Adventures in Bangalore!
This weekend I made my way out of Shanti Bhavan to Bangalore with a few of the volunteers. I had a blast seeing the sights of the city, riding in the rickshaws, and experiencing life as a tourist in a place that, frankly, was not used to seeing an Asian man walking around.
On Saturday, we left SB at 9:00 AM to head for Bangalore. I particularly enjoyed the drive because I got to see what all the villages looked like during the daytime. What seemed like ghost towns when I first came in (at 2:00 AM) became bustling villages, filled with cows roaming the streets, women carrying baskets, rickshaw drivers waiting for customers, and children playing together in dirt patches. I found the life of these villagers so different from the children at Shanti Bhavan. It made me that much happier to know that these children have been moved from this lifestyle into one where they never have to worry about their next meal, a hot shower, or their safety.
After about an hour and a half we arrived at the outskirts of Bangalore. Immediately, the sheer density of the population began to show itself through the heavy traffic we encountered. Slightly confused as to why there was traffic on a Saturday, we found out that there was a protest going on at the police station. Apparently, last week, a man had raped a six-year-old girl at a local school in Bangalore. However, the man has not been reprimanded, and the people demanded justice. For about 10 kilometers, we slowly rolled past thousands of people (college students, adults, children, elderly) walking alongside the street towards the police station. Many of the carried signs stating their demands: “No more rape,” “Save the children,” and even ones as severe as “Hang the culprits,” or “Bring back public executions!” Unfortunately, I failed to catch a photo of the sign that struck me the most:
The sign truly captured the injustice of the situation, focusing on the stark difference between the traumatizing experience for the little girl and the ability of the man to walk freely.
It was pretty incredible to see so many people out on the street supporting the cause (even if they were calling for some pretty violent action). Because the news and media thrive on stories of conflict, it can be easy to forget the moments of beauty that exist in this world. Despite the darkness and the primeval actions that still pollute India, we witnessed far more compassion in the people of India embodied by the throngs of protesters demanding justice and safety for the new generation.
After we passed the swarms of protesters, we quickly made our way to the Sri Lakshmi Comforts. For less than $20, I secured a single, while the two other volunteers, Brooke and Sophy, shared a room. Although the room was small, it was clean, comfortable, and had a television with many channels to watch movies, so I had nothing to complain about. We dropped our stuff off and promptly made our way to Brigade Road where we bee-lined for Nando’s, a Portuguese-style chain restaurant that serves mainly grilled marinated chicken dishes. Although rather costly for a meal in India, the food was a welcome change for our taste buds from the Indian spices, curries, and chutneys.
To finish off our meal, we crossed the street to get some coffee at Starbucks (probably the most touristy thing we could have done). Inside, it felt like we were in America all of a sudden: the clean-cut modern décor, the social atmosphere, the shelves full of merchandise. Behind the counter, there were 15+ baristas shuffling around. Honestly, I had no idea why there were so many workers, but it was a fascinating sight. Also, note to self: go to Starbucks if you want to find out where the other tourists are. Literally, the only customers were Asian, western European, or American. Feeling far too touristy, we left Starbucks, checked out some handmade crafts and toys, dodged/avoided a bunch of street vendors, and made our way back to the Sri Lakshmi.
We dropped off our things, freshened up a bit, and planned out the rest of the day. Here is where I got to experience my first auto rickshaw ride in the heavy traffic of Bangalore. I quickly learn that every auto driver wants to pick up the foreigners because they think they can trick you into paying far more money than you should. The first lesson: after stating where you would like to go, demand that the driver runs the meter. In India, the autos start at 25 rupees and move about 5-10 rupees for every kilometer you travel. The rate moves rather slowly so you can go pretty far for less than 100 rupees (which is about $1.66). Also, the rickshaw rates only calculate distance, not time. So one of our rides that lasted an hour (due to rush hour) ended up costing the same as our twenty-minute ride.
Sophy, Brooke, and I hopped on a rickshaw and made our way to Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens. For ten rupees, we entered the park to see trees and plants from all over the world. The whole park was covered with greenery. I imagine that in the spring and summer, bursts of colors from the blooming flowers would decorate the green patches. We roamed the park, which was rather large, and people-watched whenever we stopped to rest. As the sun set and it got dark, we made our way out of the park to find another auto driver to take us to our next stop.
At first, we wanted to go to a mall to kill some time before dinner, but we didn’t really have an address or name of a mall. The auto driver, more eager to get a customer, dropped us off at some random store a block away from the botanical gardens. We were kind of annoyed and regrouped to think of another plan. We realized that because of traffic, it would take an hour to get to the restaurant we had planned on eating at for dinner. So we called another rickshaw driver, demanded the meter, and slowly made our way to Sree Sagar (formerly known as CTR).
