Making friends in Bangalore

Flying into Bangalore Airport was like flying into a different country.

Suddenly we found ourselves in a huge glass and steel building lined with shops like Subway and Krispy Kreme. If I hadn’t been paying attention during the flight, I would’ve sworn we’d taken a wrong turn somewhere.

Uber

Zev had done some research, and it seemed like THE way to get around Bangalore was with Uber, which we never used at home. We followed the signs to the Uber Zone (after a detour to Krispy Kreme of course – we’re not idiots). The designated pick up and drop off spot was HEAVING! We had a few teething issues with the app (the app told us the first driver had arrived when he hadn’t, and then three more suddenly dropped off the app when they were two minutes away) but eventually, our driver turned up and we climbed in. Zev mentioned that there must be some kind of issue with the app – we were staying 44kms away and it was listing the drive time as 1 hour and 45 minutes, which of course couldn’t be right!

There are two wonderful aspects to Uber. The price is determined by the app, so you know when you get in exactly how much the ride is going to cost. Not all drivers over here accept in-app payments, so it hasn’t totally done away with cash, but at least you know where you stand. It’s particularly useful when you arrive in a new city and have no idea how much a ride should cost, so you don’t know whether the price you’re quoted is ridiculous or not.

The second great thing is that the app determines where you are for pick up (you don’t have to ring an operator and try to give them an address), and you enter your destination on the map in the app and that information is given to the driver. In both Sri Lanka and India, we’ve had lots of trouble explaining to drivers where we want to go. Even when they speak English, nobody seems to use addresses. If you say ‘I want to go to 123 Sesame Street’, they always want to know the name of the place you’re going. That’s a problem with Air BnBs – they don’t have names. If you try to show them on a map, that doesn’t seem to help. They usually want to enter the address into their own GPS, but if you give them a street address instead of a hotel name, they seem to think the app won’t find it without a name. It leads to an endless cycle of frustration for all. With Uber, this is solved!

Off we went, with our driver who seemingly spoke absolutely no English. As we travelled, our driver took the opportunity to catch up with every single person in his phone book. And I mean everyone. He’d scroll through his contacts, find someone to call, and chat for 10 or so minutes non-stop. As soon as he hung up, he was on to the next person.

20 minutes after leaving the airport it became abundantly clear that yes, this journey would indeed take the full 1 hour and 45 minutes. Traffic was an absolute shambles. Our driver pulled over to get gas. Something I would’ve thought you’d do BEFORE picking passengers up, but hey, what do I know. At this point, Zev and I had basically been travelling all day, and had been on a boat and a tuk tuk in Alleppey, a 3 hour bus ride back to Cochin, a 1 hour flight, and now were stuck in a taxi for nearly 2 hours, so we were a little scratchy. The constant nattering from the driver as he imparted all the news of the world to everyone he’d ever met was getting a little irritating. Perhaps if he spent more time paying attention to the road and less time flooring it then slamming the brakes on constantly, I wouldn’t have spent the entire drive thinking of creative ways to kill him without using my hands.

We did get to our accommodation in the end though, so all was not lost. Except for our change, because he ‘didn’t have any’ so we had to pay him extra. Bastard. Nonetheless, our Air BnB was a welcome sight, and we were delighted to put our bags down knowing that we didn’t have to pick them up again for another 5 days.

Not long after we arrived, out host came around and introduced himself and dropped off some chocolates – very sweet. He gave us the low down on the area, and recommended a spot for dinner. Koramangala, where we’re staying, is a very hip area, with lots of cool cafes and restaurants, and some pretty happening nightlife. By the time we arrived it was 9.30pm, and we basically hadn’t eaten all day, so we headed straight to Prost, a local microbrewery. For the princely sum of $30, we ate an drank until we hated ourselves, and headed back to the house very much looking forward to a shower and a good night’s sleep.

Yet again, the universe thwarted us. The hot water heater is turned off between guests, so we had to settle for cold showers before bed. We were so tired, we didn’t really care.

At 1am, the upstairs neighbours returned home, and started practicing their audition pieces for India’s version of stomp. They were hooting and hollering, clapping and cheering, and stamping their feet like they were trying to put out a fire. I hated them. I hated them even more than I hated our Uber driver.

Ultimate frisbee

At 6am, our alarms went off. Absolutely shattered, we dragged ourselves out of bed to get dressed. Zev had managed to get in touch with someone from Bangalore Ultimate, and we’d arranged to join a team for a game at 7am. It was s half hour Uber ride away, so off we set, bleary eyed & foggy. We had more luck with our Uber driver this time, who kept the phone usage to a minimum and even carried change. We were dropped at a school where we were told training was, and we wandered the area looking for anyone who looked like they played frisbee.

