Monday, March 28, 2011

Bangalore - Annoying Welcome, Snail-Paced Traffic & Vibrating Rooms

Bangalore, India - It would be a free and easy ride out of KL. With a mid-afternoon Air Asia flight to the south Indian city of Bangalore (Bengaluru), I had enough time to enjoy a leisurely walk for a McDonald's Big Breakfast - but the one at Kota Raya has closed shop so I headed to the one beside Jalan Petaling (Chinatown). I almost never eat at McDonald's back in Manila, but I somehow always seem to prefer breakfast every time I'm in Malaysia. Must be the spice-free taste? After a sweltering breakfast (each of the three stories didn't have a functioning AC), I hopped into the nearby Central Market which now boasts of a new attention-catcher - the kite-inspired Kasawa Walk! I had to get stamps for my postcard (I always try to send my mom a postcard whenever I am on the road!)


After checking out of my hotel, complete with a smirking lady by the counter (she was oblivious to my obvious charm - haha), I hiked towards the nearest Metro, Pasar Seni. With just one stop to KL Sentral, it was an inexpensive way to get myself to the airport (LCCT). I 'd usually hail a 15 ringgit taxi to KL Sentral. This one cost me a measly 1 ringgit! With a prepaid Skybus e-ticket, I plopped down my bus seat to LCCT. A taxi usually costs 100 ringgit, It was 11:45AM and the flight was scheduled to depart at 3PM. Talk about "ample time", right?


But the rude surprise was when I checked the flight information counter that said Air Asia flight to Bangalore: "Canceled"! Again? Air Asia usually informs its passengers ahead of time via e-mail and text message. In fact, I got the cancellation 3x in the last 3 months or so. Air Asia is that efficient! The confusing thing here was purely semantics. Instead of saying AK211 flight was "moved to the next day", they would use "AK211 has been canceled, and rescheduled to this day". As mentioned earlier, this particular flight has already been canceled (giving me more time to check out Kinabalu). I rushed to the Air Asia counter and learned that my Bangalore flight was actually pushing through. The information board's "AK211 Canceled" was descriptive of this particular flight, i.e. "the previously canceled flight" - but they had to write down "Canceled" right where "status" is! Reading that as such was a tad deceptive, and a bit annoying.

The flight eventually left at 4PM (not the scheduled 3) - and this was attributed to the loading of "vegetarian dishes", according to the pilot. So the non-vegetarian meals were easier to load up the plane? LOL. Tell me if that made sense.


The flight took a little over 3 hours and 30 minutes, as we swathed through intermittently turbulent skies. The immigration officer, noticing the 3 Indian visas in my passport, was speculating, "You are doing business in India, not as tourist!" It was stated
matter-of-factly that I protested and told him my profession. And it took me more than 15 years of specialty training to suddenly change careers by trade spices and silks. You gotta be kidding me. In the usual sideways Indian head wave, he gave my passport back and didn't say anything further. I never liked Indian immigration officers. They have always been inordinately suspicious of tourists. What? You aren't pleased of us spending our disposable income to bolster Indian tourism? It's a curious thought.


Bangalore International Airport (BIA) glistens with sparkly glass panes and shimmery silver panels; wide open spaces and the smell of I.T. money. It is after all the Silicon Valley of India. But wasn't the old airport that my Lonely Planet was describing. This was a new one, located 35 kilometers from the city center (the old one was just 7 kilometers away). I rushed to the Information Counter where I was refered to the KSTDC (Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation) office, just beside the foreign exchange counter ($1 = 40.20 rupees, when it should be 43.20 or thereabouts). I had to make a fast decision as I didn't wanna go to their main office at Badami House near N.R. Square at this time. It was running late. Besides, I wasn't sure if they'd still be chirpy and accommodating after 7PM (they're supposed to close at 9:30PM). Besides, that was probably some 400 rupees more of unnecessary autorickshaw haggling. And I just hate rickshaw drivers with a passion.


