Sunday 25th October I had arranged for the RR international assignees and their spouses to do a tour of Bangalore with BlueFoot. Paul and Amelia, Katherine, Dave (visiting), Rez, Zahra and me made up the happy group with the talented Ayeesha as our tour guide (or cultural ambassador). Ayeesha was a font of knowledge as you will discover.
It was a bit of a shaky start with the driver calling at 6.15am for a 8am pick up, getting lost and finally arriving at 8:30am after numerous calls and messages. We headed off to pick up the group at UB City, a designer shopping and dining mall in Bangalore on Vittal Mallya Road.
United Breweries (UB) was founded in 1857 by a Scotsman called Thomas Leishman manufacturing beer for the British troops and officers. In 1947, The year of India’s Independence from Bristish rule, Vital Mallya (an employee and shareholder) was elected Director aged 22. A year later he was chairman. Today UB is run by his son and is the largest brew house in India.
We headed off in our minibus towards a snake temple. It was closed for the holiday when we arrived but we were able to look around outside.
There used to be more than 900 natural and manmade water reservoirs in Bangalore but in the 1700s these were polluted and dried out in fear of water borne diseases leaving only a few. The Hindus who lived on the banks of the Sampigne Tank and lived in harmony with the snakes there suddenly feared the wrath of the snakes due to the snakes losing their habitat. As a consequence the Hindus built a temple for the snakes to apologise. The temple became renowned for its powers and people travelled to it for a variety of reasons for assistance. The temple then offered food for these visitors.
As the kitchen was closed for the holiday we wandered around the corner to the weavers alley. This is where the Queen of Mysore has all her cloth and silk weaved. The cottages were built on soft ground and are now leaning onto each other. The weaving is done by generations of the same family, and on old machines. This means that the weavers are generally deaf due to the noise of the machines (no health and safety here).
We were all getting hungry for breakfast so we headed off to the Mavalli Tiffin Rooms, a 90 year old cafe.
It seemed so had half of Bangalore! It was incredibly popular and busy. The waiting room (yes a waiting room for a restaurant) was packed with families and couples. The place was a tardis! It looked quite modest from the outside but you walk into a maze of rooms on different floors which seemed to be endless. We waited for about 30 mins to be seated as a group in the family room. Ayeesha ordered for us and we shared a selection of speciality dishes of the house, the Ravi Idli, which were delicious. The second course were delicious Masala Dosas (and a plain one for Zahra) with coconut chutney. Yum. This was followed by tea / coffee in cups that had spills all over them. The coffee was strong and needed some sugar but definitely gave me all the caffeine I needed for the rest of the day!
There was a coffee room to the right of the entrance filled with men in white suits, wearing a lot of gold, drinking coffee and chatting. It turns out these are ‘retired’ farmers and construction bosses who have profited massively from the expansion of Bangalore recently and now wear white to show that they are no longer working in these mucky professions. They also wear gold to demonstrate their wealth. Some of them are aspiring politicians as they have the wealth to be so. It was fascinating.
After breakfast we headed off to KR Market or City Market as it’s also known. It was a bustling, noisy, and colourful place. There are a variety of smells that stimulate the senses; the fragrant jasmin to the incense, the spices and chillies to the fruit and veg. It’s an overwhelming ambundance of sights, smells and noise.
There is an indoor and outdoor market. It seemed to be mostly flowers indoor and fruit and veg outdoor, but that’s a bit of a generalisation. The market building was established by the King of Mysore in 1928 and is strategically placed 1km from the train station so goods can be carried from the station as it is brought in from all over the country to sell to the local retailers and restauranters. As places in the market cannot be reserved, each seller has his own shout or call so that regular customers can find their favourite seller.
The flowers were amazing. The speed at which garlands are made is something to be seen. A generous lady gave Zahra some Jasmin for her hair. It smelled wonderful and looked beautiful too. We bought a garland of flowers for Zahra too. As we walked round we saw groups working together in raised market stalls, all sat around making flower garlands and decorations. There were wedding flowers, festival flowers and funeral flowers. We walked through the stalls, treading over the dead leaves and discarded flowers, taking in the sights and smells of this vibrant flower market.
After the market we headed off to St Mary’s Basilica – the oldest church in Bangalore and in the Archdiocese of Bangalore in the heart of Shivajinagar, opposite the beef market. Beef is legal in Bangalore, unlike some other states in India. As Indians eat fresh meat (refrigeration is a relatively new thing) the meat is sold unrefrigerated. As a consequence the smell emanating across from the beef market was pungent. I was glad of the flower garlands.
St Mary’s Basilica is an impressive church and very well maintained. The entrance was lined with old ladies and the disabled begging. We gave them all some rupees each (there is no welfare system here) and headed in. It was busy but not overcrowded in the church grounds and the church itself had a quite a few people in prayer.
The statue of Mary was in a separate side building and was adorned in a silk Saree. She wears a different silk Saree everyday from the donations she receives. There was a Saree donation box in front of her statue. The sarees are kept as part of her wardrobe and are not given away once she has worn them. There were quite a few worshippers here. At the side alley of the statue of Mary was a depiction of Jesus’s death on the cross in a laid down statue form. There were lots of donations visible behind the glass. Our guide informed us that when Hindus converted to Christianity it was Catholicism they felt most comfortable with as they could associate the transition from worshipping gods to worshipping saints.
From the church we walked through the narrow maze and lanes of Shivajinagar Gujri scrap market, thought to be the oldest scrap market in the country. I think you could buy second hand and scrap parts for a whole vehicles walking from one end to the other of this market. It was amazing – parts for every bit of a vehicle you could think of laid on the floor, doorways and rooves. There are 600 stalls employing 1500 people within the 3sqkm. We hardly scratched the surface of it yet we had to keep our guide within sight as she weaved through the narrow alleys; this truly was a maze. If you ever got a vehicle stolen in Bangalore there’s a likelihood that some of it might end up here!
