The pigeons, lined up like that, reminded me of small tin soldier guarding a fortress. Does anyone else agree or is it just my wacky head?
Taken at Mecca Masjid, Hyderabad, India.
“A weekend not travelled, is a weekend wasted.”
And if it’s a long weekend, then it upgrades to a sin. Now, i’m no puritan nor do i have a sin-less track, but this is something i adhere to very staunchly. Earlier this weekend, this covenant of mine was put to test, as we neared this year’s second long weekend (Friday off) and i had to do something about it. The holiday was for ‘Good Friday’ and i’d sworn to live up to it (what? It’s not really a good Good Friday? Jesus suffered on the cross that day? Does that mean i have to be good in some similar fashion? Errr.. I think i’ll choose to be religiously sinful then).
People were pestered, options were listed, google was racked. Thursday night came upon us and no plan was in sight, let alone getting ready for it. Irked but determined to make it Good, i zeroed down on Hyderabad as the destination as it didn’t require any accommodation booking (friends, when else will they come in handy!) and since it aint exactly a tourist hot-spot (not literally though, when we reached, it was hot enough to melt some of our excitement) for Bangaloreans, tickets were available.
Tickets were booked
the night was slept.
The way to the bus was crooked
but the long weekend promise was kept.
The morning sun rose and opened
Entered we, Hyderabad; it wasn’t dreamt.
Eerily, the first sights and sniffs (there wasn’t much sound except that of the traffic) reminded me of Ludhiana. Till date, i haven’t figured out why. After dozing off a bit, breakfast and baths, we set out to meet Hyderabad. The heat had limited our options, so we lowered down our adventurism and decided to do the next best thing - watch it in 3D on the biggest movie screen in India (i just declared that without verification in order to back our choice). Ruefully accepting that Titanic wasn’t available in the IMAX, we went in for Clash of the Titans. The movie hall was gigantic sprawled over 700 seats for audience to be blown away by this mega screen which looked like a piece of sky. Well, I got to see a titanic something - guess someone somewhere heard my prayers, but not completely (note to self: be more specific while asking for something). The movie itself was entirely forgettable except for mystery of the the strange, noises which some human characters emitted, which we attributed to sore-throats.
Our rendezvous with the word-famous (and rightly so, not hypedly so) Hyderabadi Biryani was outside. Actually our local friend claimed that the name was “Bahaar” (spring) but their board spelled it “Bahar” (which translates to ‘Outside’ in Hindi). It looked like an open, shady place; with families sitting all around us. We ordered a ‘Jumbo Biryani’ and some more and dig in till our stomachs were bloated and content.
The waiters were agile and rushed forward to fill a plate getting empty.
The famous Khubani ka Meetha (with its origin from the city itself, it’s a dessert made from dried apricots). Icecream is its perfect accompaniment.
En route to the iconic Char Minar, our progress was stalled by this totally unexpected and furious hailstorm. It began with heavy raindrops which kids and some happier adults stepped out to enjoy. The drops became harder and bigger and soon the same happy hooligans were running for cover. We sat inside the car with the sounds resembling those of a war being fought only with small arms. The temperature dropped and the road became a mix of white, grey and black. After a 45mins delay, we resumed.
Kids curious to grab a handful but running amok when stung by the attack.
When hail is here, nobody will dare.
My heart had warmed up to this city since my eyes first moved over it, but it was when we visited the Old city that i fell for it - hook, line and sinker. My senses danced with glee with the chaotic love which prevailed there. Centuries old history spoke to me through a mix of clear-and-garbled language and it felt like it welcomed with its arms wide open. And i dove in. That explains the bruise on my nose.
Char Minar creates an oasis around itself where all life and activity gravitates towards.
Hot piping, kadak chai with a desi biscuit each. I prefered to treat on the kaccha aam (unripe mango) slices rubbed with a sublte masala. To really get into the mood (and to avoid burning my tongue) i had some tea poured into the saucer for myself to drink. Desi-ness rules!
