Bangalore, India, part 2

After the Cave temple, we went to the Ganesh temple, known for a Ganesh statue made of 90 kilos of butter and for the Bull temple next door. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but other people were taking selfies next to the ‘no cameras ‘ sign, plus I had to document the scene, so:

Ok that’s what I get for taking a selfie at a holy site. Here’s a slightly better photo of the butter elephant god with his shirtless caretakers:

The statue reminds me in a big way of the Ohio State Fair Butter Cow, the pride of Ohioans everywhere and which I know about because I lived in Ohio for many years. Only of course, this is India, and this is Ganesh and the American Dairy Association is nowhere in sight! There were people lined up at the railing getting blessed. It was also a bit of a tourist scene with vendors lining the sidewalks outside. Here is the outside of the temple:I followed a fellow bus tourist to a set of steps next door, which we ascended to find the Bull Temple. And there it was, a 14-foot tall sculpture of Nandi, the bull vehicle of Krishna. 

Here is the outside of the Bull temple:

Our next stop was a diner for lunch near Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, which goes back to 1700’s royal gardens and is now run by the government horticulture department. After lunch, we walked through the park and saw some of its sights: a bonsai garden, large lake, many trees, flowers, and this rock area said to be 300 million years old. I liked the small temple and the view of the city from there.

large tree, topiary trees, bonsai tree:

Many flowers!

It is 240 acres and I could have spent more time here. But it was hot, and the air-conditioned bus awaited at the other end of the park. We walked through and got on the bus. We next went to see two government buildings that face each other. We couldn’t enter the buildings but we admired them from the road. The red one is Attara Kacheri and houses the high court of Karnataka. By the way, we were in Bangalore in Karnataka state now, not Tamil Nadu, the state of Chennai. The white building is Vidhana Soudha and houses the Karnataka legislature. It had a carving that tells us ‘government work is God’s work’ and a golden central dome supported by four lions back to back. Wow!

I’d love to see inside, but it is restricted. The day was getting on and we were headed to the government museum. As we rode on the bus, I spoke with the other passengers and we saw Bangalore life out the window:

We made a brief stop at a silk store, which sold garments of famous Karnataka silk. Several fellow passengers mumbled complaints about high prices and I don’t think any of us bought anything. We were ready for the museum. The building was as lovely as the photos I had seen- red with red columns and white accents. There were prehistoric articles in simple displays inside and many sculptures inside and outside.

Next door is the Venkatappa Art Gallery, named for a noted court painter from the early 1900’s. The friezes and paintings by the eponymous artist were beautiful, and as a court artist born in 1886 to a family of court painters, he surely led an interesting life. 

On the upper floors were displays of wood carvings by a man named C. P. Rajaram and paintings by an artist named Hebber. 

I wasn’t allowed to take photos of Hebber’s works, but here is a screen grab from some search images for his name.

He lived until the mid-1990’s after a life of international study and accomplishments. His work was colorful and bold and focused on his home country. 

Leaving the museum, I was struck by the contrast of the historic museum building and the modern construction nearby.

That was the end of the bus tour. I found my way home from the museum area, since the bus driver told me it was closer to my hotel than the bus station where we had started and where the bus was headed. I was tired and happy to meet MB for dinner. That was day one in Bangalore!

Bangalore, India, March 2017

Our taxi driver took us from Bannerghatta to the Shiva temple, then to our hotel in the Kormangala section of Bangalore. Here MB had to work for a few days because it was exam time for the students learning to be Montessori teachers. 

I was told repeatedly that Bangalore is not a tourist place, but rather it is a corporate city with many IT companies. Looking online, the things to do here are heavy on team building i.e. Escape Rooms, ropes courses and the like. There are also, of course, several spots of interest to the traveler such as myself. The state sponsored KTSDC tour boasted that all the Bangalore hot spots could be visited in a day in their air-conditioned bus for about $6 USD. The pickup point was an hour from our hotel, per the internet. I would find me a tuktuk and get myself to the Kempegowda bus station and join the tourist brigade. What could go wrong?

