Is there a difference between a traveller and a tourist? I think so. I was a tourist once – up at the crack of dawn so that I could tick all the sights off my list. Running myself ragged and needing a holiday to recover from my holiday when I came home. I think it was in Amsterdam once upon a time that I realised that I could always come back. That I didn’t have to see every single thing there was to see in one visit. And what a relief that was.
On my third visit to Bangalore, sorry Bengaluru, I had two places I wanted to visit. And if I had the chance, I wanted to drive by the Vidhana Soudha, seat of the state Legislature, to check if it really did have the words ‘Government work is God’s work’ carved over the door. Was I remembering correctly or was it a dream? And yes, it does. Considering some of the governments I’ve lived under, that one’s a difficult sell.
Anyway, the first stop on my itinerary was the Bull Temple, where Nandi Bull, a vehicle used by Lord Shiva, sits in all his glory. Carved out of one giant rock, he’s 4.5 m tall and 6.5 m long. It’s one of the oldest temples in the city, built originally by Kempe Gowda, the man who founded Bangalore.
Apparently, back in the day, there was a bull in the neighbourhood who would eat or destroy all the groundnuts and peanuts grown by the locals. The temple was built to appease him and, of course, once it was built, he stopped his pillaging and left the crops alone. This event is still celebrated with an annual Kadalekai Parase (Groundnut Fair). Another excuse to come back, as if I needed one.
We parked on the street. My driver told me that I had to go barefoot. Shoes were not allowed. I asked if I could take them off just oustide the temple door but he said no. I had to take them off before I entered the grounds. Bearing in mind that footpaths in India are nothing like footpaths in Hungary or Ireland, walking barefoot through the dirt and picking my way through the garbage wasn’t all that appealing. But I wanted to see the bull. So off I went. Barefoot. Over the road, into the grounds, up the steps, all the while noticing that other people were wearing shoes and wondering if I’d been just a little too gullible? And sure enough, when I got to the top, I was met by a carpet of shoes and sandals. So I’ve done an urban version of Croagh Patrick, barefoot.
I made my donation, did my invocation, and got the red mark on my forehead. Which I promptly forgot all about. I spent the rest of the day and evening walking around like a marked woman. It looked like I had gashed myself – and explained why I was getting some unusual looks.
I’ve been in my fair share of churches in my time. I must have seen a statue of just about every saint who was every cannonised. I’ve marvelled at the niches on the streetcorners in Malta. I’ve wondered at the various calvaries dotted around Hungary. But there’s something about these temples that enthralls the mind. They’re everywhere. Hundreds of them throughout the city. And they’re still being built. I haven’t quite figured out the differences between them all or which religion lays claim to the various designs, but even so, I find them fascinating. Perhaps temples could be my new cemeteries?