Indian impressions – Part 2

Visit to India: December 27, 2014 to January 09, 2015
Purpose: To attend a family wedding
Route taken: Karachi-Colombo-Mumbai-Hyderabad and return
Destination: Hyderabad. Stopover in transit in Mumbai for about 15 hours on way out, and about 6 hours on return leg
Weather: Perfect throughout, high in mid-20s C, low 13 C, generally dry, brisk breeze at times

Part 1 of this blog post, several weeks ago already, detailed impressions of Mumbai, or Bombay, as many (including me) prefer to still call this pulsating city by. Part 2, impressions of Hyderabad, was to come out soon thereafter, but … lack of ‘me’ time ….. Apologies …..

In popular public knowledge, Hyderabad, India is famous for at least 2 things – the gourmet Hyderabadi cuisine and the Nizam of Hyderabad, the richest man by far in the whole world in his time. The more learned will also associate Hyderabad with rich and refined culture and traditions, which by the way, is also the butt of many jokes and leg-pulling humour. As is its unique dialect of Urdu spoken.

 Partial view of departures lounge of the modern and aesthetic  Rajiv Gandhi International Airport of Hyderabad.

Partial view of departures lounge of the modern and aesthetic Rajiv Gandhi International Airport of Hyderabad.

Hyderabad’s genesis in two paragraphs:

Civilizations have existed in around present day Hyderabad since 500 BC. Fast forward to 1518. A nobleman, Sultan Quli Qutub-ul-Mulk, serving as administrator of the region, declared independence from the Bahmani Sultanate of the time, and established the Golconda Sultanate under the title “Sultan Quli Qutub Shah”. He rebuilt the fortress of Golconda as his capital city. Thus started the Qutub Shahi Dynasty. Down the generations, a prince, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, fell in love with Bhagmati, an alluring dancing girl. His pater, the ruler, found out and had the prince put under house-arrest, or rather palace-arrest! But as we know, love since the time of Adam has defied all challenges and limitations, and the Prince began secret nocturnal escapades, to go and meet his beloved. The ruler soon found out about this too. And what did he do? Imprison or execute the prince? No sir! He appreciated the seriousness of the affair and allowed the prince to marry Bhagmati!

The prince eventually became the ruler himself and in 1589, decided to build a new city, some 8 kms east of Golconda. The city was first named Bhaganagar or Bhāgnagar after Bhāgmathi. A little later, Bhagmati converted to Islam and was given the title Hyder Mahal, and the city was renamed Hyderabad in her honour. There are a few other beliefs regarding the origin of the name, but the one recounted above is generally the most accepted, and possibly also the ‘official’ one. If nothing else, will you disagree that the Bhagmati version, with its mystery, some intrigue and classical romanticism, is certainly irresistibly appealing?

Cuisine:

Whatever good or great you have ever heard about Hyderabadi cuisine is true. And more! It is complex in its use and proportions of ingredients, diverse in its variety, and above all, uniquely original and mouth-watering for the taste-buds of anyone who can appreciate the finer nuances of gastronomy.

A fable goes that in some traditional families, classic and generations-old secret family recipes were sparingly passed onto the daughters in the family.

For they would get married and become members of other families, and it was not at all desirable that the secret family recipes should get shared! By the same token, daughters-in-law, who came into the family, were cultivated into the secret family recipes and in due course became really expert chefs themselves, overseeing an extended and loyal kitchen staff, most members of which remained with the family, generation after generation.

Hyderabadis are champion foodies. Not that they eat enormous quantities at every meal. But they like their variety, the richness of recipes, the creative use of spices and herbs, and ….. rice!

Dessert after meals, and for many, starting with dessert after breakfast, is de rigueur. The Hyderabadi sweet tooth is legendary.

Visit anyone even at non-mealtime for a quick cup of coffee or tea, and it is not possible that you are also not only served, but almost forced to also partake of a variety of savoury snacks, and an inevitable dessert, or even two. It’s amazing how fast all this can be whipped up in practically any household.

Hussain Sagar (lake) is a huge body of water with Hyderabad on one side and twin city Secunderabad on the other. Nothing like a lake in the middle of the city to provide visual relief!

Hussain Sagar (lake) is a huge body of water with Hyderabad on one side and twin city Secunderabad on the other.            Nothing like a lake in the middle of the city to provide visual relief!

The Nizam of Hyderabad:

Not going to get into an account of the history of the Nizams of Hyderabad, absorbing a story as it is. You can easily Google this, if interested. Instead, let me share a couple of anecdotes.

In 1947, at the time of the partition of India, the last Nizam decided that he will neither side with Pakistan or India, and Hyderabad will become an independent state within India, with a Muslim dynasty as the rulers. This dream lasted about a year, as in 1948 the Indian Army invaded Hyderabad and the state was annexed into India.