Hindu statues outside the cave temple 

There are many bad reviews online about this company, but damn the torpedoes, I thought, how bad can it be? For one thing, I just can’t go wrong with the story. I either have fantastic material for an entertaining cautionary tale, or I have a great time and enjoy it again while writing. For another thing, MB was teaching for 3 days in Bangalore and I was being a solo tourist by day and hanging out with her in the evening. 


Bull temple in Bangalore 

I am pleased to report, dear reader, that it was awesome!! I saw the best of Bangalore, and I met people and had such a great day. I was the only foreigner on the bus, rather make that the only European descended foreigner because we were all visitors to Bangalore. I met two families with children and an older couple. I saw at least seven places during the eight-hour day, much more than I would likely have managed on my own. I felt I had enough time at each place. The guide made announcements in English for me. We stopped at an affordable diner type of restaurant for lunch and my fellow travelers helped me get back to the bus each time we stopped. 

Lunch above, free food from the Krishnas (Dahl in a leaf bowl with yellow jalebi I bought) below

Back to Kormangala. It’s a rather affluent neighborhood with the Montessori school, many restaurants and large mansions. There were street cleaners whisking litter into piles with a branch broom in each hand.

It was cleaner than Chennai and, as everyone liked to point out, cooler with less humidity. I would miss MB as she worked but I was quite happy traveling on my own. 

First stop the ISKCON temple above, bus with our guide (standing) below.

My first day in Bangalore I joined KSTDC on their day-long tour of Bangalore sites. This excursion looked promising; I would be taken around the city in an air conditioned bus to major sites on a full day tour over about eight hours. Online reviews were grim, but it sounded great to me, and how bad could it be? The price was low and I had a couple of days afterwards to see the sights on my own if I didn’t like it. I made plans to get up early and go. 

Japanese garden with sculpture and bonsai trees

I found a tuktuk and went to the Kempegowda bus station. This took close to an hour from Kormangala. I loved seeing the city from the back of the tuktuk as people went through their morning routines: kids going to school, street sweepers with their two brooms each, prayers and offerings at roadside shrines, the jumble and color of people and traffic. 

The bus station was enormous. The driver seemed to know where I was going, though, since I had told him KSTDC. I got out and wandered, eschewing the advice given to me by a local guy to go ‘that way’. Turned out he was right as he directed me to an air conditioned waiting room for the bus tour. I paid and waited and watched a nature program that was on TV and happened to be in English. 

So what do you do on a whistle stop tour of Bangalore? The modern ISCKON temple was first. ISKCON, built in 1997, is the International Society Krishna Consciousness. We left our shoes on the bus as advised and followed a circuitous route past different information posters, donation areas, and places to leave shoes. It felt like a line for a roller coaster. Then we ascended the stairs into the temple. It was very large and had beautiful wooden doors and a very high ceiling. There were robed men near an altar at the front of the temple, and people lined up for blessings. A carpeted central space had many people sitting, praying, and enjoying the place. They gave us rice and dahl. No photos were allowed in the massive, modern temple, but here are a few of the door and outside. 

Next we went to Sultan palace. The foreigners price was over 12x the locals price, which we all agreed was exhorbitant since there wasn’t much to see and we would only be there a few minutes. Here is the view from behind the gate:The guide apologized and showed me the historic Vishnu temple next door. I wandered around. A monk gave me flowers. There were people lined up at a rail for blessings and a Chinatown style Hindi gate inside. I have seen these gates in Bangalore streets as well.  I bought a coconut to drink. I did this as often as I could on this trip because they are so good. The vendors will slice them for you after you drink the water so that you can eat the tender juicy coconut meat inside. They thoughtfully cut you a spoon from the coconut shell as well!

Next was the Cave temple. Sra Gavigangadharashwariswaml Temple, to be precise. It is an underground, rock cut temple going back to the 9th century. After descending the steps into the damp dimly lit cave, I joined the other able-bodied in walking the full circular path to the left in a statue laden tunnel behind the altar. It came out on the right side of the altar. It was damp and musty for sure but what an extraordinary place! Over a thousand years old and full of magic. I had to bend over to fit in places, passing statues with red powder on their faces from all the faithful experiencing this place. 

This post is getting too long, I’ll continue next post! 

