Sunday, June 19

The sights, smells, and traffic of Hyderabad

OK, I think of myself as reasonably well traveled, but I had not really gotten out into that part of the world which is best described as the masses of humanity going about their daily lives.  We are definitely sheltered in America and don't appreciate simple things like clean water.  Today's story will try to show some of what we experienced seeing Hyderabad, Charminar, the Sundar Jung museum, the Quth Shahi Tombs, Golconda Fort, and the areas in between.

You may want to do some Google searches on some of these places if you want some more context.  I don't really have a good map to show the relationship of these places to each other.  Hopefully I can fill in the gaps when I return.

We tried to adjust to the time zone change as best we could.  We decided to get some sleep, but not too much sleep, so we decided to meet at noon for lunch.  I actually got up around 9:30 and had a little (complimentary) breakfast in the coffee shop, which is really a nice restaurant.  An omelet, some meat balls (spicy), some sliced fruit (funky), and some indian rice porridge (tasty), along with bottled water and darjeeling tea.

When Rachel and I went back for lunch I was going to try something more interested but not being hugely hungry went for the french toast, which they serve with honey, but asked if I wanted syrup, which I did.  The Maitre D' went to the back and found an old bottle of "American Style" syrup which looks like it's been around for a while.  tasted fine, but I stuck with the honey after all.  Rach had a fruit salad which was 1/2 a pineapple with various fruits in it in a yogurt sauce. 

Then it was off to our tour.  We were picked up on time by the young man who met us at the airport that morning, with our appointed guide, John Wilson.  Yes, that's his name.  We had a car with a driver and they proceeded to take us on a drive around Hyderabad to see some of the sights.  While we had to see Charminar, which is the old city, and its bazaar, mosque and memorial arch, there was a museum he thought we should also see, and since that closed at 4 we went to that first.

The drive to the Salar Jung Museum was interesting to say the least.  It took us about 15 minutes and we went by the large lake that separates Hyderabad from its twin city Charminar, and that has a huge statue of the Buddha in the center.  Couldn't get a decent shot at 40 mph in this traffic, so here's a pic from the tour book:
Hussain Sagar Lake

The Salar Jung Museum was fascinating, though we could not bring a camera inside.  Salar Jung III was Prime Minister of Hyderabad from 1899 to 1949 and collected huge numbers of historic and artistic objects of Indian, European and Eastern origin.  We only saw the Indian floor because that's what we particularly wanted to see, but apparently there is much more to see.  Some examples of amazing objects in this museum are the items made of Ivory, including a prayer mat made of shaved strips of ivory woven together, balls of ivory that have been carved in extraordinarily intricate ways so that there are six carved balls all within a single ball, but they were never separated and carved - all were carved within as a whole!  You have to see it to believe it.  The wood carvings of furniture and artistic objects are amazing and show incredible skill and dedication - entire chess boards carved out of mahogany that would fit into a 1 inch cube, wooden Buddhist temples carved out of single blocks of wood where you can see individual leaves in the bodhi tree - spectacular.  There are also exhibits of incredible metalworks that take years to produce a single silver-coated goblet, textiles that would make a fashion student weep, and stone carvings of various deities going back 2500+ years.  Although the sign "do not touch the exhibits" is everywhere no one seemed to pay attention.  We got a nice overview of the basics of the Hindu religion, and how Brahma, Krishna and Vishnu are related, as well as the story of the god Ganesha and how he got his elephant head.  A very interesting visit - check out the link to the museum site.

Of course we were driving everywhere, and this is probably a good spot to show you what driving in Hyderabad, and presumably much of the rest of India is like.  This is a city of 6.5 Million people and apparently only a few were out on Sunday.  The driving is crazy, and although there is an order to it it's much more fluid than we're used to.  Center lines and lanes are more recommendations that laws, as is a red light.  Might makes right is more the order of the day, as is that the larger vehicles rule the road.  And yet with all this we saw no accidents, though almost every turn is a near miss. 

Here's some quick shots of what driving around is like - what you see as you look out your window.

Bazaar  Bazaar


Hyderabad is primarily a Muslim city and although you do see plenty of Hindus, and the occasional Christian (John our guide is one), much of the architecture and daily life revolves around Islam:

This is the typical kind of yellow cab you see all around the city:
Taxi  Taxis

Arabic writing is everywhere, and it is not uncommon to see fully-covered Muslim women:
Dairy  People

Finally we parked at the Bazaar at Charminar, which is both an area of the city as well as the location of a monument, which is next to a very large mosque.  This is what the bazaar looks like - people selling everything from food, phones, bangles, beads, clothes, pots, pans, etc.  They've been doing this for hundreds of years in this spot.  Some of the food looks like it's been here that long as well.

Bazaar  Bazaar
Muslim Women
This is a monument to the victims of a plague which came through the area in the late 1500s, or according to other books, to the sultan's mistress.  Sorry for the rotated pictures, I'll change those when I return.
Charminar  Charminar

We were definitely a curiosity - an unusual and occasionally uncomfortable feeling.  We don't speak the language and we certainly don't fit in-  most just observed from a distance, some would come and smile and nod, others would ask for money, treats or chocolates.  The little girl followed me everywhere and wouldn't go away until John gave her 2 rupees.  She had an older sister, maybe 9 years old, who actually argued with him, saying "she would hold Ma'am's hand"  if we didn't pay her.

