If I can be of any help…the words were still hanging in the air when I got a follow-up call: If you’re going to be in Asia anyway, could you come to our meeting in Bengaluru (fka Bangalore)? It was the invitation I’d been dying for. Two (long, frustrating) days later, I’d successfully navigated the on-line Visa process and would soon be on my way.
In this post, we’ll cover:
- Encouragement to do what nearly everyone told me not to
- Tips for planning & getting around
- Hotel, Restaurant & Shopping recommendations
“I’m going to India” were the first words out of my mouth for weeks leading up to the trip. Not only was it a destination I was dying to see, but the trip itself was a relative surprise tacked onto a pre-existing trip to Singapore. My friends who’d already been to India speedily divided themselves between 2 camps: those who said “get in and out as quickly as possible; don’t leave the hotel” and those who said “it’s far too dirty for you; you’ll hate it”. I was undeterred. I had the rare good fortune of having a member of my team who was not only due to meet me there, but who is FROM Bengaluru. She was delightfully eager to show us around so any worry I had about not being able to get around effectively and safely was completely dispelled.
First things first – you have to get there – and, that isn’t happening without a Visa. I offer the link here because the process is going to get pretty personal – and their interface is unusually casual. The more it probed into my most personal information (and, that of my closest relatives) all the phishing alarms kept going off in my head. I got midway into my first attempt before I saved my progress and asked my colleague from India and the meeting planners if I was using the correct site. I was. I resumed. They require scans of your passport, your business card, a letter of invitation from a business entity within India….and, they scrutinized them hours after entry often asking for higher-quality scans. As I said – it was about 2 days before I completed the process. Have patience. Once it’s accepted, PRESTO you have an e-Visa. Nothing to await in the mail; nothing to print or carry (read: One less thing to keep tabs on).
So, I’ll skip right over the part about how my 737 Max 8 flight was replaced by a plane that was likely pulled out of storage (the service and crew were exceptional, not complaining….just saying it was decorated a little like The Golden Girls’ living room – lots of peach and teal) and go straight to the part where Customs greeted me….well, greeted me is probably too strong a word. Let’s advance to arriving at the hotel.
If you have the chance to stay at a Taj property, I recommend you take it. This is probably my 3rd or 4th stay with them and the first ex-US. Each stay has been exceptional. I was greeted by attentive staff, beautifully attired in traditional costume, and enveloped by the fragrance of incense/heated oils, and entranced by a quiet, pervasive sitar soundtrack. I know that it’s popular in hotel chains now to create fragrance signatures that you’ll remember and associate with them. I have it on good authority that local households use similar fragrances to those that met me at the Taj. They created a memory for me – not of their hotel chain, but of this locale. To me, that’s what an exceptional host does.
“But nothing in India is identifiable, the mere asking of a question causes it to disappear or to merge into something else”E. M Forster
Did you know that there are no fewer than 3 potential outlet adaptors for India? I tried a lot of resources and couldn’t confirm which was right for Bengaluru, so I called the hotel ahead of my visit. “No matter what you have, you’ll be welcomed,” replied the lilting voice from across the globe. After several attempts to make my question more clear, the reply was still the same. Hm. I packed my extra large power source and decided to hope for the best. Upon arrival, I found that the hotel has universal receptacles. No matter what you have, you’ll be welcomed. I get it now.
Outside of organized events, it would’ve been so easy to A) take a nap B) use dinner vouchers inside the hotel, or C) shop at the airport (yep – after exhausting the stores in the hotel, some attendees headed to the airport not to fly, but to shop…..and return to the hotel). But, as you know, I challenge myself (and all of us) to do better than that. So, instead of napping upon arrival- I scheduled a spa service. After flying so far and then sitting in meetings, I was a little stiff. Did you know that before any spa service in India, they begin with a foot washing ceremony? How lovely is that? Low lights and beautiful, hand-painted soaking pot of warm water…. Really, it’s very practical in a country where many people wear sandals on crowded, dusty streets. For me, as part of a massage practice, it drew me out of my day. And, isn’t that why we sign up for massages in the first place?
And, the food – If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve caught on to I’m Celiac. Indian is a cuisine that lends itself well to gluten-intolerance – they use very little wheat flour. The first day, I meandered the most colorful and aromatic buffets collecting foods I felt were pretty safe for me; I was fine. Yet, the head waiter brought me a meal that had been specially prepared. That’s attentive and thoughtful. But, the universally available spread was so inviting. By day 2, I brought my own guide – my native-born colleague who makes most of her own food back home in the states. We walked item by item, knowing well how she’d prepare each and I tried the most amazing things. Breakfast – Dosa – think every coveted omelette line you’ve ever stood in – that’s the Dosa line in India. As compared to omelettes, dosa are more savory and crispy…and lot less eggy. It’s really like a savory, crunchy crepe filled with whatever you choose. Milkshakes – chocolate, mango, coffee, fig – you just can’t say no – and, each is about 2oz, so indulge in more than one. And, filter coffee. Even during meeting breaks, the coffee tureens were turned away from guests so that an attendant must serve us. Honoring guests is an important part of the Hindu culture and I found it in abundance.
As the meeting broke-up, we had 2 choices: One extra dinner in the hotel and a nap prior to the airport, or head out. We headed out.
We traveled out into a more rural part of Bengaluru to visit a Scottish-inspired pub: Byg Brewski Brewing Company (yes, you got that right). Uber is alive and well in this part of the world and we traveled quite easily using our apps. The homes around this lively establishment appeared to be primitive by US standards, so imagine our surprise when we arrived at a nightclub/restaurant that rivals those of LA. We had an extremely pleasant evening trying (literally) everything on the menu. Note, like many places in India, they have a “no stags” policy- in this case it’s 3-stag limit. Meaning, no more than 3 guys in a party without dates are allowed entrance. They take very seriously the element of guys hanging out, drinking and potentially how that might play-out with tables of women nearby. That was an interesting cultural element that was new to me.
We had a bit of a whiz-bang shopping experience on Commercial Street. We wanted colorful bangles, anklets with bells, table linens and maybe some pashmina. Think you have a pashmina?…Can you pull the whole scarf through the width of your ring?…. that’s apparently how you gauge fine pashmina. If you need these items, or just have a hankering for something truly authentic without the travel, I’ll point you here. I visited their store in Bengaluru and wish I’d spent a LOT more time (and $$) there.
I can’t attach a link to the aroma of warm, scented oil, but I can attach a link to music that gives you a flavor of India. I can’t say enough wonderful things about the sophistication of their hospitality. I highly recommend you experience the colors, sounds and perfume for yourself.