He was very happy to see us both, as were we. We had lunch with him and he went off for his afternoon nap while we stayed up and caught up on emails. That evening, we got to meet Meghna and Raunak, my cousins. We stayed for dinner and Mahesh, Raunak, Meghan and I went across the road to a newly opened restaurant. We snacked on some "jilebis" first. It is made by piping a dough into hot oil to fry. Once it has fried sufficiently, it is removed from the pan, and then let to soak for a few minutes in a hot, sugary syrup to get thoroughly coated.
Even Megs tried a couple but found it too sweet for her liking. We then went upstairs and ordered a variety of dishes to take home for dinner. It was this night that we came upon one of Megs’ favourite dishes, Kerala Paratha. It is very similar to Roti Canai and was served with a very mild curry made of almond or cashew paste and mixed with cashews and paneer. It was mild enough that Megs actually ate the whole thing, which surprised everyone. We walked back to Indovilla after dinner - we were going to catch an autorickshaw but decided to just walk it back since it was only a couple kilometers away and it would help digest dinner.
That weekend, we also went over to Hanumanthanagar (HNagar for short) to visit relatives on my dad’s side. It was great to see everyone after a long time and introduce Meghan to all of them (my cousins: Pramod and Santosh; Santosh’s wife, Sindhu, whom I was meeting for the first time, too). My aunt and uncle, Sudhi and Nagarathna, were meeting us for the second time this year – they had made it over to Canada especially for our wedding and so it was great to be able to visit them in Bangalore now.
We went out for a North-Karnataka style dinner with the whole family which introduced Meghan to yet more new foods (jola rotis, made from corn flour and a variety of vegetable accompaniments) and the experience of eating off a banana leaf. Meghan did her level best to try everything on offer but even I found quite a few of the dishes too spicy.
On the Sunday after we had arrived, we went out for a short city tour of Bangalore with Mahesh, Roopa and my granddad. Our first stop was the Infant Baby Jesus church. The Infant Baby Jesus following came to India in the late 1970’s from Prague. There is quite a large congregation in Bangalore and we happened to be there for Sunday morning mass (a total coincidence) and got to see the church in full swing. It was definitely not as ornate (both in terms of the exterior and interior) as churches we had visited in Europe. There was however stained glass inside the primary church, which was in an interesting hexagonal shape. The adjacent building contained the actual infant Baby Jesus idol which was also interesting in that it was separate from the main church. The arrangement of fresh flowers decorating the idol was quite impressive.
I went over to speak with one of the church staff/volunteers to ask some questions about the origin of the church and learned that about 1 in 5 people that visit the church on a regular basis are actually not of the Christian faith. We left the church, got back in the car, and made our way to Vidhan Soudha, the state of Karnataka’s (of which Bangalore, or now known as Bengaluru, is the capital) parliamentary buildings are housed. My uncle had to drop me off so I could get closer to the fence to take pictures. Unfortunately, due to security reasons, only those with an official purpose are allowed to enter the grounds. After checking with security that I was permitted to take photos from afar, I clambered up to the fence to take a few photos. The building itself occupies a large area, easily several city blocks. The building architecture conveys a sense of importance and structure – symmetric, large columns, and grand looking. The main entrance to the Vidhan Soudha is topped by the three Ashoka lions.
Having snapped a few pictures, I got back in the car and we headed off towards M.G. Road (Mahatma Gandhi Road), which is the main shopping district in Bangalore and where you are almost guaranteed to find other tourists roaming the souvenir shops. We had lunch in a restaurant close by to MG Road as we were all pretty hungry by then. I had a thali (pronounced “ta-lee”) which is essentially a buffet on a plate. You get a small sample of a variety of vegetarian dishes, served in small bowls, which usually consists of: dahls, sambhars, rasam (a tomato and lentil soup), a vegetable curry or two, a small salad of grated coconut & carrot and lentils, plain yoghurt, raita, a sweet dish (paysam or gulab jamun) to round out your meal.
This is eaten with rotis and/or rice. In most places, you can request refills of all the items on your plate to your heart’s content although managing to eat just the first round is quite a feat in itself. My granddad, uncle and I all got the same meal while my aunt went for a North-Indian thali (same concept, except that the actual food items are North Indian – similar to the Punjabi style food you find on Main Street in Vancouver). Meghan decided to go a-la-carte and ordered a couple butter and garlic naans with some palak paneer (spinach with cottage cheese), which we request to be made with no chilis and as little spice as possible – which in India is referred to as “bland”, though not in the negative connotation that it may hold when describing food in North America. Unfortunately, it was still too spicy so we took it to go and I enjoyed it later.
