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Mar 30, 2017
Review: Bangalore Running & Walking Tours
Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m runner and that I always pack my sneakers when I travel. Going for a run is one of the best ways to see a city. Looking online for things to do on my recent business trip tag-along with Steve to India, I spotted Bangalore Running & Walking Tours. Perfect, I thought. I can get my run in for the day and learn something about the city.
Disclosure: I took The Parks & Rocks Tour courtesy of Bangalore Running & Walking Tours. As always views and opinions are my own.
About Bangalore Running & Walking Tours
Praveen Singh wanted a change from his career as a textile exporter. After taking a leave from his job to decide what to do next, he decided to pursue an enterprise based on his two passions: running and history. Four short months ago, he launched Bangalore Running & Walking Tours, and he’s getting rave reviews on TripAdvisor, which is how I discovered him.
With that telltale compact body structure and energetic stride, Praveen looks like a runner. In fact, he estimates he has run 40-50 marathons in the past 18 years and has recently started doing ultra marathons. As the sole tour guide of his new enterprise, he admits that his training has taken a bit of a back seat these days. He’s not looking back, though. He loves his new gig.
It’s immediately evident why Bangalore Running & Walking Tours is seeing early success. Praveen has the kind of personality that puts people immediately at ease. He’s quick to smile and is bursting with interesting information about his life-long home of Bangalore.
You don’t have to be a marathon runner to enjoy one of Praveen’s tours. He’s quick to assure participants that the running tempo is at their pace. There are also lots of rest stops and periods of walking. If running is not your thing, Praveen offers walking-only tours as well.
The Parks & Rocks Tour
My private tour with Praveen followed the Parks and Rocks itinerary. Days start early in Bangalore. If outdoor exercise doesn’t start around dawn, you’re going to have to contend with rapidly rising temperatures and crazy traffic issues. Thus, the Parks and Rocks Tour begins at 6:30 a.m., which is great if you’re a business traveller. You can get your morning exercise and do some sightseeing before the day gets underway.
The tour begins at the breathtaking Lalbagh Botanical Gardens. This 240-acre expanse features wide pathways, ancient rock formations, sprawling landscapes, experimental planting grounds, and artful topiary. From here the tour moves into the surrounding neighbourhood, past traditional Bangalore homes, through local temples, and on to smaller parks. The big reward is breakfast at Vidyarthi Bhavan, a Bangalore institution that has had a presence in the neighbourhood since 1942.
Highlights from the Rocks & Parks Tour
Our meeting place was the Lalbagh Rock in Lalbagh Botanical Gardens. This is one of the world’s oldest rock formations (technically called Peninsular Gneiss) dating 2.5 to 3.4 billion years. By the time I arrived at 7 a.m., there were already many people doing their morning stretches on the rock.
There is a lot to see in these gardens if you know what to look for. It boasts more than 1,000 species of flora and several trees exceed 100 years of age.
One interesting tree, the Talipot palm, has a sad tale. It is one of the world’s largest palms and is native to eastern and southern areas of India. It flowers just once in its lifetime sometime between 30 – 80 years of age. Once that occurs, it dies within a year.
The garden’s Glass House was built in 1889 to commemorate the grandson of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert Victor. Twice a year it’s bursting with colour for much-celebrated garden shows.
Close to the Glass House is a statue of Maharaja Sri Sir Chamarajendra Wadiyar. He ruled Mysore (now a city southwest of Bangalore) from 1881-1894 and despite his young age (he died at 31) accomplished a lot. He instituted the representative assembly of Mysore – the first modern, democratic legislative institution in India. He was also a champion of education for girls and was instrumental is setting up several schools for that purpose. Technical education was a top priority for the Maharaja. Many credit him for sowing the seeds for the technological boom Bangalore is seeing today. Fun stat: Bangalore has a population of 10 million, 1 million of which are engineers.
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One of the most stunning trees in the garden is the Bombax (or silk cotton) Tree. Its massive trunk supports its 30-40 metre height. When in bloom its branches display vibrant red flowers. The tree sheds its leaves in the dry season.
From here the tour ventures into the surrounding neighbourhood. Traffic looked impossible to navigate by this time of day, but Praveen expertly guided me past the unending honking cars and rickshaws from stop to stop. It was kind of exhilarating!
In Bugle Rock Park we saw a colony of bats hanging out near the top of the sentry station.
Bull Temple is situated in Bugle Park. It honours the demi-god Nandi (the bull). Legend has it that the people in this area built this temple to appease a bull that terrorized the village and destroyed its peanut crops. Once they built the temple, the bull stopped this disorderly behaviour. Every year the neighbourhood holds a peanut festival to celebrate this story.
A fascinating stop on the tour was the Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple. This centuries old place of worship was constructed inside a natural cave. A steady trickle of water runs through the dimly lit space, which creates a mysterious atmosphere. The strong smell of incense envelopes visitors upon entering. The first sight is the shadows of worshipers kneeling on the ground as they chant in Sanskrit. It’s a memorable experience and one I would not have had without this tour and Praveen’s guidance.
After all the running and walking, the tour ends with a delicious breakfast at Vidyarthi Bhavan. Located in the midst of Gandhi Bazaar, this is a Bangalore institution that dates back to 1943. It’s a tiny place that fills up quickly. It has a vintage appeal with its white and black checked floor and photos of prominent and famous Bangaloreans lining the walls.
The restaurant has a limited menu – everyone comes for the ghee-soaked dosa (a thin crispy crepe made from fermented rice and lentil batter). It’s stuffed with a delicious potato mixture and tastes divine. We also ate idlis (fermented black lentils and rice formed into a mound) which have a very soft texture – almost like North American Cream of Wheat, and Kesari bhath (a sweet semolina mixture spiced with saffron, cardamom and a good dose of sugar).
More About the Tour
At 850 rupees (about $17 CAD) this tour delivers tremendous value. It runs about 1 1/2 hours. I brought water with me, but there are stops along the way to get hydrated including a stand selling coconut water fresh from the fruit. Make sure you wear a hat. Even though the run is in the early morning, once that Indian sun rises, it’s intense. If you have any questions about the tour or which option is best for you, use the email address on the Bangalore Running & Walking Tours site and Praveen will be happy to help you.
Ulsoor Heritage Walk
After enjoying the Parks & Rocks Tour, I did Praveen’s Ulsoor Heritage Walk later in the week (at my own expense). It was a window into an area of Bangalore that tourists don’t often get to and it was amazing. Highlights included crowded traditional markets that feel like you’ve stepped back in time, narrow streets, a historic temple centuries old and breathtakingly beautiful, many interesting food samples, and cows! What’s not to get excited about?
As a tourist, Bangalore is a difficult city to navigate and explore. There is so much I missed seeing the first time I visited a few years ago. Taking these tours allowed me to have an immersive experience that I wouldn’t have had on my own.
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