Sunday, February 17, 2013

From Mumbai to Hyderabad - Leisurely Ride to the Deccan Plateau

I haven’t heard much about the city of Hyderabad. I can venture a sweeping statement that most southeast Asians don't know much about it either so getting into this city is kinda like a traipse into the unknown. What I know is basic: It’s the capital and the largest city of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh with a population of around 8 million people.

From the west Indian coast, I decided to forego Goa from my itinerary and head eastward. From readings, there’s much to look forward to: the Charminar, Birla Mandir, Chowmahalla Palace and, to my mind, the city’s premiere destination - the Golconda Fort.

From Mumbai, I booked a 2AC train seat with Hussain Sagar Express, train # 12701, a fast train that connects Mumbai and Hyderabad. This 38 year old service (it started in 1975) travels a distance of 429 miles (790 kilometers) in 12 hours (this ride took 15) which, by this time, has become easier for me.

Such protracted rides have also inculcated a sense of subtle repulsion on my part. After all, life is too short to be partaking repeated claustrophobic rides. One doesn't exactly get good views from inside your bunk so travelers miss much of the landscape as you glide through places. But I digress. To be fair, this ride was a pleasant one: the cost was acceptable, having paid just 837 rupees; the seats-that-turn-to-bed were comfortable to sleep on. I slept most of the ride since my train pulled out of the Mumbai station at 9:50 PM, arriving in Secunderabad at past 1 PM the next day.

I was initially intimidated to learn that I’d have to get off in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad, located north of my destination. On hindsight, this was a welcome detour from my itinerary. At least this provided a way to namedrop another city, and for a constant traveler  it was a pleasure to have to step on a new land founded in 1806 as a British Cantonment (the city boasts of a large army and air force camp). 

Mumbai Railway Station
After several conferment from my Indian bunkmates (they huddled in a conference-style meeting to discuss which station I should get off, curiously leaving me out of the discussion), they decided it should be the Begumpet railway station which everyone enunciated like “Begum Pay”. How French, right?

This experience was relatively painless. Gone were the crass touts and the hundred taxis. In fact, there was almost none. As instructed, I walked out of the station and hailed an autorickshaw (150 rupees) to take me to Hotel Brindavan along Nampaly Station Road in Hyderabad. I was out of luck. They were full. So I allowed a wallah to take me to another hotel which was a mere walking distance from Brindavan.

All this time, I knew this tout would get a commission for taking me to this hotel, as is customary in India. I didn't mind much as long as I get to my hotel soon. I was desperate for that refreshing shower.

The crowd in Mumbai's busy train station

My Mumbai platform

Hussain Sagar Express was named after Hyderabad's scenic lake.

My 2AC two-tier train

My bunk

A beautiful garden just outside the Begumpet Rail Station in Secunderabad. Begumpet also hosts the city's first mall, Begumpet City Center Mall located in Banjara Hills. 

To my delight, I was taken to Atithi Residency Delux Hotel and Lodge (Mahaprabhu House), my second option. With peach walls, large comfortable bed and a rate 2-3x my previous Indian hotels - 1100 rupees - Atithi was several notches better than my Delhi and Mumbai accommodations. Located along JN Road, Atithi Residency was a pleasant surprise. What’s better, accommodations in Hyderabad run on 24-hour tariff; i.e. your 24-hour pay starts running its course upon your time of arrival which means, you don’t have to think about an 11 AM check out or a 2 PM check-in. This Hyderabadi system is advantageous for the customer.

I liked the city from the get-go. It didn't have the frenetic bustle of Mumbai and the aggressive spirits of the touts. Despite its population, the place seemed more relaxed, but then this wasn't exactly in the vicinity of the bazaars or the Charminar. I know some areas are more congested. "Hyderabad" - the name itself sounds middle eastern, and I wasn't wrong.

Atithi Residemcy Delux Hotel and Lodge (yes, "deluxe" is spelled that way)

Quli Qutub Shah

Hyderabad comes from Persian/Urdu words that literally translate to “lion city”. In the olden days, romantic men who wanted to handpick a celestial body (like the moon or the stars) as gifts for their paramours resorted instead to naming places after their love ones. Such was the case in a legendary tale about Hyderabad. 

There were several theories as to this reference. My favorite involved Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the city’s founder and the fifth sultan of the Qutb Shahi dynasty. When he fell in love with Bhagmathi, a nautch (dancing) lady, he named the city “Bhaganagar” who eventually converted to Islam and took the title “Hyder Mahal”. In her honor, the city was renamed to what we know it now.

Kamat Pure Vegetarian Restaurant

My 44-rupee vegetarian Club Sandwich

After a quick shower, I stepped out of my hotel and took a walk around the vicinity. There was a stand alone cinema called Ramakrishna Theatre. I took a mental note of this for my night activity. Nearby was Kamat Pure Vegetarian Restaurant. I was, by this time, desperate for food, and the only viable option was a Club Sandwich which was unbelievably cheap at 44 rupees. After a fast mastication (toldya I was famished), I took a leisurely stroll.

There was a mosque surrounded by small shops, many of which were selling ice cream. Hyderabad is known for their tasty bread (Karachi Bakery has been mentioned many times); now, ice creams? With nothing much to do, I decided to go for it. I bought myself a couple: Pista slice ice cream at 10 rupees and Kulfi stick at 7 rupees. I am not exactly sure what Pista and Kulfi are, but they looked delectable. I hoped they weren’t scorpions, worms or cockroaches. J

Lo and behold, they tasted better than delectable.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Famous Ice Cream Restaurant
"Kulfi" stick or  "ice cream" stick?

Pista slice. "Pista" seems to refer to a "pistachio-flavored" ice cream.

Ice cream menu: what the heck is a "thunder ball"? "Kharbooza" sounds like it explodes. :)

My train ride from Mumbai to Hyderabad took 15 hours which should only take 12 hours.

My train stop was at Begumpet Rail Station located in Secunderabad. I just took a short rickshaw ride to Hyderabad, my destination.

Visiting the Charminar here


Anonymous said...

From the Pictures it looks like The train you have travelled is the 17031 Hyderabad express which leaves in the afternoon.This train has rake sharing with the Hussainsagar Express.Hussainsagar will reach you to Hyderabad Deccan in 14:20 min and Begampet 7 Kms away in 13:30 min. About 40 min slack time is available between shahabad and wadi and 35 min between Begampet and HYB

eye in the sky said...

Spoken like the expert on Indian trains. Knowledge on this vast network is enviable. However, my ticket wrote Hussainsagar and I believe this was checked by the checker. Maybe something went wrong with my documentation somewhere, I don't know for sure. But thanks for the information. They will be useful to others who get to read this. :)