Monday, October 31, 2011

City of Pearls

Flower shopping for Diwali

I’m a big fan of Hyderabad. From Tuesday morning to Saturday afternoon, I walked around this “city of pearls” taking in the sights and enjoying the generous hospitality of Shanti and Ramesh (Savithri’s brother). Hyderabad is in the capital of the state of Andhra Pradesh and was the furthest north I’d gone at that point. It’s a city that feels much more manageable than some of the other places I’ve been to in India (I even had the good fortune to find an auto rickshaw driver in Hyderabad who actually charged me by the meter). Also, it has an incredibly rich history and lots of sights to see. Hyderabad was traditionally part of the Qutb Shahi and Asaf Jahi dynasties and is full of beautiful old Islamic monuments. There is still a relatively large population of Muslims in Hyderabad today. Also, most importantly, the city is quite famous for its biriyani. Many (non-vegetarian) Indians consider it a sin to go to Hyderabad without trying some. Fearing for my own fate, I managed to scarf down a plate or two.
I came to Hyderabad at the right time. In the weeks leading up to my arrival, a lot of the city was on strike. There is ongoing political tension in Hyderabad surrounding the Telagana movement. There’s a proposal to make a new state of Telangana from the Telugu-speaking parts of the current state of Andra Pradesh. This has apparently been an ongoing debate since 1953 when India was divided into states on the basis of linguistic lines. I arrived a few days after the 28-day strike in Hyderabad had ended.

Besides, the enigma that is Ramoji Film City (my head spins just thinking about it), also featured in Hyderabad is:

The Birla Temple

This temple was quite a change for me from the brightly colored temples that I became used to in the South. The Birla temple is made entirely of white marble, and unlike many other temples I’d been to that are enclosed in stone (you almost feel as if you’re entering into a cave), this temple was airy and open, with amazing views of the city from the top.

The Birla Temple

Another temple in Hyderabad that I visited and whose name I can’t remember (cut me some slack, there’s been a lot of them).

Chowmahalla Palace

Technically this is actually four palaces. I mainly just took a lot of pictures but I do remember that the building of it was started by the Nizam family in 1750 and they kept on building it for the next 100 years. It’s kind of a ridiculously luxurious (and beautiful) place.

Golconda Fort

I made two trips to Golconda Fort. The first was in the evening when there’s a popular “Sound and light show” about the history of the fort (complete with a romantic plotline and a famous Bollywood actor’s voice used as the voices of all the Muslim rulers). I also wanted to see the fort in the daytime so I came back a few days later. Various sultans ruled this fort until one Sultan abandoned it in 1590 because of a water shortage. This Sultan decided to start a new city outside the fort and across the river, and this city is what eventually turned into Hyderabad. Mughal armies took over the fort in the 17th century. (Fun fact, making mass quantities of food to feed the Mughal armies is the main reason why biriyani became so popular in Hyderabad).

I’m not really doing Hyderabad justice by only mentioning these three sights (four, if you count the “largest film complex in the world”), but the entire city is full of mosques, tombs, and palaces that are similarly beautiful and similarly old.

Also, please look at the photo above that I took of a Hyderabad street, and remember that this city felt more manageable than some others I’ve been to.

And now, I’m writing from Delhi. I have been warned so many times about how careful to be here and how overwhelming the city can be that I think I way overestimated what it would actually be like. So far, Delhi is much greener, much cleaner and even quieter than I anticipated (but I think I was picturing Delhi to contain the chaos of every Indian city I’ve been to so far combined with some steroids on top). I’m sure once I get to explore more I’ll see what everyone is talking about, but I was kind of shocked to arrive and feel excited but unfazed.

It also might have something to do with the fact that I’m staying in the Tibetan settlement (Manju-ka Tilla), which is a small area kind of far from the bustling center of New Delhi with narrow streets and momos cooking on every corner and young boys training to be monks who are dressed in maroon robes. The place where I'm staying is a great hostel with really good value rooms and its cafe has some of the most amazing food I've ever had (Tibetan food has become a new favorite). I had a lovely late afternoon walk looking at hundreds of Buddhist prayer flags, “Free Tibet” signs, and jade jewelry being sold on the streets.

I’m currently figuring out how to spend the rest of my time here. While I hope to meet with a few contacts at the University of Delhi for my research, after five weeks of sporadic conversations about Indian names, mainly I’m excited to do some sightseeing. For the most part I’ll be sticking around Delhi, but making a few trips to the “must-sees” around, like Agra (Have I mentioned how excited I am for the Taj Mahal?) and Jaipur. I also kind of spontaneously decided to make a trip further north to Simla during my last few days in India for many reasons, most important of which are the facts that I’ll get to see the Himalayas and I’ll get to wear a fleece while doing it. People had warned me that Delhi would be “really cold” when I was there, which I’m finding means it is supposed to average 86 degrees this week. I’ll take what I can get.

Toy store decisions in Hyderabad

1 comment:

  1. what a selection of pics to present hyderabad. everything looks serene and beautiful, which the city surely is not. glad you tasted the biryani. you are a brave soul to find hyderabad manageable. may be it is in fact acquiring the essential qualities of a city, whereas many indian cities are like sprawling unplanned communities just spreading out.
    hope to read more of your observations.
    keep well.