Wednesday, November 14, 2012


This August, the family and I decided to take a long holiday through Rajasthan. So we touched down in Jaipur Airport and all eight of us climbed aboard a large and very comfortable Tempo Traveller that would be our home-of-sorts for the next few days. We were also famished because of staying up for most of the previous night in an attempt to get on to the right flight and hadn't opted for the pre-ordered meal.

So we asked the driver, another staple that would last through the trip, what he would recommend. He took us to a place called Bombay Mishtan Bhandar that had some of the unlikeliest choices for the first meal of the day but we weren't complaining when we saw how good all of it was. Samosas, kachoris and jalebis, this is what breakfast in North India looks like. The kachoris were in two varieties too, with the larger ones sutffed with soft spices potatoes. Yum yum.


After checking in to the the Surya Villa Hotel and stretching our backs to work out the soreness from the previous night, we went for lunch to Peacock, where we got an aerial view of the city. You could also see an old fort from the rooftop location. We had some of the best Laal Maas of the holiday, a dish that we would order at various places but not be quite as pleased. The bill amount here was also most acceptable at a little more than Rs. 1000, despite being popular among the non-locals. At other places, a plate of what can only be called an excuse for kebabs cost Rs. 1000 on its own. Sheesh.

Laal Maas

Most of the rest of the day was spent ambling in front of Albert Hall Musuem where I ran through clusters of many silly pigeons and driving past Hawa Mahal in the old part of the city that we would return to the next day for photos.Dinner was at Handi which was nothing short of fabulous, although we learnt that the daal bhatti churma is an acquired taste.

Albert Hall Musuem

Hawal Mahal
Bright and sunny at the Amber Fort the next morning, we hired a guide and were told all about maharajas and times gone by. I even sat atop an elephant and later fed him. Sorry, her.

Amber Fort

We saw City Palace later in the day with its regal courtrooms. The sound and light show back at Amber looked promising which we did make it back in time for but the rain played spoilsport. Same with Jantar Mantar. Out of time, we headed to Jodhpur, but saw Jal Mahal, which gets its name from its location in the middle of a lake, on the way. 

Jal Mahal

Although we weren't in Jodhpur long, as long as you don't miss the Mehrangarh Fort, you're okay. So so beautiful, it's from high up on this magnificent landmark that you understand why Jodhpur is called 'The Blue City.' It was crazy hot but we found a cooler spot in one of the tiny cafes on the premises and sipped on some icy orange soda. Best feeling ever. Dinner was at On the Rocks, two nights in a row. Moderately priced, tasty food. And then we were on our way to Jaisalmer.

Mehrangarh Fort
The hotel that we stayed at made us fresh breakfast of aloo parathas and yoghurt before we went sightseeing. We saw the Sonar Quila, which was different from the others in that it is a 'living fort.' This means, people actually live in its quarters. So there's traffic, noise, bustling life. A sudden downpour took us by surprise but it was fun getting wet since we dried off soon after.

Our time in Jaisalmer probably captured the essence of why we had come to the state. It was also the highlight of the trip, when we driven several kilometres into the desert, where we went on camel back to untouched sand dunes. They were massive and beautiful and we ran all over them until sundown. When we returned to the camp, there was a traditional song and dance program in store followed by dinner. Too partied out and blissfully happy, we called it a night.

Traditional Rajasthan dance
Most of the following morning was spent recovering in the Tempo Traveller, sleeping off the wild ways of the previous night. We got to Bikaner and just checked in to the hotel. Dinner was at a place called Rendezvous opposite the hotel, where we also celebrated my birthday, which happened to be on the day. Before we knew it we were on the flight back home. I didn't want it to end. Not so soon at least. The languorous road trips, the many dhabas that we stopped at on the way which looked strikingly similar to each other. The many photographs documenting my first tryst with North India. But most importantly, the memories, the laughter, the good times. So worth it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Things to do in Bangalore

Bangalore, India 


Take a trip back in time to see how the royals lived. 

Only two years old, interactive audio tours in English and four foreign languages allow visitors to walk through a portion of the building which belonged to the royal family of Mysore. Opulent living rooms, high ornate ceilings, old photographs and  a pair of headphones to help you understand it all means that you walk out feeling that much closer to the Wadiyars. To complete the experience, hop on to a horse drawn chariot and go for a ride as you pretend to wave to the crowds.
Details: Every day between 10 am and 5:30 pm at The Bangalore Palace (Main Entrance). Prices: Rs. 200 per person (Indians) or Rs. 400 (non-Indians) for audio tour and Rs. 100 per person (Indians) and Rs. 200 (non-Indians) for the chariot ride.


Anyone living in Bangalore, or who has been here longer than two weeks, knows that Lalbagh and Cubbon Park are two of the greatest gifts to the city. Amid all the deafening traffic, high pollution levels and high-stress lives, these lung spaces occupying prime property come as respite. They are our answer to Hyde Park and Kew Gardens in London or Central Park in New York. In fact, Lalbagh has trees from as far off as South America and Africa, all of them growing without help in local soil. The trees are large and old, the lawns sprawling and endless. So for the minimum entry fee, you can drown out the world outside once inside either of these places. Lalbagh has a pretty rose garden and the glass house is beautiful even after all these years. Unfortunately, the annual flower show is a bit overrated. But the Puttani Express at Cubbon Park, no matter how old, is still exciting for kids in the five-year -old age group, as are the numerous smaller colourful playgrounds inside. Both these parks are thankfully still well-maintained. They are perfect for a walk, jog or just to sit around at, with well paved walkways and several benches. Maybe even a picnic on a weekend . 

A tree at Lalbagh in the early morning light.


Get in to the indoor temperature controlled pool at Zela and get in shape as an instructor guides you through some fitness moves. You don’t have to be an ace swimmer. You don’t have to be very young. You don’t even have to be in great shape when you start out. Aqua aerobics have numerous benefits meant for people of all ages.

