide private yoga instruction in your hotel room (80-4116-1666; $50 per hour).
Government-owned Cauvery Arts & Crafts is a one-stop shop for souvenirs from sandalwood idols to incense to handicrafts (45 MG Rd.). Nearby, PN Rao Tailors has been in business for generations and can deliver a bespoke suit in 24 to 48 hours (69 MG Rd.). The Vintage Shop has lovely curios and will ship purchases abroad (15 Rustum Bagh Main Rd.). Crossword (Bannerghatta Rd.) and Gangarams (72 MG Rd.) are good bookstores in the center of town.
For an up-to-date listing of events and shops, pick up a free Explocity guide in your hotel (explocity.com). Bangalore & Karnataka (Stark World, $16) and the Food Lover’s Guide to Bangalore (Taste & Travel, $2) are also good and are available at any city bookstore. Weekend Breaks from Bangalore has a list of home stays (Outlook Traveller, $5).