What a strange, delightful feeling it is returning somewhere that’s so familiar, but so different at the same time. Hell, even the name of the darn city’s changed; “Bengaluru” just doesn’t sound right. Yet.
Clearing customs and what not at the airport was surprisingly quick, calm and organised. Step out the door of the airport though, and the chaos and cacophony of Bangalore greets you warmly!
The drive to Malleshwaram [where I stayed this first night] didn’t take too long considering the sea of cars that have engulfed Bangalore’s roads. There’s a chorus of a million beeping horns, and it’s almost part of the driving routine here. Check your mirror, check your surroundings, constantly listen and beep away, almost saying, “hey, I’m here!”. Brake lights and the physical presence of a car don’t seem to cut it with the mix of pedestrians, cyclists, motorbikes, animals, cars and trucks. Lane markings exist, but aren’t abided by, and people have developed a keen spatial sense based on hearing.
Intersections without traffic lights, of which there are a great many, are another fun part of driving in Bangalore. It becomes a test of reading the other drivers and oncoming traffic, and a game of chicken. Everyone edges slowly towards the middle of the intersection from all 4 sides, and eventually, a few vehicles just speed up, either because they’re in a bigger vehicle, or they’re more daring. It’s nerve-racking to say the least, and you have to trust the driver, but God knows how someone passes a driving test here! How there aren’t accidents at every street corner is a miracle.
“Fly overs” are all over the place, and for every new one you see, there are three more in development, in an attempt to alleviate the traffic woes. The Bangalore Metro is also slowly getting off the ground, with a small section up and running now. The success of this rail system within the city is the only hope of traffic not getting progressively worse.
Basically everyone has a mobile phone. To hundreds of millions of people here, it’s their first computer. It’s a computer that they can afford, and it is more than capable for what they need of it. Walk into a mall and you’ll see 10-12 mobile phone shops, half of which are exclusively selling Samsung products. Walk along a commercial street and you’ll see one every 150-200m. It’s mind boggling. And the main selling points? Facebook and group messaging.
I’d read about mobile banking being big here, but its innovative uses, especially SMS-based, are fantastic. One particular scenario that astounded me:
A person pays someone X Rs by only inputting their mobile phone number. Said person receives a code via SMS, walks up to an ATM, enters the code, and they get their money. No need for a card or anything!
The influx of wealth through IT has seen a westernisation of Bangalore that is mind boggling. My once quiet suburb of JP Nagar is overflowing with shops and gigantic malls, but poverty is still rife, and so harshly juxtaposed with the wealth. You’ll be walking along a dirt-clogged road with stray dogs, a goat and a cow or two, with people living in temporary “houses” the size of a large kennel that look like they’re ready to blow over at any second.
Walk a few metres further, and you’ll step inside a wonderland that is comparable to any mall in Sydney or Melbourne, filled with people that are spending big. Staff waiting on you hand and foot, and you have access to anything you’d want. I went to a bar called Skye Bar and my mind was blown. It was thriving on a Thursday night and looked like the damn Ivy! The exception being that I could tell a bartender to pour three shots of rum into an Old Fashioned I specified the making of to the nth degree.
Cars, shops, bars and malls pouring out onto the streets, with absolutely no consideration for parking! This kind of madness isn’t sustainable or scalable, but so many people here are living day to day. They don’t care what happens to this city in 5 years of 50; all they want is to be able to afford their next meal and feed their family.
Some things haven’t changed a bit though. The food is still as amazingly cheap and delicious as I remember it, and I gorged on it like there was no tomorrow. For 10 days in a row. Meat dishes are the exception on any menu, if they exist at all, and being spoilt for choice was a most welcome change. I was tempted to order a mushroom risotto from the one Italian restaurant I went to, but decided against it.
All in all, a short, sweet, eye-opening, fattening trip!