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04 July 2010

Inaugaral flight to Bangalore

By Marc

Luck, and maybe even Karma, led to my wife and I being a passenger aboard Air Asia’s inaugaral flight in May to Bangalore in India. Though slightly late in take off (due to a delay on the incoming flight from Chennai) the flight made good time. Captain Fabian kept us informed of our progress as he steered the shiny new Airbus around cyclone Laila which was wreaking havoc over Andhra Pradesh (and had been the cause of delay on the Chennai flight).

We landed at Bangalore International Airport with a round of applause from the passengers. Being the first Air Asia flight to land in Bangalore we were given a special welcome. As we pulled off the main runway towards the terminal building two red fire trucks, sent out twin arcs of water over the plane, blessing us as we passed.

We swiftly disembarked and once inside the terminal building two charming young ladies handed roses to each passenger. Bangalore Airport is as clean and efficient as any international airport and there were plenty of attendants on hand to answer any questions. Immigration and customs went very smoothly and the gentlemen there (not a woman in sight) were admirably courteous.

We took cash from the ATM, at a significantly better rate than the exchange office in the arrivals hall, and an attendant showed us where we could board the airport shuttle bus to the city centre.
Outside the air was refreshingly cool at 28 degrees celcius. Taxi drivers asked 500 rupees (around 40 rinngit)for the journey to the city centre, but we opted for the bus which was 150 rupees per person. The bus was brand new, air-conditioned and a friendly conductor took our fares.

Bangalore is the 5th biggest city in India with a population of around 7 million people. It is one of the I.T. hubs of India and home to the Indian Space Research Organization. The city is the envy of India for its comfortable climate, which thanks to it’s altitude on the Deccan Plateau rarely exceeds 30 degrees celcius.

The trip downtown took about an hour to the busy central bus station with the sound of constantly honking horns from cars buses trucks and auto-rickshaws filling the air. Lazy cattle sat in the middle of the road obliging traffic to steer around them. The sun was just starting to go down when we arrived. We easily found a room at a cheap hotel. There are literally dozens of “lodges” and hotels with prices to suit most budgets in the Ghandi Nagar neighbourhood beside the bus station. The train station (always called Railway Station in India) is just 5 minutes walk on a pedestrian flyover from the bus station.

The next day we visited the justly famed Lal Bagh botanical gardens. Dating from the 18th century this is truly a remarkable park with magnificent trees from all over the world. The weather was cloudy with a very pleasant cool breeze. It is possible to spent hours exploring the park or simply sitting on a bench overlooking the pond and admiring the birds of prey swooping over the water.

Just across the street from the main gate of Lal Bagh gardens is Lal Bagh Road and one of the most unmissable things for any visitor to Bangalore – MTR.
MTR is Mallai Tiffin Rooms and is probably the most famous restaurant in Bangalore. It has been there for more than 80 years and has changed very little in all that time. The food is “Pure Vegetarian,” which means there is no onion, garlic, eggs or mushrooms – and definitely none of the dreadful ‘mock- meat’ found in Malaysian vegetarian restaurants. The food is fantastic. Most items are traditional South Indian food, with an interesting combination of tastes. Imperative to go with an empty stomach – the portion sizes are not for the faint-hearted.

A “Meal” costs 130 Rupees ( less than 10 Rinngit) and afternoon “Tiffins” start from 30 rupees (less than 3 ringgit). For those with a sweet tooth the MTR sweet shop next door is worth checking out and they propose an impressive array of traditional Indian sweets and eggless cakes.

The city market is one of the most interesting outings you can do in Bangalore. There is a vast array of fruit and vegetables, but most impressive of all is the flower section downstairs in the main building. Hundreds of men, women and children work selling flowers by the kilo or making impressive garlands for altar offerings, weddings and poojas (ceremonies). The air is heavy with the smell of roses and jasmine. Other sections of the market deal in spices and impressive cones of Sindoor, the crimson coloured powder married Hindu women wear in the parting of their hair.

For those looking for the “Modern India” M.G. Road (Mahatma Gandhi Road – there’s one in every Indian city) is the place to go. You’ll find most of the big international fast-food outlets there as well as shopping malls and cinemas.

The cheapest and quickest way to get around Bangalore is by jumping into a little 3-wheel Auto-Rickshaw. Always bargain the price or else you will be taken for a ride in more ways than one. Otherwise you can join one of the many day tours available. You can even make it to Mysore and back in the day if you feel like the 3 hour bus or train ride each way.
Air Asia flies to Bangalore 5 times a week.