Thali meal, Bangalore

A South Indian thali meal

I’ve always maintained that the greatest legacy of the former British Empire is the abundance of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate worldwide, and India is no exception. Here, the Cadbury’s is cheap and tastes just the same as back home, and there are even some varieties we don’t have in Blighty to cater for the Indian sweet tooth.
For India in particular though, perhaps the most useful legacy of the British Raj is the impressive train network that connects the country from the mountainous north through the arid desert of the plains and right down to the steamy tropical south. By 1920 there were over 60,000 kilometres of track across India, and today it’s an incredibly affordable way for its billion or so people to make their way around the subcontinent.
I looked into the train options for continuing my journey down the western coast from Gokarna, but the problem with the Indian rail system is its popularity; over holiday periods especially, trains can be booked out months in advance. You can join a wait list, which does reduce fairly quickly in the days leading up to departure thanks to cancellations, but my options didn’t look good, so instead I booked on a private bus heading inland to the southern city of Bangalore overnight.
One of the things I love the most about travel is meeting the sort of people you would just never get the chance to meet if you stayed in your hometown. Waiting for the bus I got chatting to an Aussie from Queensland who just happened to be a beekeeper of all things, and I was full of questions about the profession. Tempting though it was to ask, I kept the more Eddie Izzard-esque questions (“How do you like your coffee? Covered in bees?”) from passing my lips.
Boarding the bus, I found out what I had actually managed to purchase was a sleeper bed, not a seat; the whole upper portion of the vehicle consisted of bays lined with cushioned mattresses on which you could lay out properly. This was a real bonus, as trying to sleep on night buses is a difficult task. As a result I got a decent sleep, despite waking up at every stop and stirring every time we went over a speedbump. India seems to have a particular penchant for sleeping policemen; entering and leaving any urban area you would frequently find triple speedbumps, which are enough to jar all but the heaviest of sleepers from the Land of Nod.
Bangalore was quite a hit on the senses. I was deposited not at the bus station as expected, but in an area “near” it (according to the conductor, who refused to be any more specific), with a fleet of waiting rickshaws ready to whisk you off for a price. I didn’t want to pay over the odds for a short hop, so I wandered the area, known as Majestic (a far from majestic place, let me tell you). I walked for a while until I found a bus stop at which lots of people were waiting for their morning bus to work, and collared somebody who I thought might speak English who helpfully pointed me in the right direction.
My home in Bangalore for a couple of days was the Tricolour Hotel (referring to the three colours of the Indian flag), slapbang opposite the bus station. It was one of a new breed of business hotels in India for which a need had arisen off the back of the IT boom, at which Bangalore was the epicentre. The business hotel formula tends to go something like this: buy a tired old hotel, give it a slapdash lick of white paint, buy some fancy-looking furnishings and charge four times as much as before. To the Tricolour’s credit, though, it was a comfy and fairly quiet sanctuary from the hectic streets of Bangalore.
I spent my time in Bangalore either working away in the air-conditioned glory of my room or wandering the searing hot streets searching for my next intake of water. The centre of Bangalore was MG Road (sadly not a nod to the timeless British car manufacturer Morris Garages, but rather named after the equally great Mahatma Ghandi), which was the place to come for shops, restaurants and to be introduced to a small army of scammers, who would gently fall into step with you and ask you personal questions in an attempt to build a rapport before suggesting you take a cheap rickshaw to a nearby market to browse the stalls. I’m no Richard Branson, but there seemed to be something distinctly flawed with their business model of trying to persuade someone to pay for the “pleasure” of having the “hard-sell” inflicted upon them to buy items at an inflated tourist price (and then having to pay again – no doubt a more extortionate amount – to get back to MG Road). Needless to say, I didn’t take any of the touts up on their “offer”, and had fun feeding them false and increasingly ludicrous answers to their questions.
As the first Indian city I had properly explored, Bangalore did have some sort of appeal to me (which in hindsight has not really endured). The massive explosion of life after two weeks of quiet beach living was a thrill, and I enjoyed the local food options, wolfing down a few all-you-can-eat thalis (50 pence). The city had a huge and pleasant area of green called Cubbon Park (although sadly there was a dirty great road running through the middle of it) which I strolled through at rush-hour to take in the grandiose Government Secretariat building. My walk back to the hotel unintentionally took in the racecourse too, another remnant of the opulence of the British era, as well as, er, most of the district of Majestic, too. No matter how much time I spend on the road, my terrible sense of direction never really seems to improve much.