After lunch, my aunt, uncle and granddad drove back home and Megs and I walked around MG Road a bit to check out some of the handicraft shops. We checked out one shop in particular that I like to shop at when in Bangalore known as Central Cottage Industries. It is a government run shop that doesn’t run on commission and aims to sell items from local artists across India at fair trade prices. You tend to pay a bit more but I like to know that I’m supporting the artist directly than some middle-man. We spent an hour or two browsing the shop and purchasing a few items. Once we were done shopping, we decided to head back to Indovilla and attempted to catch the bus back home. However it was to no avail as we couldn’t find the bus stop where we were supposed to catch our bus and after an hour of wandering the busy streets, we decided to just catch an auto-rickshaw. I quite like travelling by buses as they feel safer in terms of being in a bigger vehicle and it tends to be a more comfortable ride over a long distance.
The next week was spent in pretty much the same manner – having a bit of a sleep in when possible, visiting with my grandpa and family, and catching up on our blogging. We managed to take my granddad out for a meal or two and we really enjoyed spending some quality time with him. He really enjoyed treating us out for lunch and when he learned that Meghan really enjoyed ice cream, he insisted that we try out this new Italian gelateria across the street from where we were having lunch.
Megs had a cone and it was quite delicious – a bit runny, but understandable considering that it was nearly 30 degrees out. Another highlight was the arrival of my sister, brother in law and two nephews. I hadn’t seen them in over two years so it was really nice to see them and have a little play time with my nephews. My mom arrived mid-week and Megs and I caught the bus out to the airport to welcome her. She was pretty exhausted after a long day of travelling but was glad to see us.
We had a few relaxing days as my mom got over jet-lag and enjoyed all the tropical fruit she had hauled over from Surabaya – all 8 kgs of it! Starfruit, snake-skin fruit ((known as “salah” in Bahasa Indonesia), watermelon, home grown papayas, and mangos were cut and incorporated into numerous fruit salads, accompanied by local pomegranates, bananas and sweet limes that were in season. Soon after my mom arrived, one of my cousins that I had not seen in a long time was in town and so we all met up for dinner. We had quite a feast with Satish at the nearby Ananda Bhavan. This joint was quickly becoming a favourite place to eat because it was very close to our home base and they actually made all the dishes we ordered to a spice level acceptable to Megs. They were even good enough to take back a dish several times in order to get it correct.
We had a huge meal of garlic naans, kulchas (similar to a naan), palak paneer, raitha, gobi Manchurian (fried cauliflower in spices) and Indian-style Chinese veg noodles. We were all stuffed after our meal but managed to walk back home for fruit salad with some mango ice cream which rounded off an evening of good food and company. Satish stayed the night as it was pretty late when we were done and he was reliant on public transport. The next morning was a very relaxed one as we chatted with Satish, drank tea and learned a bit about Mysore from Satish, who had studied there during his college days.
The following day, we went to Bull Temple Road to see the Bull Temple (Nandini) and the Big Ganapathi (Lord Ganesh, the elephant god). It happened to be the weekend before the annual groundnut festival, known locally as “Kadlaikai Parshai”, where “kadlaikai” means “peanut” as the majority of nuts sold are peanuts. The streets were therefore lined with folks selling their nut harvest.
Legend has it that the peanut harvest was so bad for several years in a row that the farmers went to the Dodda Ganapathi temple and pledged that if they had a good harvest, they would annually honor the lord and donate a portion of their profits towards the temple. Since then, harvests have generally been quite good and so every year around the same time, the peanut festival takes place. It has now transformed into a two day street festival where the roads in one mile radius are blocked off from vehicle traffic and thousands more than the usual crowds join the big street festival until the wee hours of the morning for two consecutive nights. We entered the temple grounds, left our footwear at the stand to collect later, and made our way in. There were quite a few monkeys hanging around in the trees and I made a mental note to sling our camera across my shoulder so it couldn’t be snatched away by a mischievous monkey. Being a Sunday, it was extremely crowded and we were hard pressed to catch a glimpse of the deity but managed to squeeze by enough people to have a look. The deity, whose shape is claimed to have been found naturally formed in the stone and the temple was hence built around it.
The deity is about 15 feet high by 20 feet wide and probably about 10 feet deep and was covered in flower garlands and looked really impressive. From the temple at road level, we walked uphill about fifty meters to the Nandini temple and walked around the deity which was also decorated in garlands. The main steeples topping both temples are ornately decorated with colorfully painted statues of other deities and smaller versions of the main deity.
