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Barefoot and blessed

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.

IMG_1597 (800x600)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.

IMG_1579 (600x800)IMG_1585 (600x800)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.

IMG_1586 (800x600)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.

IMG_1543 (2) (800x675)IMG_1552 (600x800)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?

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Real cutlery, personal pillows, and stray dogs

Emirates1Real cutlery. A real, stainless steel, knife, fork and spoon. And flying economy, too. I hadn’t realised how budget airlines have become my norm. RyanAir, Wizz Air, EasyJet – they’re my standard. So any airline that goes above and beyond is impressive. And Emirates is certainly that. The food was excellent – all of it. And I love the way they refer to the overhead bin as a hatrack – harking back to times gone by. Reminds me of a photo I saw on FB recently but didn’t save: one of a couple in the 1950s on a flight will full crockery and cutlery service, wondering how luxurious flights would be in the future… man, did they ever get that wrong. Oh, it’s still luxurious, if you can afford it… but I ain’t in that financial bracket. Still, it was nice to get real cutlery for a change…

Fast forward through Dubai to Bangalore and the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Electronic City. A far cry from IBIS or the Mercure (not that there’s anything wrong with either of them). I could get used to being called Miss Mary. Everyone is so incredibly nice and friendly and helpful. And everyone smiles. What a concept! Even if it’s something that has been drummed into them during their customer service training (which I doubt), they’ve long since owned it and it’s become their own.

I like having my own iron and ironing board. I like the complimentary shoe shine and the daily papers. I like the bath (big enough for two) and the shower (big enough for four) and the bed (big enough for a small army). I like having a bathroom scales, a coffee dock, and a recliner. But most of all I like that I can have choice of five different pillows.

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It’s been about seven years since I was last in Bangalore. It’s now called Bengaluru and has been since this time last year. Other cities have also changed their names: Bombay became Mumbai in 1995; Madras changed to Chennai in 1996; Calcutta to Kolkata in 2001; Trivandrum to Thiruvananthapuram in 1991; Pondicherry to Puducherry in 2006; Poona to Pune in 2008; and Orissa to Odisha in 2011. I’ve asked a number of people why and no one seems to know the answer. It’s just the way it is. Like so much in this part of the world.

Time goes slower here. People work on a different rhythm and cycle. No one is any great hurry. I was delighted to see that the traffic is still chaotic, that lanes are but wishful thinking – and that the old Banglo saying still holds: all is fair in love and war … and traffic.

When I was here last, I completely missed Electronics City. And I wonder how? It’s hard to get my head around the numbers. This one city is home to nearly three times the population of Ireland – just one city! When I turfed up for work this morning, I was just one of 40 000 clocking in to that one company. It takes up acres and acres of room and has no fewer than 16 different access gates, fully landscaped gardens, and its own amphitheatre.

Electronics City itself is home to some 200 IT companies housed in 1.3 sq. km (332 acres). It was first envisaged in the 1970s as the Silicon Valley of India. And it’s impressive. Very impressive. In the software industry  here (when it comes to developers and designers) there are more women entering the industry than men. Not quite the same picture as in Europe. This imbalance  is reversed as their careers progress, with just 10% of women in the boardroom. A shame.

But the numbers… the numbers…

The city is the third largest in India and one of the first to have electricity back in 1905/6. The ratio of stray dogs to humans is 1:37 = a lot of stray dogs with some 12 people bite by one every hour (who counts I wonder?)  It’s home to the highest number of cigarette smokers in India, the highest percentage of engineers in the world, and the highest number of suicides in the country. I’m drawing no correlations here.  Everything about it is massive. A Banglo friend tell me that it’s lost its heart – it’s not what it used to be. While it’s certainly bigger, is it better?

It’s my third visit and I’m mesmerised by it all.