We left the seaside at 5.30am on Saturday morning, catching an early train to the inland coastal hub of Bhubenswar – pausing for an Indian breakfast of stuffed parantha with curd – before boarding our new home for the next 23hrs: Our direct train to the central Indian city of Hyderabad which became our longest train journey ever experienced. In reality the journey flew, our time passed by watching films (Toby) or reading the British press (Myself, forever grateful for newspaper phone apps). There was the dutiful afternoon nap which the entire carriage of Indians deemed obligatory, and was most welcome to us! Despite our pause in Puri I feel that our body’s are desperate for a rest after a crazy 3 months spent seeing and doing so much – The white sand and tourist paradise of Goa is only 6 days away!
We arrived in Hyderabad 8am on Sunday morning and after walking and inspecting accomodation options for over an hour found a good value room in a well-positioned point in the city. It became immediately apparent to us that morning how unaccustomed the city is to western tourists. There are no cafes, even basic ones and not one restaurant offering anything other than cheap and fast Indian food. No little outlets of WiFi to be found (This is being sent from a 5* hotel lobby I’ve managed to blag my way into). The accomodation we mostly saw would hardly be legal back home and a few places couldn’t accept us as we were foreign! We get frequent glances from locals who stare at us, these unusual beings walking the streets.
Hyderabad sits in the lower half of India, closer to the southern cities of Chennai and the tech hub of Bangalore than our next stop, north to Mumbai. It’s an honest Indian city: gritty, sprawling, polluted and unforgiving. It has positioned itself as a centre of IT and technology research under the brand ‘Cyberabad’ and the likes of Google and Oracle occupy tall (highly guarded) towers on the fringes of city. Locals have made much of this new role but to us these are halfhearted attempts at business parks which wouldn’t garner attention on the outskirts of Rotherham. We’re here because the predominately Muslim city does provide some Islamic sights of interest and it serves to break up our coast-to-coast journey across to Mumbai.
On Sunday we organised a city tour for yesterday (Monday). We’re not usually the tour company types but the government-organised service carts you around for 10 hours with a guide, over the spread-out sights of the city and away from the heat and humidity of the teeming streets. After this we walked to the old quarter of the city. Old bazaars lined the streets as structly-clothed Muslims of all ages bartered for goods. We muscled our way through to visit the ‘Charminar’, a tall Mosque-like structure built to literally *charm* the inhabitants of the city by a Nizam King in the 19th century. We then paused into the only coffee shop we could find and sat overlooking the mighty structure as the sun set on the fruit stalls and auto-rickshaws which competed for the space around it.
Yesterday was spent being tourists again. We visited 3 city palaces (All very good) and the fantastic Salar Jung museum which contained all kinds of artefacts, antiques and paintings from all over the world, ranging from vases from China to a fountain pen from France. A highlight for us were the European paintings. Despite seeing so many in London etc we were particularly taken by a Wagner of a snowy landscape in Scotland – it made us think of home! The tour was very good actually and informative too. The sights were all empty (Only one other foreigner spotted) and we finished at a contemporary working-art gallery which was fantastic. The pictures were so reasonably priced (A giant Buddha painting for £350?!) and not something mentioned in the limited passage in our guidebooks.
After this we walked to a recommended restaurant for a slightly more upmarket meal than usual. Hyderabad state is one of India’s largest and home to a some real culinary specialities, notably biriyanis which originate here. Meat is also preffered. So we felt that we should move up to £2.50 per mains (Big ask I know) and go mad. In the end the food was a bit of a disappointment. My biriyani was the best ever but other dishes we grabbed were nowhere near spicy enough (Despite requesting they keep the heat for us tourists) and altogether quite bland. The minced mutton balls were mushy.
Never mind. The energy was needed as today Toby has spent the day at the largest film studios in the world: The Ramoji film city, 20km out of town. He reports that:
(Toby writing) The film studio’s are one of the most surreal places I have visited in India. It is essentially India’s attempt at creating a Disneyworld, but without the modern rollercoasters. Huge areas are created with perfectly manicured gardens in different themes to represent parts of the world in a dated (and occasionally slightly racist) way. What added to the strangeness was the huge amount of fake Indian temples created around the park – which Indian’s loved posing with – despite the numerous actual temples all over India. It’s a huge Indian tourist attraction, I didn’t see a single tourist of any other discernible nationally – so had to pose in a fair few photos throughout the day.
The English of people there was pretty good as it’s aimed at the middle class India. A family who were visiting from Gujarat for 2 days were particularly keen to quiz me on the bus home were shocked when I said I was travelling around India via train rather than flying. When I added that I normally use sleeper class and the most luxurious I go is AC3 the response was: “Why do you have such money problems?” I don’t think they understood budget travel/how a British person wasn’t rich! (Back to Joe).
I’ve taken a rest day, feeling exhausted and almost lethargic! Maybe it’s the heat but I know I am SO looking forward to reaching Goa next Tuesday. In preparation I’ve listened up on the latest dance music (It sounds almost alien, but amazing), watched footie highlights from last week, and sorted more film downloads for Toby and I to enjoy when we we take the train tomorrow (Wednesday). We’re heading to Aurangabad which is the launch-point for the highly-regarded and unmissable Ellora Caves, which we’re both really looking forward to. It’s a flying visit to the caves and by Monday morning we arrive in Mumbai: ‘Maximum city’.