Finding ourselves in Bangalore on a Sunday we discovered that it was astonishingly quiet for a large Indian city. The normal 'open all hours' culture didn't seem to apply and many of the shops and attractions were closed. We checked our guidebooks, pulled together a few ideas of places we could go and see and decided to head off and just wander around. How naïve can you get? You can't stroll in Bangalore - it's enormous. Everything is really far apart. We must have been crazy.
Before we even made it from our hotel to the MG Road we picked up a follower. A guy with a splendid moustache, dressed in a grey uniform slowed his auto-rickshaw to walking pace and asked us where we wanted to go. "We're just walking around, going to look at the MG road" I told him, "We don't need a driver". He stayed with us chatting away, telling us he'd be really cheap "Why walk madame, I only want 10 rupees and I'll take you to the MG Road". I wasn't convinced - I'd seen the map, it was just at the end of the road we were on.
Eventually he appealed to our sympathy. He told us that there was no business for him today and he hadn't had a customer all day. He said the shops on the MG Road would mostly be closed (I doubted him but it was actually true) and he'd happily drive us around for half a day for 50 rupees. What did we have to lose, he asked and to be fair, he had a point. We had no particular plans, he had nothing better to do, why not keep each other company. After a quick chat with my husband, we decided to just go with the flow.
We got into the auto and I told him what I had on my 'to-see' list. I wanted to go to Lal Bagh and Tipu Sultan's palace. He told us that he thought the latter wasn't so great but he'd really like to take us to Bangalore Palace. He showed us some pictures and we decided to let him take us wherever he wanted. It soon became very apparent that what looked like quite small distances on my map were a long way in a tuk tuk with a complex one way system. It seemed to take forever to get anywhere but eventually we found ourselves at the palace, the driver dropped us off and told us where he'd be waiting and said we could take our time.
After the palace he dragged us to two shops. This was at the heart of our bargain tourism - if we scratched his back and agreed to go to shops, he'd take us around for very little money. This is NOT to be recommended if you are in a hurry or if you have a lot to see but we were very relaxed about just going along with whatever he suggested. I did get very annoyed on our second day with the driver but on day one I wasn't too bothered about looking in some shops. I assumed that he was after sales commission so I made sure that he knew when we had brought things. He told us that it didn't actually matter if we bought or not - he had an arrangement with the shops and each time he or the other drivers delivered tourists to the shops, they were rewarded with a voucher for 100 rupees. Once I understood how he was making money out of driving us around, I was more relaxed to go along with what he wanted.
Two shops and a palace under our belts and we asked to go and get some lunch. He took us to a place called 'Sunny's' telling us it was for "lots of foreigners". That wasn't really what I wanted but we didn't have any other suggestions so he drove us to this rather swanky Indian-Italian restaurant, parked up and left us for an hour or so. After lunch he was a bit more willing to fall into line with my original plans and agreed to take us to Tipu's Palace (he was right when he said it wasn't all that special' and finally onto Lalbagh (or Lal Gardens), probably the place I had read most about before our visit. Most of the population of Bangalore seemed to have the same idea and we spent about an hour and a half drifting around the gorgeous gardens.
Well satisfied with the amount of things we'd squeezed into the day (detailed reviews to follow of the individual attractions) we headed back to the hotel. Our driver seemed more than happy with the 100 rupees we gave him and we negotiated that he'd come back and drive us around the next day as well. Considering that every other driver we came across in Bangalore seemed very reluctant to take us anywhere, our new driver friend was worth his weight in gold. So long as we were willing to do a bit of browsing in shops, he was quite happy to spend all day ferrying us back and forth. I half expected some kind of sting in the tail, a demand for more money or an appeal for something more but he was as good as his word. Sometimes we're too quick to say no to what sounds like too good an offer to be true.
The next day he returned to get us and we made several more stops. He dropped us at a local department store then took us to find an ATM where we could withdraw some more money, on to a pharmacy to buy mosquito repellent and on to one of the city's large malls. He did draw the line at taking us anywhere that was very far (so we failed to get to the ISKON temple which we'd have liked to see) but on the whole we didn't do too badly. We agreed to go to a couple of tourist shops and bought nothing (he didn't care, he got his vouchers) and he very kindly helped us with finding a state tourism office where we could book a tour to another city (which was subsequently cancelled because we were the only people who'd booked). We dropped in to another of the old British parks, Cubbon Park, and wandered around in the rain. We'd hoped to see the city's art gallery or science museum but both were closed for unspecified reasons.
We went back to the hotel to collect our bags and rounded off our day with our taxi-man with a run to the station for our train to Mysore. There was something weird and probably illegal going on when we got near to the station and he made some evasive diversions to avoid some policemen so we suspect he either didn't have the right paperwork or wasn't driving entirely legally. Without him and his inexpensive attentions, one thing was for sure, we wouldn't have had half as much fun in Bangalore which really is a rather dull place.