A Luxury Stay In Bangalore
India – as the strapline suggests – really is incredible. It’s a vast country – one state alone, Karnataka, is the size of England. The best way to tackle India is to gingerly put a toe in the water first. Which is where Bangalore (or Bengaluru) comes in. Known as the ‘silicon valley’ of India, there are still enough trees remaining for it to deserve the moniker ‘The Garden City’, and at 3,000 ft it has a pleasantly warm climate, rarely stiflingly hot. It’s India’s most cosmopolitan city and everyone speaks English. With a direct flight from the UK, it’s a perfect winter sun destination, where you can combine a relaxing time around the pool with seeing the sights and getting a handle on all things Indian.
Olivia Greenway is a London-based travel and lifestyle writer, named by sunshine.co.uk as one of the top 50 travel journalists and bloggers to follow on Twitter. Having visited 90 countries, she is still searching for her favourite place. It will probably involve an afternoon tea.
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October to March is the best time to visit, before the summer heat and the monsoons that follow. Having said that, there isn’t really a bad time to go. In May you get the most delicious mangoes and even if there is a downpour in later months, it soon dries up.
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There are around 20 five star hotels in Bangalore. What differentiates Indian luxury hotels is their excellent customer service and high standards of housekeeping at prices substantially lower than their European equivalents. Add to this superb food and you have a destination that dreams are made of. If you want a genteel option with an excellent breakfast, choose the ITC Windsor, complete with Irish pub and the outdoor Royal Afghan, where you wear a gingham bib and nibble barbecued meat with your fingers.
If you relish over-the-top-luxury, plump for the Leela Palace. As you enter the portals of this magnificent place, you feel like you are entering a film set. The semi-open bar has soaring marble columns, teak sofas with shot silk cushions and flickering cathedral candles. As well as two award-winning restaurants, there’s a large outdoor pool. It’s a little out of town but the perfect base for an elegant stay. The Oberoi is the only hotel where each guestroom has an outdoor space and overlooks the gardens. The semi-open Rim Naan restaurant is one of the best in town. Privately positioned, the outdoor pool is superb.
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Bangalore has grown very rapidly and at times the roads cannot cope, so expect jams during the morning and evening rush. The local motorists have a unique driving style, using up every inch of the road and toot their horns constantly, not in annoyance but to let other road users know they are there. When you do some exploring, take a driver and avoid the rush hours. Walking is not always easy as pavements are often broken and crossing a road an art in itself. A hotel car is air-conditioned and driven by a uniformed chauffeur; a half hour journey might cost around £10. A taxi would be cheaper and even less expensive would be an autorick. For short journeys or if you are feeling adventurous, an autorick is fine. Negotiate the fare; a two mile journey will be around 30 rupees.
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You’ll be spoilt for choice if you enjoy freshly prepared food, bursting with flavour – and it’s not all curry. As well as a variety of Indian cuisines, there is Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Thai. One of the city’s oldest restaurants is MTR near Lalbagh Gardens. It’s canteen style but you can gorge yourself on south Indian food for the price of two Sunday newspapers. Church Street in the centre of town has a selection of good restaurants. Or 100 ft Road has more restaurants (and shops) than you could cope with in one visit. It’s slightly out of town, near the Leela Palace. Go at night when the neon lit shops vie with each other to be the brightest.
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Shopping wise, Bangalore has a number of American-style air-conditioned malls. Some contain domestic brands, such as Fab India, but many feature international chains. Plus they often house food courts, with a wide variety of cuisines both Indian and Western. Similarly, avoid the Indian emporiums that your driver will try to take you to. The best shopping is where the locals shop. Try the area around Commercial Street, MG Road and Church Street. Good quality cotton garments may be bought for a fraction of the price at home. Or choose your material, get measured and a garment will be made for you – Apprentice style overnight – and delivered to your hotel the next day.
Books are cheap, especially non-fiction; have a look around Gangarams in Church Street. Books are stored one on top of each other rather than side by side. The book I want is always at the bottom of the pile, but it adds to the fun. Most luxury hotels have a spa with superb treatments on offer. But if you want salon services, seek out a stand alone shop. There are many in Bangalore – ask your concierge. I’ve tried Lakme salon in the mall at Trinity Circle (walking distance from the Oberoi) where a manicure, pedicure and foot massage cost under £20. In Trinity Mall, you’ll find a branch of Foodhall. It’s a bit like Whole Foods Market, with a vast selection of gourmet international and local foodstuffs and well worth a browse.
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There are several attractions worth visiting. The most notable building in Bangalore is the Vidhana Soudha. This is home to the local legislative chambers, and is even illuminated at night – so be sure to drive past one evening. The 18th century 240-acre Lalbagh Botanical Gardens have a glasshouse based on Kew Gardens and India’s largest collection of tropical plants. Walking through this shaded park, it’s a good escape from the crowds. Nearer to the centre is Cubbon Park, of similar size. The 19th century St Mark’s Cathedral nearby is based on St Paul’s in London, but is obviously smaller. The original stained glass windows are of particular interest and it’s a peaceful spot. The magnificent organ, refurbished recently, was donated by the Cowdrey cricketing family.
The temples in Bangalore are all used for worship, so don’t expect them to be tidied up for tourists. You often have to take off your shoes and the floors are not spotlessly clean. The Iskcon temple on Hare Krishna Hill has vegetarian food stalls, so you won’t go hungry. If you would prefer a guided tour of Bangalore, local resident Sushma Ajay of Yours Truly India is recommended and will tailor one to suit.
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Once you have had a taste of Bangalore – literally and figuratively, and a gentle introduction to this fascinating, colourful and delightful country, the chances are you’ll feel the need to visit again.