Although it was ruled by various dynasties, Bengaluru's chief historical sights date back to the 18th-century reign of Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, "the Lion of Mysore," who put up the most spirited resistance to British imperialism. But more than anything, the temperate climate of Bengaluru is about experiencing an Indian city that brims with bars, restaurants, clubs, and positive energy -- a great place for walking, window-shopping (many of the most design-savvy items found in Mumbai and Delhi originate in this city), lounging in al-fresco coffee shops, and letting your hair down -- at least till 11:30pm, after which the city more or less shuts down.
If you're an early riser, the one sight that is an absolute must, is a visit to the bustling City Market -- an absolute riot of colors, sights, smells, and sounds, with mounds of flowers (Bengaluru contributes to 70% of India's floral export) and fresh vegetables. The best time to visit is between 6 and 8am. Next off, set off for Bugle Hill, site of the Bull Temple (sanctum timings daily 7:30-11:30am and 4:30-8:30pm). Built by the city's original architect, Kempe Gowda, this 16th-century black-granite statue of Nandi (Shiva's sacred bull) literally dwarfs his "master," and is kept glistening by regular applications of coconut oil. Nearby is a Ganesha temple (Sri Dodda Ganapathi), which houses an enormous statue of the elephant-headed deity made of 100 kilos (220 lbs.) of rank-smelling butter. Apparently this idol is remade every 4 years, and the butter distributed to devotees as prasad (blessed food).
Check the local dailies for information about cultural events. Besides art exhibitions and traditional dance and music performances, Bengaluru draws major international artists, including pop and rock stars.
The violin-shaped auditorium known as Chowdaiah Memorial Hall (Gayathri Devi Park Extension, Vyalikaval; tel. 080/2344-5810) hosts regular classical music performances, as well as film, dance, and drama. Plays are regularly staged at Rabindra Kalakshetra (Jayachamarachendra Rd.; tel. 080/2222-1271), where you can also catch occasional art exhibitions. Numerous art galleries around the city host contemporary Indian art and other exhibitions. Venkatappa Art Gallery, attached to the Government Museum (Kasturba Rd.; tel. 080/2286-4483; Rs 10; Tues-Sun 10am-5pm), displays more than 600 paintings year-round. Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat (Art Complex, Kumara Krupa Rd.; tel. 080/2226-1816; www.chitrakalaparishath.org) has a varied collection of traditional paintings, leather puppets, and artifacts from all over Karnataka. Visit its various art studios and gallery spaces, the open-air theater, and (in particular) the Roerich and Kejriwal galleries. Featuring artists from around the globe, check out a New York based gallery Streisand Art (382, 100 Ft. Rd., Indiranagar; tel. 080/2520-3535; www.streisand-art.com). While GallerySKE (82, St. Mark's Rd.; tel. 080/2223-8312; www.galleryske.com) is a good place for alternative art, One Shanti Road (1, Shanti Rd., Shantinagar; tel. 080/2222-0236; www.1shanthiroad.com) is a nonprofit artist-led initiative, offering a great space and opportunity for across the globe interaction. Other than the many live acts around the city, the open-to-all Levis Jam takes place on the first Sunday of each month -- check www.freedomjam.net for details.
Nrityagram Dance Village (along the Bengaluru-Pune Hwy., 35km/22 miles from Bengaluru) is a renowned center for Indian dance training. Performances feature students as well as established artists. Organized tours of the facility include lecture-demonstrations designed to introduce you to Indian culture, life philosophy, and both kathak and odissi dance forms (tel. 080/2846-6313; www.nrityagram.org; tours Rs 20 per person; Tues-Sun 10am-5:30pm, dance classes 10:30am-1pm). A through-the-night dance and music festival is held in February; it attracts almost 30,000 spectators, so decent seating is at a premium.
Learn the "Art of Living" with India's Hot New Age Guru
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, once a disciple of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (renowned spiritual guide of the Beatles), is the subcontinent's hottest New Age guru -- many consider "The Art of Living," his nonsectarian philosophy of enjoying life for the moment, the perfect spiritual currency for our material times. His main ashram lies on 24 hectares (60 acres) of lush green hillside in south Bengaluru, where every evening thousands of the city's well heeled gather for the evening lecture and satsang (devotional singing). The articulate Sri Sri's appeal lies in the fact that he does not emphasize incarnation or abstinence, but encourages his disciples to enjoy the present without guilt while also encouraging them to contribute towards humanitarian and environmental concerns. His adherents -- predominantly from India's growing urban elite (including Kingfisher's Vijay Mallya, the "Branson of Bangalore"), but also hugely popular on foreign shores (apparently San Franciscans have a real penchant for his teachings) -- can go about their hectic lives and remain relatively apolitical yet feel good about not discarding all sense of religion and tradition.
A philosophy of convenience, some say, but even his fiercest detractors admit the value of sudarshan kriya, an ancient breathing technique taught when you attend the "Art of Living" course. The 30-minute-a-day practice is said to encourage the flow of oxygen to the whole body, ostensibly discouraging the storage of toxins and thus helping release anxiety, frustration, depression, and anger, leaving you with a genuine sense of calm and well-being.
To attend an evening session (at times with the guru himself) or an Art of Living course spread over several days, call ahead (21st Km, Kanakapura Main Rd., Udayapura, Bengaluru 560 082; tel. 080/2843-2273 or -2274; www.artofliving.org).
Rejuvenation City: Tiptop Spas
Prompted by the emergence of an overstressed, well-heeled workforce, Bengaluru has a number of well-known luxury and medical spas. SPA.ce (70, Cunningham Rd.; tel. 4132-7526; www.spacethespa.com; by appointment only), is a world-class stand-alone spa in the middle of the city that uses signature fragrances created by Ally Mathan. Of the hotel spas we recommend The Spa at Leela Palace Kempinski (tel. 080/2521-1234) and Jiva at Taj Residency; for more committed treatment programs, take a look at the following four luxury spas, all located about an hour outside Bengaluru. Aside from Shreyas, The Golden Palms Spa (tel. 080/2371-2222), owned by Bollywood director Sanjay Khan, is part of an upmarket resort that not only provides routine spa treatments, but is the spot for discreet cosmetic surgery and anti-aging treatments. The attitude toward pampering is more laid-back at the internationally affiliated Angsana Oasis Spa and Resort (tel. 080/2846-8893; www.angsana.com), offering spa packages from $825 for 2 nights (including taxes, meals, airport transfers, and a few treatments). Neither of these spas will restrict your diet or ban smoking or alcohol, and on weekends you can wholeheartedly tuck into their barbeque and grilled cuisine. In contrast, Soukya International Holistic Health Centre (in Whitefield, 30 min. from Bengaluru; tel. 080/2794-5001 through -5004; www.soukya.com) is a medical spa that focuses on therapeutic and complementary therapies. Run by Dr. Isaac Mathai, his nutritionist wife, Suja, and a battery of experts, this is a nonsmoking, alcohol- and meat-free spa where everything is low fat, low salt, low spice, and organic. The focus is on individually created "holistic wellness programs" (from Hawaiian hot stone to specialized Ayurvedic treatments) that strengthen the body's immune system, including those belonging to some rather famous people, like healthy-living guru Andrew Weil, Fergie, Princess of York, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. (Note: If you are planning to continue to Goa from Karnataka, also take a look at Swaswara -- a yoga retreat on the northern tip of Karnataka's coast, bordering Goa.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.