Visiting India for the first time is a thrilling experience. It is also a little nerve racking. For the first time this year, Carmen and I were both anxious and maybe a little scared at what we might find in this part of the trip. We were out of our comfort zone, but it felt good. There are all the horror stories of poverty, filth and food poisoning, but also the positive moments of spiritual discovery, extravagant palaces and fantastic food. Experiencing the spices alone are enough to draw us to India. We arrived at 4am from a red-eye flight. We both felt a little comatose and we agreed to pick up a few hours sleep in the airport before heading out into the craziness.
We learned very quickly in Bangalore that we needed to slow down and ease into the environment. A typical day in our travels is pretty exhausting; we tackle museums, parks and monuments while also attempting to eat at the best budget restaurants in a city. This usually involves many hours (8-10mi) of walking and public bus rides all around town. In Bangalore our standard mode of transport, our feet, became out-of-service. Even the most cosmopolitan of streets, MG Road or Church Street, do not have a consistent paved surface for more than 15 feet. Walking involves constant focus and diligence to ensure that a foot does not fall into an enormous hole or sludge puddle. The occasional cow, heard of cattle or pie mine is a constant reminder that we share the road with more than just people and motors. Crossing the street, we resemble two little squirrels inching our way into the road then running across with arms flailing about in panic “I’m about to die” mode.
Thus, we have decided to join the masses and we frequently hop on the Rickshaw Roller Coaster. The three-wheeled carts are a cross between a motorcycle and a golf cart, painted green, yellow and black. During our first ride, I learned that the is no need to visit a theme park again, 80 cents delivers a 20 minute ride including all the death-defying events without a need to wait in line. If on-coming traffic is your thrill, this ride has it. Bangalore’s many speed bumps provide an opportunity for jumps, poor drainage and rain make splash mountain look puny. Any Rickshaw delivers several G-forces as the driver maneuvers the vehicle around busses, tractors and scooters. Then we screech to a stop. Hold on because there are no seat belts. Dizzying heights? Try all of the above on an overpass! To our benefit we did find a nice driver, Rajesh, that did not mind our screams and did not hit anyone while we were riding. He skillfully squeaked his tuktuk into the 4ft crevices between busses at 30mph.
One of our most accomplished days was visiting the Hindu Bull Temple. This enormous carved bull is decorated with flowers and candles and symbolizes Shiva’s mount Nandi. A “mini meal” at Marvalli Tiffin Room (MTR) excited our taste buds and was no small affair – it was actually quite a bit of food. We walked west to explore the Lal Bagh Botanical Garden. There were bonsai gardens ponds and an enormous glass house built to honor Britain in the 1800’s.
We could not resist ordering chole bhatura at a standing-only dive down the street from our hotel. The enormous puff ball was everything I remember from Vik’s in Berkeley, slightly doughy and crispy with a huge scoop of spicy chickpeas in a rich sauce. Eating in India is undoubtedly my favorite part so far. The flavors are intense and the chutneys, dal, and sauces seem to pair randomly with the foods, but I know there is some consistency. For breakfast we eat fluffy white idlies or dosas (Indian pancakes/crepes) that are paper thin and filled with potatoes, or thick and moist with diced onions or tomatoes and a delicious coconut chutney.
Exploring the foods of India is first explored with our appetites. Then we seek to see the source of the food, the markets that fuel the city. In Bangalore, we found ourselves in The City Market, an enormous collection of streetside vendors selling everything from tiny eggplants, pomegranates, betel leaves and nuts. There was even a building dedicated to the flower sellers that string together elaborate leis and signs for weddings and holidays. We traverse through the mud and work through the obstacles of the crowded market. Occasionally we’ll pass a simple temple and often we are entertained with an ornate and elaborate designed temple roof with thousands of carefully carved figurines.
We bussed an hour outside of town to visit the wild animal park. Most of the animals are rescues, but the huge forests provide a way to protect and rehabilitate animals that were abused or without a natural habitat. Most impressive were the Bengal tigers, white tigers and Indian bears. Our safari ride bounced along the rocky road, and everyone screamed and jumped out of their seats when the 8ft long tiger noticed us and came at us for a closer look. There were cobras that effortlessly hung and slithered along the trees, crocodiles eyeing us from the ponds below and wild monkeys mischievously bouncing through the park. There were even adult and baby elephants that blessed tourists for a coin by tapping their trunk on the person’s head. The zoo was surprisingly a positive experience as the animals, for the most part, all seemed taken care of and happy. On our trip back, there was one thing on our mind…food.
There are undoubtedly some good food places in Bangalore. We ate North Indian fare at Kornak and Queens. South Indian at street-side stands and cafes. Gulab Jamun is typically a donut ball that is soaked in a honey syrup, at Bhagatram & Sons. Their wiener shaped gulab jumun somehow made it better. We even had wonderful ice cream at Naturals. The mango and coconut ice cream is so good that our good friend and fellow blogger, Anu, might marry one of the servers. Which one? We could not decide.
The slower pace has worked well for us in Bangalore. We see less sights, but experience more of our surroundings. We pack our bags again, we say goodbye to Bangalore and board an overnight train to Hubli. Few tourists travel to Hubli, but our reasons were not sights, but more to visit a typical town in India, see more of our friend Anu and learn more about the incredible headway of her social water project NextDrop. With the click clack of steel wheel to rail and the rocking back and forth we crawled onto our three-tiered bunks and sunk into a light slumber. Only exciting adventures and spicy delights await us in India.