In 2004 when I first arrived in Bangalore, as it was known then, it was most definitely not a case of love at first sight. The place appeared to be bursting at the seams. I searched for the city's centre but was thwarted by endless traffic jams and bewildered by the chaos. After a few days I headed south to the spice hills in the hope of finding greener pastures. Yet within a year I'd regard the city as home, and more than a decade later I'm still happily living here.
Old Bangaloreans reminisce about their sleepy village, before the opportunities created by globalisation were tapped and the town's sudden exponential growth surged in the 1990s. Seemingly overnight Bangalore became famous around the world as the Silicon Valley of India, attracting an influx of foreigners and Indians from other states and turning it into a truly multicultural city. By 2011 the thriving metropolis had become the third largest in India, with a population of more than 10 million, and it remains one of the fastest growing in Asia. In 2014 the city's Anglicised name of Bangalore was officially changed to the local Kannada language name, Bengaluru, though adoption has been slow and both names are still commonly used.
Unlike Mumbai, surrounded by the Arabian Sea and cloaked in Bollywood glamour, or the capital, Delhi, with its monumental architecture and grand vistas, Bengaluru's attractions are not obvious. There are precious few sights to tick off, and because of this the city offers a different kind of experience for travellers, one that connects them to the people who live and work in the city – a mix of world-class entrepreneurs and innovators, cutting-edge designers and curators, traditional artisans and master craftsmen. They're the makers of modern India. It took me a while to understand that the centre of this city, its soul, is its people. Here's my introduction to the finest makers among them.
Stepping into the Tharangini lakeside estate is like entering a different world. This celebrated block-printing studio was established in 1977 by artist Lakshmi Srivathsa and is run by her daughter, Padmini Govind, along the founding principles of ecological sustainability and fair trade. Designers from across India and the world are drawn to one of the country's largest libraries of hand-block print designs, featuring more than 2000 blocks, and there's a shop selling ready-made products including silk stoles, tote bags, yardage and even the printing blocks themselves. Local jewellery brand The Jewelry Project, and fashion brand Calantha also have small outlets on the estate.
12th Cross, Sadashivanagar, tharanginistudios.com
Swati Maskeri weaves "slow cloth" on three handlooms in a house on the outskirts of the city in an area with a rich textile history. She also teaches at Srishti, the town's design college. Working with third-generation handloom silk weavers on superb silk stoles and saris, Swati focuses on abstract designs rather than motifs often associated with Indian textiles. Her works are sold at the likes of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
308, 1st Main Rd, Sector A, Yelahanka New Town, tuni-textiles.com
Fatherland – The Indian Revival
Ron Dutta is regarded as one of India's best stylists, with an impressive academic curiosity and appreciation of Indian heritage and a commitment to revive traditional designs and techniques. In 2012 he established Fatherland, a brand of themed revival hand-woven saris, tribal jewellery, accessories and clothes. He unashamedly celebrates the past and delights in pointing out there's no contemporary twist to his collections. He releases at least two themed capsule collections each year, which he has either curated or designed himself. By appointment only.
31, 15th Cross, 11th Main, Malleswaram, fatherland.in
One of the most attractive stores in Bengaluru, this destination boutique and café in a 19th-century heritage home is run by antiques connoisseur Venkataram Reddy and his partner Aravind Kashyap. They showcase antique items as well as collections of contemporary textiles, jewellery, accessories and homewares created by local designers. Locally made products include Kale Nele textiles woven in North Karnataka, natural bodycare products by Bengaluru brand Do Bandar and the Ki range of notebooks covered in hand-woven khadi cotton made at a local workshop.
93 Kanakapura Rd, Basavanagudi, basava.co.in
Housed in a traditional bungalow, the city's first "lifestyle" store was opened in 1999 by art collectors Abhishek and Radhika Poddar, stocking products sourced exclusively from India. Behind the main store are half a dozen carefully selected designer boutiques set around the bungalow's central courtyard. Favourites are the fashion and textiles brand Rasa from Jaipur and India's hippest sari brand, Raw Mango, from Delhi. Acclaimed Bengaluru chef Abhijit Saha runs the Café Cassia in the courtyard.
24 Gangadhar Chetty Rd, Sivanchetti Gardens, Ulsoor, facebook.com/cinnamonthestore
Opened recently in one of Bengaluru's oldest and most interesting residential neighbourhoods, this concept store and café is a celebration of sustainable living and is committed to fair trade and supporting ethical producers. It showcases local talent, including lighting by Jenny Pinto (one of Go Native's directors), toys and homewares by Varnam, beauty products by Common Oxen and yoga wear by Proyog. The farm-to-table café located on the first-floor veranda overlooks the leafy street and serves contemporary Indian vegetarian food using local, seasonal, organic produce.