When in water, a person only weighs about 10 percent of their actual weight. This greatly cuts down the risk of injury from impact and wear and tear of the joints. Aqua aerobics is also a form of resistance training. Water being 13 times more resistant that air helps burn more calories at about 700 per calories per hour. And the resistance comes from all directions rather than just one.

Some of the special groups that it is recommended for are expectant and new mothers, senior citizens and persons recovering from a surgery, especially orthopedic procedures like hip and knee replacement and spinal surgeries. Some of the ailments it could be used to treat are arthritis, obesity, high blood pressure and depression.

This is also a great way to cool off as being in water continually reduces the body’s temperature. There’s a greater range of movement, it’s safer than swimming because you keep your head above the water’s surface and it’s just plain fun.

Cost: Included in monthly membership plan (minimum lock-in period of six months) – Rs. 2500+ taxes per month (off peak package – 10 am to 5 pm) or Rs. 4000 per month (peak timing package – before 10 am and post 5pm
Where: Zela Luxury Health Club, Residency Road
Tel: 66817411


There are few places on earth as relaxing as this spa. Visit the flagship facility on Assaye Road near Ulsoor to be pampered. They have a mouthwatering range of services to choose from using products like almond oil and luxurious scrubs. The place is clean, efficient and well-equipped. For me it hardly gets better than this. It is an urban retreat in every sense of the term. It's also the best value for money for similar experiences in the city. But don't take my word for it. Make reservations at the number below and find out for yourself. 

Where: Body Craft, Assaye Road, Frazer Town, Bangalore.
Tel: 41573044 

As far as the concept goes, Lumbini Gardens is the city’s answer to the famed Santa Monica boardwalk. With a water body on one side and attractions on the other. If an afternoon or evening for some wholesome family entertainment is what you have in mind, this is a good option.

Located along a 1.5 km stretch of the Nagawara Lake, Lumbini Gardens has something for everyone. The view from the property is unlike another in Bangalore, with several high rise buildings lining the periphery of the water. It’s best to visit here as soon as the sun sets because there aren’t too many shaded spots on the premises. Get there before closing time to take a lazy boat ride. You might catch sight of a few ducks waddling in the water as well. Just sitting by the water side gazing out on to the expanse of blue is very calming.

Popcorn, ice gola and cotton candy vendors dot the paved stretch. There’s a children’s playground and a bouncing castle. If you’re brave enough, have a go on the back of a motorized bucking bull that promises to throw of you off its back. The highlight though is the water park with a wave pool. Soaring temperatures become a thing of the past once you splash around and get soaked with the numerous jets and sprays of cool water.

Timings: 11am to 7pm, every day
Cost: Rs. 30 entrance fee
Where: At Nagawara Lake near Hebbal
Tel: 65679037 

Another  fun place to take boat ride is at Ulsoor Lake. They are open only till about 5pm in the evening but hire a pedal boat for the afternoon when the sun isn't its brightest and paddle in the water as the city's traffic zips past all around you.


In a small village close to Mysore, there was a boy who would one day own one of the most loved bookstores in Bangalore. He travelled to Bangalore to train as an engineer but did not last longer than 20 days at GE where he got a job when he graduated. “I was not interested,” he says, without regret. And Mayi Gowda, 35, has every reason to feel this way considering for the past 10 years, he has made books of every kind easily available and affordable to bibliophiles in the city.

In 2002, he started Blossom in a 150 sq. ft. space in a central part of town with his personal collection of 1500 books. He had been collecting these since 1997 that he would also sell as a student to help pay his college fees. The following year, he moved to the present three floors, 4000 sq. ft. location on Church Street. And since then, the landmark bookstore dealing mostly in second-hand books, as well as brand new ones, has attracted customers in droves, with numbers reaching almost 5500 a month.

There are books lines up on the floor, on the table and in piles that reach the ceiling. Just when you think there is no space to accommodate any more, a new shipment arrives, increasing the current count of almost 2 lakh titles and about 3 lakh copies of books. Prices here are almost always lower compared to other mainstream outlets, even on the new books, and go from as low as Rs. 5 to Rs. 1,00,000 or 2,00,000 for antique books. 

Don't be intimidated by the display. Once you get lost among the shelves, you will find something you love, or at least that keeps you busy for the next few hours.

The latter kind might have been published 150 to 200 years ago and interest collectors. It’s true that with the coming of online retail, books priced competitively at Blossom could be bought for even less, and by quite a margin, through one of these websites. But customers come back for the experience of browsing through titles on packed shelves, while being offered complimentary cups of hot sweet tea two times in a day.

At a time when purists are ranting that books are on their way out, with the entrance of Kindle and the world wide web, Blossom dismisses that theory. On a random visit, walk inside, and standing in front of shelves, head cocked to one side as they read the title from the spine of a book, is usually a person who is under 30 years. Ramachandra Guha and Anita Nair are also regular patrons.

The man who loves being around books says his favourites are Animal Farm by George Orwell and Kafka at the Shore by Japanese author, Harui Marukami. This is a tough job, says Mayi Gowda, which is why he doesn’t have plans of creating branches. 

Where: Church Street, opposite Three Quarter Chinese


Empire used to be the midnight darling that everyone in the city could rely on for a great meal post regular working hours of most establishments a.k.a 11 pm. But the food doesn't taste as great as it once used to and the party seems to have moved to Savoury in Frazer Town. They have some of the best sheek kebabs, moist and flavourful. Their Al-Fahem chicken is legendary and the biryani is the real crowning glory. I'm salivating just think about the fare. Be part of this gourmet goodness.

Where: Savoury, 56, Mosque Road, Frazer Town
Ph: 41487066


Lend an ear to poetic talent as you sip on iced tea or munch on a sandwich. Doing away with the stifling upper lip that characterizes most events of this kind, a poetry reading at Urban Solace is refreshingly casual. Upcoming talent as well as established poets are welcomed to the stage each week for what is known as ‘Tuesday with the Bard.’ Friends and family of the main act usually form most of the audience in the cozy space, creating a warm, familiar atmosphere. The Open Mic segments in between allow amateurs to discover the poet in them. Sometimes, these sessions help in deciding who will take center stage the following week. 

