8-9: Hyderabad

by - January 16, 2014

Day One: Central Hyderabad

Kite flyers in Hyderabad
Hyderabad, as with most of the cities that we would be visiting, was somewhere that I had very little idea about what we would find upon arrival.  It is a city that Lonely Planet describes as having a kind of faded, but stately glory and has often been an important place in terms of the history of India as a whole.  It’s nickname, “the city of pearls” is enough to evoke at least some image of a worthwhile place to spend a few nights, so after having a bit of a lie-in to recover from last night’s airport fiasco, we made our way south to see what we could find.  Our walk, lasting about an hour, was enough to confirm something that we had begun to realise in Mumbai.  Unlike most other places in the world, streets in India are often just not very pleasant to ‘stroll’ around - the pavement is very unreliable, the traffic is crazy and the sights and smells are often not worth it.  I tend to like to resist the temptation to be ferried around a city from sight to sight - many times the line between point A and point B has proven more interesting than the points themselves.  In India thus far though, while it has been beneficial to see life on ordinary streets, it has proven inconvenient, unpleasant and bordering on dangerous (in terms of traffic) at times.

Chowmahalla Palace
Arriving at the first sight, the Charminar (literally four minarets), I annoyingly found that I had left my SD card in the hotel - so apologies for the quality of the photos from that morning.  The Charminar is an elaborate gate and mosque that was built in 1591 and is often used as the symbol of Hyderabad.  It was very busy and there was a large police presence beside both it and the neighbouring Mecca Masjid, one of the largest mosques in the world.  After stopping to look at both the gate and the mosque we continued to the nearby Chowmahalla Palace, once the centre of power of Hyderabad state and home of the 'Nizams of Hyderabad’.  The palace is actually made up of four smaller palaces, each with its own different architectural style ranging from Indian through Islamic to European.  Extensively restored, the buildings of the palace are all open to the public and contain a range of artefacts that belonged to the Nizams - from clothes and furniture to custom-built Rolls Royce cars.  As impressive as the palace is, the miserable contrast to life outside the walls is pretty stark and, following on from my point about walking around the cities, it would be possible to be ferried around Hyderabad from impressive sight to impressive sight and get a completely wrong impression of the city as a whole.  Take the view of the Musi River below for example, which actually seems very pleasant - with beautiful architecture in the distance and a nice footpath running alongside.  Out of shot to the left however is a bridge, where the gaps between the piers are so clogged up with rubbish that a temporary dam has formed - and there are plenty of people poking around this giant, wet, pile of rubbish looking for things that would be of use to them.  It is this contrast that sums up India - a lot of potential, with a lot of poverty.

Musi River, Hyderabad
The Buddha statue, Hussain Sagar lake
Without the pleasant sea breeze of Mumbai or the cool caves of Ajanta and Ellora, we were getting pretty warm by the mid-afternoon so decided to make our way back to the hotel for a bit of a siesta.  Heading back out again in the cooler later afternoon, we went north to the lake in the middle of the city.  While at first evoking images of Lake Geneva, unfortunately Hussain Sagar with its fluorescent green, rubbish filled water is not quite as romantic.  Still, it was pleasant enough to walk beside, with views over the Buddha statue that was on an island in the middle.  Apparently, this monolithic statue was so heavy that it sank the barge that originally carried it to the island and it had to be dredged up from the bottom.  I do not envy the divers who had to conduct that task.  After a pleasant stroll, along with many locals who were out flying their kites, we made it to a well recommended restaurant called the Waterfront, located (unsurprisingly) by the lake.  This turned out to be one of the most surreal dining experiences I have ever had however - the restaurant was almost totally empty and they had got their 'mood lighting’ totally wrong - to the extent that we had to use torches to read the menu.  The food was okay, but as I say, the experience was pretty strange…

Day Two: Golconda Fort

Golconda Fort
Our second day in Hyderabad began with the drawn-out process of booking the tickets for our onward journey to Hampi.  Having found a bus company that would take us; we turned up at their office to find that the manager was out until later.  Our tuk-tuk driver tried to help us out by taking us to another place, however they turned out to be just as useless as the first company – which we ended up returning to after all.  After spending all morning trying, we finally sorted out our tickets – getting the evening bus from Hyderabad to Hospet (near Hampi) with a company called SRE (Aranth) Travels. 

Inside the fort
Our driver for the morning had been pretty useful thus far, so after grabbing some lunch at the hotel we decided to keep him for the rest of the day to visit one of the main sights in the city – the Golconda Fort.  Situated about half an hour away, the 16th century fort is sprawled over a large hill with views back over the city and surrounding countryside.  We declined to get a guide, as we figured that many of the technical details would probably be similar to what we had found out about at Daulatabad – instead we walked up to the citadel at a leisurely pace, stopping all along the way for photos with locals who seemed far more interested in us than in the fort itself.  Golconda seemed to be a popular destination for locals to just come and hang out and seemed to be in a better state of repair than Daulatabad – no sheer drops, crumbling staircases or pitch-black, bat-infested tunnels.  It was definitely worth coming out to.

View back over the city
Birla Mandir
On our way back into the city we stopped briefly at the Birla Mandir, a temple constructed entirely from white marble, sitting on top of a hill in the middle of the city with views over the lake.  We found out that today was a religious festival (which was apparently why so many people had been flying kites), meaning that the temple was absolutely rammed with people.  From my experience so far, Indians are about the worst people on the planet for queuing patiently so, despite its beautiful location, the temple wasn’t a particularly spiritual experience – more like sales shopping.  With that, we had finished our Hyderabad sightseeing and began to prepare ourselves for our overnight bus journey.  As I have mentioned before, neither of us were particularly excited about the overnight buses, but we had done our best to plan them to have the least negative impact on the trip.  Our bus (an air-con seater, rather than sleeper) was to leave Hyderabad at 7.30pm and arrive in Hospet at 4.00am - giving us the difficult decision about whether to book a hotel that night in Hospet.  We decided to go for it and this turned out to be an excellent decision as (unbelievably) the bus arrived over an hour early after a journey which I can have no complaints about.  Turning up at our hotel (the Malligi) at 3.00am, we actually ended up having a reasonable night’s sleep in the end.

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