I feel like I’d be doing the state of Karnataka a great injustice if I didn’t write about two if it’s more prominent cities: Bangalore and Mysore. After all, I can’t just write about all the good places I’ve been to; it’d put a bit of a taint on my real experiences. I have very conflicting views on these two cities; one I expected to dislike but loved, the other I expected to love but, well, didn’t…
The journey to Bangalore was as arduous as the journey from Goa to Hampi; it was a long, overnight ‘sleeper’ bus that provided me with very little sleep, topped off with a rickshaw driver who, once again, didn’t know where he was and had to keep stopping to ask for directions…at 5:30am. After a 2 mile walk to my hostel (he dropped me off in the wrong place) I was ready to tackle Bangalore, or should I say, I wasn’t ready to tackle Bangalore? My reason for visiting this city was to catch up with an Indian friend I met in Mumbai, and also have a few drinks with an Australian I met in Goa who was flying out from here. Other than that I hadn’t thought of visiting and was going to head straight for Mysore; whenever I mentioned to people I was heading to Bangalore, the typical response was ‘Why?! There’s nothing there’. So, as you can imagine, I was only really looking forward to meeting friends rather than exploring the city itself; after all, a city is a city, right?
Well, I suppose in terms of sightseeing and tourism there really is very little to see. There’s the palace, which is extortionate to enter (I didn’t pay and sneaked around the gardens taking photos, to which guards weren’t very pleased, claiming ‘salary cuts’). There are also some temples outside of town but, having just arrived from Hampi, I needed a break from them. Bangalore is definitely not a sightseeing city. However, it’s not all bad. It is a thriving city: it has an up and coming tech scene full of yuppies trying to make their way in the digital world: it almost feels like a city of youth actually. Unlike a few cities I’ve been to so far (including Mumbai), Bangalore doesn’t seem dated at all: it looks like it has investment and a genuine future ahead of it…seemingly without tourism.
Again, unlike other cities, Bangalore has a modern feel to it: with high end bars and restaurants, shopping malls, a comprehensive metro system and even skyscrapers, it really does feel like the more ‘western’ of India’s cities. The hostel I stayed in was a 10min walk away fro ma place called 100ft road; this road, and it’s surrounding branches, was one of the places to go for a good meal and a few drinks. If you’re after some great local food, head to a place called Kund on this road; the local feel is warming and the food delicious. Now, I’ve found in India so far that there doesn’t seem to be a large nightlife scene (apart from Goa) and genuine bars are few and far between (most places are restaurants that serve alcohol), Bangalore is different.
This city is known for it’s bars and nightlife. Now, there are two types of ‘bar’ in Bangalore; there are the trendy, live music, big screen TV style bars selling real ale for 280r, and there are the local dives that are literally the size of a shed, selling beer out of the fridge for 100r, where you stand in what feels like the loneliest corner in the world, breathing in other people’s smoke, and almost feeling like you’re in the prohibition era.
I sampled a fair few beers in both and, to be honest, I preferred the latter; there’s nothing like talking to a local who’s avoiding his wife and having a quick drink before home (by the way, they drink whiskey out of cartons here).
Bangalore, interestingly, also has something I’ve not really seen in India yet: a commercial street. Aptly named ‘Commercial Street’, this is a strip of elegant shops inviting window shoppers and big spenders, surrounded by the every present local markets and food stalls. Commercial Street is the Saville Row of Bangalore…but with fast food. Yes, sadly, there’s no escaping the glowing neon signs of fast food ‘restaurants’ here, and in some places one on top of another but, in some ways., this shows how ‘advanced’ or modern the city is: what a sad sign of the times…
I think the reason I liked Bangalore so much may be due to me kind of missing the vibrant city life; it’d been the best part of a month since I left Mumbai; Goa is relatively quiet during the day, and the only noises you hear in Hampi are frogs and crickets. In the end, though I loved Bangalore, I couldn’t help but feel the need to push on. I left Bangalore feeling a bit down to be honesty; like Hampi, I could’ve stayed an extra couple of days. Here I found my favourite city in India so far and, though I didn’t have an adventure in Bangalore, I enjoyed myself very much. Now for the contrast…
I arrived in Mysore in good spirits; I was still high off my eye-opening time in Hampi and my surprisingly good stay in Bangalore. However, unlike that city, I’d been told great things about Mysore but, in all honesty, I found it underwhelming. Maybe I was in too good a mood from Bangalore and was expecting too much from Mysore? Maybe my time in Karnataka had peaked? I’m not sure, but I certainly didn’t get anything from this city that’d I’d hoped for; but that doesn’t mean to say I didn’t take anything away from this place…
Of course, Mysore palace really is stunning; especially if you visit on a sunday when they light it up, and the climb up Chamundi Hill to visit the temple and take in the view is equally impressive. If you are heading for the hill, you can either walk up many, many steps, or catch the 201 bus (from near the zoo) for 14r. No matter how you get up, I’d highly suggest walking down the steps then heading back into town; on the way you’ll pass through a little village swarming with monkeys and a few small temples dotted about.
Funnily enough we actually got a bit lost on the way back to town and, after asking police for directions, were throw into the back of their jeep. This was a bit worrying given my bribery incident in Goa but, after a 10min drive they kindly dropped us off outside the palace where we could easily find out way back; relieved is an understatement here.
Ok, so Mysore might no be the most beautiful or interesting of places, but there is definitely something about it that I found interesting. It has an eerie feeling, kind of like a deserted, forgotten town. It prides itself on being the cleanest city in the south yet the roads are dusty, the buildings are half empty, and the restaurants are hidden behind gain BAR signs. It feels like a mixture of the old wild west and some sort of post-apocalyptic future; it’s almost like the old is taking over the new, and it actually feels like it’s given up on itself. There really couldn’t be more of a contrast between here and Bangalore.
The one thing that really hit home with this thought was the sign of the Dasara Exhibition. This dusty, broken sign represented an exhibition centre that looked like it hadn’t been open for decades (though I believe it does get quite busy during it’s 3 month a year run). I think this signs represents what Mysore really is,: a city that pulses with life one month, then collapses back into dilapidation the next; surviving only month to month (I happened to arrive here at a bad time though). Those I spoke to in my hostel agreed that Mysore is the sort of place you land in to have a few days of downtime, and is really only a passage between North Karnataka and Kera/Tamil Nadu. In reality, for every 3 or 4 days constantly wandering around villages, forests and temples, you need a day or so to just relax and do nothing. After all, you can’t go out and explore the world every day…
I’m by no means implying that you should avoid Mysore, it is definitely a place you need to visit, even just to get a feel for one of India’s quieter cities, but I would say that 2 days is more than enough to see what you want before moving on. As I said earlier: I arrived at the wrong time, but I can only write about what I see and experience.
I think what I’ve really taken from these two cities is to not expect anything, ever, and that travelling isn’t always exciting and fill of amazing places. It’s surprising how an expectation of a place and the reality can be very different, and I’ve not felt that more than in Bangalore and Mysore. Travelling isn’t all about palm trees, beaches, and elephants; sometime you need to visit the more sedated places to actually get a real insight into a country, especially one as diverse as India.
Has anyone else found that the reality of a place didn’t match the expectations?