Where: Urban Solace, Ulsoor, Bangalore. Ph: 25553656/7


There’s something wonderful about rollercoasters and water slides. No matter what age, discover the child in you when at Wonderla as you risk disorientation on one of the more advanced dry rides or get soaked from head to toe at the water park.

Located on the Mysore highway, Wonderla is a short drive from the city. Most high-thrill rides are for children above a certain height, and presumably persons with health problems are discouraged from riding. But there’s plenty for all age groups, including excellent changing and shower areas as well as plenty of food and drink options.

Don’t miss the beach when the wave pool operates at fixed times during the day. For those who like their feet firmly on the ground, there’s the Rain Disco. With separate dancing areas for men and families, everyone is guaranteed a safe and enjoyable time as you groove to popular Bollywood numbers under a powerful rain shower.

If staying dry is your idea of fun, try Drop Zone, which simulates a bungee jumping-like experience. You’ll be sitting upright but will be taken to a height of 17 metres and then left at the mercy of gravity. Pneumatic cushion dampeners will ensure you land safely. The more ominous Mixer, as the name suggests, gives you the feeling of being in a blender. Just make sure you attempt this one on an empty stomach.

Other highlights include the indoor musical fountain and laser show, the cine magic show in 3D and the chance to hand feed some hungry but harmless fish.

Summer only gets better at Wonderla.

Get there by 11 am when the park opens to make the most of the day since it shuts promptly at 6pm on weekdays and 7pm on the weekend. Different admission rates also apply depending on the day of the week or if it is a public holiday.

Where: 17th Mile, Mysore Highway


We all dream of utopia. And although a distant dream, places like Claytopia help bring it just a little bit closer. Started five years ago by two friends who went to university in the United States where they came across paint-your-own pottery classes, kids can come to Claytopia to spend time painting bisque ware, or pre-moulded clay. Options include little Buddha heads, teapots and kissing frogs. They choose their shape and are set up on a table with sponges, stencils, four shades of paint of their choice, paintbrushes and water.

Then it’s anyone’s guess when the little hands will be done with their masterpiece. Parents don’t get bored waiting around because they can join their little ones in this fun activity which is also a great way of bonding. Make it an event to remember when you celebrate your child’s birthday party here, with all their friends. Multiple pricing options including food are available for some attractive packages.

Located in a home in Indiranagar, the white exteriors contrasted with the blue shutters and main door give the place a very Californian feel. There are chairs and tables outside as well, so you can opt to soak in some sunshine or just watch the traffic goes by on the street outside as your child turns in to Picasso. There’s a fun bistro on the premises as well that serves some great continental food. Pasta, burgers, milkshakes and other favourites that kids devour.

The painted pieces need to be left at Claytopia for 10 days as they undergo a long finishing procedure.  They will be coated with a layer of liquid glaze and fired at more than 1100 degrees in an electric kiln to lock in the colours permanently. Prices start at abour Rs. 250 and go up to around Rs. 1000 per piece.

P.S. This is one of my favourite ideas of things to do in the city. 

Where: 318, 6th Main, 2nd Stage, Off 100 Feet Road, Indiranagar
Ph:  41323394


This joyous event comes but once a year but it is so worth the wait. As soon as Muslims break their day-long fast at sunset, these stalls open up with goodies for everyone. Samosas, cutlets, biryani - basically all things good that the community is synonymous for. There isn't much for the vegetarian unfortunately because this is a predominantly a carnivorous lot. But for those who love their meat - they'll have to pinch themselves because it will feel like heaven. Imagine an entire prawn, intact from head to toe, complete with feet, spiced, skewered and deep fried. So unhealthy but so so good.

Where: During the month of Ramadan each year along MM Road in Frazer Town


For an entirely different kind of eating which is thankfully available through the year,  is the evening eating at VV Puram, expecially on Sundays. A bunch of pavement kitchens churn out some of the best dosas and assorted South Indian fare in the hear of old Bangalore. There's also gulkhand and ice cream available with cut fruit for dessert. If you don't mind being jostled slightly as you eat because of the crowd and the traffic that does come dangerously close to your toes, make this the next choice for a weekend dinner. Despite the chaos, it is worth the experience.

Where: VV Puram. Just ask around


I can't comment on whether this happens in other cities but this is something that Bangaloreans definitely take pride in. Done the traditional way, they’ll serve you your meal on banana leaves. Prepare to get your hands dirty for some great eating. Most popular as a lunch time option, ‘meals’ at Nandini or Nagarjuna, as they are known, re ladled on to your leaf from steel bucket-like vessels. The unlimited South Indian fare consists of steamed rice, dals, poriyals, rasam and sambar with pickle, papad, buttermilk and yoghurt are served in plenty making the common man’s food fit for a king.  The courses keep coming until you ask the waiter to stop. But personally, I like the Andhra-style chicken biryani. They Hyderabadi-style biryani at Nandini isn't half bad either. Meat lovers can ask for the chilli chicken at Nagarjuna or chicken sholay kebab. Another great place to try out although the slightly more expensive of the three is Sunehri at Woodlands Hotel. They have a great system going so you can pretty much always expect you rice to be piping hot and the sabzis to be super fresh. This is also what wholesome traditional Karnataka food tastes like.

Where: Nandini – multiple branches, Nagarjuna – Residency Road, Sunehri - Woodlands Hotel, opposite Mallya Hospital


The part of it that is functional now is really just a joyride. So before the whole length of it is put in place, which we've been told will be soon (but then again, we've been told that for a while) why not cruise down MG Road in the latest addition to the landscape of the central business district.


Bangalore International Airport

Go because you need to wait until you pick up a loved one or go just because. There isn't the most variety but there is coffee, some Chinese food, Subway and Kaati Zone. The drive used to be better before construction for the Metro started and the road is busy through the night because of many flights that operate at those unearthly hours. But there's something fun about sitting outdoors to enjoy Bangalore at that time and watch the expressions of people as they break into smiles, squeals, hugs and some tears as they watch friend and family emerge from the arrivals terminal.


