Saturday I spent the day riding around touring Hyderabad with my "little" driver Giri. (Andrea asked me "Why little?" and he really is little - he's my height and is a total stick.) Giri was a great tourguide - he started off a bit hesitant to give me facts and point out things, but when he did, I kept asking questions or I'd ask him what something I saw was. Eventually, he figured out I wanted to see stuff - any stuff - just not shopping.
In all, I did see stuff - tourist attractions, historical monuments, temples, mosques and life happening.
I started off my day with Hyderabad's Salar Jung Museum. After paying the "foreigner" fee (which most places here have - 150 rupees for foreigners instead of 5 rupees for Indians) I wandered the museum. It was actually a rather nice museum. You have to consider that a lot of Indian history and artifacts has been carted off by other cultures or has been destroyed. It's only recently (think not even the whole past century) that they've started caring for their historical objects. And as such - the Salar Jung Museum was dang impressive. The painting styles of the kings' portraits were less detail oriented than their European counterparts. The relics and remains were fascinating and they had a huge collection. However, my favorite room was the one with the fabrics and my favorite piece was the Veiled Rebecca. The Veiled Rebecca statue was unbelievable. The pictures I've found online don't do justice to how fabric-like the veils are and the detail in that statue. I was dumbfounded. If you have an opportunity to see one of the versions of the Veiled Rebecca, do.
From there I went to Charminar, but seeing as I don't like heights I opted to not climb it - especially since it was over 100F and stuffy and ridiculously overcrowded. Frankly, the outside was prettier anyways. Holi was running rampant in that part of the city (eventhough it was technically the day before Holi) so the market was packed with tourists and everything was totally crazy. It's a very impressive sight none the less, but the area was enough to overwhelm the senses.
Next off to the less densely packed Chowmohalla Palace which is actually still used for functions, but much of it is starting to crumble. They've only recently refinished it so it truly shows you how things were let to fall apart and be stolen from. They've redone most of the majestic palace rooms into museum rooms talking about the history of the kings of Hyderabad as well as the general history of Hyderabad. Interesting stop.
We drove by a few things I wasn't interested in going "to" because frankly, the view from the car was better than the view from the bottom - such as the massive Buddha statue in the middle of the lake Hussain Sugar. I also just did a drive by of Mecca Masjid since I wasn't in the proper attire to visit a mosque and there was no way I was putting on more clothes since I was dying of heat.
We finally ended the day at Birla Mandir. It's a great Hindu shrine carved out of all marble and situated in and among some rocks on the top of a hill in Hyderabad. I had no idea Hyderabad was so hilly.
All in all, my tourism of Hyderabad was successful. In one day, I made it to every sight on the Hyderabad must see brochure I found - except for "Snow World" (seriously) and Golconda Fort (which I ended up seeing Monday with the team I'm working with here anyways!)
Through writing all of this, I'm not getting to the meat of why I love travel. I honestly do enjoy seeing the history, culture and art of a place, but it's not what fascinates me and what I think about afterwards. It's more of a foundation so I can understand the life that's happening all around me. And life really happens in Hyderabad...
Driving along random side streets in Old Town Hyderabad the walls were painted with pretty pictures of random stuff - from Hindu gods, to Gandhi, to flowers, to other colorful patterns. Along the top there was a border of about a foot tall repeating reminders to the locals. Things like "No Make Urine" jumped out, blending hygeine into a very prominent display and also reminding me that's why the historical areas don't have the same look of upkeep as their counterparts in America (along with being way older) or even Europe.
I mentioned Holi - and Holi was in full swing this past weekend. Holi is sometimes referred to as the Festival of Colors and is a celebration of the start of spring. It stems from the Hindu faith. Indians celebrate it by dousing each other in colors - primarily powdered colors like super neon pink. Many of these colors end up leaving permanent stains on your clothes, and you can see it on people's hands and in their hair for days afterwards. Driving through the streets, you'd see pockets of people "playing Holi" - chasing each other with handfuls of powder, already covered in splotches of pink, green and orange. It was ridiculous and looked so fun - but alas, I didn't figure out a way I could "play Holi" myself since I didn't know anyone who was participating in the festival.
The most ridiculous semi-Holi related sight I've seen, and a traffic miracle (given traffic in India, it takes a lot to surprise me) was the duo on the motorcycle. Speeding down the road, we passed two guys on a motorcycle. Both were barefoot. Helmets are never worn here - it's "too hot". And both were covered from head to toe in Holi colors. I think that alone wouldn't have shocked me - I knew it was Holi; barefoot and helmetless is pretty darn normal for motorcycle riders here; and traffic always entertains me. But this duo managed to find a way to stand out to me. Sandwiched between them, they had a brand new Samsung 40" flat screen TV in a box. I failed at snapping a picture in time, because my jaw just dropped. I've seen odd things carried in the little motorized yellow rickshaws, on mopeds, motorcycles and bikes here (think super long 2x4s, a bunch of 6 grocery bags hanging off the side, etc). But I did not expect to see a very expensive new piece of large electronics squished between two guys on a motorcycle who were colored pink. A favorite moment of mine.
There's more life that I see going on around me, but nothing else super specific to that Saturday and this post is getting awfully wordy. So I'll write more about the food and other observations later.