Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Hyper famous Hyderabad

Do you know where Hyderabad is? I didn't until a while ago... Never mind, it's only about the same size as London with around 7m people living there according to good old Wikipedia. No big deal...

So when I heard that I had to go there for a work conference, Indiadam and I decided it would be a good opportunity to plan a weekend there and explore the 4th biggest city in India. Flights were cheap as chips (or cheap as naan?!) - we had some jet airways miles and Indiadam got a return ticket for £15.

During our three day conference, I had already seen some parts of Hyderabad during a rather rushed treasure hunt. However this mainly included frantically running around a museum or palace trying to find clues for the tasks we had been set so not really much time to take it all in and most time was spent at the hotel. During those days however, I learned from various colleagues what Hyderabad is famous for... And I can tell you it's very famous for many things. Biryani, cookies, pearls, bangles, a 11km flyover (a bit like a highway over the city) and I probably have forgotten a few other ones by now. So lots of things that got added to my list of things to do over the weekend though most seemed to evolve around food. Which is fine with me...

So on Saturday morning, Indiadam and I set off to explore the city. There are quite a few sights but unfortunately, they aren't close together but dispersed across the city. So we need some way to get around... Options are flagging a cab or rik every time or getting a driver from the hotel. My initial choice would always be the rik but Hyderabad is a bit less used to foreigners than Mumbai which means you get ripped off a lot more... The night before every rik driver insisted that the meter was broken when we tried to get a ride to the hotel. So you end up negotiating and even though it's still very cheap, it is a bit of hassle and just annoying. So we decide to take the easy option on the first day and get a driver with an AC car which is another benefit considering it's about 38 degrees.

Off we go to the seven tombs and the fort... I won't bore you with the history too much as Wikipedia will know better anyway if you are interested. The tombs are quite impressive and there is literally no one around, apart from a few guys chilling under a tree who according to themselves aren't tourist guides but professors. We decide that we will survive without a professor and have a little explore before heading over to the fort. Our planning probably wasn't at its best - we arrive at the fort around noon and it is VERY hot and sunny. I buy some oversized blue "Ray Bans" for a quid at the bottom and we start the long ascent up the fort. There is a quite well maintained path up that leads through some old halls and arches which are my favourite part because they offer some much needed shade . Unsurprisingly, the Ice Cream sellers on the way up are making an absolute fortune and we soon decide to support them as well. Views over the city are quite nice and although there is nothing major to report from the fort, I'd recommend it if you ever find yourself in Hyderabad.

After that we are pretty knackered though so a break in an AC restaurant sounds like the perfect plan and we had to "Paradise" - THE most famous Biryani place in India. It was pretty good! The "real' Biryani is cooked in a copper pot that is then covered with a thin layer of dough which you need to break into before eating the Biryani. I love adding lots of cucumber raita, kind of yogurt with cucumbers to it, particularly if it is a bit spicy.

From one famous food place to the next so on the way back to the hotel we stop off at the "Karachi Bakery" which has all sorts of sweets, biscuits and cakes. They did look amazing but the selection we tried wasn't anything out of this world. After dinner in our hotel, we decide to go for a drink at a bar close to the hotel, called 10 Downing Street. It's about a 100m walk from the hotel according to Google Maps so can't be that difficult to get there right? Well it was.... To get to the bar you need to cross a street that has 4 lanes going each way with no traffic light in sight. We have gotten alright at crossing streets in India as in general the rule is: Walk and the traffic WILL stop. That is ok when it's a small street but this street looks big. We make it halfway and then bottle it and go back just to flag down a rickshaw to do a U turn in 500m and take us to the other side. In the bar, the cricket is on and it's Pakistan against India. I could compare it Germany-Netherlands or Germany-England in the football but I don't think anything comes close to the rivalry between those two... Either way, India win and everyone in at least that bar is happy.

I took a "break" on this post a few weeks back and only getting back to it now. And I'm struggling to remember what we did on day two. I'm getting old... But as my memory comes back, I do remember that we basically did all the things I had seen briefly during the conference already. This includes Chowmahalla Palace - a very nice place with lots of buildings and garden where the Nizam's used to live. Nizams were the monarchs that ruled Hyderabad and made it one of the richest cities in India but they also were very involved in improving education and starting up universities - quite cool guys. We also climb up the Charminar which is a mosque but more of a monument - it's a pretty busy place with lots of small stalls around and I buy a very yummy pomegranate for 10 rupees (10p) which is even cheap for Mumbai standards.

After that we have some spare time so we decide to have a look at the zoo - it was one of the best zoos I have ever been too. Zoos are a bit funny, on the one hand I love seeing the animals but on the other hand it makes me really sad seeing them in cages. Hyderabad zoo has an huge variety of animals and we only saw a small part of it but I did see my first tiger - and there was even a white one. Doesn't really count though for ticking it off the bucket list...
Indiadam would insist on me mentioning that we even got ripped off as the "white tourists" going to the zoo. There must be very few foreigner going there but we were still sent to some dodgy back entrance where we had to pay 3x the price (still only a pound but wtf?!).

The afternoon program is a bit more chilled as I have booked Indiadam and me into the Falanurma Palace, the most famous hotel in Hyderabad. Unfortunately a single night there would have blown our budget so the booking is only for afternoon tea but we still get to go to the hotel (which is otherwise not allowed) and even get a tour of the palace. The enthusiastic guide is not short of facts why Falaknurma is THE most famous palace in India in beyond. Indiadam met a lot of his "facts" which English rolling-of-the-eyes but here are a few nice ones
- the first bath IN THE WORLD could be found in the palace
- it has THE longest dining table (100 people)
- is is voted one of the 5 most beautiful palaces in the world

THE longest dinner table

I have admit, the place is tres nice so if you ever have some spare cash to burn, probably not the worst place. Afternoon tea is a bit average but we get to stay and hang around the garden for a bit longer until our flight leaves so for an hour or two we hang out around people with too much money which is quite entertaining when those people think you have that money as well (despite us looking sweaty and wearing dirty shoes).

After that, we are off to the aiport and back to Mumbai we go.

So even though Hyderabad might not be on many people's list for a weekend trip, there is lots to keep you busy for a few days (we by far didn't do everything). There even are some Bollywood studios and a snow dome nearby which with a very heavy heart we decided to skip.

Either way, Hyderabad is more famous and maybe a more fun plan to visit than you might think - check it out one day - just don't expect any rik meters to work...

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