Shiva temple, Bangalore, India, March 2017

We left Bannerghatta in a taxi and headed for Bangalore, but first we had to see the sixty-foot Shiva. We went to the RVM Foundation Shiva temple on Airport Road. Shiva is the creator and destroyer in Hinduism, also described as creating, transforming, and protecting the universe. The large temple was a place of worship and had definite funhouse vibe as well. We walked through the tunnel in the fabricated “mountain” below: 

Below is the outside of the tunnel. The rounded black object near the center is a lingam, a representation of Shiva that is found in natural and man made sculptures. 

There was music and chanting piped into the tunnel, which had dioramas of different Hindu sacred sites and was lit with black lights in some places. Many scenes depict the location of lingams throughout India. We bought a plate with items (below) which were thrown into a fire by a Hindu priest who blessed us with each item one by one.

There was a thirty-foot Ganesh there as well. 

A different Hindu priest tied red bracelets around our wrists as we walked through the temple grounds. Another area had 108 bowls into which people dropped coins, one coin into each metal bowl. It was an interesting place, a little commercial and fabricated perhaps, but full of colors and music and incense in the air. 

Bannerghatta National Park, India, March 2017

MB had work obligations in Bangalore and I was thrilled to tag along. She also scored some time off so that we could relax a few days in the area. She set us up on a trip to Bannerghatta Biological Park, about 20 kms outside of Bangalore. We planned to see the animals there and certainly didn’t expect that we would encounter Holi!

Getting there and Holi First, we awoke early and took a taxi to the Chennai airport. We took a short domestic flight to Bangalore on India air (which was kind of a time trip with the 1960’s style uniformed stewardesses) then negotiated with a taxi driver to get us to our hotel inside the park. This ride was about an hour long. Arriving at the hotel, we were in an area with several hotels and a large temple. It was not a pristine natural area, but it is popular with domestic travelers. We saw no westerners there at all, and the prices were quite low. We settled into our room and relaxed. At one point I looked out the window and saw a party gathering on the lawn below. There were several women in fancy saris, drummers in sparkly clothes, a catering area, some kids running around, and- could it be? A wooden cart with small colorful mounds of Holi powder! We both looked out the window and saw the kids with squirt guns shooting colors at each other. But it only appeared to be three or four young kids, maybe 10 years old or younger. Meanwhile, our observation of the scene did not go unnoticed. The sari clad women could see us and beckoned us to join the party. We waved and made ready to go down and check out the goings on.

There was a small stage with a bunch of men singing and dancing in a circle. These men started to play Holi and the women were mostly just watching. MB and I were trying to stay clean at this point and only got a few smudges on our faces. But then we saw the spray tent, the wave pool, and more grown ups, specifically women, throwing Holi powder and cups full of colored water at each other. And people were turning colors as they threw and were thrown pink and green and blue water all over. We briefly consulted and realized we had some clothes we could ruin and we ran back to our room to change. I couldn’t take photos for the colorful Holi splashing that ensued but we had a great time! We took photos after.

What a great party! We chased people with powder and water, and we were chased in return. We jumped into the pool and danced on the lawn. We joined the revelers in the spray tent and drank the sweet milky drink we were offered. My suspicions were confirmed that this was ‘bang’- a marijuana laced beverage sometimes drunk during Holi. I might have worried if we had been in Pushkar like last year, cavorting like this with strangers, but here we were at a family party at our hotel and it all felt very playful and fun. A lot of people spoke English, so after the splashing madness calmed down, we learned that this was a child’s birthday celebration. MB was elated because she thought she wouldn’t be able to experience Holi, it being more of a north India holiday, but we really lucked out and had an amazing time. 

The Park But the reason we had come here was Bannerghatta. We bought tickets the next day for the park. The ticket includes a bus safari through the park as well as admission to the butterfly museum and a zoo on the grounds. We started with the safari. 

We sat right next to the driver as we went through the herbivore area and then the carnivor area, separated by sturdy gates and what is known as an Elephant Proof Trench. The elephants and barking deer and other herbivores seemed to have plenty of room to roam and I enjoyed watching them. We didn’t stay long, though, and it was off to the lions and tigers. These were in smaller enclosures, more like a zoo. 

