Bangalore may be known more as an IT mecca than for tourism, but this “Garden City of India” is a great place to experience India. With a population of 8.4 million, it is the country’s third largest city and the capital of Karnataka. Its official name was changed to Bengaluru in 2006, but its new name is not commonly used.
When I first traveled to Bangalore over the 2007 New Year, I saw no more than three other blondes during our five-day visit. That trip was the first time that I had ever been a minority. I definitely attracted attention and a fair number of double-takes, but no one ever approached me on the street. Minorities in the US have historically been treated with suspicion or viewed negatively, but that was definitely not my experience in India. Indians seemed to be merely intrigued or interested in my uniqueness but not viewed in a negative light. I was clearly identified as a tourist and constantly encouraged to enter stores.
We visited again in 2016 with our three kids, who were aged 8, 5 and 1 at the time. We saw far more tourists in Bangalore during this visit and thoroughly our visit. Here are our favorite five family activities:
#1: Eating Out
We ate like royalty in India. Our family’s favorite cuisine is Indian, and all of our kids enjoy some spice in their food. With many meals, my husband and I enjoyed Kingfisher, the most popular Indian beer. Kingfisher is available in the US, but only a version that is also manufactured in the States and does not taste like the Indian Kingfisher.
We ate lunch out daily and enjoyed some phenomenal restaurants, including:
- Tandoor features palatial decor and traditional tandoori cooking and is located on MG Road. The butter chicken, milai chicken and roti are our favorites We loved Tandoor so much that we ate here twice.
- Chutney Chang is a buffet offering Indian and Chinese dishes where we ate Easter lunch. The buffet is so large that you have to do a quick preview before you start serving yourself. And, save room for the delicious desserts. Our kids particularly enjoyed the cotton candy.
- Le Brassierie at Le Meridien was another unbelievable buffet where we dined for lunch on our last day in India. La Brassierie’s buffet offers North Indian, South Indian, Japanese, Chinese and continental food. When the server heard that we were celebrating our son’s birthday, they brought out an entire cake inscribed with Happy Birthday. My little dimpled guy has never smiled so big.
#2: Lalbagh Botanical Garden
After a few hours in Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, it will be clear why Bangalore is known as the “Garden City” in this outdoor oasis located within a crowded city. We hired a guide to take us around the gardens in an expanded golf cart and thoroughly enjoyed a few hours away from the hustle and bustle (and honking) of the city.
We particularly enjoyed the 300 year old silk cotton tree, bird watching and generally exploring the foliage.
Shopping was one of our favorite activities in Bangalore. Almost everything available in India is offered at a fraction of the price you would find in the US. Additionally, handicrafts made in India and jewelry are so much more unique and interesting. We made a number of purchases, including a tailor-made suit made to measure for my older son’s First Communion, prescription glasses, jewelry, shoes and clothes. While I never had trouble with substandard products, shopping at a government emporium is a good way to ensure quality at a reasonable price.
Some of our favorite shopping areas include:
- Brigade Road/Mahatma Gandhi Road (aka MG Road) is a popular tourist shopping area with a wide variety of popular international stores including Nike and Adidas. Both Brigade Road and MG Road are very busy streets, and you have to be careful when crossing, but there are sufficient sidewalks for pedestrians. Make sure to cross when the locals do. There are often stalls set up on MG Road, and we purchased belts personally fit to each of us and a Panama hat for our younger son at one of these stalls. Bargaining at all stores except emporiums and international chain stores is common. Fast food chains McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Dominos are all available, but we definitely did not waste any of our meals on fast food and didn’t choose “Western food” once.
- Cauvery Emporium at the intersection of Brigade and MG Road is a can’t miss for authentic handicrafts, including textiles and sandalwood and rosewood products.
- Cottage Industries Emporium is another government emporium located a short drive away where we always find amazing Indian handicrafts.
- PN RAO is a tailor that specializes in made to measure suits. After picking out your material and pattern, your custom-made suit is ready for a first fitting about a week later. We had a suit made for our eight-year old who was about to make his First Communion.
- Commercial Street is one of the oldest shopping areas in Bangalore. It is extremely busy shopping street known for sale of clothes, shoes, jewelry and electronics. Sidewalks are not consistently available, and the main street is shared by parked cars, moving cars and a fair share of pedestrians, so you need to use extra caution with kids here. Soch (my favorite Indian clothes store) and Mex both have large stores here. I was thrilled that Soch shortened my kurti to my desired length for no additional charge and had it ready in about an hour.
- The Forum in Koramangala was India’s first shopping mall development that includes five stories of shops and a multiplex movie theater and a food court. Soch also has a store here.
#4: Religious Celebrations
Spending Holy Week in Bangalore was a truly unique experience. While Hinduism is the most common religion in India, there are almost 20 million Catholics. My husband’s ancestors come from Goa and Mangalore, which are areas with large Catholic populations. While some Indians were converted to Christianity at the time of Christ, most were converted during the Portuguese and British colonial periods. In Goa, it was common for Indians to change their names to Christian names after conversion. They often adopted the Portugese surname of the missionary who converted them. As a result, there are about 50 very common Indian Catholic surnames.
Holy Thursday and Good Friday services at our church at home are well attended but there are always plenty of seats. If you arrive 20 minutes early on Easter Sunday, you are pretty much guaranteed a seat. The services we attended in India gave “standing room only” a new meaning. Multiple services are held almost hourly in different languages, and hundreds of chairs are set up outside with large screens live video streaming the Mass. We arrived at least 30 minutes before each service began to park and then wait outside the doors for the prior service to finish. As soon as the prior Mass ended, people would rush in to find a seat. Everyone was dressed up and reverent and patient with the large crowds.
Easter 2016 coincided with Holi, a Hindu Spring festival known as the “festival of colors” that is popular with non-Hindus as well. People cover each other with brilliant colors and spray each other with water guns and water balloons. We enjoyed watching this joy-filled celebration.
#5: Sporting Events
With two boys, sporting events are always high on their list. Our trip occurred during the 2016 ICC World Twenty20 cricket tournament, and we watched cricked almost every night. It was amazing to see my boys fall in love with the sport that their dad grew up with. Cricket is an extremely complicated game, but they started picking up the rules and the lingo. My husband purchased tickets to a match held in Bangalore between West Indies and Sri Lanka, and the boys couldn’t wait. Unfortunately, our oldest spiked a high fever on the day after we arrived in India, which was the day of match and was crushed to watch from home while his brother had an experience of a lifetime. West Indies went on to win the tournament in a heart wrenching game against England. Admittedly, even I enjoyed watching that.
The boys also had unique experiences playing soccer in the school yard of their dad’s school, St. Joseph’s.
Our older son also played soccer every night he could with neighbor children in the complex we stayed in. His brother opted for swimming in the pool where he made a few friends himself and taught himself to swim during our stay.
While both boys note that visiting family was the best part of our time in Bangalore, we really enjoyed exploring the city, which was so different than our everyday lives.
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