After collecting our footwear, we wandered through the park adjacent to the temples. Meghan was fascinated by all the tropical plants that were new to her but not so keen on the hundreds of bats flying about the tops of the trees in broad daylight! Clearly these bats are not only nocturnal creatures. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much bat excrement visible on the walkways so we decided to venture through the park for quite some time. We wandered through the park taking numerous pictures of all the foliage and not knowing the names of most of the plants, we have to resort to describing many of them as those house plants found in the tropical section of a garden center.
We recognized a couple of plants that sit on our window sill back in Vancouver, except they were either large trees or bushes. On our way out of the park, we picked up some roasted peanuts and puffed rice from one of the vendors which my mom was going to use to make “jal muri”, which is a commonly found road-side snack consisting of puffed rice mixed with roasted peanuts, chopped tomatoes, onions and shredded carrots tossed with some salt, pepper and fresh lime juice. We caught an auto rickshaw back home and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing at home.
The next day we went shopping with my mom around the MG Road area. We decided to spare my dad a day of wandering around handicraft shops. We had a very successful day of shopping in the Karnataka Handicrafts emporium, another government run shop. We had late lunch/really early dinner at a nearby restaurant where I enjoyed paper dosas. These are enormous – about 2 feet long – dosas that are made thinner than regular dosas. They are served with a variety of accompaniments including sambhar and a couple of chutneys (usually coconut).
Megs ate a bit of the dosa but also got some veg noodles and naan. Every time we’ve ordered just naan without an accompanying curry dish, the waiter inevitably checks whether we would like some sort of curry dish with it and if we say no, they double check with us by letting us know that the naan doesn’t come with any sort of curry. We each had a chai after our main courses to round out the meal.
On the twelfth, I went out to the airport by bus again to pick up my dad. He arrived with several more kilos of tropical fruit which we very promptly used in fruit salads once again. Having only a few days with my dad, we visited the botanical gardens in the center of Bangalore that originally gave the city its nickname as the “garden city”. Thankfully, they have managed to successfully keep this enormous space free of development and it serves as an oasis of peace, quiet and fresh air in metropolitan Bangalore. It is extremely popular with fitness enthusiasts and casual walkers and joggers alike, providing some respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
We quite enjoyed walking around the large gardens admiring the foliage and flowers. I’ve been there nearly every time I visit Bangalore but I found that I was paying a lot more attention to the details now that I was there with someone on their first visit. There is a large lake in the garden that we wandered around and also up a large rock, from the top of which we got a good view out over Bangalore. On top of this rock is a marker that at one point marked one of the four corners of Bangalore when the city was founded – it is now almost the center of Bangalore.
We had gone to Gandhi Bazaar that morning, which is a bustling area with excellent outdoor markets selling vegetables, fruit and flowers. All the markets just line the roads but the flowers are so fragrant that you just have to walk by the vendors to be able to smell them. All the colors and textures and are a haven for photographers and we were both lost for quite some time taking photos. As we were walking by one flower vendor, I stopped to take some pictures of him because he had a really neat moustache and a great smile.
He spoke to me in Kannada and called us “young kids” over and handed Megs an arms’ length of jasmine! Jasmine is one of the most expensive flowers on sale and I insisted several times that I pay him for it. He refused to take any payment and just told us to enjoy it. I felt really bad for the man and so I gave him a token ten rupees as a thank-you although he had given us something worth close to Rs. 50, which was extremely generous of him. It was also in Gandhi Bazaar that day we had two more interesting experiences. The first was when an auto driver stopped for us when we were crossing the road. Now, I count this as an experience because I was, until that moment, willing to bet that no one in Bangalore stops for pedestrians! The next encounter was when we went to the post office to send a parcel overseas to Sheahan. They refused to accept a parcel to a PO box, insisting that it couldn’t be delivered and demanding a road address.
When we said there wasn’t a road address, they looked at us disbelievingly. Anyhow, I was in no mood to convince them that in many places in Canada, a PO box is the closest you’re going to get to a mailing address. We had been planning on going to the botanical gardens after Gandhi Bazaar but it was almost noon and it was sweltering outside. We were glad that we had visited the gardens in the late afternoon because it was still quite warm out when we left around 5 pm.
