Saturday, October 01, 2005

Hyderabad : A Charming City

We checked into a hotel in Paradise Circle in Secunderabad which was much to our liking. It was not a fancy place but relatively neat and cozy. It was an out and out a veggie joint and the notice board glaringly declared that consuming alcohol and eating non-vegetarian food in the hotel premises are strictly forbidden. So far so good. However the room manual, as well as the printed receipt, had this in small print “It is forbidden to bring in sex workers in the rooms”. Wonder of wonders! I am a family man and I had been to Hyderabad with my better half. Not for me to indulge in this luxury however enticing it may seem. But for men traveling alone, I reckon a few moments with an understanding female in total privacy is a sure tonic for weariness. So what if she is a strumpet! Later on I realized that the hotel lacked two wholesome amenities; there was no residential doctor and, I understand, there was no residential ghost either. A residential ghost or two would have definitely added to the charm of the place.

The star attraction of Hyderabad is no longer the fabled Charminar but
the much publicized Ramoji Film City. Ramoji Film City is about 25 kilometres from Paradise Circle and a taxi ride brought us to our destination. Surely Ramoji Rao has invested a lot of money in his dream project. It is indeed a place worth visiting and revisiting. The entry fee of rupees two hundred is worth every penny.

We spent five hours there, and, believe me; we could not do proper justice to a quarter of the sights. It is an ersatz world of tinsel and make-believe. Immaculate lawns of verdant green rolled majestically to our view as we passed by in our guided tour with glimpses of plaster of Paris statues strewn in between. We had to climb a hillock to soak in the full grandeur of the environment. Post lunch we were entertained to a live action replay of a Hollywood Western, reminiscent of say ‘Gunfight at O.K Coral’. We visited the caves and saw the Hindu God Nataraj, in its adamantine incarnation, execute the ‘Tandav’ dance with frightful élan.

Paradise Circle is named after the restaurant Paradise renowned for its biriyani. We savoured the delicacy and truly it lives up to its reputation.
The kebabs were undoubtedly tasty but it lacked the crisp flavour of kebabs cooked over simmering charcoal fire.

Where Secunderabad and Hyderabad meet is the Hussain Sagar – a ponderous lake having a monolithic statue of Lord Buddha at its middle. A cool breeze wafts through the waters and the traveler can get some relief from the sun, idling his time under the canopies. As the sun sets and night encompasses the land, the lake is a pleasure to view. Smart fluorescent lightings add an eerie luster to the romance of the place. Not for nothing is it a favourite haunt of lovers, assembling in pairs to imbibe the vesper flavours.

The Birla temple is not far off where those with a religious bend of mind can visit and offer their prayers after climbing some stairs. Not that it leaves the devotee rather short of breath but those with compromised lungs beware.

Salar Jung Museum has a reputation to keep. It is the finest art museum in India and the prime exhibit, the century old clock, which chimes the hour every hour, draws crowds by the hundreds. The statue of veiled Rebecca is sheer poetry in marble. How was it sculpted remains a mystery to me. The salon of European paintings and sculptures on the first floor, with exquisite nudes in alluring postures, simply takes the breath away. Time flies surreptitiously to the avid museologist engrossed in unraveling the artifacts on display.

Charminar rules supreme at the heart of the old city and one has to climb a flight of stairs to reach the first floor. Though the walls are pretty disfigured by graffiti, there is a musty aroma to the place giving the visitor a benediction worth the travail. Nearby are the shops doing brisk business in trinkets like colourful bangles and ear rings. The famous pearls of Hyderabad are available here and women spend hours shopping to their satisfaction.

A foray to the Golconda fort is a must. Climbing to the top is quite a labour . A panaromic view of Hyderabad can be had for the asking. The whole place is seeped in history. From the very bowels of this fort [which was a diamond mine previously] came the fabulous Kohinoor diamond. The son-et-lumiere at 7pm when the best known voice in India [big B’s] expounds the history of this place in English ought not to be missed at any cost. However the tourist should be well advised to take a supply of mosquito repellants with him.

Jubilee Hills is another place worth a visit. This is where the people who have made it big live. Hyderabad Circle, a shopping mall, caters to the cognoscenti. The Vengal Rao Park is but a short distance away, where well manicured lawns with an enclosed lake are a delight to the tourist.

Regarding more mundane matters let me say that the roads are cleaned
regularly and there is hardly any sign of garbage piling up. Driving is indeed a pleasure as no potholes jar the motorist. At busy intersections there are flyovers to ease the traffic. However I was surprised to find an alarming propensity to jump the red light, especially by the two-wheelers. The traffic police indeed do a commendable job and are very helpful. It was rather disturbing to see beggars, mostly lepers, seeking alms by the roadside; surely an anachronism. During my sojourn there, the Traffic Chief had gone nuts, wishing to introduce some newer concepts in Traffic management and restricting some busy thoroughfares in Jubilee Hills to one way vehicles only, leading to inevitable chaos and confusion.

The Deccan Chronicle, the local newspaper, can hold its own against the very best of the country. There was a shocking news of Arab men marrying local Muslim women by paying a large dowry and then leaving them to fend for themselves. I had come across some peculiar advertisements of many Muslim lawyers boldly publicizing their expertise in arranging international marriages [whatever that may mean]. Meanwhile I read an interesting article on local aphrodisiacs highly in demand by the Arabs. It seems there are two varieties; one, a drug, a legitimate produce of the Unani School of Medicine and the other was a liquid extract of the humble earthworm which is used for rubbing in. May the Almighty succour the naïve!

The public transport is well organized. Buses are frequent, relatively comfortable and the fares are competitive to boot. The ubiquitous autos are always there to ferry you places and I believe they don’t take the passengers for a jolly ride. But for the pedestrian, crossing the street is often hazardous and one should keep his eyes wide open.

All said and done the visit will remain memorable and I must be thankful to Hyderabad for allowing us to have another honeymoon after so many years.

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