A midnight tour of Bangalore shows another side of this south Indian city

Zipping around Karnataka's capital as it slowly falls silent is uniquely revealing

Gully Tours, a boutique experiential tour company in India, takes people on the Midnight Trail of Bangalore. Getty Images
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On a Saturday night in autumn, a handful of us gather next to Cubbon Park metro station in downtown Bangalore, the capital of India's southern Karnataka state. The sky is inky blue and a cool breeze blows frequently, carrying subtle hints of rain. The monsoon is retreating, with rains holding for the moment.

The busy traffic junction in front of us is winding down. This is probably a good thing since we are about to embark on an unusual journey – seeing Bangalore – really “seeing” it – at night.

From the docking station nearby, each of us picks a Yulu bike, an app-enabled electric mobility vehicle that feels like a toy scooter. A trial reveals it to be noiseless, smooth and easy to manoeuvre. “It’s safe and the fastest you’ll be able to go is 25 kilometres per hour, so enjoy,” says leader Prathyush Mandar of Gully Tours, a boutique experiential tour company behind the Midnight Trail of Bangalore.

The tour starts slowly. Behind Mandar, we head out hesitantly in single file into sparse traffic, trying to acclimatise. Round the corner, about 300 metres away, is the first stop, in front of Vidhana Soudha – the seat of the state government and the city’s most famous building.

By day the large granite building, depicting a melange of South Indian architectural styles, is striking. At night, lit from within and silhouetted against the dark sky, it is breathtaking.

In front, lit bronze statues of Bangalore founder Kempegowda and 13th-century saint-philosopher Basavanna add to the dramatic scene. Normally, the wide streets and pavements are full of vehicles, tourists and vendors. At this hour, there is hardly any traffic, very few people and a lone puffed-rice seller who doesn’t seem to be doing much business.

As we gaze, Mandar briefly explains its history and that of Karnataka High Court, a Pompeii-red building across from it, which is shrouded in darkness. The incessant noise of the day has given way to long bouts of silence, perfect for soaking up the buildings’ majesty.

In the stillness, I see a trio of fruit bats silently swooping around nearby trees, their large wings much darker against the sky. It is both eerie and fascinating.

I reluctantly clamber back on to the bike and head east with the rest. Suitably acclimatised to the vehicle, I open up the throttle and love the feeling of whizzing by with the cool breeze on my face.

Soon, we are at the next stop, near the busy Balekundri Circle. A Parsee fire temple hides in plain sight, something I hadn’t noticed before despite passing by thousands of times. We skirt around it, since it is out of bounds for non-Parsees. Mandar places it in context of Bangalore’s history, quizzing us and engaging the group with insightful questions and cheerful banter.

We zip around the city’s Cantonment area, which is replete with colonial history and names such as Cubbon Road, Union Street and Plain Street. We stop frequently, either at a historical venue or because the skies decide to open up.

Mandar uses the stops to regale us with mythical stories surrounding the city’s name: “A wandering king was fed boiled beans by a poor woman and named it Bendakaaluru – literally, the town of boiled beans, which got simplified to Bengaluru, the city’s local name. In reality, it’s just a story.” He shares snippets of royal and colonial history, its label of Pensioners Paradise owing to its salubrious climate and laid-back attitude, and its gradual rise as the country’s tech capital.

We often stand and stare at silent edifices – St Andrew’s Church, military establishments, colonial-era houses on Kamaraj Road and crossroads with ornate doors, embellished facades and monkey tops (a colonial architectural element to deter monkeys), such as the 1916 one dedicated to British theosophist and founder of the India’s Congress party, Annie Besant.

As the witching hour approaches, traffic is all but non-existent, far from the bad rap Bangalore attracts for its congestion. It is surreal to zoom around silently, the streets filled with dappled shadows thrown by yellow street lamps and avenue trees (gulmohar, tabebuia, jacaranda and rain trees). In between, we stop to refuel.

At Santosh Chat House on Union Street, a small but popular street food vendor, we tuck into hot and spicy mixed chat and vada pav (spicy mashed potato fritter in a square bun). Elsewhere, milky masala chai on Dispensary Road is perfect during a downpour.

We dodge rains and join MG Road, downtown’s most popular 2.5km stretch. It’s past midnight and there’s some traffic, but nowhere near the daytime rush. By now the bike is my friend and I gleefully push it to maximum speed, passing the 140-year-old colonial Mayo Hall housing civil courts.

Our last stop is Lake View Milk Bar, a storied, century-old institution and old haunt, where we slurp on ice creams – chocolate for me. The place is so popular that even past midnight, it is crammed and we jostle for space under the outside patio, buffeted by whiffs of sizzling brownies and hot chocolate fudge. It is nostalgic and blissful.

More than three hours later I head back to where we started, passing the towering St Mark’s Cathedral. On my right, Chinnaswamy Stadium, cricket’s bastion, looms large. On match days, it reverberates with cheering fans and its brilliant floodlights are seen from afar. On this night, it stands dark and silent, a brooding presence. On my left, the beloved Cubbon Park, now pitch-black, is equally as gloomy.

A bit unsettled, I hurry along. Soon, I am back at the docking station and we bid our goodbyes. But the night’s moving montage of my city, in an entirely different light, lingers. And I feel richer for it.

Updated: November 23, 2023, 10:16 AM