People   Children Begging

This is the mosque, which holds 3,000 inside and 7,000 in the plaza outside.  You have to leave your shoes outside, and I was not sure about doing that, expecting them to be gone.  But we paid a woman 10 rupees each to hold our shoes and they were there when we returned.  That's about 25 cents.  If you look at the picture from the book below, the side building holds the tombs of the Nizams, who were the rulers of Hyderabad from 1724 until the Indian Army forced union in 1947.  At least one had a makeshift shrine on it, and some locals asked us to throw flowers on it. 
Mecca Masjid  Mecca Masjid

Women can't enter the mosque, so it was up to me to do it.  It was closed when we got there, but they opened it for me and John.  The large covered item hanging from the ceiling is one of about 6 Belgian chandeliers, used mostly during Ramadan.  You can also see some of the fancy work on the ceiling.  I made a 10 rupee donation to the shrine, in the center of the wall on the picture with the chandelier.  I was quiet and respectful and let John do the talking.
Inside Mecca Masjid  Inside
By this time Rachel was starting to get approached for money by the locals so it was good we got out when we did.  John got a shot of us with the Charminar in the background (notice we're still barefoot), then took us over to a black marble bench where, if you sit on it, tradition has it that you will return to Hyderabad.  We did.

Back to recover our car, pay off the little girls with their 2 rupees, and get some water (12 rupees = 25 cents), then off to some shopping.  Below is the Osmania Hospital, built in 1925. 

We then wanted to do some shopping, and Hyderabad is one of the world's premier places to buy pearls.  For hundreds of years it's been a common trade route and the locals have built a reputation for having the best expertise and workmanship.  We saw some amazing items with beautiful workmanship, and in colors ranging from white, to cream, to peach, to bluish, to grey and black.  This shop apparently has a great reputation, and the owner proudly showed us his photographs of important people who have shopped there, including Hillary & Chelsea, Jonathan Bush, and a large photo album with business cards from many companies you have heard of, and who we do business with. So we felt pretty comfortable that it was a place of good repute.  Plus he has a shop on 47th street so if we have any problems we can stop there too.  But you'll have to wait until we return to find out what, if anything, we bought....  (Ooh, the anticipation!)

After this we asked if we could go by Golconda Fort, which was another option we started the tour with.  Rachel didn't want to do that because you have to climb 400+ stairs to get to the top and we're just adjusting to the heat, which was in the low 90's and humid but not dreadful.  But since they were driving we thought we'd like to see it, even if it's closed and we can't go inside.  There was originally a 12th century mud fort here, which was rebuilt over 62 years from 1518 to 1580 and has mosques, palaces and gardens within it.  It also protected a huge hoard of diamonds, includig the Kohinoor diamond, which is now part of the British crown jewels. 

Here are some pictures of the fort, and what you see around it or going to/from it:

Golconda  Golconda
Golconda  At Golconda

More  Cow

The moon rising over Golconda, and Rachel with John, our guide.
Moon over Golconda  Rachel and John

On the way back to the city from Golconda, we stopped at the Qutb Shahi Tombs, which is where the rulers prior to the Nizams were buried, so this dates from the late 1500s to early 1700s.  We had to pay 20 rupees each to get in, and that included a single camera.  Apparently it would have been more if we brought two...

Some of the tombs are in better shape than others;

This is the tomb of Queen Hayat Baksh Begum, built in the late 1600s, outside and inside.  In the foreground on the left picture is a small mosque the emperor had built while the tomb for his wife was being built, so he could worship while supervising the construction. 
Tomb of Queen  Inside tomb

The emperor's mosque:
citation  Mosque

He also had a larger mosque built next to the tomb, which has some beautiful stonework:
Mosque and Tomb  Mosque and tomb

Stonework on Mosque

Here's some views of downtown Hyderabad from the Queen's tomb, and what the area looks like.
Hyderabad Us

Then it was back to the city.  You've already seen pictures of what the traffic is like, but you haven't seen it until you've seen it in full motion.  So for your final viewing pleasure, those who would like to download a few meg of AVI files can see and hear what Hyderabad traffic is really like.  Enjoy!

"This is only 10% of the traffic as on a normal day" (5.6 MB)
The ins and outs of traffic (7.2 MB)

We returned about 6:30 and decided to go to one of the hotel restaurants for dinner, at 7:30.  I was watching some cricket and I started hearing these odd noises outside.  I hit mute, noticed it was 7:00 and listened - it was the call to prayer on loudspeakers outside.  I guess we really are in a Muslim city....

Dinner was very interesting, at Dakshin, the "Finest South Indian Restaurant in the land".  We had fantastic service, drank a bottle of red indian wine (sweeter than the offered Australian wine), and had some pretty spicy foods.  They start you off with 4 chutneys of varying spiciness, from a little hot to pretty hot.  They served us some roti and little spicy rice cakes and also some dried peppers that had been soaked in yogurt then dried.  I was doing pretty well until the peppers, and the beginning was fine - but the end where all the seeds accumulated put me over the edge!  Rachel did real well and tried everything.  For dinner we ordered some prawns, mine in a masala sauce, and Rachel's in a milder coconut milk sauce.  Both were excellent and Rach even had a few of my masala ones.  They also served us paratha, a nice folded bread, and some fried banana cakes.  MMM...  For dessert Rachel ordered a sweet coconut milk pudding which was as sweet as the spicy food was hot.  Too sweet for me, so she ate both. 

After that meal, it was back to the room to get ready for our first work day.  We'll see what that brings!
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