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Sunday, 19 August 2012

DEVANAHALLI









I first set foot in Bangalore in January 1994 . We landed at the old Bangalore Airport, which was located at the HAL layout to the east of the centre of the city, not far from the Kids Kemp, a castle-shaped toy store. At that time, there were no air-bridges, so we just descended a gangplank and walked  across the tarmac to the terminal, where we collected  our luggage before being met my in-laws, who drove my wife and me, in their Maruti van, to their home in southern Bangalore.

A few years later, the 'old' airport was modernised. Air bridges were installed, and no longer did we have to walk across the tarmac in the open-air. The last time that I did walk across the tarmac from a jet-plane was when I visited Cape Town in August 2003. I had arrived from London where the temperature had been an unbelievable 37 degrees Celsius, and stepped out of the 'plane into the early morning air whose temperature was close to zero!

In the 1990s, I recall that the air inside Indian airports had a peculiar delicate fragrance, almost perfumed. This smell was so characteristic that even if I had been blindfolded, I would have known that I was in India.

The improved 'old' airport might have had its air-bridges and newly  installed escalators, but the first time that we landed there after these improvements had been made, there was something that made it a little different from arriving at any other airport that I had ever been to. Whilst queuing at passport control, wild dogs ('pie' dogs) wandered languidly among the waiting travelers. The only other place that I had encountered dogs in such circumstances was at New York's JFK Airport, back in 1992. The dogs there wore dinky little waistcoats and were on leashes, sniffing around for drugs!

Sometime after the year 2000, the 'new' Bengaluru International Airport was opened about 40 kilometres north of Bangalore, close to the village of Devanahalli. This splendid airport was flawed as soon as it was opened. Apart from being located in a part of Karnataka, which attracts the highest incidence of fog, often dense enough to prevent landings and take-offs, it was too small for the number of passengers that it was supposed to handle. Currently, and only a very few years after its inauguration, the airport is being enlarged. From what I could judge by eye, I would guess that the terminal building is being doubled in length.

Until yesterday (18 August, 2012), I associated the name Devanahalli with the word 'airport', and nothing else. Yesterday, my wife and I were returning from Hyderabad to Bangalore by road. As we crossed over from the state Andra Pradesh (in which Hyderabad is located) to the state Karnataka, we flashed past a sign-board listing touristic attractions in Karnataka. I was almost certain that I noticed the name 'Devanahalli' among these.

Several hours later when we were just north of Bengaluru International Airport, and could see its perimeter fence in the distance, I spotted some very sturdy looking brown coloured walls, without doubt the outer walls of a fortress. I asked our driver to slow down, and we left the dual carriageway on a small road leading towards the walls. The road led through a narrow, clearly ancient, archway in the castle walls into a bustling village, with many shops and a number of picturesque Hindu temples, surrounded by the old, well-preserved walls. We were in the precincts of the castle that was the birthplace of the great Tipu Sultan. According to the Wikipedia article about this fort (Click here to see it), there is a memorial commemorating his birth somewhere within the fort, but, sadly, we did not have time to search for it.




After retracing our steps, and driving out through the gateway through which we entered, we stopped outside the walls so that I could take some photographs. When I returned to our vehicle, two small boys approached me, carrying a tatty looking booklet of what I thought were raffle tickets. They asked me my name, and then wrote it on one of the pages of the booklet, and then tore out the page. I understood that they were collecting money for Ganesh - the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi  will be soon (in September). I gave them a small donation, and they thanked me, addressing me as 'uncle', as do most Indian children when addressing adults, who are not members of their family, and we continued our journey to Bangalore.




So, next time you arrive or depart from Bengaluru International Airport, don't forget that you are not far from the spot where one of the most famous warriors in the history of India was born. And if you have the time and/or energy, do pay this fortress a visit. It is a pleasant contrast to the modern uniformity of Bengaluru International Airport.

PS: Heathrow Airport is the only other airport, which I have visited that is almost as close to a historic castle (Windsor) as is Bangalore's




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