India for Beginners – Visiting Bangalore (Bengaluru)
People who have never been to India before generally fall into two camps – those who think it will be too hot, too dirty and too crowded for them and those who think it will be colourful, other-worldly and exciting. The truth is probably somewhere in between and of course it depends where you go. I have visited India more often than anywhere else – it keeps calling me back – and despite over 25 visits, I still haven’t seen as much of it as I’d like. India is vast – just one state – Karnataka – is the size of England and travelling from place to place, even if flying, can take a long time. There is terrible poverty and parts of it are filthy, but it has some of the best hotels I have ever visited, the food is invariably superb and there are 100 multi-millionaires living in Bangalore; the cliché ‘city of contrasts’ could well apply to most cities in India.
Cosmopolitan Bangalore is the city I would suggest for a first introduction to India. It’s positioned in the south at 3,000 ft, so rarely gets uncomfortably hot. Being the IT capital, English is the international business language and widely spoken. All educated Indians learn English at school. Despite so many trees being felled in the name of progress and expansion, it still deserves its moniker of the ‘Garden City’. For a winter sun break – where you want to do a bit more than fly and flop but have some downtime too around the pool and in the spa, I would suggest it is perfect. The best time to visit is said to be the winter – before the summer heat and the monsoons. But if you go in May, you’ll be able to gorge on the most delicious mangoes you have ever tasted and the heavy rains later in the year have breaks of glorious sunshine in between. It’s not cold when it rains, in fact it’s quite refreshing. Hotels are cheaper in the summer, so bear that in mind when weighing up your options. Restaurants, hotels and most cars have air-conditioning – Indians like it really cold – so take a jacket, or if at a restaurant, sit outside.
There are numerous five star hotels from which to choose – all offering high standards of customer service and excellent housekeeping, at prices considerably lower than in Europe and the USA. All hotels have at least one excellent restaurant. Since the city is not on the tourist radar, hotel pools are rarely crowded, perhaps only on Sunday, when they run a lunch buffet for the ex-pats. Most of the time I’ve had the pool to myself. If you want a British take on things, the ITC Windsor is a compelling choice. Across a little bridge and set in High Grounds, it has a cosy, slightly old-fashioned feel. The Manor rooms on the second floor open out onto a secret garden (Lancelot Gardens) with seating and fragrant frangipane trees. An Irish pub and fun outdoor restaurant where you nibble at pieces of barbecued meat with your fingers (large checked aprons supplied) are added bonuses. The pool is a little noisy from passing traffic, but for me the hotel is pretty much perfect. If you want to push the boat out at reasonable prices, the Leela Palace hotel is superb. A pink fairy-tale castle set off the busy Old Airport Road, the public spaces are incredible. Soaring marble columns and oversized vases each containing three hundred flower heads greet you on arrival. The Library Bar is arranged like a gentleman’s club; the semi open adjoining bar has cathedral candles and silk cushions set on teak furniture. The Zen and Jamavar restaurants – with indoor or outdoor space – are among the best in town. To one side of the immaculate nine acre garden is the large swimming pool, overlooked by a yoga studio. Finally, the Oberoi comes highly recommended. Each of its rooms overlooks the garden and ancient rain tree and each has an outdoor space. The impressive pool is quietly set in the large gardens. The Rim Naan semi-open restaurant here is one of my favourites. When booking your hotels online, do bear in mind that about 20% will be added to your final bill to cover taxes.