If you don’t mind people breathing down your neck as you eat while they wait for you to clear a table or even half of one  you’re in for a treat. Ignore the waiters that practically run between the kitchen and the tables trying to get the orders right and served quickly. Most people stick to the specialty of benne, or butter, masala dosas. And you won’t get sambar here unless you ask for it. But focus on the food here and you won’t be disappointed. CTR which stands for Central Tiffin Room, has been serving legendary masala dosas drenched in ghee for years. You might have your elbows knocked as you finish your meal or you might be sharing the table with other hungry customers  but that’s a testimony to the fact that this place is worth it. 

Another great place is also Shanti Sagar in Ulsoor which can be considered a close cousin of these golden fried pancakes. And unfortunately, I don't know how to get here on my own but there is another great place in the back lanes of Commercial Street. If I'm not mistaken, it's called Dosa Camp. Look for a large crowd outside, some backless benches to rest your feet as you wait and super bright tube lights on inside. The guy behind the dosa stove is deft to say the least and the red chutney they serve alongside your order is pretty darn awesome too.  Order the plain dosa only if you don't mind attracting some attention because of its sheer size. Carry water with you and ignore the slightly soaring spice levels.

Where: CTR, Malleshwaram

*At this point I should disclose that some people who read this post might disagree with some of the content here or wonder how I left out certain obvious picks like Koshy's. The idea is not to state the obvious but instead recommend what most people tend to miss because they're so busy following what they think they are supposed to.


Do it the old fashioned way when you shop at the indoor Russell Market. With supermarkets mushrooming at every corner, Russell Market has become relegated to wholesale buyers like caterers and restaurant owners. But take the trouble of getting there when the day is still young and you’ll find some of the freshest produce the city has to offer. Built in 1927, it is housed in a charming old building that always looks like it could use a fresh coat of paint.  But don’t let that deter you. Green veggies freshly sprayed with water, colourful fruits, fish that still smells of the ocean and flowers that look good enough to eat are just some of the excellent quality products on offer. And you won't have to stress about where to find exotic produce like leeks and thyme. They are in plenty here and the vendors easily recognize them by their English names. 

Before the fire
The market suffered a terrible fire recently where most of it was gutted. So the charming old-British look is gone and now it just looks like a series of tiny makeshift garages. But don't let that stop you. Encourage shopping here so that there is motivation to restore the place. 

Where: Russell Market, Shivajinagar


One of the best ways to spend Sunday in Bangalore is to go for brunch. Everyone sleeps in, rises late, gets dressed int he best and goes to one of the many wonderful places in the city with family and friends to gorge on great food and drinks.  Olive Beach is popular as is Sunny's. The Leela spread is mindboggling. Most restaurants do a buffet and you're bound to find something to suit your budget and palate. 


It's high above the city and the floor is lit up in different colours. It's also expensive but going by it's success, this is an experience worth paying for. There will be music, there will be drinks and food and there will be a view of sleepy Bangalore as though it has been laid like a carpet at your feet. 

Where: 16th Floor, UB City
Ph: 49090000


Bangalore Walks – Like most busy people, many of us haven’t really explored the city we live in. Sign up for one of the Bangalore Walks conducted by Arun Pai and his team every Sunday which make sure that you see various parts of Bangalore in a whole new light. This is not meant to be a sightseeing tour so expect to see several commonplace sights, just differently. For example, you might be shown someone's house or a statue that you never paid attention to earlier. But accompanied with a story, these sights gain greater significance.

The Lalbagh walk by nature enthusiast Vijay Thiruvady is particularly good. He knows his trees and by the end of the walk so do you.

Set out on foot with a passionate guide, maybe a camera and a keen eye for the sights around you. A water bottle, some sunscreen and comfortable pair of shoes are recommended. Each walk lasts for about 3-4 hours. Finish with a much-deserved breakfast which is included in the per head cost. Rs. 500 per person. Rs. 300 for seniors/kids. Make prior bookings at the website below.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bangalore's Best Kept Secrets

Bangalore, India


One of Bangalore’s best kept secrets is hidden in an old home in Victoria Layout. It’s just that Sonia Gandhi, Sheila Dixit, Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das and Nasseeruddin Shah’s family know about it. Chimmy Nanjappa, 83, and Pavithra Muddaya, 52, have been selling exquisite South Indian silk and cotton sarees out of their home for almost 37 years, which are sourced from across Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Pavithra, who trained as a lawyer, didn’t practice a single day in court because she went into business with her mother, Chimmy, who she saw sell sarees out of boxes and trunks, while growing up. Chimmy used to be manager of Cauvery Arts and Crafts on MG Road through which she was sent to world art fairs, twice to New York and once to Montreal. Even on these trips, through snow, Chimmy never traded her saree for warmer trousers, she says with a hint of pride in her voice. Vimor, which means pure was the name of an Indonesian girl that Chimmy met on one of her trips abroad.
Pavithra and her mother are desperately trying to revive what they perceive as a dying tradition. “Weavers are moving to power looms or BPO jobs,” says Pavithra. “The tradition of handmade textile art needs to be preserved.” Like pooja sarees, for example. For this, she has established a network of weavers who approach her though word of mouth. “They come to me because I am interested in creating a sustainable livelihood for them. We should win and they should win.”
She’s also greatly inspired by the old. “People come to me with their mother or grandmother’s saree. I use these designs to create something new.” Pavithra is also documenting designs so that this information is not lost. Cotton sarees can start at Rs. 500 and silk sarees can go upto Rs. 40000.

Where: 49, 3rd Cross, Victoria Layout.
Tel: 9480317054.
Cost: Cotton saris start from Rs.500 and silk sarees go upto Rs.40,000.
We love: Bridal silk sari in red and gold.


The next time a play is ready to be staged, the crew should check here before they get their own costumes.
You have to pass narrow streets packed with small shops, navigate past wandering cows and dogs to get here. But when you emerge in a quieter, prettier part of town, Prabhat Kalavidaru is in a lane with an unassuming sign board.

