Adivarumu Somavarum (Sunday and Monday)
We left for the capital of Andhra Pradesh Sunday night. It is a 12 hour ride by train, and I got to experience my first sleeper car. One of the girls with us kept singing “Snow! Snow! Snow! Snow!” from the scene in White Christmas where they’re riding in the train toward New Hampshire. Indians turn in early so we were forced to also make an early night of it – a good thing it turned out considering our activities the next few days. At about 10:00 we curled up under our blankets (Blankets! We had a justifiable excuse to use blankets for the first time in 2 months!) and were gently lulled to sleep by the rocking of the moving train.
Oh wait – that’s what should have happened. As it turns out, the part of the train where my friend John and I had our berths was also occupied by the wettest of wet snorers. He managed to fall asleep before us and we were stuck listening to the unrhythmic guttural exhalations of a very large Indian man. The headphones quickly came out. We got some slight respite when he listed portside. I have no idea how that man was getting enough oxygen.
After disembarking, we split up – the girls to go check into our hotel and John and Dan to go to the church to wait for their ride as they were staying with an RM that John served with. After we checked in and availed ourselves of the free (delicious, Indian) continental breakfast, we headed down to the Old City to have a look around, anxious to start our adventure in earnest.
Now a little history of Hyderabad is in order. It is the largest city in AP, and as the name suggests, it’s largely Muslim in a largely Hindu state. It was ruled by Moguls, Shahs, and Nizams for hundreds of years and was one of the richest princely states in all of the subcontinent right up to independence in 1949. Because of this, it is a place unlike any other in Andhra Pradesh. The culture, the architecture, and the food are all completely distinct and renowned.
The Old City is the Muslim-est Muslim part of the city and is full of mosques, megalithic structures, and little nook-and-cranny shops selling pearls, pearls, perfume, rugs, pearls, and copies of the sayings of the prophet Mohammed.
However, Monday was Eid – the end of Ramadan (or Ramzan as it is called here) and so the vast majority of shops were closed and Charminar square was packed with Muslim men in white caps and white qurtas. And reporters who wanted us to go do a meet and greet with the people on their way to the mosque – the perfect photo op. We said no and dived into one of the pearl shops that actually was open.
This is the square after the crowds mysteriously died down.
As our luck would have it, the owner of this shop was the most fantastic bear of a man with a perfectly manicured beard, a twinkle in his eye, and eloquent honeyed words dripping from his lips in 5 different languages as he plied us with ornate necklaces and earrings. I was entranced. With the eye out for profit and the kingly benevolence of a desert sheik, he let us ooh and awe and whispered sotto voce to each and every one of us that we were getting the deal of a century. And he made us feel that we really were receiving special treatment. We watched in admiration as he deftly created our necklaces out of loose strands of pearls in front of our eyes, put the chosen clasps at the ends, signed certificates of authenticity, and carefully nestled our treasures in cloth zip-up bags. It was the most inspiring shopping experiences I have ever had. Until then, I didn’t even know shopping could be inspirational.
We wandered around a little more and then squished into an auto (we really are becoming expert at that) and headed back for lunch and to meet up with John, Dan, and their host at Lumbini Park. The park is connected to the natural lake in the middle of the city, and in the middle of the lake is a massive stone statue of the Buddha. The Indian Buddha is thin, as compared to the Chinese happy, rotund figure, and is at times depicted as standing up straight versus the well-known lotus meditative position. Some of our group headed chartered a boat to take them out to the island for a closer view while the rest of us relaxed in the shade and enjoyed the breeze coming in off the water.
Hyderabad is a good 10 degrees cooler than Vizag and about 50 million times less humid. We actually could wander around in the middle of the afternoon without sweating. And we had hot water and real toast in our hotel. Which has nothing to do with not sweating, but is linked in my mind to the overall pleasant-ness that blanketed the entire experience. We almost didn’t know what to do with the hot water.
After that we walked up to Billa temple set on a hill near to the park. This Hindu temple is made completely out of white marble, is something like a thousand years old, and overlooks the entire city. It is one of the most beautiful ones I have been to.
When we came down from the temple, John and his friend left to go see some members in the area while the rest of us hit up an Indian bookstore in the middle of town that had beautiful handmade paper and journals and a nice collection of Oscar Wilde plays. All of us on the trip are overzealous bibliophiles and spent way too long in there pouring over books.
Dinner consisted of vegetarian biryani, chicken kababs, and romali roti to go from the Paradise Restaurant. More on all of this later. We ate in our hotel room, skipped over to Baskin Robbins right next door for dessert, admired our purchases, planned the next day, and fell asleep amidst the decadence of sheets, blankets, real pillows, A/C, and sleeping 4 people to a bed.