If the soul of a city is uncovered by walking the streets, then definitely it holds true for Bangalore as it reveals itself beyond its IT hub and impersonal glass buildings. Kalyani Majumdar explores the multi-layered history of the city.
As you look past the traffic and catch sight of rows of pink and yellow flowers against the clear blue sky, for a second you forget the traffic, and savour the moment. Welcome to Bangalore/Bengaluru.
Rise of a modern city
Bangalore came into significance in 1537 AD, when Kempe Gowda I, a feudatory of Vijaynagar Empire laid the foundation of the city by building a mud Fort, wherein people of different vocation had their settlements. After him, it changed many hands from the Marathas to the Mughals, followed by Hyder Ali and then his son Tipu Sultan and finally, the British Empire. They have all left their imprints on Bangalore. However, Bangalore flourished as a city once the British took over. It started with the shifting of British Headquarters from Mysore to Bangalore in 1837. Gradually, the city witnessed a steady development of wider roads, boulevards, railway lines, improved post and telegraph facilities, and buildings.
A royal experience
As you approach the Bangalore Palace, it is hard to miss the close resemblance of the exterior with the Windsor Palace in England. It is a magnificent Tudor-style structure facing a beautiful garden and has royalty written all over its façade. The plot was bought by King Chamaraja Wadiyar’s guardians in 1873. The palace was built in 1887. Once inside it is hard to miss the bright yellow-coloured ballroom with its decorated columns, ceiling and arches. After taking in the splendour of the ball room walk up a wooden staircase to the Durbar Hall. The huge room with its embellished interiors, huge chandeliers and a beautiful collection of art is indeed a rich experience. The corridors have exhibits from Maharajas hunting escapades. One of the courtyards has a beautiful coloured-tile bench gifted by an erstwhile Spanish royal. It is highly recommended that you walk the lane lined up with trees on your way to the exit.
From South Parade to M.G Road
It is not just now that M.G Road in Bangalore is famous for being the centre of social life. Even during the British era, it had a similar character and was known as South Parade. The building that now has the office of Deccan Herald was once where the popular Funnel’s Restaurant stood. Next to it, is the iconic Higginbotham book store. It has been there since 1905. Recently, it revamped its interiors and now it has reopened with a colourful interior and the façade looks bright as well. The book store has a fantastic collection. There is certainly a sentimental factor attached to this bookshop that has catered to generations of booklovers and still continues to do so. It is lovely to see how the old and the new has blended effectively on this particular stretch. Across the road, alongside the metro station there is a lovely boulevard. The walkway is almost half a kilometer and is lined up with white and pink bougainvillea. It is so refreshing even though it is right next to a busy road.
The roads from the past
At the intersection where M.G Road meets St. Marks Road, you can see a gothic building with etching in bold letters that say, ‘Book Society’. It was built in 1912. Part of the building is now the Hard Rock Café and apparently, sometime back it also had a HMV record store. As you continue further on St Mark Road the prestigious Bowring Institute is on view. From there you can easily negotiate through wide streets to reach the Museum Road, lest you are not wearing comfortable shoes. In 1865, part of the Cantonment Jail building on this road, now Good Shepherd Convent, served as the Government Museum, before it was shifted to its present location on a beautiful neoclassical structure in Kasturba Road, in 1878. Nevertheless, the road retained its name, thus keeping alive a part of history. Also, on the same road right next to the Post Office stands a 150-year-old tiled-roof building that serve as the office of the senior superintendent of post office.
If you approach Cubbon Park from Kasturba Road then you will come across a statue of Queen Victoria standing at the corner of the Park, facing the busy street, perhaps wondering how much the city has changed since 1906. The Cubbon Park was established in 1870 by John Meade and the landscaping was done by Richard Sankey. It is a lovely place to park yourself under a tree with a book.
Imprints from the past
At the entrance of the Lalbagh Botanical Garden there is a peninsular gneissic rock, dated to about 3,000 million years, making it one of the oldest rock formations on the planet. And atop the rock is the Kempe Gowda tower. Hyder Ali laid its foundation in 1760. It was a pleasure garden till William New, a gardener from Kew in London came to Lalbagh in 1858 and turned the place into a scientific research centre and maintained a regular inventory of the trees. He lived in a small cottage inside Lalbagh which is now the Lalbagh library. In 1874, John Cameron took over as superintendent of Lalbagh. He too did many experimental cultivations within the garden. He proposed the idea of a Glass House. It was built in 1889 inspired by the famous Crystal Palace of London. It houses many flower shows and is a must-see.
Outside the Lalbagh gate, there are stalls selling fresh fruit juice in the morning. One might wonder, if this was perhaps the spot where Cameron enthusiastically distributed seeds of new vegetables that he grew, to the passing farmers. We do owe him Chayote, a popular vegetable in Karnataka. Stories such as these crop up when one steps out on the streets of this city to listen to the echoes from the past and weave them into an urban narrative.