With a fast-growing reputation as India's high-tech capital, Bangalore is fulfilling a prophecy first uttered almost a century ago.
India's fastest growing city is a study in urban contrasts where satellite dishes, sleek office towers and industrial parks are interspersed with the traditional symbols of Indian society embodied by ancient temples and the aroma of incense.
Jawaharal Nehru, India's first prime minister and a leader in the nation's drive for independence in the 1930s and '40s, had an uncanny ability as a soothsayer. Nehru's prediction that Bangalore was destined to be India's City of the Future proved right on target. The capital of southern India's Karnataka state, Bangalore ranks as one of India's most prosperous and progressive cities and a pace-setter in software development and the IT industry. Dubbed the Silicon Valley of India, it is moving boldly into the 21st century, propelled by some of the best and brightest technological and scientific minds in the world.
Looking at Bangalore today - with its population of 6.5 million - it's difficult to believe the city literally rose from the mud almost 500 years ago. Bangalore dates from 1537 when chieftain Kempe Gowda settled here and constructed a mud fort surrounded by four watchtowers. Hindu temples and dwellings followed as the population expanded over the next three centuries while enduring intervals of war and strife among Hindu and Muslim warlords prior to the establishment of British rule in the early 19th century. When British oversight ended in 1948, Bangalore became an integral part of the newly independent India. Its subsequent economic growth eventually transformed the city into a showcase of technological excellence.
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A leading exporter of software, Bangalore is home to several public sector projects including Electronic City and IT Park. Multinationals are well represented here. Word about Bangalore has spread far and wide as increasing numbers of Americans and Europeans have come to do business and/or work for IT companies with headquarters here including Microsoft, Intel, Oracle, Dell and Sun Microsystems. It today ranks among the world's top 10 IT nerve centers and also is gaining recognition as an up-and-coming leader in biotech. Although India's economy has been hampered in the past by a bloated bureaucracy and burdensome red tape, the Karnataka state government has enhanced Bangalore's development by promoting investments and fostering a proactive relationship with industry.
Bangalore is also a leading exporter of textiles and especially silk products, which are highly prized worldwide. There are several granite quarries in and around the city, so granite exports are another important revenue source. Other thriving businesses include the production of sandalwood and agarbattis, or incense sticks, which are major exports. As its economy has flourished, tourism has become an increasingly important aspect of Bangalore's growth, leading to the establishment of quality hotels and restaurants. Hotel occupancy is among the highest in India. As Bangalore has evolved into a national and international convention center, top properties - Oberoi, Taj Hotels, ITC Sheraton and Le Meridien - have established a presence here.
After a hard day doing business, get out and partake of the city's burgeoning nightlife at one of the many attractive watering holes around the city. Bangalore has the distinction of being the No. 1 pub city in India with more than 200 pubs where visitors and locals come to sate their thirst. Bangalore also is the movie capital of the south with more movie seats per capita than any other city in India.
There is no denying Bangalore's big city woes - overcrowding and traffic jams - but life moves at a more relaxed pace here. With its wide, tree-lined avenues adjacent to city parks and gardens, Bangalore is also known as the Garden City of India. Maintaining a flourishing garden is a top priority for private and commercial property owners. Cubbon Park is a lush 300-acre downtown oasis where one can find peace and tranquility amid a vast expanse of green. Named for Lord Cubbon, who laid out plans for the park in 1864 while serving as Viceroy of India, it is home to a complex of Gothic buildings including the Government Museum, High Court, Public Library and Technological and Industrial Museum. Dating to 1886, supported by Corinthian columns, the Government Museum is an imposing structure that contains an impressive collection of antiquities including sculptures, coins and miniature paintings unearthed from excavations and archaeological digs. Situated at the north end of the park, Vindhana Soudha is a mammoth 300-room, granite-and-porphyry structure that houses the state legislature and secretariat. This renowned landmark sports a four-headed lion (the symbol of Indian sovereignty) above the main entrance and a dome on each of its four corners.
Nature is also on display in Lalbagh Botanical Garden, a 240-acre horticultural gem laid out in 1760 with more than a thousand species of flora along with century-old trees, lotus pools and rose gardens set among fountains and terraces. The best times of year to view the dahlias, marigolds, roses and other flowers in bloom are in January and October during the annual flower shows. Lalbagh is also the home to a stunning Victorian-style glass house constructed in 1840 that resembles London's Crystal Palace.
Another popular gathering place is lovely Ulsor Lake where on a typical sunny afternoon eagles soar overhead as boats sail among the tree-shaded islands dotting the lake. This is a great place for picnicking and people-watching, and there is also a swimming pool that is part of a recreational complex adjacent to the lake.
Although it continues to look toward the future, Bangalore has not lost touch with its past, keeping it alive in its well-preserved ancient temples and mosques. Traditional religious beliefs are especially strong in southern India and several Hindu temples and Muslim mosques are among Bangalore's most impressive structures. The ancient Bull Temple, dating to the mid-16th century, stands near one of the city's original watchtowers built by founder Kempe Gowda. Here the main attraction is the massive 15-foot-tall, 20-foot-long, black granite sculpture of Nandi, the sacred Hindu bull believed to transport its master, the god Shiva. Nandi attracts devotees from all over India. Just a short distance away is another temple built by Kempe Gowda. Gangadhareshware is supported by four gigantic pillars and contains a rare idol of Agni, the god of fire.
Hindu temples often have lengthy, tongue-twisting names. One that defies most attempts to pronounce it is the multisyllabic Venkataramanaswamy Temple. An example of 17th century Dravidian-style architecture with its lavish stone pillars, the temple shows signs of damage as some of the pillars were hit by cannon fire during the third Mysore War (1790-92). Muslims also have left their mark on the city in the form of an assortment of mosques, old and new. Jamma Masjid, with its black marble pillars adorning an elevated prayer hall, stands out as Bangalore's oldest mosque. In contrast, the newest mosque located near the City Market, built entirely of white marble, can accommodate up to 5,000 worshipers.