Thursday 25 January 2018

Today was a strike day. A bandha. Across the whole state of Karnataka. Because the farmers have a disagreement with the state of Goa about water in a particular river.

We were told not to go to the office. Most things were closed for the day – including shops and schools.

So I attempted to work at the hotel. Worked at the pool. On my balcony. And from my bed. Fun day.

I was a bit worried about what that meant for my flight tonight to Hyderabad. Given the disruption I didn’t know it it would be running, or if I would be able to get to the airport – as there were reported to be road closures on the road leading up to the airport.

But as it turned out, it was all completely fine. The roads were absolutely deserted and it only took 50minutes to drive to the airport. Last time I drove there (in August, it took near 3 hours).

So I was nice and early. Ready to faf about getting a boarding pass. Never again will I fly with IndiGo. They don’t like international passengers and make it absolutely impossible to get a boarding pass.

I had bought a lounge pass, as when I was booking my flight, it was cheap.

But it was more chaotic in the lounge than it was in the whole rest of the airport. I had a bit of food – a dosa masala (my favourite), but there was nowhere to sit. So I ended up going back out into the main airport terminal.

This is a long weekend. Tomorrow is a bank holiday. So naturally, I have a rather ridiculous itinerary of trying to go to lots of places.

And first stop – Hyderabad.

My flight was on time at 8.30pm. And it took an hour to hop up the country, a bit north of Bangalore.

Hyderabad is the official capital of the state of Telangana. It also functions as the administrative seat of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh since it was the capital of the state until it was moved to the newly formed Telangana state in June 2014. My first time in this state.

There didn’t appear to be a prepaid taxi desk. But there was a long taxi queue for the normal government taxis. It took about half an hour, but finally I was out and leaving the airport. It was now gone 10pm.

The drive took around 45 minutes, but there was no traffic. A 17km long road leads from the airport into the city, on a ramp, above the city so you can miss all the chaos beneath!

After a bit of confusion, we finally found my hotel. Didn’t help that in the month since I booked it, it entirely changed name and branding. And I wasn’t told.

Friday 26 January 2018

I was ready to head out by 8am. Busy day planned.

But just as I was about to head out the door, I had an email to say that my flight was cancelled this evening. Typical. So a bit of rearranging (and an expensive new flight) for tomorrow instead., I was re-sorted. Massive shame as I will entirely miss the plans I had sorted for tomorrow – to visit some other towns and temples.

I booked another night stay at the hotel and had some quick breakfast – a few spoons of potato curry.

Then ordered an Uber and headed out into the city. It took about half an hour of weaving through traffic (which was surprisingly quiet!) and we arrived in the old city centre.

This is the reason I wanted to come to Hyderabad. The Charminar.

The Charminar is the principal landmark and city symbol. This 56m high mosque was built by Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah in 1591 commemorate the founding of Hyderabad.

All around the Charminar the streets are full of markets, shops, stalls, people wandering around selling things. But today being Republic Day I hadn’t quite anticipated that it was all going to be shut. It was very quiet for an old Indian city. Shame I didn’t get to appreciate the whole atmosphere.

I had only just stepped out of the taxi and somebody was already asking for a selfie. As soon as you’re stopped everyone takes the opportunity to come up to you, so I was stuck there for about five minutes.

I wasn’t expecting to be allowed into the Chaminar. A few years ago they stopped single girls from being allowed inside after a girl committed suicide by jumping from the top. But it seems they are now letting single people in. It cost Rs.100 (£1.10) to go inside.

You can climb up to the top layer of the mosque. The climb up was very claustrophobic. I did not enjoy. But it didn’t take long and I reached the top.

You could walk around the edge. It was all open,with pretty arches running around the edges in all directions. Looking down, the streets were sprawling out in every direction. Tuk tuks weaving between people. Fruit parts pile time with fruit setting up for the day. Minarets of mosques poking other buildings. And the movement of the city all around.

Even up here I kept being asked to take selfies.

Once I was back down, I stayed and admired the ceiling and the walls for awhile and found a small shrine on one of the pillars.

Just outside in the courtyard of the Charminar was a Hindu temple. Here there were crowds of people queueing up to look at the shrine. After they had seen the shrine, the people formed another queue to pass by people who were pouring coconut water over their hands and serving out biriyani rice.

The Hyderabad food speciality is biriyani. Just a shame that most eating places were closed.