30 minutes of wandering and two texts to our contact later, we sat forlornly at the side of a field watching dozens of school children warm up for cricket games. Dejected, we got another Uber and headed home. Zev managed to go back to sleep, and I caught up with family on Facetime before we finally heard from our frisbee ‘friend’ – the game had been cancelled and he forgot to tell us. Classic frisbee.

After a delicious breakfast at a funky local cafe, the world was looking like a more reasonable place. Despite a few hiccups, Bangalore seemed really cool, and the area we were staying in had lots of opportunities to take a break from curry for a while.

Much to our excitement, we also discovered that the neighbourhood was home to several Escape Room establishments, a fun activity that Zev and I discovered in Malaysia and have also done at home in Auckland. Basically they lock you in a room, and you have to solve a series of puzzles to get out before the timer runs out. We spent a fun hour doing one, before heading to the main shopping area to get some supplies.

Our frisbee friend, who for some reason Zev still decided was trustworthy, had told us about a mini-tournament going on the following day. It was 2 hours out of town (so given Bangalore traffic, probably about 50kms away), and he wasn’t going, but he put us in touch with someone who was, and we even managed to organise someone to pick us up. To celebrate, we decided it was probably worth investing in some cleats, because it there’s a pretty bustling ultimate scene in India, and we’re hoping to play some more while we’re here.

We swung by the supermarket to pick up some supplies, eager to make use of the kitchen at our accommodation, particularly breakfast cereal and milk – funny the things you crave when you can’t have them! We had a really quiet afternoon doing laundry and catching up on life admin, trying to plan where we were going next, writing and sorting out photos, and generally just enjoying having our own space to hang out in.

The next morning, we were up even earlier. Our ride was picking us up at 6am to drive to the games starting at 7am. At 6.15am, we got a text – he’d slept in, and would be there by 6.45am. Bloody frisbee players. Sure enough he turned up, and we piled into the car with the driver, Varoon, and his two team mates Das and Deepak. The car was about the size of a Nissan Micra, so it was pretty cosy, but what better way to get to know people than to really get into their personal space, you know?

We spent the drive chatting easily, talking about work and frisbee, even making the brave entry into politics with no bloodshed. All the guys were really nice and made us feel incredibly welcome and included. It helped that their English was flawless – they could even understand my crazy kiwi accent without me having to talk slowly!

Soon enough, Varoon started getting phonecalls from clearly irritated team mates, asking where we were (by this stage we were already half an hour late). He started making excuses about terrible traffic and other such imaginary obstacles, before hanging up laughing, saying that they should’ve known he was going to be late anyway. “But we should probably stop for chai anyway.” Next thing, we’d pulled off the road, and we were all sipping chai while Das ate some breakfast. I like these guys – they’ve got their priorities right!

Not too long after getting back in the car, we pulled up to the campus that was hosting the tournament. It was a private college (ie university) and it was ENORMOUS, and even had a golf course! We found our way to the fields and found that two of the other teams were playing each other. Varoon assured us, “See, we’re right on time.” We introduced ourselves to the rest of our team, and started warming up. While we were watching the end of the first game, the rest of our team were chatting about an upcoming tournament in Goa. We’d seen it advertised but it was team entry, and we mentioned that if they knew of any teams that had spots available, we’d love to play. People muttered that they’d check if there was room, and that they were sure we’d be able to find a team to play on, but the reception was decidedly lukewarm. Fair enough – they didn’t know us, and they’d never seen us play.

Soon enough, our game started, and it was really fun to be back on the field playing a no-pressure game where we didn’t have to organise anything. The tournament itself was organised by the college team as a warm up for a proper college tournament the following weekend. There were four teams there (including us), and the other three were all competing the next weekend. The 3 other teams were still very much in the development stages, so they definitely had some skills but had trouble keeping up with the team we were playing on.

By the end of the day, we’d won our three games, and had spent some time helping and teaching the other teams. We’d also been told that we were almost definitely on the team for Goa – score!

Everyone from the mini-tournament

We piled back into the car at the end of a scorching day, absolutely exhausted. Varoon drove us back to Koramangala, and we all went for lunch before going our separate ways. We said we’d stay in touch with them about the Goa tournament, and any other frisbee goodness coming up during our stay in India.

By later that night, word had got out that we weren’t terrible, and we’d had offers from 4 teams for Goa, and I’d been asked if I wanted to play at the world champs with the Indian mixed masters team. We’re in negotiations with our agents, so we’ll see what happens.

The aftermath

We woke up the next morning paying the price for the exercise from the day before. Although we’ve been doing lots of walking and activity since leaving home, this was our first proper run around and I could hardly walk.