Prabhat Kalavidaru is orginally a renowned theatre group that was started in 1930 by four brothers. One of their sons, Rajendra, 45, an accomplished Kathak dancer, famous for performances with his wife, Nirupama, 40, handles the costumes division.
In a room on the first floor, no bigger than an average-sized living room, it looks as though a costume factory exploded. For a space that isn’t well-ventilated, it does not smell of sweat in here, as would be expected of a place that rents costumes. There is an attempt to contain all the fabric and more on clothes racks. But the attempt fails as silken shirts in bright colours, sequined ethnic Indian wear and dance wear spills onto the floor in large colourful piles.
There are more than 10,000 costumes, each made by in house tailors. Dress up like a Hindu god, complete with mythological regalia. Flamenco style turquoise shirts peek out from a corner. Lawyer uniforms and policeman outfits are also available. Complete a look with turbans and other accessories. An old man will do stage make up on request. Professional sound and light equipment is for hire too.
Kids can be their favourite cartoon character or a bird, tree. Maybe even a vegetable.
Daily rental rates are nominal starting at Rs. 75 to Rs. 100 on average and going up to Rs. 800 for a more elaborate outfit.

Where: 66, V V Puram.
Tel: 26613407;
We love: The possibility of renting a policeman's uniform and Flamenco costume at the same place.


Did you feel the slightest pangs of jealousy while watching Paul Giamatti drive through verdant Santa Barbara County Wine Country in the 2004 film, Sideways? Bordeaux is no closer to Bangalore but Grover Vineyards is. Recreate the magic of the Mediterranean when you take a tour of the property nestled amid the local weekend hotspot, Nandi Hills, and sample some of the delectable concoctions that are manufactured here. Grover Wines are distributed locally as well as overseas to countries like the UK, Japan and France.

A family business, the wine tours are the brainchild of third generation entrepreneur Karishma Grover, who graduated from University of California, Davis where she pursued a degree in viticulture and later did an internship at Napa Valley. She wanted to initiate the concept of high-quality wine tours that she had seen at these world-famous locations.

Visitors are given a guided tour of part of the 50-acre farm. The vineyard manager starts by explaining the cultivation process, the different kinds of grapes and a brief history of the vineyard. Next stop, the winery. The complete process after harvesting, from crushing and pressing to storage and fermentation is explained. Visitors are also shown the bottling and labeling units.

The final stop is the barrel room where massive oak barrels are used in the aging of a particular wine.  These barrels have a capacity of 225 litres. Guests sample different varieties of wine here and are guided through which potion complements which food the best.

Just remember to wear comfortable closed shoes and dab on sunscreen. A large sun hat and a water bottle are also recommended.

Cost: Rs. 850 per head on weekdays, Rs. 1000 per head on weekends, including lunch, glass of wine and dessert. Sample five kinds of wine. Starts at 11 am and lasts for about three or four hours.
Where: Grover Winery, Devanahalli Road, Doddaballapur


At this Bali-themed spa in the center of the city, feel at peace with yourself with a yoga session. “Om Swasti Hastu” is a Balinese greeting that means “to get in touch with your inner self.” This sums up the spa’s philosophy that also offers yoga classes in an open courtyard where birds chirp from the surrounding trees and the sound of water from a nearby waterfall drowning out all sound of traffic on the road outside.

Follow the calming instructions of an instructor as she guides you through asanas and pranayamas that are meant to bring down the body’s temperature. Like sheethali shitakali sadanta,  chandraloma chandrabedha or the shashankasana. These postures help calm and cool the mind. People of all ages and backgrounds, including children during the holidays, come here to use yoga to relax and beat the heat.

It’s a non-rigourous workout. It’s good for more than just your body. And in a world where everything is moving too fast, a yoga sessions forces you to slow down and savour the moment. 

Cost: Rs. 1500+taxes per month for classes three times a week and Rs. 2500+taxes per month for classes five times a week
Where: Asian Woman The Villa Spa, 3rd block Koramangala, Bangalore. 
Tel: 41219198


Bring your quota of mangoes and bring your friends as you join Bangalore in celebrating summer and the ‘king of fruits’ at Ranga Shankara. The annual Mango Party is for everyone and this is free event. A hit with the kids but also great fun for a group of grownups, tuck into the succulent fruit once you’ve added your contribution to the pool. Don’t be wary of getting your hands or face messy. It only adds to the experience. Roll up your sleeves and get started. There are no rules. The idea is just to build a sense of community, share a few laughs, form new memories and maybe make some friends in the process. Familiar faces from the theatre world and just those looking for a fun afternoon activity promise to be in attendance, along with many children. There will also be stories, quizzes, songs and games for everyone. Keep a lookout in the newspaper for the announcement of the next event date.

Bring two kilos of any variety of mangoes
Cost: Free
Where: Ranga Shankara, 8th Cross, II Phase, JP Nagar, Bangalore
Tel: 26493982 / 26592777

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bangalore's Most Beautiful Locations

Bangalore, India

Scottish-born American author, John Muir, said “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” So perhaps we wouldn’t wither away altogether if we didn’t have places of leisure and entertainment, where we could go to become more culturally aware and aesthetically astute. But we would be so much more boring and possibly much sadder without spaces that breathe life into our lives and this city, making it one of the best, most vibrant places in the country to call home. 

It isn't enough to just have great weather. A city needs to have places to enjoy it as well. And there are other spaces that just add beauty, that provides respite from the concrete and steel that often becomes synonmous with urban spaces. For the ideas and thoughts they fill our heads with, the mouthwatering visions they make available, and the less dramatic changes they help achieve, I'm throwing a spotlight on spots in the city that promote the arts or just make our lives a little more beautiful.

Below are some of my favourite places. What are yours?


Opened in February 2009, The National Gallery of Modern Art in Bangalore is the baby in the family among the other two that exist in Delhi in Mumbai. Since then, it has quickly grown into a space synonymous with film screenings, talks by a range of artists and a centre for the visual arts. 

