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

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