Banging Bangalore

Bangalore is old India meets the 1980s, with plenty of geeks thrown in for good measure. But with the classiest of restaurants and an abundance of golf getaways, there are far worse places to be flung for a business trip, providing you can dodge a million mental drivers.
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After time spent in even the smallest of Indian towns, the streets of London seem dull, underpopulated and above all, as orderly as a military tattoo. India is a fancy dress parade marching through the 21st century, a religious festival running a call centre, a cacophony of constant noise amid which it’s still possible to find pockets of greater peace than anywhere on earth.

And if it’s business that takes you to the subcontinent, then eventually business will take you to Bangalore. If India is a blacksmith’s forge where the next 200 years of the world’s economic history is being hammered into shape (along with China, that other forge just the other side of the Himalayas), then Bangalore is the cauldron in which the sacred and the profane come together to build what will one day be a new kind of global super-power.

Mumbai may be where the glamour is: the film industry, the big business headquarters and the media – but Bangalore is where they get the job done. Phoning your bank to move around a little spending money? Then the voice that picks up the phone will probably be in Bangalore. Finding that your new computer runs twice as fast as anything you were used to? The micro-processor was probably developed, or tested or assembled (or all three) in the science park just outside the city.

But despite all the smoked glass and manicured lawns on the city outskirts, the centre of Bangalore still has that fusion of ancient civilisation with outside influences that makes India so exciting. In many parts of Indian society you will find the influence of the world’s oldest religion mixed with the still present influence of the Raj. In a country where there are 3,000 castes and 25,000 subcastes and the main religion is said to have 330 million gods, this love of classification combined readily with the British love of bureaucracy to take rules and regulations to new levels. To this day, for instance, there are still eight separate classes of railway travel.

In the centre of Bangalore, the dominant fusion is between old India and a twisted version of the 1980s, with geeks thrown in. A lot of India looks like the 1980s. On our first evening in Bangalore we ate vegetable pakoras in a gold and brown bar straight from the set of Scarface (albeit a Scarface set in need of an awful lot of TLC) with views across the city from the 13th floor of a decrepid tower block. An elephant god statue on the reception desk played counterpoint to European programmers talking loudly about the latest IT project they had been employed to work on. Imaginatively called ‘The 13th Floor’, the bar was an interesting place to assess our jet lag, but to be honest we’d have been better off staying in our oasis.

"If India is a blacksmith’s forge where the next 200 years of the world’s economic history is being hammered into shape, then Bangalore is the cauldron in which the sacred and the profane come together to build what will be a new kind of global super-power."

If you, too, are lucky enough to find yourself in Bangalore on business then you will need a retreat from the dust and the noise of the streets where a thousand auto-rickshaw drivers compete with a million taxi drivers for the privilege of being the first to run you over.

Our oasis was the Taj West End, a former guesthouse for visiting British officers and administrators called Branson’s West End which was built in 1887 and sits in 20 acres of tropical gardens right in the heart of the city. The colonial architecture, in a typical Indian blend of the old and new, is home to all the modern amenities you’d expect, including a recently re-modelled spa, a choice of swimming pools and the Blue Ginger – a Thai and Vietnamese restaurant serving some of the best food available in town. Sitting next to Bangalore’s golf course and opposite the racetrack and with a bar that is one of the most popular with the city’s young entrepreneurs (and also features in last year’s unforgettable Booker prize winner, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga) there really is little need to wander very far from this home from home.

For those whose taste tends more to the ultra-modern than the old school, the Taj group has recently opened the Vivanta, a ridiculously high-tech hotel with a “unique facade that changes colour, texture and tone to express the borderless potential for the guests who will feel at home in any of its 199 rooms and suites.”

I’m quoting, of course, first, because I’m not 100 per cent sure what this means, and, secondly, as the hotel opened the week after I was in the city. But a recently returning friend from Goldmans assures me that it is the place to stay for those having meetings, or working in the tech industries. Welcome to India’s high-tech heartland. Silicone Ali, anyone?

The Taj West End, Race Course Road,

Bangalore 560 001, Karnataka, India.  (91-80) 6660 5660. Vivanta by Taj, International Tech Park Bangalore, Whitefield, Bangalore 560 066, India (91 80) 6693 3333

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