Friday, March 26, 2010

Hydrabad-ey Hottogol

Part III - Vici (though, more aptly titled - And I couldn’t believe my eyes)

My last day in Hyd and I throw hysterics (the wonderful thing about friends is that they actually let you get away with them). I want to go see what all the hoopla of Hyd being an old city filled with historical impact is all about, much to the dismay of Abhi who tries his best to dissuade me.

Again, a totally different picture of Hyd all over again - a city that resembles North Calcutta or Old Delhi in its flavor. More steeped in the past, than any other characteristic. What strikes us as we come to the old area, is that it is a predominantly Muslim city – masjids at every corner, women covered in black from head to toe, kohl rimmed eyes peering out into the world. When I see green flags with the sickle and star, proudly displayed every which way you look, I get a jolt of surprise and shock.

1st stop – Falaknama Palace
The name in Urdu means “Star of Heaven”, and it is supposedly one of the finest palaces in Hyderabad. Also referred to as 'Mirror of the Sky', it was designed by an Italian architect and took 9 years to complete. Needless to say, after hearing all about it from friends, I was excited to make a trip. Winding down thin roads, choc-a-bloc with traffic, people, juice sellers, cows, carts and cycles, we finally arrived after an hour at the gates of the Palace. Only to suffer a major anti-climax as the Palace is now closed to be made into Taj Group of Hotels. Which means, the next time I want to go see it, I will have to shell out 500 INR for a tiny cup of coffee.

2nd stop – Charminar
A massive square structure towers above us. The oldest mosque in Hyd, it is made of Granite. 4 minarets, one at each corner, ululate without fail at dusk and dawn. Apparently, once upon a time, each of the 4 arches faced the 4 major roads of the city.

Charminar is set amidst the bazaar – Laad Bazaar, Chor Bazaar and Begum Pet (pronounced how a Bong would say pet in Bongland :-D). Shops selling pearls, glass bangles and women’s shoes jostle for space between vendors hawking papaya, watermelon and green mangoes. There are people milling everywhere – Muslims for devotional prayers, families who are picnicking in the grounds below, foreigners with a gaggle of “let me help you sir, see this, fine building sir” behind them. It is crowded, colorful, chaotic, dirty and vibrant, all in the same breath.

Each minaret of the Charminar has a double balcony, which one is allowed to climb up to, to gaze in admiration at the panoramic view below. When I was taken to the stairs, I immediately had doubts. 149 step, set so steep so that one has to CLIMB rather than walk up the steps. Adding to that, they are through the minaret, so you are going round and rounds in tiny dizzying concentric circles with millions thronging before and after you. Woe betide all, if one person slips; it would be the domino effect performed live. After you climb down from the top, you have to pause for a bit before you can walk, as the legs, they are a tremblin!

Once up there, it was a different world. The sounds and smells below filter away, leaving you to gaze out over the city. Everything shimmers in a heat haze, imparting a distinctly dreamlike quality. There isn’t much else to see really, except for the beautiful carved frieze running along the entire inner walls of the monument. Pigeons nestle in the alcoves cooing away throatily to each other, fighting for space in the nooks and crannies. The sad part of the whole thing was that we, as a nation, don’t take pride in our History or Culture; there are “TV wanted- call Abbas” and “Bunty loves Bubli” pen marks carved out all along the walls. Total desecration.

3rd stop – Salarjung Museum
As we walk in, a cool breeze blows towards us from the gulmohar lined avenue; at least I think they were gulmohars, the pink flowers. It’s a breeze we welcome, after trudging all over Charminar, and the a/c ed atmosphere gently beckons us inside. Salarjung Museum is the 3rd largest museum in India, housing collections belonging to different civilizations dating back to the 1st century.

Here I have to admit, that this probably was the worst letdown of a museum that I have ever come across. Maybe I am spoiled by the wonderful Museums I have traipsed through in UK, which hold you spellbound the whole day, with the sheer amount of beauty and information put together.

Yes, the Salarjung collection is huge and has some astoundingly beautiful pieces. However, the very essence of what a Museum represents was lost - these are places which ideally are meant to impart and increase your knowledge base, not merely showcase wealth.

The artifacts weren’t marked, so one had no idea of knowing the specialty of the piece. Those that were marked went from the sublime to the ridiculous. Imagine a Ming vase, where the marking reads “Blue Vase from China 18th Century”. That’s it, full stop, end of information. Like we couldn’t tell the color.

In the European gallery were hundreds of chairs lined up neatly, with no idea of which was what period, came from where - France, UK or Spain, for example. It looked like a very uncared for furniture store, peeling brocade on jittery falling over chairs, the only signs displayed being “Please do not sit on these”.

All in all, a place I would recommend in a heartbeat, for any serious Museum aficionado never ever to go to.

Pit Stop – Paradise Restaurant
Lunch at 5pm. This was surely the highlight for all of us greedy, hungry, bone achingly tired people.
Paradise is known to all gourmets in India, if not by taste, then by name. I had heard paens sung in its glory and was determined to sample the food for myself. The most divine biriyani and succulent kebabs, aromas wafting through the doors as we alight from the cab. It was opened in 1953 or 63, and from those humble beginnings has grown into a 3 story gleamingly clean palace which occupies an entire street block, and has 3 other equally huge outlets all over the city. I only wish it couriered to other cities. Replete, we head back home to freshen up, pack and head to the station to get back home

Overall, a brilliant way to end a brilliant trip.

P.S.: so, the title is my way of saluting the master, Satyajit Ray. For the Bengalis who have read his books, this should be self-explanatory.
Hottogol is a Bong word which implies..err..shindigs, shenanigans, samba! :-D

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