During my first night in Bangalore I managed to sleep until 5 a.m., which I declared a victory over jetlag. I then read for an hour (a book I bought the day before, “India Unbound” by Gurcharan Das), then ventured out. I decided to go to the city market, which I figured should start early on a Saturday morning. I took an autoriksha there, which deserves a few words.
Autorikshas, locally referred to as just “auto” dominate the streets of Bangalore. They look like motorcycles transformed into a mini-car: in front there is a seat for a driver, who has a motocycles-style handle bar rather than a steering wheel. Behind the driver there is a seat for two people, though I've seen as much as 5 or 6 people riding in them. There is a meter between the driver and the passenger, and that’s how the fare is supposed to be negotiated. Metered fare is very cheap by US standards – you can cross all of Bangalore for 100 rupees ($2.50). In practice, at least with foreigners like myself, the driver often asks for a fixed price, often much much above what the metered fare would be. It is sometimes possible to either negotiate the price down closer to what the metered fare would be or to insist on metered fare, but it’s hard, especially for short rides. That is, the drivers might be willing to go across the city with the meter, but would not do a short ride without being promised at least 30-50 rupees (instead of maybe just 12 if metered).
Riding in an autorikshas is a bit like a Disneyland ride. Lanes, for example, are largely ignored, and autorikshas lane-split (go between two occupied lanes) as if they actually were motocycles. But hey, buses lane-split in Bangalore. You have to see it to believe it. Two things prevent massive death: the drivers quite obvious exceptional skill in handling their autos, and the fact that the traffic is so slow. That saturday morning I saw a man bumped by a bus. Luckily for him, the bus was going just about 5 miles an hour, as was the rest of the traffic.
The city market was colorful and busy, though really overwhealming in its dirtyness. On the plus side, people were really friendly, in a sincere way. As I wondered around the market, I found many people asking me where I was from and what my name was (“What’s your good name?”). The conversation never went much past that, since nobody really spoke much English. (Even the autoriksha drivers speak rather limited English, nor do they necessarily speak Kannada.) But it was nice to see people asking questions seeming simply out of curiocity, not to sell me anything. The questions about my good name and offers to put dye on my forehead were never followed up with a request to buy.
Perhaps most surprisingly, a few people asked me to take photos of them. (I was wondering around with a large SLR, which I was trying to keep discrete, but took out occasionally to take the photos.) At first, I found this strange and replied with some sort of generic “no thanks”, but one boy was more persistent than others, and when I realized that he really wanted me to take a picture of him, I did. I asked him for his address offering to send him a print, but he didn’t seem to understand my question.
The same morning, after visiting the market and getting a cup of chai and a slice of coconut filled naan for Rs.6, I stopped by to have a look at the nearby palace of Tipu Sultan – the last sultan of Mysore. (Mysore was a state in pre-British India that largely overlapped with modern Karnataka. It’s capital was in the city of Mysore, 120 km from Bangalore, and later in Srirangapatna, but the sultan had a palace in Bangalore too. The British later moved the capital to Bangalore, which was much more to their liking climate-wise.) The palace wasn’t anything to write home about, but offered a nice view of the nearby temple.