Char Minar has a peaceful brother in Mecca Masjid (one of the oldest and largest mosques in India). It’s a sanctuary of silence there which allows you to unwind and listen to the sound of your breathing. Pigeons feed, bob and flutter around while the devoted ones say their prayers.
There’s something soothing and assuring about wet, stone floors. Almost therapeutic.
The timeless brothers stand next to one another, carrying their own personalities of chaos (Char Minar) and silence (Mecca Masjid).
Inside the prayer area (women are not allowed in here). 10 points to the one who can guess what those bundles made of cloth are. Pin drop silence ensues here.
The mosque isn’t the only place where this segregation was seen. We came across many restaurants/cafes which either had separate seating areas for women or separates branches entirely. Though it isn’t as strictly enforced everywhere. Clearly, the time of Nizams isn’t entirely over.
Spot the lady at the third table? She was peeping out and hid herself as soon as she spied my lens. Err..lady, use your burqah instead?
Now that i’ve mentioned Restaurants, i’ve gotta mention the food itself too. I’m gluttony and i know it, thank you. One of the simplest yet simply unforgettable food i had was at this place called Dine Hills (it just sounds classy). We had grilled chicken with rumali roti and garlic sauce. Mind-blowing is the word. Undoubtedly, one of the best chicken i’ve ever had. And i’m a Punjabi who spent most of her years in an Army setting (before you start questioning my credentials on chicken).
Isn’t it wonderful the way they served everyone’s (at one table) food in big steel plate. Though if you were alone, you would feel quite odd - like not fully justifying the size with enough food.
Oh and i totally forgot about the onslaught of colours, incandescent bulbs and funny gestures which greet you as you step into one of the streets around Char Minar. I couldn’t go back without buying myself atleast one Hyderabadi bangle. The street is endless so save your efforts and don’t scourge too many shops unless you’re keen on something in particular.
One word, one mantra - Bargain, bargain, bargain. Shamelessly. Tirelessly.
A unanimous recommendation had been the Salarjung Museum. It’s contents are almost a one-man show (hence the name. it’s the least they could do after all the effort that the man put in!). Objects, small and big, routine and uncommon fill up every corner of this huge property. You need atleast an hour just to run through the collection. A highly recommended run! Two exhibits in particular, steal the show: the Veiled Rebecca and the musical Clock. While the former has a more subdued audience (elders in India wouldn’t approve too much scrutiny of a foreigner woman concealed beneath a veil. You can go and watch porn in the parliament though), the latter has its own little show everywhere for which the audience assembles 15mins in advance to grab the best seats. You see, every hour a timekeeper emerges on the upper deck to strike a gong as many times as it is the hours of the day. The whole act is so quick and so subtle that if you don’t pay attention fully, you’ll feel cheated.
Is it the mystery? Is it the craftsmanship? Or is it the expression? There’s something about her and the gossamer veil.
If there’s one city in India which seamlessly stitches together the north and south, it’s Hyderabad. Same goes for Hindus and Muslims. And that is emphatically proven with the parity between the number of Telegu and Bollywood movie posters. Hyderabad has a big heart and large part of that is reserved for Movies. Oh Hyderabad just loves its movies (now i understand why the first IMAX in India was opened here)! And its posters even more so. I’m sure that from a distance, the skyline would have billboards, and not buildings.
An open city with polite people strewn around so much and so carelessly that it takes getting used to. Unobtrusive yet curious, modern yet regaling in its own time. Hyderabad offers everything and allows you to be who and how you want to be. For me it ends at, fundamentally, that any city which offers such delectable food at such affordable prices, gets top marks from me. Like this dreamy dollop of rich, creamy melon icecream with real chunks of melon in it. Hyderabad, you won me over.
When the simple pleasures comes this good and at this low a price, i can’t help but love the place.
If ever Bombay’s Marine Drive could have had a little sister, the Necklace Road would make the cut quite easily. Breath easy and slow in the vastness of Hussain Sagar Lake.