For several years, artists in Bangalore, which included Yusuf Arakkal, had wanted this space in the city. The beautiful Manikyavelu Mansion, about 100 years old, centrally located on Palace Road and spread across 3.5 acres, was an ideal location to establish the institution. Along with several tall trees, water fountains, a mirror pool and manicured lawns, the NGMA has ample parking space and a 160-plus seater auditorium.

Since the time of its opening, NGMA has become a vital part of the community and an effective tool in bringing more people together in activities that they otherwise wouldn't bother too pursue. The Homi Vyarawalla exhibition that showcased the work of India's first woman photojournalist and the iconic moments in history around the time of India's independence that she captured was a huge hit. There have been nature walks conducted by greenery enthusiasts, drawing and art appreciation workshops, activities for kids, film screenings, live performances and more. 

Gallery walks or guidend tours of the works on display are conducted every Wednesdays at 3pm and on Saturday s at 10 30 am.

None of the paintings that are part of the permanent collection or work that is displayed in the temporary exhibitions is for sale. But they have a great collection including some Raja Ravi Varmas. 

There's a small eatery serving a range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian snacks operates on the ground floor of the NGMA. You can get coffee, sandwiches, pasta and more. This is the same cafe that operates at Alliance Francaise and Ranga Shankara. But don't expect any of the famous sabut dana vadas here. If you have an Internet data card, sitting with your laptop under the trees at one of the tables or just reading a book on one of the benches overlooking the pool is a great way to spend an afternoon.

The only free art reference library in the city is on an upper floor and membership is not required. They have books on art, of course, but also on photography and biographies on famous artists. The galleries and the library are closed every Monday. 

Address: Manikyavelu Mansion,49,Palace Road
Ph: 22342338


Come here and it's easy to forget that you're in Bangalore. But then again why would you want to? It's a small paved stretch lined on either side with open air seating cafes all lit up prettily. It's one of the best places to enjoy the weather. If you have some time, a cup of coffee or a bite to eat at Cafe Noir is ideal and for a more elaborate meal, there's Toscano or City Bar, although the first has better food than the second. Or you can grab a sub sandwich at Subway. When at either of these places, you're in for a treat if it starts raining because the view is spectacular while you sit cozy inside. If the fountains have been switched on, the kids have a gala time getting soaked. And if you get a chance to enjoy a live performance at the nearby amphitheatre, don't miss it. An added bonus, there's plenty of parking (paid, of course) and easy access to clean restrooms. In a building that houses some of the most expensive retail in the city, this is one of its more affordable offerings.

Address: 24, Vittal Mallya Road


Since 1960, Max Mueller Bhavan in Bangalore has been giving the city a small sample of Germany. It moved locations several times but for a little longer than five years, it has been in a cream and green building on CMH Road in Indiranagar.  The institution is named after Friedrich Max Muller, German philogist, Orientalist and founder of the western concept of studying India as a discipline.

The institution provides three main services: language courses, held in one of the seven class rooms, library facilities and cultural programs. “The idea is to promote an exchange between India and Germany, through dance, theatre, film and exhibitions,” says Maureen Gonsalves, programme coordinator. “Our mission is to promote a modern, contemporary Germany, abroad.”
Plays, music performances and readings with a German connection find a platform in the auditorium meant for 200. Applications are invited every year from artists working and living in Germany to spend time in India, at 1 Shanthi Road, the Bangalore studio and creative space. The programme, meant as an opportunity for global experience and to work on an art project, includes a stipend, accommodation at 1 Shanti Road and roundtrip airfare. 

Germany Year in India began in 2011 to celebrate 60 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries. This entails a series of large and colourful events that will be hosted under this banner. The reciprocal event will take place in Germany in 2013. 

Fourteen years ago, Abhishek Poddar, 43, co owner of Tasveer, watched a film by India foundation for the Arts grantee, Sabeena Gadhioke, about three of the greatest Indian women photographers. “If there was a turning point, that was probably it,” he says. “When I’m asked why a photography gallery, my response is always ‘Why not?’ The idea of analyzing and appreciating art is the same for a photograph.” Tasveer has also worked with Toto Funds the Arts, a local foundation that supports the arts, to establish an award for photography. 
A long-time art collector, Poddar says he was getting a little bored of the art scene and around the same time was seeing great work by some of photographers and wondering why something more serious was not being done about this.” That’s how Tasveer, India’s first pan-Indian network of photography galleries, came into being, spanning Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. 

And they have had some really stunning exhibitions in the past. Like British fashion photographer Norman Parkinson's 'Pink is the Navy Blue of India.' His work appeared in numerous popular magazines, one of which was Vogue. The title of the exhibition came from what the then-editor of the magazine said when she saw Parkinson's work, of how he had captured in India on film. That pink is to India what navy blue is to the UK. In other words, the colour captures the essence, the spirit, of the country. Below is one of his pictures. It becomes pretty clear why she made this comment, doesn't it, apart from the obvious pink in the frame, of course.

There's nothing very fancy about Tasveer. It's housed in a staid building that looks more sombre than artistic. In fact, if you didn't know that it existed in a single room at the end of a cul-de-sac, you may miss it altogether. For easy reference, it is on the same street at The British Library. 

It's worth keeping track of what their latest collection is about and spending a few minutes looking at the photos and appreciating the effort of curating and bringing them to you. “You just need to be good,” says Abhishek, about who gets featured at the gallery. That, and a consensus between him and two other partners based in Delhi and Kolkata. “You could be a Raghu Rai or someone never heard of.”

Address: Sua House, 26/1 Kasturba Cross Road


Similar in principle to Max Mueller Bhavan, Alliance Franciase de Bangalore is a representative institute of France although part of a more extensive international network. French language classes, a library and a space for cultural performances, the location and layout of AF have made it a favourite city hang out for the last 30 years. 

