BANGALORE is the city where Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman found his inspiration to write his bestseller, The World Is Flat.
The ability of the city's populace to pounce on any job - from call centres to IT back-office work - being outsourced from abroad gave Friedman a glimpse of how the new world might be.
He gives an apt description of the city: 'You know you are in Bangalore - the Silicon Valley of India - when you go to play golf and the caddy on the first tee says you can either aim at the Microsoft building or the IBM building.
'You know you are at Bangalore when you see the Pizza Hut advertisement says gigabytes of taste'. And you know you're at Bangalore when you see street signs sponsored by Texas Instruments. This is one hot town...'
Many of its epithets - The Silicon Valley of India, India's Pub City, Fashion Capital of India - point to a city with an eclectic mix of East and West, and old and new.
But it is not all business.
Bangalore, the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka, is effervescently energetic as one of India's youngest cities. The average age of its citizens is just 35. It is hard to believe that the former British cantonment was once considered a pensioner's paradise.
Today, the dominant character of the cityscape is its urban facade. It has immaculately laid-out parks, wide tree-lined boulevards, and funky bazaars.
Piggy-riding on its prosperity, this cosmopolitan city of six million is businessman and budget tourist magnet today, with its generous exchange rate.
With S$1 worth about 27 Indian rupees, a visitor from Singapore can have three meals and reasonable accommodation in the city centre for under $100 a day.
And if you consider food a key ingredient to spice up your holiday, this is a great place to visit for its propagation of vegetarianism.
Most restaurants in the city have a vegetarian menu, which is usually listed first before 'non-vegetarian' fare like meat and fish.
Bangaloreans, as its city-dwellers are known, are big on pub crawling.
The city, one of India's best for pubs and nightlife, is the base for United Breweries, makers of the popular Kingfisher beer. The entertainment district of Mahatma Gandhi Road, and Brigade Road in the Central area of the city, has around 100 pubs and spiffy bars.
But spirits are not the only beverage that appeases the Bangalorean thirst.
A good number are caffeine addicts.
New age cafes such as The Barista, Cafe Coffee Day and Java Green are replacing many of the quintessential Indian roadside kaapi shops (coffee shops) that sell steaming filter coffee (a south Indian-style coffee) in steel tumblers for 8 rupees.
Beneath the veneer of Western capitalism and custom however, Bangalore remains a typically Indian place. Most of the city's residents detest condominium living, preferring old-style houses and keeping dying traditions alive, like Kolam, the art of decorating courtyards with coloured rice flour.
In a way, this contradiction sums up the city - ambitious in design, full of hidden treasures, the old and traditional thriving amid modernity.
Where to shop
- Bangalore's top shopping mall, Forum, is located in Hosur Road in the posh locality of Koramangala.
There I spent a lot of time at Landmark bookstore, picking up fiction collections by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez for 1,500 rupees (S$51)- really cheap considering it is six books rolled into one.
- Head for Garuda (in Magrath Road, tel: 5664-1101), Bangalore's newest and upmarket mall. Try out the Indian retail chain, Shoppers Stop, for some value-for-money Indian dress brands such as Indigo Nation and Scullers.
- For plebeian pockets, the shopping areas in Brigade Road and Mahatma Gandhi Road are a good bet. Mahatma Gandhi Road, known as South Parade during British rule, sells everything from books, saris, electronic items to antiques. Stock up on cutlery and bone china at Jamal's (No 4, Mahatma Gandhi Road, tel:2558-7722).
- There is more of a bazaar feel once you hit Commercial Street, another legacy of the British, just 20 minutes north from Brigade Road.
Explore the side streets for silk blouses, scarves, cotton skirts under 250rupees. Terracotta jewellery items go at 75 rupees and black metal earrings,chains and rings no more than 30 rupees a piece.
- Souvenir hunters might like to browse at government-owned Cauvery Arts & Craft Emporium (49, Mahatma Gandhi Road, tel: 2558-0317). Here, you can buy genuine sandal wood handicrafts. A medium-size (weighing around 250gm) sandal wood elephant will set you back about 1,000 rupees.
What to see
- Book a half-day tour conducted by the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC), which takes you around the city on a Volvo luxury coach for 145 rupees (S$5).
- Nightlife tip: Hit the Nasa Pub located in central district's Church Street. Nearby in Residency Road, there is Black Cadillac frequented by Bangalore's beautiful people. Or boogie the night away at nearby dance clubs such as New Night Watchman, Purple Haze or Taika. Cover charge starts at 200 rupees.
- Don't miss out on Mysore, the city of palaces, which is a three-hour drive away. KSTDC offers a day trip for 550 rupees.
Where to sleep
- The ultimate five-star stay can be found at The Leela Palace Kempinski(www.theleela.com), a city landmark with gold leaf domes, arches and ornate ceilings. Internet rates start at $790 a night.
- Less pricey is Nalapad Residency (www.nalapad.com), with elegant rooms from$65; and Ramanashree Hotel (www.ramanashree.com), near the entertainment district, with rates from $80.
- A four-hour drive from Bangalore will take adventure lovers to Kabini River Lodge (www.junglelodges.com), which offers semi-luxury tented cottage stays for$95 a night. The resort also offers jungle drives and kayaking.
- Yoga buffs will love the tony yoga retreat centre - Shreyas (www.shreyasretreat.com) - located 35km from Bangalore, for its stressmanagement programmes. Rooms start at $316.
Where to eat
- Soak into the world of mouth-watering vegetarian cuisine in Bangalore, where most residents do not eat meat.
Sample ethnic south Indian fares such as puliogare (tamarind rice), sakkarepongal (sweet rice), thayir sadham (rice mixed with yogurt, onion slices,mustard and green chillies) at Kadambam (4/1, 8th Main, 22nd Cross, 3rd Block, Jayanagar, tel: 4121-4152).
Wash it down with sooji ka halwa, a simple nutty dessert made of sugar and semolina. A meal for one person costs about 60 rupees.
- Fans of appam (rice flour crepes) and Kerala parottas (crusty pratas which originated from the state of Kerala) should head to the Coconut GrooveRestaurant (86, Spencer Building, Church Street, tel: 2559-6149). Buffets cost about 80 rupees a person.
- Sick of vegetarian fare? Make your way to Karavalli Restaurant (Gateway HotelOn Residency Road, tel: 6660-4545, www.tajhotels.com). Buffets start at 250rupees per head. Signature dishes include kane fry (deep-fried seasoned fish),coorg fried chicken and Alleppey fish curry.
- For a traditional breakfast, check out Mavalli Tiffin Rooms (11, Lalbagh Road,Bangalore, tel: 2222-0022), famous for its butter masala thosai and vadai. Walk around the open kitchen and witness the cooking process before tucking in. Ameal will set you back no more than 75 rupees.
Getting there: Jetstar Asia flies five times a week to Bangalore International Airport. Fares start from $168 one-way. Taxes are $175 (return basis).