Bangalore – The One About Ulsoor Lake and Commercial St

May 2005.  

Yesterday I bought the book of maps that I was told about and today I had my first full-on, proper explore. What a difference a map makes. Compared to all the others I’ve seen so far, this map book is brilliant. It is not quite Melways (the map book to have in Melbourne for those who don’t know), but it really is not far from it. So this morning I prepared my trusty pack with water, lunch, snacks, camera, mosquito repellent, sunglasses, reading book (Dan Brown by the way. He writes a pretty good action / thriller / mystery, his best known being The Da Vinci Code), mobile phone, ample money, passport, emergency food; you know, the stuff you throw in a pack, and took off at 10:30. 

The Auto driver I had was an interesting one. He had no idea where he was going. Fortunately some other drivers gave him directions before we even started, but he must be new to the city because I had to direct him the whole way. Luckily I’m learning where many places are and the general (very general) layout of the roads. We got to my destination with no problems and he was most grateful for me telling him that “this is Bangalore Central”. On the way I saw an hilarious sign on a small, open air butcher shop, with sides of lamb hanging in the sun. It was called “Goodluck Mutton Shop”. I nearly fell out of the Auto when I saw that.  

I used Bangalore Central, one of the better shopping complexes, as my starting point. It is just up the road from MG Road (Mahatma Ghandi Road) and Brigade Road, which are considered to be the centre of the city. Whenever I think of MG Road, I can’t help but think of the track from the 80’s by “The 12th Man”, in which they referred to an Indian cricket player by the name of Mahat Macoat. I was chuckling to myself this afternoon as I wandered along.  

Anyway, my plan of attack today was to start at Bangalore Central and walk to Ulsoor Lake. This is a large lake (maybe 5km around) right next to the centre of the city. According to my new map, there is a picnic area at the lake where I could maybe have lunch. From there I intended walking to Commercial St, where I was a few stories back, then follow my nose after that. 

Well, it all worked a treat. To get to the lake I walked through Ulsoor, a rather fancy part of town similar to Albert Park or South Melbourne. Everything here is just a little bit messy, which is one of the comments Srini and Ram made when they were in Melbourne, but that’s what Ulsoor is like relative to Melbourne. Ulsoor Lake has very real potential to be much more attractive than Albert Park Lake, which wouldn’t be hard according to many people. But unfortunately there are many things that need doing and they don’t seem to get done. Srini and Ram were astounded by how clean, neat and tidy Melbourne is, with everything just right and tickety boo. Bangalore just isn’t like that.  

However, the picnic spot at the lake is a tiny part that is very pleasant indeed. The gardens are the best I have seen in Bangalore, with neatly manicured garden beds and green, soft grass. The trees have been there since the days of British rule and are huge. This small garden is also a very popular spot for young lovers. Here in Bangalore, probably India in general, young people getting together on their own and canoodling is frowned on to the point of banishment. It is just not done in general. So today I was one of maybe three people who were in the garden without a partner of the opposite sex. It was reassuring to see the young couples wispering to each other, sitting close but not doing anything more than hold hands. The couples were everywhere, so it was lucky I was able to find a spare seat in the shade. But I did. And I read my book (remember Dan Brown?). Oh, I also took some photos.  

After I had finished my lunch I consulted my trusty map book, then continued to walk around the lake. I was heading in the general direction of Commercial St. Every step you take along the streets of Bangalore is filled with potential. Look left and you are likely to see something you don’t see in Melbourne. Look right and there is potential for some other point of fascination. But if you don’t look at your feet as well, you have the real potential of breaking your ankle. Bangalore is THE most wheel chair unfriendly place I can imagine. The footpaths are all over the place, if there is one. More often than not I resort to walking on the road. One of the problems, according to the locals, is that there is little co-ordination between the various groups of authorities. So one group digs up the road to put in drainage, followed two weeks later by another group digging up the same stretch of road to fix the telephone lines. But not only that, when they need a driveway into a building, or a side road, the step from the footpath can be so big that venturesome soles have put granite blocks there as stepping stones. The drop can be 60, 70, 80 cm. Wheel chairs are definitely out in Bangalore. The only wheel chair ramp I have seen in the last six weeks is at Bangalore Central today. But the person would need six burly blokes to carry their chair and they to the base of the ramp and then two fine friends to push them up because it is so steep.  

After I turned from the lake and was walking up the road towards Commercial St, I came across two cows sitting on the footpath. This is a common sight, but this time the situation was such that I was able to take some photos. One of the cows was decorated with her horns painted and bells strung around her. Pity about the pile of you-know-what out the back, but that’s part of the package. At that moment I was standing no more than 4 km from the heart of town and there were cows wandering around.  

