Unexplored Bangalore #2: Halasuru (Ulsoor) Lake

Unexplored Bangalore #2: Halasuru (Ulsoor) Lake

When I was googling for ‘Ulsoor Lake’ before starting to write this post, I came across the blog of a seemingly popular travel writer. She had written “[This] is a small lake, nothing remarkably exceptional… this place can be skipped.”

A sense of great indignation gripped me at once – how… how dismissive!

True – as that blogger mentioned, “it doesn’t give the feel of a tourist place”. However, this “non touristy” quality is, for me, Ulsoor Lake’s biggest attraction. The lake is a serene, beautiful place in the heart of the city, and as you glide away towards the sunset on a pedal boat, you will almost forget the fact that you are right here, in the middle of bustling Bangalore.

A little history

According to Wikipedia, Ulsoor Lake was originally built by Kempegowda II in the 17th century and is the only surviving tank built by Bangalore’s Gowda kings. The lake, in its present form, was built by Sir Lewin Bentham Bowring, then, the Commissioner of Mysore, sometime between 1862 and 1870.

It is fed mainly by rainfall and covers an area of 123.6 acres. Its average depth is 19 feet and the deepest section runs to 58 feet. It has several islands.

Halasuru – What’s in the name? 

I found this interesting anecdote about the origin of the name ‘Halasuru’ on Wiki. Reproducing it here in its entirety:

There used to be a jackfruit orchard near the Ulsoor Lake, and the Kannada name for jackfruit being ‘Halasina Hannu’, the area came to be known as Halasuru.

A jack fruit orchard in Bangalore city. SIgh!

The Park & Boating

The lake is bordered on one side by a park and walkways. It is open to the public from 9AM to 6PM. There is no entry fee (we were charged Rs 15 for parking but did not get a receipt; so, I am guessing it’s all unofficial!) and pets are not allowed.

ulsoor lake

ulsoor lake

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Glimpse of Ulsoor Lake from the park

ulsoor lake

The Mayura Halasuru Boat Club allows boating until 6PM. (Each trip is a maximum of 30 mins. So, by 6PM you have to bring your boat back to the jetty) They have pedal boats (2 seater & 4 seater) as well as motor boats (min 10 people). There is also a small eatery (ice creams, cutlets, biscuts & snacks) near the park’s entrance.

We visited the lake at 5PM on a weekday, a time we thought the lakefront would be deserted. Surprisingly, there was a steady stream of visitors – college students, evening walkers and families.

ulsoor lake
Evening walkers

Another interesting thing about  this park is that almost every bench was occupied by couples of all ages, and… …almost every couple was engaged in PDA! Surprisingly, a lot of them were middle-aged and saree/mundu wearing! I would have thought that these benches, located in full view of the traffic on the road, would not be the most amenable places for an expression of louvve, but hey, what do I know! My days of romance got over 5 years ago. 😛

Boating

We opted for a 2-seater pedal boat (Rs 100 for 30 mins). The Mayura representative was very helpful: in fact, he asked us which language we could understand and proceeded to explain the boat controls & rowing rules in the language we were most comfortable with. We were also given life jackets in good condition.

To our far left was the military-governed area of the lake, monitored by personnel of the Madras Engineering Group of the Army. So, we were advised to not venture out to the far left. To our extreme right, the lake surface was covered with a variety of algae and it was practically impossible to see the water beneath the plants. We decided to stay clear of that side too. This still gave us a wide expanse of water to explore, and we set off.

The boat ride was amazing – there were hardly any other boats apart from ours. The water was green and nearly opaque. I wondered just how deep the lake was, and felt just a twinge of nervous anticipation. The lake was dotted with various islands with funny names such as Buffalo ganj and Pasina ganj!

ulsoor lake
An unnamed ganj (small island)
ulsoor lake
Daddy long legs! 🙂

In the countless romances I have read, the hero and heroine often drive off into the sunset. (SR and I got a chance to do this last year in the Rann of Kutch, but that’s a story for another time.) At Ulsoor Lake, we rode off into the sunset. On a boat.

I think I will now let the pictures speak. 🙂

ulsoor lake
View from the jetty
ulsoor lake
Rowing practice
ulsoor lake
Dusk

Let me close by misquoting Jeanne Moreau:

“To go out with the setting sun on a quiet lake is to truly embrace your solitude.”

* Jeanne Moreau is an award-winning French actress. Don’t worry – I didn’t know either until I googled. 😛

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Unexplored Bangalore #1: National Military Memorial

Unexplored Bangalore #1: National Military Memorial

When you think of Bangalore, what names come to mind? Lalbagh? Cubbon Park? Malls? Visvesvarya Industrial & Technological Museum? As someone who has wanted to live in this city since the age of sixteen, and who is privileged to be living here now, I am constantly on the lookout for what defines Bangalore – its culture, heritage, history and future. I rely a lot of online reviews and information to research and understand attractions.

This is the first of a series of articles I am planning to write to explore the lesser known attractions in Bangalore. My other condition is that I will be reviewing places that are either free or low budget. For example, I intended to visit Bangalore Palace, but decided not to when I found out that its entry fee is Rs.225 per head. Definitely not meant for the average Indian!

The first on my list is the National Military Memorial on T.Chowdiah Road, next to the Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain.

