Location: Taj West End, 25 Race Court Road, Bengaluru, Karnataka
If you pass a family of peacocks and the male whips up his tail into a florescent fan to show you who’s boss, don’t be surprised. You are not dreaming. You are in a corner of the 20 acres of mature tropical gardens of the Taj West End hotel. You are also in the centre of Bengaluru city, which officially changed its name from Bangalore back in 2014 but most locals stick with what they know. Bengaluru is India’s most global city and its sparkling IT capital where a can-do attitude is as widespread and the city’s radius of 45km (28 miles). A population of about 13 million makes it India’s fourth largest city after Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. It is also the very congenial capital of Karnataka state which is awash with exceptional historic buildings.
The gardens are therefore something of a miraculous survivor in this city of gleaming towers of success, which has few preservation restrictions to hold back developers. The West End’s beginnings were a 10-room inn opened by the Bronsons in 1887 – not such an odd thing to do if you know your history: Governor-General Charles Cornwallis had taken Bangalore Fort in 1791, incorporating it into the British Empire, and its gentle climate up on the Deccan Plateau soon made it a favoured location for the British army, the British in general, Europeans, Anglo-Indians and missionaries, while the ruling Wodeyars of Mysore State sat quietly on the throne.
It was also ideal for gardening. Hyder Ali, while de facto ruler of the Mysore kingdom, had founded the 240-acre Lalbagh Botanical Garden in 1760, inspired by Mughal Gardens; his son Tipu Sultan (who loved gardens and tigers) added imported trees and plants; a string of British Superintendents further enriched it. Meanwhile, the 300-acre Cubbon Park was founded in 1870 by Major General Richard Sankey, then Chief Engineer of Mysore State; today it is the city’s lush central lung.
But back to the Bronsons’ inn, later renamed the West End hotel. Well-located near the race course, Turf Club and Golf Club, the hotel expended its colonial buildings and added charming annexes of rooms scattered through the gardens. It was in one of these that I stayed in 1983 when I first visited Bangalore (as it was then), a time-warp experience that included chili cheese toast, caramel custard and floral porcelain teapots with embroidered tea cosies. Over the years, with the West End as my base I’ve gone racing, eaten Fuller’s fruit cake at The Bangalore Club (founded 1868, members have included the Maharaja of Mysore and Winston Churchill), visited friends in quaint British-style cottages. And I once attended a circus where elephants played competitive cricket.
Along the way, the West End hotel has transformed in step with Bengaluru’s rise. Today, it has 117 luxuriously refurbished rooms, a Vietnamese restaurant (among several), a signature Taj Jiva Spa housed in one of its 1880s heritage buildings. And wandering those gardens or relaxing over meals on the lawns at any time is as good as it’s always been.
Out and about, in addition to the Botanical Gardens and Cubbon Park, the city has an abundance of cafes, contemporary fashion boutiques, multi-story silk stores (silk is a Karnataka state industry), art galleries, performing arts, and two major museums: the southern outpost of the National Gallery of Modern Art and the newly opened, freshly imaginative Museum of Art and Photography (MAP). Don’t miss either.
In sum, a visit to Bengaluru is a wellness basket of hotel indulgence, quality gardens, great shopping and classy culture, with a good sprinkling of southern charm. As one friend said: ‘Here, we have time for people.’
Must-do wellness experience at Taj West End: dawn garden walks, peacocks screeching, birds singing
Taj West End buzzwords: see you on the lawn!
Ideas for unpacking your kind of wellness at Taj West End, Bengaluru
Stop by the heritage home of the National Gallery of Modern Art's southern HQ, set in tranquil gardens, to see dynamic exhibitions selected from astoundingly rich holdings, often spotlighting artists who should be better known.
Explore the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP), opened in February 2023, from bottom to top - enjoy art without boundaries, compile your own exhibition, and more. Members have rooftop views over Cubbon Park.
Join discerning locals to shop at a hidden courtyard and find Ahilaya's rainbow hues of embroidered silks, Cinnamon's outfits selected by Radhika Poddar's fine-tuned aesthetic, and more, pausing for chai in the central cafe.
Eating well in Bengaluru is easy. The distinct and delicious Konkan cuisine is the way to go. Cafes and restaurants serving home-cooked dishes abound, as do private-dining homes run by entrepreneurial chefs who deliver pre-discussed banquets - some helpfully write each course on the blackboard.
To get an insider's view of Karnataka's state-run silk industry, drive 40km south of Bengaluru to Ramangara to see the meticulously-run cocoon market where farmers deliver sackfuls of cocoons 24/7. Once of Asia's largest, 40,000 to 50,000 kg of cocoons are traded daily.
It really is time to start planning your Unpacking Wellness experience for 2023!
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