I live in an area that is sometimes referred to as the heart of Bangalore. It comes with its share of history. For instance, people often tell me of a time when Koramangala was undeveloped – just trees and nothing else, and the idea of living here seemed incredulous then. I’ve even heard that the area was known as the robber’s neighbourhood. Not anymore fortunately.
However, it’s relatively new and offers less to the heritage hungry. The areas of old Bangalore, on the other hand, have more to offer. These neighbourhoods were the then prime areas of residence and business; are still thriving today and brimming with historical relevance and stories of nostalgia. Sometimes all you have to do is look. But sometimes you need to find the right people to show you.
I had the opportunity to peer into a part of one of these areas – or pettahs as I learnt they are called – on a heritage walk with Bengaluru by Foot. Led by one of its founders, a spirited Mr Mansoor Ali (who also happens to be an architect), we walked in and out of the narrow, busy lanes of Ulsoorpet and Cubbonpet for around three hours, soaking in details that I would have otherwise not acknowledged.
On the road to the left of Badami House, which is situated on the chaotic Hudson Circle, you’ll find the tomb of a Sufi saint. To the common eye, this looks like just another place of worship. But it’s also one that has been in the city for over 250 years.
A short distance from the tomb, stands the Dharmaraya Swamy temple. Last year, a reader of the blog told me about the Karaga festival, an annual event that is trademark to Bangalore and takes place for over a month. This is the temple where it occurs every year. You can read more about the festival here.
The Dharmaraya Swamy temple is the only one in the city that is dedicated to a female goddess – Draupadi. It was built during the reign of Tipu Sultan, who is regarded as one of the founding fathers of this city, and the architecture reflects this.
We were strolling around the temple, listening to Mr. Ali tell us why a large mirror is often found inside the temple (I can’t remember why now, can anyone tell me?) when three little girls surrounded us.
Shy but unable to contain their curiosity and excitement at the sight of unfamiliar people on their turf, they followed us as we stepped outside and started taking pictures of the temple. Turned out, it wasn’t us as much as the cameras – my iPhone and one of the walker’s DSLR – that caught their attention.
They wanted to experience what it was like to take a selfie, and I happily obliged. This is probably as close as I’ll come to having a celebrity moment. I’m not the best person to be around kids but I found myself uncharacteristically warming up to them and even ended up taking a picture with them.
We stopped for snacks and a cup of badaam milk right at an old-timey eatery called Ram Vilas, which has been around since 1963. They sell traditional sweets and savoury snacks but our options were limited when it came to sampling some because they were almost sold out, of everything. We visited Ram Vilas at 5pm. They open at 3pm.
I didn’t get to taste any but what Ram Vilas is most famous for is their dumroot (pumpkin) halwa. I had to settle for good ol’ carrot halwa, which was quite nice. The badaam milk, Mr. Ali said, was made from scratch and not with the ready-made mix (which by the way, I don’t hate, at all) that’s widely available in the city.
While the tomb and the temple are easy to locate, you’ll have to walk through more than one winding lane to meet the men who dye silk. In an inconspicuous looking small, dingy establishment, raw silk arrives in bulk from the town of Sidlaghatta. Further inside, in a steamy room, this silk is rhythmically dunked in and out of cement vats of boiling hot colours by men who are ironically barely clad.
Even more inconspicuous is the tiny factory of silk weavers located just opposite. If it wasn’t for the harmonious rattling of the weaving machines, I would never have realized that there six men in a room were busy weaving silk saris, each bearing a different design.
Another stop for replenishment was at a tiny restaurant called Ajantha that looked like it had just opened. The fact that Mr. Ali spontaneously decided we should all try this shiny new place made him instantly admirable to me. I love when people spontaneously make plans to eat, and even more when it involves a risk like eating at an unknown, “un-reviewed” place. Although it was just chaat, I’m always game to try something or someplace new when it comes to food.
It was well past working hours and as we walked deeper into the pettah, the lanes got narrower, the people busier and the activities louder. We were introduced to a market for fruits, vegetables and other edible provisions like spices and grains. The market is rundown but it’s where locals set up shop to make a living they desperately depend on.
I say desperate because Mr. Ali said that the market is at a risk of being demolished to be replaced by God-knows-what. Maybe a mall. It’s a typical fight against “The Man.” So much so that when we entered the market, evident that we don’t belong there, we were met with looks that were part disdain and part anxiety because they were worried we might be members of the BBMP. The sight of cameras only made it worse.
Hopefully, the market will stick around as should the other cultural gems in this pettah. But if I were you, I’d take a walk instead taking the risk of missing out.