I walked slowly as this gives me the chance to see a lot more. In this case it really is the journey that is important, not the destination. After I turned left and was crossing a bridge, I saw the drainage channel that it was crossing. Oooo, not a pretty sight. It was flowing, because we’ve had some rain recently, but it was rather smelly and full of rubbish. There are people who live in shanty’s along the banks of the drainage channels. I can’t imagine what their life must be like.  

Today was very sunny, so I did what I don’t normally do and wore my sunglasses. They are the blue, reflective type. Don’t you think it’s funny, and it happens at home as well, when people stare at you because they think, because they can’t see your eyes then you can’t see theirs. That happened many times today. An interesting observation is that, once you leave the main tourist routes like MG Road (Mahat Macoat – chuckle chuckle) and Brigade Road, sunglasses are rare in this town. No doubt this is because of the poverty, but even people who appear to be able to afford sunglasses rarely wear them.  

Through Commercial St I did wander (why isn’t that word spelt “WONDER”? And why isn’t wonder spelt “WUNDER”? English is a strange language indeed.), without any great points of interest. I did notice one thing. The Commercial St area is home to a lot of Muslims and Arabic people. The name on the main Mosque, written in Arabic and which I was able to read (blush blush) is Jemmah something-or-other. The name of the street I was in is also Jemmah something or other, the same as the name of the Mosque. That’s how big the Arabic influence is in the area.  

Wander I did continue, past a building site, past more shops, until I got to Infantry Road. Infantry Road is where a lot of the furniture is manufactured and there is shop after shop and workshop after workshop building and selling furniture. It also indicates the influence the British have left behind in a similar way to the influence they have had in Australia. Let me list some of the names, just from that part of town. Keep in mind that the national language is Hindi and the local language is something else. Infantry Rd, Commercial St, Brigade Rd, Dispensary Rd, Hospital Rd, Main Guard Cres, Queens Rd, St Marks Rd, Cunningham Rd, St Johns Rd, Richmond Circle, Millers Rd, to name just a few. Of course there are also many with local names like Mahat Macoat Rd (chuckle chuckle), but the British influence in this town is astonishing to me. At least here they call their major intersections “Circles” rather than “Circuses” as the Brits do. But I think “Circus” would be more applicable here than in ever-so-well-mannered England.  

A wander we will go, still. Now I headed towards Cubbin Park. This is the Bangalore equivalent to the Alexandra Gardens in Melbourne. It is very large, taking up the best part of two city blocks, but is not quite as well cared for as the gardens in Melbourne, But it is very popular, with hundreds or thousands of people making use of the relative peaceful serenity. There are massive old trees in Cubbin Park and squirrels hopping around on the ground below. I don’t know if the squirrels are indigenous or were introduced by the Brits, but there’s plenty of them. What is in Cubbin Park that is not in Hyde Park is a grove of the hugest bamboo I have ever seen. I was walking through it today as a gentle breeze made it sway. What an eerie noise as it creaks and cracks.  

While resting in the park and reading a few pages of book, two fellows came up to me seperately, each with a notepad and pen. I’ve seen this scam before, having fallen for it the first time. They are always young fellows of about 15 years of age. They claim to be deaf and need assistance to buy school books. The time I fell for this, the boy had a printed sheet which stated that he needed Rs1200 for school fees and books. I gave him Rs200 and he said it wasn’t enough. I said it was. This time I kept reading my book and told the first one to go away. He waved the notepad down in my face and I said that I knew he could hear me and that I wasn’t giving him anything. Go away. “You’re not going to give me anything? OK.” and away he went. So much for being deaf. He spoke perfect English. The second one was similar. I just said “No” twice without looking up and he shrugged his shoulders and walked away. Unfortunately, most of the “beggars” are really not genuine, unlike the old lady I spoke about in a previous story. She was genuine.  

After a rest and a read, I left Cubbin Park and made my way along Mahat Macoat Rd to Bangalore Central. I saw something funny there too. I was sitting resting again (it’s a long way from Cubbin Park) when I saw a policeman moving the Autos along. They park in front waiting for customers and can cause quite a blockage. The one in front told the policeman he couldn’t get his Auto started. “See, see” he said as he desperately pulled the starter. The policeman mummbled something to him and moved along. It was now time for me to go home, so I picked up my bag and wandered over to first Auto, the one that couldn’t get it going. I started to talk to the second one, but the first one indicated his. I thought “This’ll be good” and got in, after the obligatory negotiations. He pulled the starter and off we rocketed. It was one of the fastest Auto rides I’ve had. But I thought he couldn’t start it!!!  

That is India as I have seen it.