Bangalore far exceeded my expectations. Like Hampi, I had not even taken the time to visit during my first trip to India. And one of the primary reasons for this visit was to see an old friend from UCSB.
Our overnight train arrived in Bangalore at 6am. We caught a rickshaw to MG Road, the commercial center of the city. We checked the rooms and rates at a few hotels, but decided to eat first, as they had a 24-hour checkout policy. Even with no onward travel plans set, we weren’t too keen on leaving our hotel before 7am. So we ate at the only open restaurant we could find at that hour and then killed another couple hours at a Barrista (India’s equivalent of Starbucks), utilizing their wi-fi. This was the first sign that Bangalore is wired. It seemed more modern in many respects than even Bombay. Like Bombay, I barely saw any cows and people generally drove according to the traffic laws. It seemed that Bangalore had modernized, while retaining the traditional methods that were more efficient. I.E. They still allow autorickshaws (unlike south Mumbai), but they’re legally required to use the meter. Bangalore has supermarkets, but small stalls are still around to offer chai and fresh vegetables. Mumbai seemed to have modernized without the retaining a lot of the old (although northern Mumbai) is a different story from south. And Delhi is still mired in the old, too traditional to modernize any way of life. I guess it could be said that Bombay is more westernized, while Bangalore is more modernized (distinguishing Westerness from Moderness). On the downside, Bangalore is pretty polluted/smoggy and traffic is a mess. Bangalore doesn’t really have any attractions and isn’t much of tourist destination. However, we did see quite a few expats around: men jogging in the early morning, women doing some shopping at the supermarket, and suit-clad men in the evenings. In such a homogenous country, it was odd to see non-Indian residents. We spent our first day seeing most of Bangalore’s “sites”: Cummon Park, the aquarium, an art gallery, a science and tech museum, a government history museum, and an old palace. The sightseeing was disappointing; the park was disappointing in light of Bangalore’s nickname “The Garden City,” the aquarium was akin to shopping at Ranch 99, the art gallery was one room, and the science museum was aimed more at children’s field trips than us. On the flip side, we walked around Bangalore and saw a lot and the admissions were mostly a flat rate (most places in India have a foreigner price anywhere from tens to hundreds times the normal price- racists!), so the combined admission of all the museums cost us less than 1 USD.
The real fun began on Friday night, when we met up with my friend Sekhar. Originally from Bombay, he did his Masters at UCSB, before returning to India to work for GE’s Global Research team in Bangalore. He bought us drinks at a downtown bar and then treated us to a delicious dinner at an upscale Indian restaurant. It was awesome just to see him after two years, much less hang out and catch up with an old friend. The next day, Saturday, we took a rickshaw out to his end of town. First, he took us to a supposedly little-known, but fairly impressive Shiva Temple. Then we caught a bus over to the HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) museum, which housed a collection of retired (mainly military) aircraft and several galleries of their history in photos. Anyone that knows my fascination with military aircraft, history, and photography can see why I liked the museum. Then came my favorite part of our visit.
Delhi is known for long and rich history, so people visit the old ruins and forts. Mumbai is known for being a modern financial hub, so people hang out downtown. Bangalore is known for…you probably know it already: India’s technological boom and outsourcing. Yet most non-business travelers never get to see why Bangalore is called “the Silicon Valley of India.” Luckily, we did. Sekhar took us to his office. I wouldn’t call it an office really. I mean it’s a huge campus called the “The John Welch Technology Centre,” named after GE’s retired semi-celebrity CEO. Even before arriving there, just driving through the district was interesting. I was actually seeing everything I’ve read about India’s outsourcing and tech boom. Looking out the window was like seeing the articles come alive; huge campuses (everywhere) of large-cap foreign (Dell and GE) and domestic (Tata Consulting Services) companies and many more still being built to add further capacity (Accenture and GE additions). Like I said, we ended up at the enormous GE campus, where we had to register at the guardhouse, before proceeding through the gates. Having received our bright red “escort required” badges, we started towards the cluster of modern buildings. As we walked down the perfectly manicured path, Sekhar pointed out the huge elevated outdoor (and more space underground) cafeteria. Next to it was a large Japanese garden, complete with pond and adjacent rock garden. I guess the place had a Japanese theme as I saw several more rock gardens within the campus. The landscaping indicated no expense was spared. In fact, later, when we were sitting on a big lawn in the campus, Sekhar pointed out a huge political map of India planted in the grass, each state represented by a different plant. Inside the buildings were interesting as well. What I saw was a huge room, filled with dozens and dozens of chest-high cubicles; managers, analysts, everybody in cubicles. Even on a Saturday afternoon, there were a handful of people working. Mostly empty though, Sekhar showed us around; his desk, the product labs, other labs for research teams to test theoretical work, the gym, and rec room, even a library. For Sekhar, it was just work, but for me it was fascinating. It wasn’t just a call center or some low-level outsourcing (Sekhar’s team consists of PhD’s and Masters grads), but where real work and innovation was being done. Really interesting both on a personal level (my buddy’s office at a company I admire and invest in) and an academic one (example of MNC outsourcing to developing country). We spent the last half-hour chilling on the aforementioned lawn discussing GE, outsourcing, Indian work life, etc. Afterwards, we chilled at a coffee shop and then at Sekhar’s place, before grabbing some dinner and calling it a night. It was an awesome way to spend the day: Sekhar took us to three interesting places not listed in my guidebook, got to hang with him all day (including seeing his place), and had a lot of fun.
Sunday was a lazy day. We woke up and ate breakfast, after which Joylani decided it was time for a two-hour nap. Sekhar came by in the afternoon and took us out to another great meal. After saying our goodbyes, Joylani and I just hung out and read/wrote for the remainder of the afternoon, going to bed early to catch our early morning all-day train to Kerala the next day. Looking back at our weekend in Bangalore, I really enjoyed it. Sekhar was an awesome host and guide. Yet, it seems that Bangalore is an easy city to like regardless. We were told that we experienced typical Banaglore weather, which was much like Hampi’s, and I wonder if all of Karnataka (not too humid 70s). Sekhar said it reminds him of Santa Barbara weather- who doesn’t like that? So the weather’s mild and agreeable, the city’s modern and convenient, and vibrantly growing. Although I skipped it the first time around, I’d recommend including a quick visit to Bangalore on any visit to India.