I came to India to volunteer at Shanti Bhavan, but I wasn’t about to leave without squeezing in a little bit of shopping. Last weekend, I got my opportunity: two days to scoop up as many souvenirs as I could. We traveled by bus with another volunteer, crammed in and hot with a Hindi movie blasting during the second leg of the journey. First stop: coffee, something I’ve miraculously been surviving without for the past three weeks. We met up with Padma, the former employee of my mom’s friend’s cousin (follow that?) in Bangalore. She had agreed to give us a shopping tour around the city and took us to some local spots we wouldn’t have visited on our own. Since nothing in the shops has a price on it, Padma’s negotiating know-how was crucial. We navigated past street vendors and weaved in and out of shops, picking out scarves, jewelry, clothing, and other trinkets along the way. I just wish we had time to at least take Padma for ice cream to thank her for being so kind and helpful.
Though our shopping efforts were successful, we spent so much time browsing that we skipped lunch. With a cookie each to hold us over, we took the relatively new Bangalore metro to dinner in lieu of an auto rickshaw. After putting our bags through a security scanner and being scanned ourselves, we proceeded to the ticket line. I didn’t know it was possible for a subway token to be cute, but the little, black, scannable coins were impressive enough that we took photos with them en route upon learning the disappointing news that we’d have to return them upon leaving. Additionally, NYC and Boston take note: when the train door opened, there was a woman standing there with a mop who had just finished cleaning the floors. I was so impressed.
Post-dinner, we walked over to Toit Brew Pub, stopping to buy necklaces along the way. It felt kind of surreal, sitting on a bench outdoors, drinking a really good dark beer while watching train cars travel along the tracks overhead. Just that afternoon, we’d been walking the dusty streets, dodging vehicles, and navigating through crowds of people. Now, my surroundings could have passed for New York City. I suppose all those years dodging yellow taxis to cross the street did well to prepare me for avoiding auto rickshaws with relative ease. The one downside to the Bangalore metro is that the last train leaves at 10pm. But I was exhausted from the day and happy to retreat back to the hotel to take stock of my purchases and watch some episodes of Big Bang Theory before bed.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I think shopping in another country is as much a sightseeing and cultural experience as it is a retail one. That said, I was still determined to see one temple before heading back to Shanti Bhavan. So, after some more coffee and a gigantic cinnamon roll, back into an auto rickshaw we climbed and headed towards the Bull Temple. I happily snapped some photos (below), made one more purchase from the stalls outside, and then headed over to an adjacent park to explore. I don’t think I’d ever stop being in awe of the plants and trees and flowers here. Before I started asking some of the students to take photos, I was a bit concerned my Facebook album would have to be titled “Flora, Fauna, and a Few Adorable Kindergarteners of Shanti Bhavan”. Either that, or I needed to step up my selfie-taking efforts. Thankfully, I’ve successfully avoided both of those scenarios.
The Bangalore outing ended with Thai food at a 13th-floor, open-air restaurant and juices at the coffee shop. Mission: accomplished. The only problem will be convincing myself not to keep everything I bought!