It was a very different kind of safari compared to our more natural and tiger-free Sawai Madhopur safari last year. It is not a true wildlife safari in a reserve where animals fend for themselves. It is more like a large zoo, especially the carnivore area. The elephants did seem to roam more freely and I would like to have watched them for much longer. Oh, we also saw these adorable sloth bears!

We decided to skip the zoo, but we did want to see the butterflies. It turned out to be a hatchery as well as a butterfly garden and museum. An eager guide showed us around and even let us release new hatchlings! 

This metallic gold pupa really surprised us:

Funny enough, the best thing about Bannerghatta wildlife did not involve the species advertised at all. We really enjoyed watching the local monkeys just being themselves. There were two mana monkeys with toddler aged youngsters who were very entertaining. The mamas would hold the babies’ tails like leashes to keep them close as they ventured into the world.

The temple next door The temple next to our hotel looked interesting and we visited it one day. There was a building in front of the temple for the sacred cows.

You can see Holi powder on the ground in that last picture! Some young men showed us around the barn and the temple. I thought they might be angling for a payment, but my cynicism was unfounded. They not only accompanied us to the temple but they gave us flowers and also a ride on their motorbike! 

Above is the altar area of the temple. We went to the front alter and kneeled there, a monk gave us a swipe of red on our foreheads then a spoonful of water in our hands which we were to put on our faces, then brushed us each on the head with a kind of feather duster then gave us each a little orange ball of some kind of grain he pinched from a large bowl of the grain. Then we walked around the alter three times.  I’m not sure what we were supposed to do with the ball of grain; I discreetly abandoned mine in a temple shrub. It was nice to join the other temple visitors and get a blessing there. Near the ceiling of the temple were paintings depicting events in the life of Krishna, like a Catholic Church would have stations of the cross. Out front were colorful flags along the stairs. 

That was our time in Bannerghatta. From there, we took a taxi to the Kormangala section of Bangalore. Stay tuned! 

from A Passage to India By Walt Whitman

I have more to say on India but for now, here are some of my photos with someone else’s far more eloquent words on the subject.


Passage O soul to India!

Eclaircise the myths Asiatic, the primitive fables.
Not you alone, proud truths of the world,            

Nor you alone, ye facts of modern science,            

But myths and fables of eld, Asia’s, Africa’s fables,   

The far-darting beams of the spirit, the unloos’d dreams,            

The deep diving bibles and legends,         

The daring plots of the poets, the elder religions;            

O you temples fairer than lilies, pour’d over by the rising sun!            


O you fables, spurning the known, eluding the hold of the known, mounting to heaven!            

You lofty and dazzling towers, pinnacled, red as roses, burnish’d with gold!            

Towers of fables immortal, fashion’d from mortal dreams!            

You too I welcome, and fully, the same as the rest!      

You too with joy I sing.            
Passage to India!

Lo, soul! seest thou not God’s purpose from the first?            

The earth to be spann’d, connected by network,                  

The races, neighbors, to marry and be given in marriage,            

The oceans to be cross’d, the distant brought near,

The lands to be welded together.            

South India differences 

Rice flour decoration in Chennai 

My family spent almost three months in India last year as we traveled around the world. Most of that time was in the state of Rajasthan, though we also saw the far northeast as we entered from Myanmar, and Darjeeling, and we briefly visited Delhi, Agra, and Varanasi. The whole time, I never felt we were seeing all of India- not even close. Our friends had told us about the south, and it sounded wonderful but we knew we would not be able to visit there this time. When this opportunity presented itself I was excited and curious about another region of this dense and multifaceted country. What would be the same? What would be different?

Flowers in their hair Garlands of fresh flowers are everywhere I went in north and south India. Streetside vendors use string to make these, which are used in decorations for shrines and car rear view mirrors. In south India, I saw them in women’s hair as well. They are so pretty and the popular chains of white jasmine blossoms smell wonderful. These women were at the beach in Chennai:

Rice flour designs The rice patterns on people’s doorsteps are another thing I don’t remember seeing in the north. MB says that is a spiritual practice considered to honor the deities, in part by feeding the ants. People wash the area at the doorstep then drizzle the powder made from rice in beautiful patterns. The one below is from a neighbor inside MB’s apartment building.

