July 17, 2014: Welcome to the New India
Thus far, most of the India I saw in India was very poor. That view changed when I arrived in Bangalore, the center of India’s tech scene.
After arriving at the bus station from Mysore, I had to transfer to a different bus station before catching a rickshaw to my hotel. The rickshaw driver (purposefully I think) dropped me off at what ended up being 1 kilometer away from my hotel. He claimed it was the hotel even though it was clearly an office building. Using the map in my Lonely Planet, I was able to find the way. About midway between the point where I was dropped off and the hotel, I stumbed upon an Arbor Brewing Company and decided to eat dinner there because it was late. The restaurant had a metal detector, the first sign that I was about to enter the “New India”, my term for the globalized rising power.
The restaurant looked exactly like a microbrewery in the US and it turns out it was. The Arbor Brewing Company was founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Some Indian alums from UMichigan liked their beer so much that they decided to open up a second branch in Bangalore. Under the agreement, everything in the restaurant had to be exactly the same and as a result everything was imported from the US including decor, uniforms, food, hops, and brewing equipment. It was therefore an identical restaurant. Well, there were 2 differences. First, the TVs were showing cricket, a sport nobody would dare watch in the US. Second, the Sacred Cow IPA had its name changed to Raging Elephant IPA. The customers, all Indian, were dressed in Western clothing. Even the women were wearing designer jeans, shorts, and rock tshirts, which would be unheard of in Tamil Nadu. A DJ was playing alternative music with Fitz & the Tantrums, Coldplay, and Mumford on the playlist. Addisionally, the menu was entirely in English and had many references to Michigan. For example, the menu claimed that the fish tacos were a big hit in Michigan. What made this so funny is that most of these people probably have no idea what or where Michigan is. None of the bartenders had been to the US or knew that Michigan is a state. That said, the food was absolutely delicious. It felt like I was magically transported to the Midwest for one amazing meal before being chucked back onto the streets of India. Except the India I was now in was far different from anything I had experienced thus far. My meal (2 large beers, 1 dozen Cajun wings, and the fish tacos) cost 1200 rupees incl tax or $20. While this seems like a good bargain, consider that most of my meals in India cost no more than 200 rupees ($3.50) and 500 is really splurging. After dinner, I eventually found the hotel.
July 18, 2014: 100 Foot Road
The next day, I took the newly opened Bangalore metro to the suburb of Indiranagar. There, I found a street called the 100 Foot Road which was lined with western chain stores. I saw CPK, KFC, Staples, Guess, Starbucks, Polo, Nike, Pinkberry (India’s first), Levis, and many more. It really felt like I was in the US. However, I then walked a block off the street to find an internet cafe and ran into a man selling fruits from his oxcard wagon. The New India is very new.
At the end of the street there was a restaurant called Barbeque Nation. It is now a national chain and was probably the best meal I have ever had. The meal started when the waiters brought me a pina colada and placed 10 different types of skewers on a grill in the center of the table. My favorite skewers were the chile pineapple, shrimp masala, and the Goan fish. The skewers and the drinks kept coming until I stopped them by raising a white flag placed on the table. After all this, I then was invited to the all-you-can-eat Indian buffet and naan chef. This was then followed by a dessert buffet. The music was mostly Latin-esque with the Macarena, Danza Kuduro, Waka Waka, and One Day by Matisyahu on the playlist. This lunch cost 740 rupees or $12. Having probably lost a lot of weight on the trip, I certainly gained it all back and then some during that meal. Afterwards, I settled into a food coma and didn’t do anything interesting the rest of the day.
July 18, 2014: The Main Sights
The next day, I wanted to see the city center, so I walked to Cubbon Park about 3 kilometers from my hotel. The park wasn’t well kept but was in comparatively great shape for India. There I saw people exercising (a first in India) and strolling in the park. I also saw a lady feeding the wild dogs. I took a picture and she angrily walked over to me demanding I delete the picture- not a first for India but very rare. I would have deleted it but because she was so incredibly rude (a first in India), here’s the picture (sue me). Bangalore is also the first city where people haven’t tried to get me to buy things such as marijuana, cheap sunglasses, or coloring books. I guess the lesson here is that rich people regardless of culture are generally less friendly to travelers and more interested in their phones.
From there, I walked through the Ho Chi Minh City levels of traffic to the KJ Market- Bangalore’s main market. It is surrounded by busy one-lane streets with people selling electronics and rickshaw parts. I then walked through the metal gates into the market itself: a 3 story crumbling building surrounded by hundreds of vegetable salespeople. The men and women were seated on the floor while hundreds walked by. The people here loved getting their pictures taken because they almost never get to see themselves. The people always thanked me and shook my hand after seeing their picture. Just out of curiosity, I asked the food prices. While it varies by vegetable, 1 kilogram of rice cost 20 rupees or 35 cents. The market was incredibly dirty. Cows wandered through and their excrement was everywhere. Amazing that this can exist in the same city as Pinkberry.
After the market, I wandered the nearby streets and saw a market underneath a highway off-ramp. There I found even more beggars and more of the India I had come to know. These people seemed to be in worse shape than the vegetable salespeople in the market since they couldn’t afford to pay for a space there. I also passed by a street where every store manufactured white gunny bags.
I then (with the help of Lonely Planet) walked over to a famous Tiffin restaurant that sells classic South Indian food. In fact, the menu hasn’t changed in over 100 years. Waiters kept passing by the table and giving me heaps of rice and curries- at least 15 different kinds. No silverware here, so everyone ate with their hands Indian style. At the end, they unexpectedly gave out french vanilla ice cream and a fruit salad. This meal cost 150 rupees or ($2.50) and was packed by Indian families of all social classes.
After lunch, I returned to the hotel, packed my things and headed to the train station for my overnight journey to Hyderabad. India is a land of contrasts and I saw it firsthand in Bangalore. While the city doesn’t have that many major tourist sights, I was able to see the stark difference between the upper and lower classes, the new India vs the old India.