We are living in interesting times—during the time of Covid-19. After almost three months of lockdown, the Indian travel industry is slowly opening up with the resumption of domestic flights in India. This means short-haul destinations will more likely be in demand. People will opt for smaller boutique hotels, and road trips are more likely to be the most sought-after mode of travel.
Now is the time for travel agents to increase fill up their knowledge bank on destinations. For instance, a city like Bengaluru, more known for its corporate lifestyle, great food, and bits of tourism hotspots, has much more to offer than you can imagine.
In an exclusive interview with Voyager’s World, former development journalist, Meera Iyer, currently the Convenor of Bengaluru Chapter of INTACH, talks about her new book, ‘Discovering Bengaluru’ and how it could help travel agents and tour operators weave beautiful, fact-based stories about the great city.
‘Discovering Bengaluru’ is a comprehensive 339-pager that doles out the history and heritage of Bengaluru. What inspired you to write the book? Tell us about the journey.
Several things inspired me to write and edit this book. First, we at INTACH have been organizing and conducting heritage walks in different parts of Bengaluru for 12 years now. Over the years, several people have told us that they didn’t know most of what we talked about or showed them, even those who are born and brought up here. Many people also urged our walks urged us to write a book based on the walks. Second, it appears that most visitors to Bengaluru only stay here as long as they need to until they can leave for Hampi or Mysore or some other place. In other words, Bengaluru is nothing more than a transit point for most tourists. Which is such a shame because in fact, there is so much that this city can offer the interested tourist.
I decided to write a book on Bengaluru sometime ago but it took me about four years to put it all together. Also, there are other contributors including ecologists Hita Unnikrishnan and Harini Nagendra, who have written about a lost lake, architect Krupa Rajangam who has written about Whitefield, and naturalist Karthikeyan Srinivasan who has written about trees in Lalbagh.
A lot of time and research has gone into the making of the book. Could you list out three reasons how it might come in handy for a travel agent and tour operator who is promoting Bengaluru?
The book is aimed at both residents and visitors to Bengaluru. As a Bangalorean, you may walk or drive past a building or a stadium for years and not know the story behind it! Once you do, you look at it in a totally different light. On the other hand, a lot of tourists may be interested in knowing how some very famous figures in world history – such as the Duke of Wellington, for example – a have played important roles in Bengaluru’s history, or that medieval Bengaluru was similar to medieval London, or how there are French connections in Bengaluru, or how there is a local connection to the American National Anthem! Even for me, after writing the book, I’m continually amazed at how many connections there are between Bengaluru and the rest of the world and of course other parts of India. The book has many of these connections in its chapters. I’m sure these are things that tourists would love to explore – the book will help them do that.
One of the things about India is how our built heritage and our intangible heritage are so inextricably entwined. In India, a stone in a temple is not really a stone, it is part of living history. And Bengaluru is a wonderful place in which to see this because much of our built heritage is living, breathing heritage. The temples in Ulsoor or Malleswaram, or our lovely churches, are good examples of this.
When visitors come to Bengaluru, most people (tour operators included, I think) don’t know where to take them, apart from Vidhana Soudha. With a book focused on the history and heritage of neighborhoods, it is now possible to customize tours depending on the visitors’ location (eg. visitors with meetings in Whitefield can do a Whitefiled walk) and time available.
Despite the significant number of temples in Bengaluru, the city is now primarily celebrated for its pub culture. In your opinion, what steps must be taken to promote the temples of Garden City?
Take people to them, talk about them, write about them, highlight them in your brochures and other materials! Someshwara temple, for example, is like a tiny slice of Hampi right in the heart of Bengaluru. And unlike most of the Hampi temples, this one is actually a living temple, which is an added attraction. To me, it’s incredible to think about how a temple whose core dates from about a thousand years ago is still in use!. Of course, much of the present form of the temple is about 400-500 years old. Its carvings alone make it worth visiting – there is such a wealth of stories from Indian mythology in them. There is also much symbolism in the temple’s carvings. For example, have you noticed the carvings of the goddess Ganga on the entrance gateway, placed there so that devotees who enter are cleansed as if passing through the river!
Another temple that is very beautiful is the Bhoganandishwara temple near Nandi, near the international airport. This is easily the most beautiful temple in Bengaluru. It is also one of its oldest, dating from about the 8th century, with several additions made to the complex over the next thousand years. Here, you can see carvings similar to both Belur and Halebidu and Hampi. Its setting is also breathtaking – at the foothills of Nandi Hills. It has a lovely stepped tank, again one of Bengaluru’s largest and most beautiful. Whether you are interested in religion, spirituality, art history, or just peace and quiet, this is the temple to go to.
A third temple that I personally like is the Nandiswara temple in Malleswaram. I like it because it is a very unusual temple – here you have Nandi as the main deity, and from the Nandi’s mouth issues a stream of clear and clean water that falls gently on a linga of Shiva below. The temple is probably a late 19th-century construction but it’s unusual construction and from make it worth a visit.
There is a lot to explore in Bengaluru. Could you name a few heritage sites that would interest a foreign traveler, and why?
One of my must-visit places for foreign tourists is the area around the fort and palace. The fort itself was the locus of a major battle that was fought here in the late 18th century, a battle that had important repercussions on Indian and world history. It also involved world figures including Charles Cornwallis who was sent here after having surrendered to George Washington in the USA. The fort’s construction and its history are well worth a visit, and the tale of the battle that was fought there is a dramatic story full of bravery, sacrifice, and faith. Just a few meters away is the charming palace built by Tipu Sultan which has French connections to highlight. And in the vicinity is the famous flower market of Bengaluru. This is best visited early in the morning when you can see entire streets turned into a sea of riotous colors as flower sellers line up all along. It’s quite an overwhelming experience, and something unique to the city. Most foreign tourists love experience.
It’s also nice to take tourists to Malleswaram to experience a bit of science, some lovely architecture, a temple, a market, and a tough of the rural in the city. Malleswaram is where the Nobel Prize-winning genius CV Raman lived. You can visit his house, and then stroll down to take in some domestic architecture in the vernacular style, then experience a typical Indian market full of vendors selling colorful flowers and vegetables. From there a short walk takes you to two temples, each interesting in its own way. For example, the snake stones at Kadu Malleswara are an interesting spot to talk about religious traditions in India. A 400-year-old inscription on a rock nearby introduces foreigners to an Indian way of proclamations and record-keeping. And if they are up to it, you can wind up at the Washerman’s Colony for a bit of ‘real India’ and to marvel at how in ‘IT city Bengaluru’, we still have vestiges of a past that linger, giving our city its peculiar charm.
A stroll down on and near the MG road area is always interesting too. In the space of a few hours, you can traverse 1000 years of history! From the Ulsoor Someshwara temple (Don’t miss its wooden temple chariot,) to Trinity Church, to bungalows, to pubs!
Order your copy of ‘Discovering Bengaluru’ HERE