This is when I got to truly experience driving in India. Cars packed the streets as thousands of people tried to make their way through the city. Even though lanes were drawn on the main road, it was more of a free-for-all: if you see enough space, squeeze your vehicle in. Need to make your way to the other side? No problem, just weave in an out, honk the horn, and aggressively cut people off. We were so close to other cars that I didn’t even need to fully reach out of the door to touch the vehicle next to us. Luckily, drivers in India have some of the best reflexes I’ve ever seen, and I have yet to witness a single accident despite the lack of rules and regulations. We crossed town to Malleshwaram and found the restaurant after asking some locals.
We enter the restaurant, and it is filled with people (no tourists, I might add… only locals, so we knew it was going to be good). We’re shown upstairs and promptly seated, as others stare and wonder how three Americans had found this restaurant. I asked for a menu, but the waiter replied, “No menu! We serve three dish: bajji, dosa, and tea.” Slightly confused, I noticed other people had ordered the bajji and it looked delicious. Bajji is essentially fried balls of dough. The consistency is slightly reminiscent of a mix between hush puppies and bread. With it, they provided a chutney that was quite delicious. Then we ordered the masala dosa, which was what we travelled all the way out there for. Dosa’s are essentially savory pancakes made out of rice batter. Then they cook them in ghee (clarified butter) until it’s nice and crispy on the outside. Masala refers to the potato, onion, spice mixture that is put in the dosa. The dosa was fluffy on the inside but crunchy on the outside. The masala was not too spicy but with plenty of flavor. The dish was also accompanied by a mint chutney to cut the spice a little bit. Sophy and I opted for a second dosa because why not… and we finished off the meal with some chai tea. For 5 dosas, one bajji, two bottles of water, and three cups of tea, the meal came out to be about 300 rupees (less than $5).
Full to our stomach, we left Shree Sagar to explore Malleshwaram. Across the street, we saw three young children sitting in an abandoned house. I was instantly reminded of the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty in such close proximity. On one side of the street, fancy jewelry stores catered to wealthy shoppers, as children and beggars sit idly hoping for some small amount of help. Despite their condition, the three children smiled brightly and played with one another. I hope they will eventually find their way out of poverty much like the children at Shanti Bhavan.
As we walked, we stopped at Sri Krishna Sweets to buy some Indian desserts. The store owners were kind enough to let us try all the unfamiliar looking sweets. I opted for mysore pak, which is made of ghee, sugar, and and gram flour. I also bought another sweet, but I forgot the name of it. In a square shape, it consists of many thin layers stacked on top of each other, and when you bite into it, it is chewy and flakey at the same time.
We spent the next hour perusing the small shops and street vendors. Saris, fruit, bindis, flowers, and trinkets filled the sidewalks, each store owner vying for your attention. I was particularly intrigued by the way they serve mangos. They slice them up and sprinkle chili powder, making the vibrant red and yellow fruit look like a tropical bird. If I was not so distrustful of the street food, I would have definitely bought some mango to eat considering how delicious they are in India. Another stand caught my eye because of the huge mounds of powder. At first I thought they were spices, but upon further examination, they were actually dye powder. The bright colors can be mixed with water to make paint. I particularly loved this part of the trip because we were able to experience a shopping district that the locals browsed. It was a nice break from the touristy area of MG Road and Brigade Road.
Later into the night, we make our way back to Sri Lakshmi via auto rickshaw. We drop off our sweets and desserts and head back out to the Church Street Social House, essentially a club. EDM booms through the speakers as we make our way to the bar. In India, Kingfisher is the locally brewed beer and insanely cheap (the PBR of India… tasting just as bad). However, any imported beer was three times the price. So instead of beer, I opted for a Mangorita (tequila, mango juice, and mint). Basically tasted like any college mixed drink… but oh well. From what we deduced, the club was relatively “scandalous” in traditionally conservative India standards, but still relatively tame from an American perspective. We had enough of the “club” scene, went back to Sri Lakshmi, and went to bed.
The next morning, we asked the front desk for recommendations for breakfast. He directed us to MTR which was also famous for its dosas. There, however, we tried four different dosas: masala dosa, rava dosa (more crepe-like and crispy), set dosa (tasted a little bit like sourdough), and onion dosa. I think the four of us had enough dosa to sustain us for a few weeks. All those carbs really add up, but each one was delicious and totally worth it. Again, our meal came out to be about 350 rupees… what a steal for a restaurant that was considered “more costly.”
Filled up on way too much dosa, we made our way to Blossom Book Store. The three story shop had thousands and thousands of books. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really any organization system besides general genres, so finding books was a little bit like finding a needle in a haystack. However, I was able to find several of my favorite books that I wanted to donate to the students because they had never heard of them before:
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Night by Elie Wiesel
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I also bought On the Road by Jack Kerouac for myself, since I figured i really should be doing more reading…
And there ended our successful trip to Bangalore. At moments, I felt odd being a tourist on vacation because I had become so accustomed to the life at Shanti Bhavan already. The more of India I see, the happier I am for these children, who will undoubtedly become extremely successful, to have a place like SB to help them flourish. Not only will they make far more money, but they will also become great citizens that will surely make Bangalore an even more beautiful city than it already is.