Journey to the East (4)

What Bangalore, the “Silicon Valley of India,” was like fifty years ago — absolutely nothing like today!

The Friedel Chronicles
5 min readNov 30, 2020


In the previous story, Journey to the East (3), we had completed the arduous journey, by train, bus and car, to the South Indian “garden city” of Bangalore. There my mother and brother lived, in a beautiful villa, built in British times.

We repeated the journey a few more times, and spent weeks exploring the city and the surroundings. Later our son Martin, and then his younger brother Tommy joined us. There were adventures galore — today I will tell you a little about the earliest of our trips.

Bangalore was called the “Garden City of India.” It is located on the Deccan Plateau, around 1000 metres above sea level, and has a mild temperature — which is why my German father, who had worked for decades in the sweltering hot Bombay, moved to Bangalore after retirement. I spent a couple of years in my early teens in this house.

The old British-built bungalow, in a giant garden plot. Of course it has long since been torn down, and multiple high-rise office buildings have replaced it.
This is how the Friedel front garden had changed when we visited in the 1980s
And this is what it looks like now, in 2020 — there are 27 companies occupying one of the high-rise buildings.
The house was located near the beautiful Ulsoor Lake, where you could go boating.
Compare that to a picture of Bangalore I took from a friend’s flat in January 2020.
Back to 1969, in front of the old house, where a “snake charmer” gives us a young cobra to play with.
I found an even smaller cobra in the garden. It had to be less than a week old.
A professional snake charmer in our garden. I have written about these encounters in a separate article.
I am a snake person — grew up with these reptiles, which my father kept and studied. How he became a snake expert is described in this article, and my early and later snake encounters in this one.

Today Bangalore, which has a population of around eight million, is called the “Silicon Valley of India”, because of its vibrant information industry. When we were there in the 1970s the town had just started to grow.

At the time of our first visit Bangalore was being transformed from the “garden city” into a modern industrial metropolis. Above is the main road under construction, in the background the first city skyscraper.
Here you see the heavy road building machinery in the early 1970s.
A view from the top of the skyscraper overlooking the High Road of Bangalore, Mahatma Gandhi Road.
This is the famous “MG Road” being improved, in 1969…
… and this is what MG Road looks like today, fifty years later. There is even a metro train overhead.
The outskirts of Bangalore were (and still are, of course) quite rural
Bullocks raising buckets of water out of wells
Agriculture with bullocks— child labour was normal and natural
And bullocks threshing the grain
The granite hills surrounding the city provide it with the most abundant building material
It was completely normal to see cows on the street
They would come to the cars to beg
On one of the main streets we saw an elephant, which I photographed in passing

There is a story to tell about the above elephant. Note that it is being ridden by a “mahout,” the trainer and caregiver, and it is guided by an assistant on the street. I saw some youths on motor scooters ride up to the elephant and pluck hairs out of its tail — in order to braid them into “friendship bands.”

The next morning we read a calamitous report in the local newspaper: apparently, minutes after we had passed, the elephant threw a tantrum over the plucking of its tail hairs. For this it apparently held the assistant directly responsible. It grabbed him, dashed him to the ground and trampled him to death. In the meantime the mahout had dismounted and fled into a small roadside police cabin. The elephant followed and reached inside, trying to grab the mahout. Luckily the room was just large enough for the mahout to remain out of reach, and his life was spared. After half an hour police experts arrived with tranquillizer guns and were able to sedate the elephant. It had to be removed with a crane and a construction truck.

What you could also see, especially in residential areas of Bangalore, were horse-drawn carriages which you could hail like taxies. This one is passing our house in the Ulsoor Road.
This is how I preferred to move around — and young Martin would bravely join me.
Sometimes the water supply in the city failed. Then a water truck came around…
… and you filled your buckets, and poured them into the house water container.
After that a nice cold bath! Then your dad takes you to the roof to dry off in the hot sun.

It was an experiment. I had a container made, of welded sheet metal, painted it black and connected it to the water mains. The theory: free hot water. However, the water pressure from the mains, though very weak, almost caused the container to burst. I need to work out the physics for this — how a small pump, working continuously, can build up tremendous forces.

Here’s something for you to guess: what is Ingrid doing with the pendulum she is holding?

Well, we Europeans notice that in this south Indian city people have very short shadows, especially around noon, like our sons on the right. This is because Bangalore is just 13 degrees north of the equator, and in the summer, when the sun climbs up to its zenith it is almost exactly 90° overhead. That is what Ingrid is testing, with a pendulum at noon.

One day, walking past a big hall, I saw that people were playing snooker, a game that has always fascinated me. A fifteen-year-old boy was thrilling the public with some beautiful shots. After he had won his match and been congratulated by the organisers, I chatted with him over tea and biscuits. The affable English lad told me all about his snooker career, and about his ambition to one day become the best snooker player in the world. I gave him a pat and some encouraging words — it is so nice to see how young kids are sometimes brimming with confidence. When I read in the papers a few days later that he had won the event outright, I was inclined to take him more seriously. So I memorised his name: Ronnie O’Sullivan. I kid you not.

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The Friedel Chronicles

Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.