After changing $100 worth of Indian rupees (just enough to pay for my tours and a deposit for a hotel that KSTDC was recommending), I booked 3 successive days of tours. Instead of staying overnight in Mysore (supposedly the cultural capital of the Karnataka State), I decided to base myself from Bangalore. My seatmate, a Indian girl who married a Malaysian, told me that there's no direct connection from Mysore to Munnar, Thus if I were to leave Bangalore for Mysore, then head on to Munnar after that, I would have to backtrack go back to Bangalore again for my Munnar connection! Thus my decision to stay put in Bangalore and just take the full-day Mysore tour from Bengaluru (a hefty 750 rupee full-day, 16 1/2 hour journey to Mysore - on a Volvo bus - and back). Thanks to my seatmate, my itinerary was coming to proper form. Lonely Planet doesn't say much about Munnar (which is a tea plantation hill, much like Malaysia's Cameron Highlands). It's also one of the very few places in India without a train connection.


Having done all that, I was instructed to just get a cab at the taxi queue. "No need for a pre-paid taxi," said the emphatic information officer. (The old airport had a pre-paid booth.) Then he added, "Say no to touts." True enough, and in big bold letters, "Say No To Touts" was on display at the airport exit.


With 35 kilometers of journey to the big city, I was soon to be ushered into one of Asia's worst traffic hubs (to rival that of Bangkok, probably even worse). As we were nearing the metropolis, traffic was in gridlock, moving into sobering hum. I noticed the rise of scaffolds of what would be one of South India's first metro trains (I think Chennai has already beat them to it. I saw Chennai building one 2 years ago.) "It runs 28 kilometers into the city," offered the driver.


My hotel would be Hotel T.A.P. Silver Square right in the bustle of Bangalore's Brigade Road. I always thought it was the Mahatma Gandhi (or just M.G.) Road, but the epicenter of activity and chaos of manual traffic is really Brigade Road. KFC, a Standard Chartered ATM machine, a McDonalds, a Rex Cinema, and several shops and bars line Brigade Road. I was starting to get the feeling that the airport booking was a hoax because they requested me to stay in a rundown non-AC room. "Just wait for a few minutes, and we will switch you to an AC room!" said the man at the counter. I could wait but I wanted to check out Brigade Road and MG Road, not to mention the fact that it was late and I was hungry. More than two hours later, I marched into the counter and demanded - yes, demanded! - that I wanted my room - or I wanted my money back (2000 rupees for 2 nights) so I could go to my original plan - Hotel Ajantha or Brindavan Hotel along MG Road. Heck, I have no idea where they are but finding them couldn't be the hardest I have ever done from my travels, could it?

The original room (104) I was given vibrated from the loud dance music blaring just a floor below. I wasn't told that this relatively new hotel sits on top of a club, the "Fusion Lounge". Every part of this particular room, shuddered and boomed and vibrated; from the window panes, to the glass bathroom doors, to the bed sheets and the wooden floors! And I didn't wanna settle down or take my shoes off in a room I didn't sign up for. Would you?


Like a lit flash bulb, they ushered me into a room that's worth 1, 600 rupees. "No extra charge," the man said to appease me. "I don't want to take advantage of the situation, but I do need a single AC room as was booked by the tourism office," I said. This room, 106, would be "home" the next 3 days in Bangalore; an upgrade twice over the original booking of 1,000 rupees. One day, I will be able to post photos here. The music from down below kept blaring in full techno base, but I really didn't mind much. It was like being in my own solitary dance club, in the comforts of my solitary room. I signed up for loud and chaos when I decided to stay at the M.G. Road area.

By 11:40PM, the music ended abruptly. And there was peace on Earth.

Not to mention good will to man. I sort of felt sorry for being slightly offensive, but I didn't like to be taken for a ride. And for the most part, I knew their "mistake" wasn't intentional too, as I'd realize in the next few days. But I wasn't going to suffer for someone else's mistakes.

I didn't!

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Maharaja Palace

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