It was bittersweet – I was taking my time rolling in the covers that morning, as I knew it would be the last day that I’ll be hugging these ultra-soft linens. Even harder to swallow was that we were about to take our last breakfast buffet in the hotel (pun intended). How would breakfast be without the most perfect muffins I’ve ever tasted? As if by fate, a man approached me and asked how my meal was. He turned out to be the hotel chef and like a starstruck teen, I gushed about how divine every meal was. He promised to whip up something extra special if ever we came back for another visit. Of course, I couldn’t let him go without a picture. =)
Lorena had to go back to the office for a meeting with the HP India folks; I actually had the whole day for myself. The day had ‘gung-ho adventure’ written all over it. I grabbed my bag and set out, only to be met by a throng of people walking ala ‘Alay Lakad’ towards the city center. It turned out that today was a big day for Bangalore, as they were going to install new members of the Parliamentary. I stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the sea of men on a mission. Good thing that I wore rubber shoes, as I’ve already walked a good few kilometers before I was able to hail an autorickshaw (i.e. India’s 3-wheeled motorcycle that took you anywhere in the city, and I mean anywhere, even on the main highway). That’s when I met Babu, my ‘tour guide’ for the day. At first, I only intended to get a ride to the Lalbargh garden, famous for its huge global collection of horticulture. Babu took me directly to the garden and didn’t attempt to impose a sidetrip to a souvenir shop in search of a commision, which was the foremost warning by online tourist reviews and tips. As it was easy to tell that I was an eager tourist, Babu offered to wait for me and take me to my next destination. As Babu seemed to be genuinely nice & quick-witted, I took him up on his offer. True enough, Babu took me directly where I wanted to go; he shattered the image I had of Bangalore’s auto-rickshaw drivers.
The garden was a big park in the middle of the city — and by big, I mean absurdly gigantic. It had a big lake in its heart, where you could go see Lalbagh’s gigantic birds in flight. I’ve never seen so many unrestrained birds up this close. In fact in the middle of bird-watching, one came too close and the coward in me panicked and looked for another good spot in the park. The park was actually a garden started by an emperor and was continued by his son afterwards, who imported plants from all over the world to showcase. Trees were labeled with their location of origin. Aside from the plants, there were interesting monuments & buildings, with which this happy tourist went trigger-happy.
After a looong stroll around the park, I went back to Babu and asked to be taken to the famous Premiere Bookstore over at Church Street. It was a quaint establishment that you could easily pass by the line of stores and not notice it. The bookstore had a ‘Book Sale’ feel; the walls were filled with shelves of books and in the middle of the room, novels were stacked one over the other in endless piles. I almost fell over when I got to see the titles and authors that easily jumped out. Grishams. Prachetts. Ayn Rands. Classics. Modern best sellers. And all for a good price! I took home ‘Eat Pray Love’, a Murakami, the Erich Segal book I was looking forward to read for the longest time, and a book written by a recommended Indian author. Of course, I couldn’t leave without taking a picture of the shop owner. He asked me where I came from, and when I replied ‘the Philippines’, he instantly said, “Ah. The Marcoses.” Dang it, that was the second time I got that reaction; I refuse to believe that the Marcoses are representative of how we deserve to be seen in the world.
Anyhow, I still walked back to the autorickshaw with my new books and a stupid smile on my face. My next stop was Garupa Mall, which was recommended by Ali. Frankly, I think The Forum had a better selection of shops, but in their department store, I did set my eyes upon a lamp that I definitely MUST have. Never mind that it was about more than a feet tall and would not probaby pass as a hand-carry; I just had to have it! I lugged around my lamp and went back to Babu.
Our next stop was Commercial street, a magnet for bargain hunters. It resembled our Binondo — the main road was dotted with stalls of textiles, crafts and other what-nots and the by-streets were still brimming with more shops. The prices were remarkably lower than what I’ve seen in the malls & MG Road. You had to take your time searching for the goods that called out to you; at the end of the day, I came away with a very nice kurta + trousers + stole set for my mom, cute bracelets for my niece, and some trinkets for my officemates. If you find yourself here one day, check out a handicrafts store named ‘Bombay Traders’; they had the best selection from what I’ve seen in Commercial street, and they offer them at a fair price. If you go ga-ga and haul away lots of souvenirs, they give you a sizeable discount. Sweet!
As evening was fast approaching, it was time to call the adventure over. I met up with Lorena and had to bid goodbye to Babu. Babu was waiting with a farewell gift for me — an orange rose. How’s that for total customer experience? Yep, I was lucky enough to meet Bangalore’s nicest autorickshaw driver. =)
Dugyot — that was an apt word to describe us when we got back to our hotel. Since check-out time was 12 noon, we already checked out in the morning and our bags were currently at the luggage counter. However, things were still starting to get better — the hotel offered us a room where we could freshen up, use the facilities and do some last-minute packing. Just when I thought they couldn’t possibly do anything better, I (pleasantly) was proven wrong.
I don’t know how I managed to fit in everything I had into my bags, but a couple of hours later, we finally got packed and ready to leave. We bid goodbye to our friend Ali at the shop; I made a mental note to draft up goodbye-and-thank-you emails to the friends we made in India. Taking in India is certainly a experience (and for some people, India is THE experience). I thought I was already an apt traveler, but I could not put into words how much the past 5 days have taught me not only about the world, but also about myself. All in all, India has made me feel bigger yet smaller at the same time. Fate has definitely been sweet to make my first step out of my comfort zone happen in India.
(p.s. In case you’re wondering, I did manage to pass off my lamp as hand-carry all the way to Manila. Whee!)