The next day, we hired a taxi for four hours so we could go visit the ISKCON temple on the outskirts of Bangalore. The temple is enormous and very ornately decorated, both on the outside and inside. It is devoted to the worship of Lord Krishna, as are all ISKCON temples. We left our footwear at the designated stand and immediately you could tell that this temple handled a lot of people because they had burlap sacks in which to put groups of footwear and the footwear stand itself must have been about 50 m long.
It is a one-way circuit through the temple and we stayed for the maha-mangalarti (in which prayers are said, deities are fanned and blessings taken and offered to the visitors) at around noon. The main room housing the deities of Radha and Krishna is a large circular hall with thousands of lamps in the upper levels that can be lit on special occasions. After visiting the temple, we had lunch in the temple restaurant downstairs before heading back home. We spent the rest of the day relaxing at home and packing up a little bit as we were leaving in a two days.
My granddad loves a restaurant called “Vidyarthi Bhavan”, which loosely stands for “Student’s restaurant”, so we decided to take him out for a dosa and coffee there. It is a famous restaurant in Bangalore that even my dad frequented in his university days. I picked him up in an auto-rickshaw and met Meghan and my mom directly at the restaurant. We all had masala dosas (except Megs), which are their specialty, followed by coffee.
I always admire how the waiters bustle about this tiny restaurant carrying ten to twelve plates of dosas down one arm. I was really enjoying spending all this time with my granddad and he was similarly enjoying our company and getting to eat out way more than usual, despite his doctors telling him he should be watching his diet J ! I think I’ll be exactly the same if I make it to his age and I think I must have gotten my love for food from him.
The following day was our last day in Bangalore. We spent the morning packing up our bags. I had to go to a nearby department store with my dad to pick up an extra bag to pack into. In the afternoon, we went to HNagar to say our goodbyes and also to meet my aunt, Nagalakshmi, my cousin Pradeep and his wife Teju and their kids who had made a special trip in to Mysore to see us. It was really nice of them to come down to see us. We had a nice visit them and also showed them pictures from our wedding which they were thrilled to see. From Hnagar, we caught an auto over to PNagar to have one more visit with my granddad and say our goodbyes there. Megs and my parents headed back home around 9:30pm as Meghan still had some packing to finish up and I stayed behind to show some more photos from our trip, which my granddad was eager to see. When I finished showing them around ten, he started showing me pictures from his youth and when he worked as a civil engineer in Northern India.
He showed me pictures of his training in England, Scotland and Russia and told stories of how is life used to be back then. He had done a bit of show and tell with Meghan and I earlier on in our trip, but he really seemed to be in a mood to share his stories. I had been bugging him since we had arrived to tell us his stories and he kept putting it off. It was a really special time that I was able to spend with him and urged him to keep speaking. At around half past midnight, I hugged him goodbye and my uncle dropped me back at the house. It was an emotional parting but I’d had a wonderful visit with him and he was very happy to have gotten to spend time with myself and Meghan, whom he often told me was very adjustable and a wonderful girl. I agreed.
The following morning, or more like four hours later, we were all up and taking showers before heading to the airport. We had booked a taxi for the ride out and I was getting a bit tense because it was 6:25 am and he wasn’t there yet (we had booked the cab for 6:30). He showed up time however and we piled in and headed off to the airport. When we got out at the airport and the cab had left, my dad vowed to never catch a cab again and said he would stick to the bus. The same driver we had used to get to ISKCON seemed to be enjoying the relatively light traffic and was weaving in and out of traffic at scary speeds. We made it in one piece nonetheless and sat at the airport enjoying some home-made chai and snacks that my mom had packed that morning. We soon said our goodbyes and my parents waved through us several times through the windows until we disappeared past the security gates and through customs. It had been a very successful and enjoyable trip to India and we were on our way to resume our cheese eating.
Having picked up our luggage and stepped out of the airport, we were greeted by a fresh, gust of warm air and dozens of greeters with placards. We wandered over to the pre-paid taxi counter to order a taxi when we were pleasantly surprised by Roopa and Mahesh, my uncle and aunt. They had decided at the last minute to come out and pick us up which was very nice of them. We piled into their car and drove through the near empty streets of Bangalore at 4 am. I warned Meghan not to expect the roads to be empty like this at any other point during our stay in Bangalore. We were dropped off at Indovilla (my parents' house) and shown where things were briefly. The sun would be up in under an hour so we hit the bed and dozed on and off until late the next morning. We got up the next morning and walked over to my grandad’s house to spend the day there with him. His house is located in Padmnabhanagar (or PNagar for short).