- Dibyangshu Sarkar/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
- Children at the Travel and Tourism Fair in Bangalore, Jan. 16, 2009.
Bangalore has changed. For one, the early morning temple music I remember from my childhood has been drowned out by the din of traffic.
But there are still ways to discover the city of yesteryear, a jasmine-scented, tree-lined mini-England bookended by the British Cantonment on one side and the traditional “old” Bangalore on the other.
“It’s sad that we don’t know more about the city we live in,” said Arun Pai, who owns Bangalore Walks, a company that – as the name suggests — organizes walking tours in the city. “Most people that visit Bangalore come for business and leave without learning much about the city and those who live here are too busy to spare time.”
Conducted early in the morning before much of the city’s traffic is unleashed, heritage walks provide a primer on Bangalore’s history, including how the city got its name.
Bangalore or Bengaluru originates from “bendha kaalu,” meaning “boiled beans” in Kannada. Legend states that the 12th Century south Indian king Veera Ballala II lost his way in the forest and came upon a lonely cottage where an old lady told him she had no food to offer except boiled beans. Afterwards, the king christened the area “Bendha Kaalu Ooru” (Boiled Beans Town), which later changed to Bengaluru and was adopted by the British as Bangalore, says Poornima Dasharathi, who runs a tour company called Unhurried Tours.
One of her walks centers on the “original” Bangalore, or “pete” area. “Pete” (prounounced “pay-tay”) in Kannada translates to “market.” The tour takes you through the old city and some of Bangalore’s oldest bazaars, tracing the history of the metropolis back to another medieval chieftain, Kempegowda, who built a fort in the area in 1537 and transformed the sleepy town into a bustling city.
These days, the pete area, including the neighborhoods of Chickpet (or small market in Kannada) and Cottonpet (cotton market), are still busy clusters of wholesale markets where locals get their wedding cards printed or buy cheap house wares. Early morning, free of crowds, you can amble through alleyways into ancient temples and unmarked buildings all related to Kempegowda’s history.
There are also special walks designed to explore the city’s British past. The British built a cantonment around 1809 and divided the city in two. The natives, a mix of Kannadigas and Tamils, occupied the west and the British stuck to the east. Cubbon Park, Bangalore’s version of Central Park in New York, served as the green line demarcating both populations. Most walking tours exploring British Bangalore center on the busy commercial area M.G. Road. Tours begin at Trinity Church – the first one built by the British.
For nature lovers, Cubbon Park and Lalbagh Gardens are worth a visit for their mix of domestic and migratory birds. Expect to see at least 50 different species of migratory birds in the winter, including pelicans. Walkers can also explore the world’s oldest exposed sheetrock in Lalbagh Gardens. Roughly three billion years old, the rock is a steady favorite with visitors, as is an ancient mango tree that dates back to Tipu Sultan’s time.
Here are some of the companies that do heritage walks in Bangalore:
Bangalore Walks: Bangalore Walks is a great place to begin exploring the city. It runs four different tours: a Green Heritage walk through Lalbagh Gardens, a Victorian Bangalore walk, and Traditional and Medieval walks. Walks cost 500 rupees ($9.50) a person and include a hot breakfast.
Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), Bangalore: A group of conservation architects, naturalists and historians run Intach’s “Parichay” series of walks. With more than 10 walks in the city, this non-profit organization covers the most ground. However, the walks take place just once a month and tend to sell out fast. Those turned away get precedence for walks the following month, says co-convener Meera Iyer. The walks cost 120 rupees ($2.25) a person, which includes breakfast.
Jaunty Roads: Offers three-hour walks for groups of two to six people, focusing on M.G. Road with detours to Residency Road, Brigade Road and St. Marks Cathedral. Walks cost 1,000 ($19) rupees per person, including breakfast.
Unhurried.in: Poornima Dasharathi leads walkers through some of the oldest parts of Bangalore, including the pete area and Malleshwaram. She also has custom tours in other parts of Karnataka. Tours cost 2500 rupees ($47) per family or for groups of two to three people.
Heritage Walk Etiquette:
Apart from no-brainers like wearing comfortable shoes and clothes, Heritage walk guides offered the following etiquette tips:
– Don’t bunch into groups with your friends and family
– Try to keep up with the rest of the group – don’t be a straggler
– Keep your reminiscences to a minimum. There is always one person in the group, who launches into long-winded nostalgic flashbacks about a certain place or neighborhood every 10 yards. Don’t be that person.