My first morning in Bangalore I woke up feeling miserable. We had been massively ripped off on our taxi, our hotel was sketchy at best – I was not in the mood to speak to anyone. The other two woke up and went to breakfast and I stayed in bed where at least the air conditioning worked and I turned on the TV and skimmed the channels. They were showing the 76ers vs the Nuggets live. The Nuggets won in a buzzer beater. I started feeling a little better. I switched the channel to MTV India. There is no way anyone can not have their day at least minutely brightened by MTV India. Indian music videos are just so bright and cheery and full of shoulder shimmying dance moves that you can’t help but smile and either laugh with or at them. When the other two returned from breakfast they also had the wifi password – things were definitely improving.
Within a few minutes of signing on to Facebook I saw that I had a message from Bose, a friend of a good friend from home. He had agreed to show me around Delhi, but saw on FB that I had already arrived in Bangalore and told me he had a friend here that was a manager at an awesome bar and at a restaurant. Safe food and drinks in India? Sign me up!
Feeling much better I got dressed and headed out into the streets of Bangalore to explore the Botanical Gardens. It was hot, especially coming from Sydney at the end of the summer. But at least I could wear shorts and a sleeveless shirt…WRONG! Aracely and I in our shorts and tank-tops were getting stared at by everyone and laughed at by children. Not only did we not see a single other westerner but we didn’t even see a single woman not wearing a sari or niqab. We fucked up. Even Mark in his shorts was getting strange looks since most men were wearing button down shirts and slacks. At least the garden was pretty.
After the park we were all hungry but had no idea where safe places to eat were so we just plunged forward with our plans to get train tickets to Mysore (as was recommended to me by an Indian couple in Tahiti) and visit Shiv Mandir for our first temple in India experience. I had also learned by now to wear full length jeans and fully cover my shoulders. Still got stared at. Just can’t win.
Let me describe what traffic is like in India. Have you ever seen those children’s rugs with the neatly arranged roads for kids to drive their toy cars on? Cut up the rug into squares and rearrange the roads so they’re no longer a grid. Good, now fill the roads with toy cars. Then squeeze in as many bicycles and scooters as you can in any empty spaces. Once you’ve squeezed those in go to your farm set and sprinkle in some cows wherever you can. For good measure throw in some dogs running perpendicular to traffic. Now you have an inkling of what it looks like. To get an idea of what it sounds like, imagine every single one of the vehicles leaning on their horn the entire time. Welcome to the roads of India!
The nice thing about this insanity is I got to have my first experience riding in a tuktuk (rickshaw in India). New favorite method of transportation. It can be a bit scary, especially in light of the aforementioned conditions, but if you trust your driver enough to accept that he knows what he’s doing in the organized chaos then you can sit back and enjoy the mesmerizing disarray of everything around you.
First stop … Train station. Not fun. For a country who has English as one of it’s national languages, it sure is really fucking difficult to navigate in my native tongue. Buying tickets ultimately came down to us paying off some random dude in the station to hold our hands while we filled out the form. Had we done it my way, I would’ve just flirted with the uniformed guys with assault rifles and gotten them to do the paperwork for me. That being completed, the next stop was Shiv Mandir … and McDonalds because I assumed their food would be safe and Amurrrica – fuck yeah!
I’m not going to lie, religious tourism always makes me slightly uncomfortable. While I respect the sanctity of religion, I’ve never personally subscribed to any of them so I have no idea what to do when put in a situation that requires observance of age old traditions and respect of deities I know nothing of. Regardless, visiting my first Hindu temple was quite the experience even if I was like a bull in a China shop when it came to the rituals of the temple. I will say by the end of the tour of the temple despite being flustered about knowing where to tie strings, where to drop coins, when to splash water, and when to walk in circles, hearing the chants of “Om Namah Shivaya” repeatedly while staring at a giant statue of Shiva at sunset was actually quite relaxing. No I am not Eat, Pray, Loving. Go F yourself. (I’m making an effort to curb my cursing during religious tourism expeditions.)
Less than 24 hours in India was probably more stressful than most of the rest of the trip combined. So after a long day of culture shock and cultural adjustments it was finally time for something I was used to. And while some chicks dig shopping and spa treatments, I need a well crafted cocktail and a nice meal. In addition to taking Bose’s restaurant recommendation, I also did a bit of research on my own to find the best restaurants in Bangalore, which is India’s third largest city. Fortunately for me, Bose’s suggestion and a list of the 10 best restaurants both agreed that I needed to go to Olive Beach and their sister bar, Monkey Bar.
As soon as we arrived I immediately felt a comforting sense of familiarity. We were greeted by Rahul who told us we should check out Monkey Bar for a few drinks down the street and the come back to Olive for dinner. Done and done. Monkey Bar could easily have been a cocktail bar in Brooklyn. And is that, Biggie that I hear playing? And did that drink come in in a mini-jug? I am home. We also had lamb heart skewers which were amazing. By the time we got to dinner I was pretty much convinced I was back in NY and ordered whatever I wanted completely forgetting all those “watch what you eat in India warnings.” My negligence of the rules lead me to an awesome salad (India dining rule 1: don’t eat raw vegetables, they are washed in contaminated water) and meat ( India dining rule 2: don’t eat meat their handling regulations are next to non-existent). Not just meat, raw meat (see above). Not just raw meat, beef. Or steak carpaccio to be exact. (India dining rule 3: umm asshole cows are sacred in India what the fuck are you doing!?!) No regrets. It was all amazing. Thanks to Rahul and this awesome dinner I was willing to reevaluate all my initial instincts to flee India and ready to give the country a second chance. Food to the rescue again. Thanks Rahul!