These, which I think are painted, are from the street in Bangalore:

Toilets and what is clean There are “wet” and “dry” toilets in many public restrooms. MB explained that some people consider moisture to be connected to cleanliness and therefore prefer a wet toilet seat. Of course to westerners like me, a wet toilet seat is avoided because it is assumed to be dirty. MB said that this wet=clean idea extends to dishes and that people will actually sprinkle water on a clean, dry dish before using it for serving food. We who wish to avoid ingesting unpurified tap water would rather use a dry dish. It was a new idea for me. I considered that the desert environment of Rajasthan, where I saw women washing dishes with sand, would not support this standard of wetness signaling cleanliness. 

Have you eaten breakfast/lunch? We heard this often. It means “how are you?”. I’m glad MB explained this one because it seemed strange that people kept asking us that. Another curious question: What is your good name? And another: to what country do you belong? Believe me, I wonder about that last one myself sometimes! We heard these a lot, and if the person spoke English especially well, they often would ask about our salaries. There is no taboo about discussing money in India like there is in the US. 

Menswear I was surprised that south India men wore sarong style garments. We had seen the blousy shorts called dhoti in north India, but almost exclusively white and paired with a loose white shirt and white turban, and always on older men. Here in south India, there were many fabrics, knee length and puffy or ankle length and smooth. MB and I caught glimpses of the shorts they seem to wear underneath. 

They don’t play Holi. We did happen on a Holi themed birthday party, more on that later, but that was the exception. I was surprised since Pushkar basically shut down for a day so people could play Holi in the streets, and we saw the Holi powder for sale in Jaipur weeks before the big day. Everywhere we went last year in north India, people were talking about Holi and asking us to play. Not so in the south, though of course they do have many festivals of their own. MB described how most of her first few months in Chennai seemed to be one long festival with parades and temple music late into the nights. 

Where’s the chai? I missed the Jaipur chai seller; there didn’t seem to be one in the Velachery neighborhood of Chennai. In fact, people drink coffee! As for food, I had plenty of northern India food, and international things like Thai and Italian at great restaurants but not so much street food, and I’m sad to say I didn’t have any dosas, the South Indian specialty I enjoyed in the north. But the food was great, and inexpensive, and we had amazing meals.

Chennai, India, March 2017

After recovering from the 21 hours of travel and the 10.5 hour time difference, it was wonderful to spend the next day or two wandering in Chennai with MB. The main things we saw were tourist sites I had seen on the internet when looking into the city from the US. We also rode in tuktuks, to my delight, ate amazing food and enjoyed the familiarity of a 30+ year friendship in a place of overwhelming beauty. Over and over I realized how lucky I was to have this time and this trip. 

Kapaleeswarar 

This temple is a popular Chennai attraction and also an active place of worship. The temple buildings are roofed in the historic pyramid shape with a flattened top and adorned on each level with many colorful figures from Hindu mythology. I learned a tiny amount about the Dravidian people associated with this type of architecture, and indeed the history of south India, and it is a mesmerizing subject. Besides forming a unique language group that persists to this day, their architectural and math/astronomy accomplishments are marvelous.

Photo above is looking through a decorative peephole in a cement wall that otherwise sequestered a shrine 

As for us, we sat on the ground with the worshippers, got blessed by a monk, and were approached by people who wanted to give us flowers and a type of cookie I remember eating in Jaipur last year. I don’t remember spending quiet time at a temple like this last year; usually we were fielding requests from the kids for something or other. It was so pleasant to just watch people, all of us barefoot and in awe of the fantastic structures around us. 

Government Museum 

This is a complex of buildings with displays of different kinds, including archaeology, biology, geology, and sculpture. We spent time in these exhibit areas and walked around a little outside, but it was hot! Inside and out! We saw far from everything.

The kids below wanted a photo with us, but a guard told us we couldn’t take photos here. No one seemed to object to people, like the little guy at left, sitting on the artifacts, however!