Notes from a crowded country: India – 06

Fri, 15 Jan, 2010, Hyderabad – 06

It’s amazing how much better I sleep when there’s no cockroaches creeping around the room. Do you remember the line in the original Indiana Jones movie when Indy gets lowered into the vault full of snakes? “Snakes, why did it have to be snakes?” That’s how I feel about cockroaches. Give me snakes any day.  There’s just something about those little skittery bugs that I have a hard time with, though – maybe it’s cause they’re so freaking *fast*.

Anyway, enough on that. We moved to a different hotel last night, and all is good. The “Inner Circle” is a strange name for a hotel, but it’s nice hotel regardless, with clean sheets and TP and  hot water and a merciful lack of anything diving for cover whenever you turn on the light.

We have another day in Hyderabad before taking off for points further south, and since Ravi was born and raised around here, he’s graciously agreed to be our guide for the day. First off on the agenda: Charminar, a Moslem Mosque-cum-monument that’s in the center of old Hyderabad.  We take a car and driver to the Charminar area, then park next door to an Ayurvedic hospital on a small hill overlooking Charminar. Ayuverdic medicine is a traditional form of medicine practiced in India – Western doctors would call it an alternative medicine though I’m not sure that’s how the practitioners would define it. It’s been around forever and is based on one of the vedas or sacred texts of knowledge or wisdom that from what little I understand, form the basis of Hinduism.

The scene below us around Charminar is chaotic to say the list.  Auto-rickshaws as thick as fleas compete with vendors selling bangles off of the backs of wooden carts compete with fruit sellers compete with beggars compete with motorcycles compete with taxis.  At the base of Charminar, a Hindu temple is grafted on to the side of a Muslim mosque. That’s one of the most interesting parts of India – everything is multicultural and everyone borrows from someone else. Even that languages, of which there are many, appear to borrow and mix words from one language with another. Ask what the word is for “x” and you’re likely to be given three or four different words – one in Hindi, one in Tamil, and one in Telegu.

Charminar, like most Muslim mosques, is based on 4 towers or minarets.  Unlike most mosques, the towers in this case are open to public, if you want to walk up to the balcony on the second floor overlooking the city. Making our way through the crowds, we pay our 250 rupees for the foreigners and 5 rupees for Ravi, and join the slow line of people snaking up the narrow, circular stair case in one of the towers. The information placard outside mentions 179 steps to the top of Charminar – unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon your point of view), the top part is closed to the public and we only have to climb 50 or so to the balconies overlooking the city. From there, we can witness and photograph the melee below, as are many others this morning.

From Charminar, we can make out “Thieves Market” where Ravi tells us pickpockets will be glad to  steal your wallet and sell it back to you. I suspect that’s urban legend at this point – rather the name comes from a thriving (black?) market in antiques – but we decide not to take the chance, instead checking out the many shops selling cut-glass Bangles and other jewelry on an adjacent street. Bangles are thin wrist bracelets traditionally worn by Indian women with their Saris. Since there’s no clasp there’s a trick to slipping them over the hand and onto the wrist, and the merchants are only too happy to oblige my sister in showing her how to slip them on and off. Of course, it’s much, much easier when they do it – one would almost suspect they have some practice at it.

After Bangle shopping we decide it time to escape the bustle and noise of the city center and head to the outskirts – Golconda Fort  is set high up on a hillside overlooking the city, and was built in the 1500’s by the Kings who used to rule this area as a defense against the invading Mughul armies from the North. We hire a guide for a few hundred rupees, and for the next hour or so climb the stone stairs of the fort up to the top of the hill while he regales us with stories about the ancient Kings and how they lived. My take home impression: It was good to be King, albeit probably a bit tiring (300 wives will do that too you – IMHO that’s somewhere between 299 and 300 too many), and also quite dangerous – apparently Kings had a low life expectancy, and stayed alive only by being paranoid.

Our guide also told us a story about the King’s tax collector, who apparently diverted the King’s funds to build a temple in his own honor – and showed us the stone cell in which the tax collector promptly spent 12 years, with his food being lowered down to him through a small hole in the ceiling. Hmm.. 12 years locked inside a stone box for what was essentially misappropriation of government funds – think I’ll be extra careful when using my government-issued credit card in the future (not that I haven’t been already).