There were roadworks also happening on the street underneath the Charminar, with bricks moving in all directions and cement being mixed on the street.

I popped into a famous Persian tea shop here – lots of masala tea and biscuits. Shame they wouldn’t make it without milk.

Just a bit further down the street was the Mecca Masjid. This mosque is one of the world’s largest, with up to 10,000 men praying here at major Muslim festivals. This is also one of Hyderabad’s oldest buildings, where construction began in 1617.

Again, I wasn’t expecting to be allowed in. I only wanted to go into the courtyard, but I had read that often they don’t let girls into the courtyard. So I milled around the entrance, but was quickly ushered inside.

Clearly my clothes weren’t sufficient – I was wearing a t shirt and long baggy trousers. And a lady wrapped a scarf around me.

I sat on the steps in the courtyard to people watch for a while. But almost as soon as I had sat down I had a continual stream of people wanting selfies and family photos with me. So I decided to join in, and took a few of my own.

The courtyard is filled with pigeons – every now and then they would all take flight together.

After leaving the mosque, I headed back up the street, through some of the market and ended up in a bangle shop area. I popped inside one of them (there were a lot of identical shops to chose from!) and bought a few bangles.

This whole area should have been alive with hundreds of people, selling and shopping. But it was so quiet.

I ended up in a Muslim area. Hyderabad has a large Muslim population. There was a mosque on almost every street. And lots of Manila labour – metal works, car repairs, and butchers 😦

Time for another Uber. Out across the city, to the western side.

Enroute we passed through a large animal market. Hundreds of goats stuffed into small sections in the backs of trucks. So sad.

I was headed to Golconda Fort.

I couldn’t believe the queue to go inside. So many people.

But it worked – they had the payment system running very efficiently and the queue moved very quickly.

The Fort was built in the 16th century by the Qutb Shahs (same people who built the Charminar). But today, all that is left is ruins of the former fortress.

The Fort is 120m high, on a granite hill. Ramparts running up the hill side. Small temples. Rows of steps. Some broken buildings. All within the 11km perimeter. I hadn’t imagined it was so big.

At the entrance, there were some large lawns, with pretty flowers around the edges.

I climbed up and up, all the way to the top. The views were great, you could see all across the Fort – and further across the whole city.

There was even a colourful Hindu temple up here.

And lots of people.

All wanting selfies.

I could barely move a few steps without being asked for a picture. And as soon as you are stopped, crowds form. No exaggeration, I stopped for well over a hundred photos. It’s very difficult to say no, because no is not the response they are expecting.

After I had finished at the Fort, I caught a tuk tuk for the 2km distance across to the Qutb Shahi Tombs.

Here, there are 21 large domed granite tombs, set within a large woodland. With several mosques dotted around.

These elaborate Tombs contain the Tombs of various kings of the Qutb Shahi dynasty.

My last stop of the day was the Birla Mandir. This is near to where I am staying in the Bandara Hills. It took about half an hour to drive here. Winding up some narrow streets, up a small hill.

The temple is one of the most popular Hindu temples in the city. Built in 1976. And it is bright white.

There was a bag check before you were allowed to ascend the steps leading up to the temple. But I was told I wasn’t allowed to take a camera, or my phone up the steps and to leave them in the baggage room. Absolutely no way that was happening. So I wasn’t allowed in. Shame.

So, uber back to my hotel.

It only took a few minutes, as I wasn’t far away.

I’ve spent a total of around Rp.500 on Uber today, about £6. It makes travelling around so simple. No hassle with trying to find a taxi and negotiate a rate, only to be ripped off anyway. And then to have to have small cash so that the driver can’t pretend this has no change. The app tells you what its going to be – cheap and simple, and you pay in app (no cash needed!).

Right next door was a supermarket. The amount of time I have spent in India (over 2 months in total) and I’ve never been in an Indian supermarket. Madness. It’s one of my favourite activities!

It was as I expected. Large bags of rice and flour. Several aisles of oil and spices and lentils. A good selection of fruits and vegetables – a few I had never seen before; types of gourd.

I bought some strawberries (50p for loads!). Figs (50p for 11!). Some soy milk (!) and pomegranate juice. I completely forgot about tea bags. But they can’t have sold any, as I went down every aisle and didn’t spot any.

For the rest of the afternoon I lazed in my room. Working. And doing nothing. Brilliant.


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