64, 10th Main, 5th Block, Jayanagar, go-native.in
More than a decade ago fashion designer Sonali Sattar founded Grasshopper at her family's farmhouse on what was then the outskirts of the city. Though in traffic it can take an hour to reach from the city centre, this is where I take friends to see the best contemporary Indian design, in a hip space combining cuisine and couture. Hidden Harmony is Sattar's collection of stylish women's wear. She has added a children's line and carries Kris, a local brand of handmade leather bags, and gorgeous lacquered wooden homewares by designer Atul Johri, who works with craftsmen in the village of Channapatna, about 60 kilometres south-west of the city. In the evenings (and for lunch on weekends) the veranda transforms into an intimate restaurant.
45 Kalena Agrahara, Bannerghatta Rd, grasshopper.in
Often referred to as the Tiffany of Bengaluru, Ganjam was founded in 1889 and served as the official jeweller of the maharajah of Mysore. The company remains family run, with Kumar Ganjam in charge. All its pieces, whether contemporary or inspired by heritage motifs, are designed and made in-house. The company's commitment to preserving traditional handcrafted methods has been recognised by the World Crafts Council.
22/12 Vittal Mallya Rd, ganjam.com
Known for contemporary sculptural jewellery that maintains an Indian sensibility, Pallavi Foley is one of the country's most awarded designers. Her range encompasses affordable silver and gold-plated pieces and investment works in solid 18- and 22-carat gold. Inspiration comes from Foley's experiences: enamel artistry seen at the palace in Bikaner, the Sanskrit concept of Navaratna (nine gems) influences the design of her hoop earrings, and an "architectural" collection is a nod to the profession of her father.
Store B-10, Leela Galleria, Leela Palace Kempinski, No 23 Old Airport Rd, pallavifoley.com
ART AND ANTIQUES
Balaji's Antiques & Collectibles
Established in 1924, this shop supplied props for the 1984 period drama A Passage to India. Owner DG Balaji works with collectors from around the world and can source almost anything imaginable, from original movie posters to battle plans of Tipu Sultan. The shop is crammed full of treasures – rosewood ship chests, Thanjavur paintings, gramophones, campaign furniture, Burmese lacquerware, Ravi Varma prints – and the staff tell fabulous stories about each curio.
1st floor, 64 Balaji Silk Complex, Avenue Rd, balajiantiques.com
This gallery, established in 1996, occupies the largest private gallery space in South India and includes two exhibition halls and private viewing rooms. The striking staircase is almost an exhibit in itself. The gallery hosts regular shows and represents eminent Bengaluru artists such as Ravikumar Kashi, best known for his paper-pulp sculptures and installations. Don't miss works by Clare Arni (who took photos for this feature) and Cop Shiva, Bengaluru-based photographers with international reputations.
24/10 BTS Depot Rd, Wilson Garden, sumukha.com
Climb two flights of stairs in this nondescript building and enter what looks like an old-fashioned apothecary shop – there's even a potion station with copper vessels in which shoppers can create their own shampoo and moisturiser, with guidance from Areev founders Ally Matthan and Apoorva Sadanand. They handmake products for hair, face and skin using local natural ingredients – some are said to be edible (apparently a customer once ate the soap and quite liked it). Matthan also makes fragrances under her own label and creates bespoke fragrances for clients.
1st floor, 17/A Krishna Reddy Colony, Domlur Layout, areev.co.in
Happy Healthy Me
Former gallerist Namu Kini teamed with her friend Misha Gill to create an organic brand and the city's most comprehensive organic store, stocking more than 300 certified organic products sourced in India. Shop for coffee, tea, spices, clay and ceramic cookware, eco-friendly personal care products and locally made yoga mats.
660, 1st Cross, 11th Main Road, Indiranagar, happyhealthyme.com
This studio stocks "second life" paper products such as gift wrap made from block-printed newspaper, lampshades from waste cardboard and notebooks covered with film posters.
2nd floor, 99, 1st Cross, New Thippasandra, abcd.co.in
Fiona Caulfield is the creator of the Love Travel Guides series of handcrafted guidebooks. Last year she launched a new series called Made in India. The latest, Made in Bengaluru, sells for $59.95 from lovetravelguides.com. It features paper made in the village of Sanganer and is bound by hand in Bengaluru.