The building has no main door, the brick structure only enclosed in a gated compound. Famous quotations in French and English are mounted on the walls and there’s plenty of natural light and ventilation. An open space in the center of the main space with classrooms on three sides makes for an ideal place to read a book or grab a bite. 
“We want to show that Indian and French culture is alive using traditional and classic Indian concepts developed with French ones to become something new,” says Philippe Gasparini, director of AF. “Something that enriches the two cultures.”

There’s also a cafĂ© located in the foyer by the entrance. Customers can buy a snack and find a spot indoors or one of the tables located on the patio.

At the 250-seater auditorium, there have been film screenings, music performances and even a mime show. The garden, terrace and two dance studios are also available spaces. “We try to give space to all kinds of artists,” says Anuradha Narayan, assistant to the director. Recently, AF also hosted the Bangalore Queer Film Festival. “This is a neutral, cultural space, open to all schools of thought,” she says. 

Address: Millers Tank Bund Road, Vasanthnagar
Ph: 66389386


“This is not a gallery,” says Suresh Jayaram, founder, director and curator of 1 Shanthi Road. And that’s believable because from the outside, it just looks like a pretty house, located in a busy residential neighbourhood, painted lemon yellow with a red metal staircase winding to an upper floor. Even inside, the walls are white and there is a framework supporting rows of tiny spotlights. But apart from that there is nothing to say that this is a display area. 

So then what is 1 Shanthi Road? “It’s a space for conversations across cultures,” explains Suresh. “It’s an experimental space for cutting edge art practices, a free space to meet people.” Suresh also lives here, with his mother, who the property originally belongs to. 

An art historian who worked at Chitrakala Parishath for 12 years, 1 Shanthi Road came from Jayaram’s passion to have a space that does not have hierarchy and rules in 2003. He broke away from a structured job and realized, “I have one life and I want to live it the way I want to. Do what you want to do. Fail. The process is important, not the product.” 

The vision is to make 1 Shanti Road self-sustainable. To have an informal structure that would curate what the art community needs and “always keep it alternative,” says Suresh. “I am encouraged by people who believe in my dream. I don’t think this will fail. I have the confidence.” 1 Shanthi Road is currently managed by a trust called Visual Art Collective. 

The team works in a semi-outdoor on laptops on a shared wooden table, between cups of tea and coffee, lunched prepared in house and cigarettes. There’s also an indoor room and open kitchen where large doors open on to a terrace, shaded by a lovely large almond tree. Every afternoon, a vegetarian meal is cooked here and whoever is in the building at the time can enjoy a free home cooked meal. 

A vested interest is Bangalore and one of the main projects is archiving the city. In addition, the organization has conducted heritage walks in collaboration with the Goethe Institute and free nature walks to Lal Bagh in the past in an effort to understand the city. “This is a periphery activity of Khoj in Delhi,” Suresh says, referring to the international artists’ association in Delhi. 

So by this time it becomes clearer that what Suresh meant earlier was that 1 Shanthi Road is not just a galllery. It is a gallery and so much more.

Currently, 1 Shanthi Road is being funded through a bank loan, says Jayaram. Artists are not charged to showcase their work here unless they are funded by a grant. Then a nominal fee is charged, which is more like a contribution, he says. This comes from the realization that something that is free is not respected, he explains. 

The idea is to encourage artists who work with new materials and techniques. True to that principle, past exhibits have included torn pillows from which the stuffing is spilling out and coloured pieces of paper stuck on the walls. Artists Raghu Wodeyar and Umesh Kumar had their debut shows here. In the past, artist Michelle has performed ‘Cartography of Dreams’ with sound here and Masrah performed an experimental play titled ‘Sea of Stories.’
Among international artists, 1 Shanthi Road mostly works with people from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan. It also hosts German artists in association with the Goethe Institut. 

In 2009, 1 Shanthi Road received the Robert Bosch Institutional Grant.

Address: 1 Shanthi Road, Shanthinagar,

Perhaps a little more delightfully confusing than 1 Shanthi Road  is Jaaga, a creative common ground, as the website explains. It isn’t even inside a building. An open metal structure of poles bolted together represents the space. In August 2009, Jaaga was set up on the basis of, “How do we use technology to innovate in different ways,” says Archana Prasad, 35, co founder and director. “The understanding is that if an idea is played with long enough, something new comes out of it.”

Archana, an art graduate, was a researcher with Microsoft Research in Bangalore. Here, she met her husband, whose friend turned into the other co founder of Jaaga, Freeman Murray. They are assisted by a small core team. Murray had tried the open metal structure concept at Burning Man, the week-long annual community experiment in the United States, a few years ago, and as an experimental indoor art project for about six months in Los Angeles. “This is the first time he has done this for so long and outdoors,” says Archana. 

Until June 2011, Jaaga was located on a plot of land that belonged to Naresh Narsimhan, 49, partner and principal architect of Venkatramanan Associates, who is also credited with redesigning the NGMA. “I have always been interested in the arts. It was an interesting idea, a public art experiment. It was also interesting to an architect.” Then the metal poles were packed up to be set up on a nearby location on KH Road.  

Jaaga is an extension of the idea behind the Samuha Project which launched in 2009 and lasted for exactly 414 days, as was planned at the onset of the project. This was an artist’s collective and initiative where 24 participants were given 17 days to use a space as they pleased, as an expression of their art. 

Jaaga supports artists of different kinds, through its residency programs and as a public space to host events. “We want to encourage artists in the city to use Jaaga to further their work but we also want this to be a community space,” says Archana. Equipped with Wi-Fi and a functional kitchen, it seems Jaaga is off to a good start in the right direction.  
Recently, they've introduced membership too.

Address: No 68, KH Double Road, Opp. Corporation Bank, Next to the K H Road Bus Stand,

When there’s a play in town, and especially if it’s good, it’s probably at Ranga Shankara. Seven years old and wildly successful, it was set up by Kannada actor, Shankar Nag’s wife, Arundhati, after he died in a car crash in 1990. The institution was his dream project. 

