By Lester V. Ledesma
It’s known as the Silicon Valley of India, a city at the forefront of a nation’s multibillion-dollar IT industry. Bangalore conjures images of squeaky-clean offices awash in the glow of computer screens. On its streets, young and smartly dressed Bangaloreans walk to the rhythm of a tech-savvy world. Late-model cars crisscross the avenues, passing by buildings adorned with glittering neon lights. This is a city that truly thrives in the present.
Yet behind this layer of modernity lives a Bangalore that ambles to a much slower pace of life. This you’ll find in the tiny villages that lie on the outskirts of this metropolis, or in the countless temples that dot its landscape. This is the timeless face of Bengaluru, the ancient community that was first established over five centuries ago. I’ve come to this small-but – prominent corner of India to experience its exotic charm. Located in the heart of Karnataka, Bangalore was a sleepy village transformed by a succession of South Indian kingdoms—and British colonialists—into the region’s capital. Admittedly, India doesn’t often show up on the travel bucket lists of less adventurous Pinoys. But I already know that this amazingly ancient land, with its picturesque views and dazzling local colors, will be a full-on experience in sensory stimulation.
With my wanderlust in high gear and my cameras warmed up, I waste little time in sampling the delights of Big India. From my hotel I Uber off to downtown Bangalore, where the 480- year-old Bull Temple is located. This place of worship features a huge granite statue of Nandi, a sacred cow who is said to be the vessel of the Hindu god Shiva. Amid the glow of butter oil lamps and incense smoke, I watch as devotees offer flower garlands to this divine animal. Coconut shells are smashed on the ground, symbolizing the breaking of one’s ego in the presence of the gods.
After this bit of solemn sightseeing, I move over to the Lal Bagh Gardens, a British-era nature reserve that is a popular local hangout. Here, I saunter down picturesque walkways lined with carefully manicured hedges and different species of local flora. Commissioned in 1760 by the Sultan Hyder Ali, these grounds once held the largest collection of rare plants in India.
Impressive as the botanical displays are, however, it is the friendly Bangaloreans who catch my attention. “Jackie Chan!” a group of schoolkids hollered after seeing this small-eyed stranger with considerably paler skin (that’s me!). “Do you like India?” a smiling local asks. “Did the British not come to your country?” inquired another, much older gentleman who seems delighted to have met his first-ever Filipino acquaintance. I may be the amused tourist here, but the attention I am getting makes me feel like the local attraction.
In the following days, I travel further afield to experience the South Indian countryside. From the window of a chugging commuter train, I look out to verdant rice fields dotted with little villages and Hindu shrines. At the nearby city of Mysore, I explore bustling streets teeming with hawkers and gawk at ornate buildings adorned with Victoranera architecture. Mysore is considered the cultural capital of Karnataka, a distinction that is emphasized in an eye-popping manner by the presence of the sprawling Mysore Palace. I check out this jaw-dropping, marble-topped former residence of the Wodeyar Kings (the maharajahs, or rulers of this region, who relinquished power when the Indian republic was born). I can’t help but stop every few seconds to gawk at the opulent hallways, the priceless artworks and the extravagant, jewel-bedecked royal throne room. Later on, I find myself poking around the nooks and crannies of the nearby Devaraja Market, where vendors hawk their wares before a plaza studded with monuments to the “British Raj.”
Here amid the calls of merchants and the endless chatter of buyers and sellers, I inspect piles of fragrant spices, long strings of flower garlands and huge sacks of freshly roasted coffee beans. Surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of India I am truly intoxicated. And indeed, just halfway into my trip my chest of memories overflows. I have already gotten what I came to India for—a delectable immersion in a land so different from my own.
Award-winning photojournalist Lester V. Ledesma will lead a photography workshop-tour to India this coming March 21-24. This four-day shooting adventure will explore Bangalore and Mysore during the colorful Holi Festival. The tour incorporates handson shooting with nightly photography discussions—and there will be plenty of stunning photographic opportunities! For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visitwww.facebook.com/phototreks.