The next couple of days passed in a haze of organisation – catching up on blogs and photos, and trying to organise our next couple of destinations in India. The average internet connection and a lot of difficulty using overseas credit cards to book travel made this all a little frustrating, but within a couple of days, we’d largely ticked off our to do list for Bangalore. We even managed to squeeze in another Game of Thrones-themed escape room!

Bangalore hospitality

One evening, our Air BnB host Saurav invited all of his Air BnB guests around for chai. He seems to be a bit of an Air BnB mogul, so there were 4 guests plus him, and later his wife joined us. It was a really nice evening, and we all sat chatting about India, our respective homes, and travelling while sipping masala chai on Saurav’s porch. One of the guys was Polish and very interested in New Zealand. He asked how often people see Kiwis, and we said that you can see them, but there aren’t very many so you have to be lucky. In order to demonstrate how lucky he was at spotting animals, he told us about how he went into the mountains in Poland to camp in the woods with a friend. They had heard there were bears around, but the locals all told him that none had been seen for years. Sure enough, he and his friend stumbled across a mother bear and her cub, and ended up spending the night sleeping up a tree while the mother bear stalked them and wouldn’t let them down. Not sure I’d consider that lucky…

One day of touristing

With our last day in Bangalore, we thought we better get out and see some of the sights. Zev had been very busy the day before planning our route, so he was our tour guide for the day.

We started our day at Cubbon Park, a 1.2 squared Km green space in the centre of Bangalore. Within the park lies the Venkatappa Art Gallery, where Zev and I came across a huge visiting school group. We found ourselves swamped by school kids, all enthusiastically (but very politely, and in beautiful English) asking us where we were from, how long we were in Bangalore, and what we thought of India. They were all about 10, and it was really cute seeing them smiling and laughing while they were chatting with us, talking about what they were learning in school and what they’d seen in the art gallery (they were very embarrassed by all the naked sculptures). It was a pretty good reminder that kids are kinda the same all over the world.

Venkatappa Art Gallery

As we continued our tour of the park, we passed by the Karnataka High Court, and Bangalore Central Library. The library was beautiful, and claims to have books in all the languages of India – pretty impressive when you consider that, according to the Indian Census in 2001, India has 122 major languages and 1599 other languages!

Bangalore Central Library

We finished our circuit of the park with a quick visit to a Gandhi statue, before making our way for lunch. Zev had pre-selected a woodfired pizza place, and we arrived just as the doors were opening. Within minutes, the place was packed and the frantic staff were churning out delicious pizzas left, right and centre. We thoroughly enjoyed stuffing our faces and escaping the heat after a busy morning of sightseeing.

From lunch we continued to the famous MG (Mahatma Gandhi) Rd, one of the busiest roads in Bangalore. In the pre-independence area, the road was a major trading hub, and today is still home to lots of bustling shops, We found a big bookstore and stopped in to get a book and an envelope to send back to New Zealand, and then walked to a nearby post shop. After a frustrating exchange regarding return addresses (why do we need to provide one if we won’t be at the return address if the package can’t be delivered????), we finally managed to send a birthday present back to a certain soon-to-be-8 year old in Auckland.

MG Road Metro Station

Thoroughly drained after cramming all of our sightseeing into one day, we headed home exhausted.

Onward journies

It was with a fair bit of sadness that we packed up and moved out of our Air BnB to journey onto Mysore. Aside from the fact that Bangalore is a really cool, progressive city, we’d met so many amazing people who made us feel completely welcome and included, and we really didn’t want to say goodbye. The only thing making it better was the hope that we would see them all again at the tournament in Goa.

We pulled up to the train station in Bangalore and were greeted by chaos. There were people everywhere, and we struggled to even identify where the entrance to the station was. Within seconds of exiting the taxi, we were approached by a security guard. He asked where we were going, pointed us in the direction of the ticket booth, and told us the train number, what time it was leaving, and which platform it was leaving from. Two minutes later, we had tickets (for a whopping $3NZD) and we were climbing on the train.

Men were bustling up and down the aisle selling all sorts of goodies, so we organised ourselves some samosas and chai, and settled in for the journey. Not long after the train started moving, the guy sitting opposite us struck up a conversation with us, asking us the usual questions like where we were from and how long we'd been in India.

Three hours later, when our train rolled into Mysore, we'd swapped numbers, talked to Abdul about how to get a job in New Zealand, talked to the guy opposite us about how I look like some famous politician's wife, discussed politics and religion (with no fights), and got the complete run down on where to go, what to do, and what to eat in Mysore. I know I keep saying it, but the people here are truly incredible. Everyone has been so friendly and kind, and we've never really encountered anyone with an agenda.

Long may it last!

Lots of love,
S & Z
xxx