Ranga Shankara operates on the “A Play A Day’ philosophy which means that there is always at least one play being performed here, except on Monday, the weekly holiday. That means almost 300 performances a year. The air-conditioned auditorium meant for a little more than 300 people has free seating and the management is a stickler for time. Shows start at 3 pm or 7:30 pm. Once the doors close, no one is allowed inside because it would distract the performers. On many occasions, you can see people being turned away at the door because they came a few minutes too late.
The annual Ranga Shankara Theatre Fest has turned into an important part of Bangalore’s art and culture scene. They also offer a theatre appreciation course during the same time. Theatre groups are charged Rs. 2500 if they charge Rs. 50 for a show or 10 percent of ticket sales for tickets that cost more. No group is allowed to price tickets at more than Rs. 200 each. Once a group has rented the space, they are free to use it as they please between the working hours of 10am to 10pm. This availability has encouraged the performance of better plays, says Arundhati. 

Ranga Shankara is a 3.4 crore theatre located in JP Nagar on a civic amenities property given by the government of Karnataka during the time that S.M. Krishna was chief minister of Karnataka. It is approximately 100 ft X 100 ft and is bound by a 30-year lease. “In 30 years, if this theatre is not doing what it is supposed to, then let the government take it,” says Arundhati. “And if it is, then the community won’t let it take it.” It is managed by Sanket Trust of which Arundhati is founder and managing trustee. Playwright, Girish Karnad, is the chairman. 

And through the short time that Ranga Shankara has been a part of the city, it has become a successful community project. There's the annual mango party that happens every summer, when children mostly, and some adults, can bring their contribution of mangoes to the kitty while everyone enjoys mouthfuls of the fruit of the season. AHA is the in house theatre program for children. Local artists are encouraged to come here and share their talent with others. The feel of the place is similar to Prithvi in Mumbai.

Several notable performances have been held here through the years, many in Kannada, and one international performance is staged every year. Among these, the tribute to Pina Bausch, the Dastangoi and performances from Korea deserve special mention. 

Address: No.36/2, 8th Cross, 2nd Phase, J P Nagar
Ph: 26493982 


Jagriti means awakening in Sanskrit.  Although it may seem far away from the city centre, located in Whitefiled, people don’t seem to mind the distance going by Jagriti’s success. Many Bangaloreans are willing to make a day of it on a weekend as they drive out here and attend packed performances. 

Arundhati Raja, 62, and her husband, Jagdish, have been involved with theatre since 1973. It had been their dream to build their own space dedicated to the art. The couple  toiled for eight years before their labour of love became a reality. There were several logistical issues to sort out. Today, Jagriti stands on space that used to be a three-acre farm by the same name. 

Jagriti has fully-equipped green rooms, large practice areas and a full-thrust stage with no proscenium arch. Unlike Ranga Shankara, Jagriti has assigned seating. A metal temple bell that was once a prop in a production serves as a notice for when the next show will start. “It’s great, people like it,” says Arundhati. 

Two large silver oak trees, whose tops have been lopped off to control leaf and branch-shedding, grow through the atrium ceiling at the entrance. There’s a mural by Yusuf Arakkal on an outdoor wall which is part of a space that is intended to be used for more performances. And if you need any more convincing to visit, The Fat Chef, the restaurant on their premises should be reason enough.

Jagriti is now also an independent theatre group which stages its own productions at the premises and also allows other artists to use the space. They had their first theatre season last year along the lines of what we see overseas. Their second season is scheduled to start in August 2012. 

Address: Varthur Road, Whitefield
Jagriti box office: 41242879, Timings: 11.30am-1.30pm; 3:00pm-6:00pm; on show days to 8 pm. 
The theatre is closed on Mondays, 


Anyone living in Bangalore, or who has been here longer than two weeks, knows that Lalbagh and Cubbon Park are two of the greatest gifts to the city. Amid all the deafening traffic, high pollution levels and high-stress lives, these lung spaces occupying prime property come as respite. They are our answer to Hyde Park and Kew Gardens in London or Central Park in New York. In face, Lalbagh has trees from as far off as South America and Africa, all of them growing without assistance in the foreign soil. The trees are large and old, the lawns sprawling and endless. So for the minimum entry fee, you can drown out the world outside once inside either of these places. Lalbagh has a pretty rose garden and the glass house is beautiful even after all these years. Unfortunately, the annual flower show is a bit overrated. And the Puttani Express at Cubbon Park, no matter how old, is still exciting for kids in the five year old age group, as are the numerous smaller colourful playgrounds inside. Both these parks are thankfully still well-maintained. They are perfect for a walk, jog or just to sit around at, with well paved walkways and several benches. Maybe even a picnic on a weekend on the grass. 

A tree in the morning light at Lalbagh


 Two people from non-literary professional lives turned their home into a library dedicated to Indian vernacular writings and Indian writers in English. How wonderful to have a space in the city just for the love of words. An added attraction is that it is housed in a red brick building surrounded by oak trees. There's already a reading area and a space for workshops here with a cafe and in house baked bread that's set to start soon. 

Address: 75, 2nd Main, 1st Block, Koramangala 
Ph:(080) 30181626 / 96325 10126   

Timings: Tue - Sun: 11 am to 7 pm


I can't stop going on enough about this. I know I've mentioned it in an earlier post. But you have to try it out to believe how good it is. 

Absolutely lovely place to have breakfast at just opposite the street from Happy Belly Bakes. A landscaped front yard of a colonial bungalow under the shade of a huge tree is the setting. It's the best place to enjoy the weather early in the day between mouthfulls of chicken sausages and baked beans. Can't ask for a better start to a day.

The place is just as beautiful and so different in the evening. Lit up with tiny gold bulbs, the deepening sky at dusk looks wonderful through the leaves of the large tree. The waiters don't bother you to place an order or to clear the table. There's no one rushing you to finish your meal, no pressure, no hassles. Everyone around you is busy in conversation and they seem to be having a good time. The positivity is infectious. If you don't mind some smoke from a nearby table because someone may have lit a cigarette, this is one of the best places in Bangalore to sit back and watch the world go by.

Address: Clark Road, Richards Town 
Ph: 32480810