After the scrap market we headed off to an Arts and Crafts Market run by the Community Service of Bangalore, a non profit organisation. It promotes fellowship and engages women in social issues in Bangalore. It’s primary concern is to raise funds for the care of the needy and under privileged to make a difference in their lives. The craft market itself had an indoor section selling works of art, quilted products, home makes and bakes and a very impressive exhibition by children. Outside were many cloth, silk and linen sellers together with some art as well as carvings and other things for display.
One stall grabbed our attention at it was run by the “women’s empowerment unit” which sold upcycled shopping bags and other things made from recycled juice cartons and cement bags. We bought a shopping bag as the iPad covers had sold out by the time we got there.
The women’s empowerment unit is supported by the Centre for Social Action which is a non profit social arm of Christ University, Bangalore. The unit is based in the 2500 shack settlement (slum) near Kamanahalli and the profits stay within the community. Slum always brings pre conceived ideas – the shack settlements here are usually beside a construction site and the workers house themselves next to the construction as they have come from outside Bangalore to work, usually without ID or tenancy documents which means they can be moved on at anytime but they have nowhere else to go. It’s a good project with good quality products and I think we will be buying more of their stuff.
Then it was time for lunch in the home of a local family. More impressively this family is related to the King of Mysore and they love having guests for lunch to tell about their history. They were very welcoming and the pictures and artwork were indeed very interesting. Lunch was a variety of dishes: rice, chicken curry, aubergines, daal, bread, and another curry. It was all delicious. Dessert was a dish made from pumpkin and milk and I clearly missed out considering the amount of people who had seconds. (A dairy allergy really sucks sometimes).
After lunch we were shown how to decorate a welcome design. Houses ready to receive visitors will have a fresh and neat design outside their houses. An untidy or old design means the house is not ready for guests. The engineers in the group were fascinated by the “delivery” of the chalk by the lady and how accurate and consistent it was. The rest of us were enjoying the art being created for us. Amelia and Zahra joined in the decorating.
After lunch we headed off to Pottery Town where we were able to see a whole pottery family at work in their home and shop. Like the weavers, pottery is a skill passed down the generations and the whole family is involved in the business. The house was amazing. It looked so small from the outside but when you entered it was a maze of rooms and floors filled with different pots and statues, money boxes and oil lamps. There was so much of it – on the stairs too. Every bit of space was being used to make or store pots.
When we arrived the man was making ice cream pots. This is a staple income as they are used only once and thrown away because they become porous after use. So the potter has a steady stream of clients wanting them and therefore has a steady income. We bought a painted money box (50p) and and unpainted money box (so Zahra could paint it herself) (40p) and three tea light holders (10p each).
We then headed off to the Lakshmipuram Hindu Burial Ground also known as the Black Magic Cemetry. Now I don’t mind stating that as a Christian I was somewhat uneasy about this but decided to go along with the guide, also aware that I needed to protect Zahra also. The Lingayat Hindis worship Lord Shiva’s “sacred” reproductive organ. They believe in reincarnation but where the next body isn’t ready so you can’t cremate this one, otherwise the spirit becomes a ghost and possesses and haunts freely. They bury their dead in the lotus position with one palm facing the sky with the head above ground level (for easy exit when the time comes to move on).
It was surreal. There were a lot of people just hanging around the Cemetry – sleeping on gravestones, playing chess, children dancing on graves, cows grazing in the unkempt grass and weeds, dogs sleeping. Locals chop their vegetables on the polished granite grave stones. There is absolutely no sense of sorrow or mourning here.
Next to this was Smashanakali Temple to the goddess of darkness – in the middle of the Cemetry but having no association with it – which was also strange. (I’ll let you look up the legend of Kali yourself as this blogpost is long enough already!) The Temple offers, for a nominal fee, antidotes for curses as well. Whilst we were there Amelia and Paul went through a blessing ceremony involving lemons and eggs. I walked Zahra away, especially as she was trying to bless us too and I was having none of it. Just at that point a family turned up with a chicken to be sacrificed. Despite walking away some distance we could still hear it and Zahra burst into tears, not understanding why someone would want to kill a chicken as part of a sacrifice. We had walked over to a tree that was covered in personal items. It turns out that this was a tree of curses full of belongings of the cursed. It was time to leave and we headed off towards the gate with others following. I won’t be going there again.
Next up was Dhobi Ghat in MV Garden; an open space full of washing lines (ropes) drying clothes in the sun. Started by the British Army hundreds of years ago, today washermans valley offer services to those who wish to outsource their laundry – small establishments and schools rather than large hotels. Washing, bleaching, starching, ironing and darning are all done here. It is a union of washermen or Dhobis each operating as individual entrepreneurs. This is a family business but the current generation have diversified and educated their children to pursue other careers, with the uptake of the washing machine.
As the sun was starting to drop in the sky we arrived at the Gurdwara (Sikh temple). Sikhs make up 1.9% of India’s population and 0.03% of Karnataka’s population (the state in which Bangalore resides). The Sunday Langar has to be sat in two sittings due to the volume of people who arrive for the free meal. It is thousands every week. Everyone is a volunteer in the temple too and you can learn music, dance, combat for free here when it is being taught. The temple also had lodging rooms in the basement for those who find themselves in need.
We ended the day in Watson’s bar with a much enjoyed Kingfisher (Zahra was on the mango smoothies). It was a long enjoyable and exhausting day. Well worth the fee.