A Little History

This park is said to be India’s first  memorial for war heroes who died for the nation post-Independence. The ambitious project was announced in 2009, but its progress was impeded by numerous delays and obstacles. After missing around six deadlines for inauguration, it was finally thrown open to the public in 2013. However, the memorial is still under construction in parts.

Apart from exhibits of military/defense systems and equipment, the park has a 207 feet high flag pole, supposedly the tallest in India. The national flag remains hoisted at all times and is well-lit. On a day with a strong breeze, the sight of the Tricolor fluttering is magnificent.

Photo courtesy: K. Gopinathan. Source: The Hindu, 24th Jan 2014

(I did not get a good shot of the flag – so, sharing another publicly available image.)

Entry Details

The park is spread across 7.5acres and has two entrances: one from T.Chowdiah Road and the other from Ali Askar Road. Funnily enough, the route or location of the park is not on Google Maps! It is open from 6AM to 9AM and from 4PM to 8.00PM. There is an entry fee of Rs.15, which includes charges to watch the Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain. There are two shows daily – at 7PM and 7.30PM.

The Park

The first thing that strikes you as you walk into the park is just how green it is. Not dark, wild, junglee green like Cubbon Park, but a brighter, mellow  green. There are wide boulevards flanked by expanses of lawns.

national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain

national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain

Though the park was, by no means, empty, it did not feel noisy or crowded, possibly because of the open layout and the sheer expanse. If you sit on one of the benches flanking the walkways, you can hear the steady drone of traffic on the surrounding roads. Yet, you get a sense of peace and solitude.

You can even hear bird calls – twitters, cheeps, chirps, warbles, screeches… Given that I am a newbie when it comes to recognizing birds, I merely sat and tried to classify each bird call by the adjective that suited it the most. 🙂

Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore

Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore   Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore

On weekends and holidays, you can see a crowd start to trickle in by around 4.30PM and thicken by 6.30PM in time for the musical fountain to start. We had visited the park once before on Sankranti and waited for an hour for the fountain – unfortunately, there was a power outage in the area and the show did not happen at all. What was annoying was the fact that the park attendants let 300-odd people cool their heels for such a long time without intimating the cause of the delay or expected time of start.

As time passed, people began to leave in droves. We were among the last to leave, and only when we reached the Chowdiah-side gate did we understand the reason for the no-show. The good part was that park officials returned the ticket cost to all the disappointed visitors. (We did not ask for a refund as we felt that the Rs.30 could be our contribution to the upkeep of such a beautiful park!)

The BDA (the body responsible for developing the park, must necessarily make arrangements to meet such exigencies. Also, if online reviews are to be believed, the fountain invariably starts 15-20 minutes late. So, go prepared for delays!

This is what the fountain and the open-air amphitheater facing it look like in the daylight.

national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain

Military/Defense Exhibits

Currently, there are around 15 military and defense exhibits in the park. These include actual tanks, missiles, rockets, airplanes and carriers. Though the exhibits, by themselves, are impressive, they are not accompanied by name plates and descriptions of history, construction and use. We saw visitors amble around, pose for photographs and walk away without knowing anything about the equipment. This is a real pity!

The first (and possibly the simplest) step the BDA must take is to put up description boards for each exhibit. Later, guided walks and audio-guides can be provided. This would make the visit a lot more informational.

I was lucky to be accompanied by SR, who, I discovered, is somewhat of a walking encyclopedia of military and warfare. Here are some of the exhibits we saw:

Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore
One of the tanks on display at the Memorial
Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore
(L to R) Brahmos, AAD, Prithvi, Agni – the four missiles from the House of DRDO!
national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain
EFA Mobile Bridge
Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore
PSLV

Towards the Chowdiah entrance, there is a children’s play area called the Energy Park, created jointly by the Karnataka Renewable Energy Department Ltd. and the Horticulture Department, at a cost of Rs.1.5 crores. The idea of the park is to teach children about the laws of physics, and especially about renewable energy, through playground equipment. Again, this park has been touted as a first in India.

Unfortunately, most of the equipment is dysfunctional or rusty/broken. Online articles suggest that the park fell into disrepair within a year of its launch in 2006. I am surprised and disappointed that today, 8 years later, nothing has changed. Of course, this does not seem to be keeping children away. They, thankfully, have an infinite capacity to amuse themselves on the most meager of entertainment options – or at least, they would if we don’t trust phones and tablets into their hands to “keep them occupied”.

However, for the children to actually learn something about energy or physics, instead of just playing on the swings or the sand pit, the park needs urgent maintenance and restoration of the equipment.

national military memorial, national millitary memorial, bangalore military memorial, cariappa park, indira gandhi musical fountain

The park is still under construction – there are many underground structures of glass and steel that are standing empty or being used to store building material. This is one such empty structure:

Copyright 2015: Gowri N Kishore

Impressions

I am a sucker for beautiful spots, and I believe parks are the lungs of Bangalore city. So, just for the sheer greenery and calm the park offers, I would keep going back.

But I do not think it does justice to its name – a national military memorial. It is a shame that such a beautiful memorial, with so much potential, is being ruined by red tape and inordinate delays. A little more attention, a little expedience – that’s all it takes to turn this into a lovely tribute worthy of those it seeks to honor.