25 January 2016

Common misconceptions about Bangalore

Many people (especially foreigners) look at me in disbelief when I tell them I lived in Bangalore for close to seven years. Most foreign travellers to India avoid Bangalore because they think it doesn't have a lot to offer, or they think it's too 'modern' and therefore uninteresting. It may be true that Bangalore doesn't have a lot of tourist attractions compared to other Indian cities, but what I love about this city is everything it doesn't offer to the tourist. The city takes time to get to know and appreciate, and offers many pleasant surprises to those who choose to explore it.

Unfortunately Bangalore's image suffers from a lot of misconceptions, assumptions and even untruths. Here are a few of the most common ones...

1. Everyone works in IT

There are quite a few IT companies located in Bangalore, but this is also the case of cities like Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai and others, even Calcutta. The IT boom definitely fuelled a large influx of professionals from other parts of India and even from abroad, and this has contributed to the phenomenon of a growing middle class with increasing spending power – not just here but across India. But not everyone is a ‘techie’, and IT professionals living and working in Bangalore are a privileged minority. There are people here doing many other types of jobs, just like in any other city anywhere in the world.

2. It’s India’s most modern city

Many people think that Bangalore is 'modern' and therefore doesn't have a lot of culture or anything 'traditional' or 'typically Indian' left. This image is also one that locals often propagate because they're proud of their city and want it to have a progressive image. Because Bangalore is known for its IT sector and is advertised as 'the Silicon Valley of India', many assume it must be very 'western' (the definitions of 'western' and 'modern' would require separate blog posts!). Parts of the city are certainly 'modern', especially the tech parks and many new housing developments, as well as the new international airport and metro line. But the city still has its many charming 'traditional' neighbourhoods and vibrant markets which are full of local ambiance, noise and colour. For me, this is where you can find the true soul of the city. In reality, all of India's cities are changing fast and developing in similar ways, with the new sharing space with the old.

3. There’s nothing to see

I mentioned above that Bangalore doesn't have a lot of tourist attractions and notable historical monuments compared to other Indian cities. I would always be a bit stuck when I had visitors and wondered where to take them. But visits to places like the Bangalore Palace and the Bull Temple were always appreciated. Kids love visiting the huge Shiva Mandir on Old Airport Road. Art lovers adore the National Gallery of Modern Art. And everyone's struck by the old world charm of neighbourhoods like Malleswaram and Basavanagadi, and bustling markets like Russell Market and the City Market which offer a slice of everyday life. What Bangalore doesn't have in tourist sights, it makes up in the experiences it offers.

4. Everyone is rich

Again, because of it's IT image, some people assume that everyone living in Bangalore is amazingly well-off. There are a lot of well-off people living in Bangalore, but apparently Delhi, Bombay, Pune and Hyderabad have more 'super-rich' than Bangalore does. The reality is that all types of people from all walks of life live here, and the rich are a minority – just like in other Indian cities.

5. There’s no culture

This is another big misconception. Bangalore has an extremely vibrant arts and cultural scene. The number of cultural events on offer here is baffling: from concerts and dance performances, film screenings and international arts festivals, to theatre productions and fine art exhibitions. Something seems to be going on almost all the time.

6. The weather is cold

Bangalore is known as a 'cold' city because of its climate. At almost 1000 metres above sea level, temperatures here are lower than other Indian cities. The climate here is perfect: humidity levels are low, and summer highs reach only a maximum of 36 or 37 degrees (compared to 40+ degree temperatures in other places). 'Cold' is relative, of course. For me, a city where you don't require heating in the winter is not a 'cold' city, but for South Indians, temperatures under 25 degrees are considered cold! Friends who once came to visit had come prepared with warm clothes after being warned about 'cold Bangalore' and were surprised by how hot the weather was!

7. Hindi is spoken here

Many people who don't know much about India assume that Hindi is spoken in Bangalore and I'm often asked if I learned Hindi while living here. I believe you should try to learn the local language wherever you live, so I was learning Kannada. But many Bangaloreans speak several other languages, and apart from their native Kannada, they often speak several Indian languages, including Hindi  – and English.

8.  It’s no longer a garden city

Bangalore was known for a long time as the 'garden city' because of its many vast parks, tree-lined streets, and many old, majestic trees. Old Bangaloreans love to tell you about times past, about what life was like before, and say it's no longer a garden city. It's true that many of the city's beautiful flowering trees have been lost to infrastructure projects, but this is still a city of many parks and tree-lined avenues even if it's less so than a decade ago. I hope it stays that way!

9. Women in Bangalore don't wear Indian clothes

This is another thing I've heard that baffles me. Again, it comes from Bangalore's perceived image as a 'modern' city which somehow is supposed to permeate all aspects of life and culture here. So of course that means that women wear Western-style clothes. In fact, you will see women wearing Western-style clothes in Bangalore, but you'll also see women wearing the more traditional salwaar-kameez, and there are plenty of women in saris. You will even see women wearing the niqab! Again, like in other cities in India, you see women dressed in different types of attire, depending on the environment they are in. One thing I learned in India, is that women dress according to the occasion and context, each requiring a different type of outfit. I also noticed that dress is also often dictated by social class and age.

10. Traffic is bad

This is not a misconception at all! Traffic is terrible in Bangalore and every time I come back, I notice it's getting worse!

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