But much before this happened, the Nizam did several things for the just-born Pakistan. For example, he made a large donation to the Islamia College in Peshawar. Of much more significance and value, was the Nizam’s gift of a substantial quantity of gold bullion to the newly formed Pakistan, at the personal request of Mr. Jinnah, to form the backing for the new currency Pakistan wished to launch after independence. (“For this purpose, a novel scheme was implemented. An adventurous British commercial pilot was contacted and engaged in his private capacity to secretly fly loads of gold from Hyderabad to Pakistan, eluding the Indian planes, which could have stopped the flight or shut down the plane.” www.defence.pk. ). A related story, not verified by me, claims that among the persons designated to go to Hyderabad and take over the bullion, was an individual or two who siphoned off some of the shiny metal before it reached the State Bank of Pakistan. I hope this is not true. But if it is, then the loot of Pakistan started off from the very first day, and as we ruefully know today, has never abated since.

Another anecdote relates to the grandfather of the last Nizam, who as mentioned earlier, was the richest man in the world then. At that time, India comprised some 400 or thereabouts princely states. The rulers of all but one state (Hyderabad) were referred to as His Highness. Only the Nizam, the doyen of all rulers, was officially referred to as His Exalted Highness. According to the anecdote, a team of experts was sent to Hyderabad by the British Crown to assess the true wealth of the Nizam. They were shown several rooms and chambers in just one of the Nizam’s palaces, where some of the wealth in the shape of currency, gold and silver, and precious stones were stored. The experts’ team began with one chamber, cataloging and assessing the value of the wealth. Some way through the horde in the first chamber itself, the team stopped its work, declaring that the Nizam’s wealth was beyond calculation!

Huge Buddha statue on an islet in Hussain Sagar, apparently placed there some years ago as an attraction for Japanese tourists.

Huge Buddha statue on an islet in Hussain Sagar, apparently placed there some years ago as an attraction for Japanese tourists.

Hyderabad Today:

Main city population about 7 million. Literacy 83 percent. Extremely rapid development in past 10 years or so. Traditional now mixed inextricably with the modern. Huge shopping malls with international brands. Hi-Tech city in the suburbs perhaps ahead even of Bangalore now in terms of size and output. Software houses, call-centers, other I.T. services servicing the world. Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Facebook, GE, Accenture, IBM, Verizon and scores of others are all present here, employing tens of thousands of people, with business as usual ongoing 24/7.

 In Jubilee Hills, near the Hi-Tech city, the terrain is green and hilly, with the pristine Secret Lake hidden away among the rocky hills.

In Jubilee Hills, near the Hi-Tech city, the terrain is green and hilly, with the pristine Secret Lake hidden away among the rocky hills.

 Fascinating volcanic rock formations abound in all the hilly parts of Hyderabad. I had  a person stand in front of these rocks, just to show the immense size of these rocks, placed like toy pieces on top of each other.

Fascinating volcanic rock formations abound in all the hilly parts of Hyderabad. I had a person stand in front of these rocks, just to show the immense size of these rocks, placed like toy pieces on top of each other.

Top 10 impressions, in no particular order:

  1. Really BAD traffic! Chocker block, 18 hours a day. To make it worse, honking is a reflex action for most motorists, whether there is a need or not.
  2. Pleasant, easy going people, even laid-back.
  3. Society a seamless and happy blend of people of many races and religions.
  4. No guns to be seen anywhere and surprisingly … no crows! I concluded this was because generally speaking there are no huge litter piles anywhere which draw scavengers like crows and kites in our own cities.
  5. You really get to know what refinement, graciousness and sheer elegance means when you meet members of the old-money traditional families. Unassuming and soft-spoken, many are eminently educated and qualified, and in one way or another, every family is involved in social work.
  6. Old heritage buildings, in hundreds perhaps, have been kept very well-maintained.
  7. Reading habit is strong, as in other cities of India. Your daily Tier A English newspaper costs Rupees four only!
  8. Huge youth bulge, but apparently most gainfully employed, with good disposal income, spent on food, entertainment, clothing ….
  9. Picturesque parks and lakes in several places, bringing a sense of relief to the otherwise overcrowded city of concrete and steel.
  10. Crime, street crime or premises break-in, practically unheard of. I saw girls alone on scooters whizzing along streets at midnight, money-changers in markets sitting openly in kiosks with no guards or guns, gates and front doors of houses generally open throughout the day, women laden with gold bangles and jewelry moving around with no concern at all times of the day and night.

One Response to Indian impressions – Part 2

  1. Hunaid says:

    Thank you Bob for allowing us to walk the streets of Hyderabad without going there – you remind me of CNN’s food travel host Anthony Bourdain and would make an excellent narrator if you chose to do travel logs for TV.

    If you will allow me to make a comment about Hyederabad food; there is a place in Atlanta called Zaika. For almost 5 years, I make it a point to have lunch/dinner at every opportunity as I am 80 miles away. Because of the major airport and having several friends for having lived there 10 years, I do frequent Atlanta quite a bit and find it difficult to not visit Zaika; what is difficult is to decide what to have on the menu.

    A few weeks back, I was telling someone about the place and telling them that I dont know how to describe it as it is a unique taste that I recall having in my childhood but dont know where. These Indian folks promptly told me that it was Hyderabadi cuisine.

    What a delightful visit you have had and something tells me that it will not be your last visit there. We look forward to hearing and vicariously experiencing places where many of us will not be privileged to go.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

fourteen − five =