Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Out and About in Hyderabad - A City Tour

Andhra Pradesh Tourism Center (APTC)
Hyderabad, like Bangalore, has a well placed tourism center that everyone calls APTC (Andhra Pradesh Tourism Centre). If you’re not local, you’re better off visiting their office to avoid excessive haggling with opportunist autorickshaw drivers: It saves you time, money, effort and, well, heartbreak.

This helpful center will book tours and share important information about your choice of activity, according to your interest. They will even organize a simple taxi ride to a particular site, shared or otherwise. There are few foreign tourists here so you’re able to hobnob with well heeled travelers from the north.

APTC reception
I chose a day tour that included places like Birla Mandir, Salar Jung Museum, Chowmahalla Palace and the Nehru Zoological Park (which has a safari ride almost similar to Bannerghatta Zoo, a park 22 kilometers from Bangalore). Along the way, you get a glimpse of the city, including the gorgeous all-white State Assembly and a magnificent view of a lake called Hussain Sagar where a concrete Buddha statue stands proudly as though the city’s answer to the Statue of Liberty.

The busy highway just in front of this branch of the APTC. The main branch is located elsewhere, closer to the  park

My takeaway breakfast

Assembly Hall

Birla Mandir

Birla Mandir is one of the several temples of the same name scattered all over India, constructed by a progressive industrialist conglomerate, the Birla Foundation. The temple in Hyderabad was constructed in 1966 and took 10 years to finish. For the tourist, what makes it unforgettable is its gorgeous architectural design and color: it’s made of 2,000 tons of pure white marbles transported from Rajasthan. The temple’s chief deity is Lord Venkateshwara. Its imposing beauty seems perched on a “pedestal” due to its elevation: it’s built on an 85-meter (280 feet) hill called “Kala Paahad”.

Unfortunately, I am not able to share the beauty of the temple compound because cameras are not allowed once you get through the gate. Though I find this thoroughly disappointing, there’s nothing much I can do. I do understand their concern to keep the place pious, thus it didn't even have the usual “bells” to make it a place perfect for meditation. My contention here is, beautiful places like this should rightfully be shared to the world, and what better way than the net which has a universal reach. Isn't it a far better option that netizens get exposed to the beauty of temples, churches, mosques and other places of worship? Than – the ubiquitous presence of violence and pornography lingering around! Whenever I visit such places, I never intend to desecrate these places, and photography doesn't too.

 Lord Venkateshwara

Just outside the temple, there's a row of small gift and souvenir shops. What’s better, you're provided with a magnificent view of Hussain Sagar Lake (is there a redundant terminology here?) as a towering Buddha rises right in the middle of the lake.

The lake itself was constructed in 1562 by Hazrat Hussain Shah Wali, for whom the lake was named after (a king’s homage to Shah Wali for helping him overcome an illness), during the reign of Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah to meet the irrigation needs of the people.

What’s interesting: aside from the lake connecting Hyderabad and Secunderabad, it is a notorious site for suicides. But pollution has, of late, allegedly controlled these deaths. Heck, even suicidal souls want to drown in clean waters, right? The monolithic statue of Buddha is a modern addition, erected in 1992. This view alone is worth your tour money (which isn't even much).

Buddha in Hussain Sagar Lake
Buddha at Hussain Sagar. This photo only courtesy of wikipedia's alosh bennett. 

A view from Birla Mandir's hill

A shop outside Birla Mandir

Reserve Bank of India
Salar Jung Museum in Darushifa
Next stop was the district of Darushifa, a 400 year old district named after a hospital that has since moved away from its original site. It lies south of the city on the banks of the Musi River. It has a heavy population of shia muslims. Like many Manila suburbs, a member of many families in Darushifa works overseas. We liked perusing the craggy, narrow streets.

Salar Jung Museum is one of the three national museums in India. As such, it houses some of the most priceless art pieces – from paintings and sculptures to ceramics and textiles. More importantly, this collection took 35 years to gather. Nawab Mir Yousuf Ali Khan Salar Jung III spent a fortune to gather them. Imagine its expanse: 38 galleries spread in a two-story building. How do you cover this collection in an hour-allotted tour? It would serve you well if you have a retentive memory, but if you don’t, how much would you remember from a visit? Yes, cameras are not allowed inside as well. People of the world, you have to just take my word for it when I say it is worth a visit.

Musi River

The museum is protected by iron gates facing a not-so-busy street, just beside a tributary of the River Musi. I went out ahead of the touring pack to check out the surroundings which I found to be as interesting as the camera-shy collections inside. From a distance, I could see the spires of the Assembly Hall. There were little shops selling street food; a vendor with a roving cart full of bananas; another selling dirty ice cream. Nearby was a makeshift stall selling doors! “Would you like to buy a door, mister?” Hmmm... tempting, but I’d have to secure a bigger backpack for that. A whole lot bigger.

From there, we were to be whisked off to the Chowmahalla Palace then, as an option, to the Nehru Zoological Park for an Indian-style safari. Sounded interesting already, right? But that’s for another post. For now, I’d rather bask in the serene view of birds perched on a nearby tree by the Musi. There are places that deserve poetry. This was one of them.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

One of those things is not like the other... (see inverted color below)

Assembly Hall from Salar Jung Museum

A roving banana vendor

From door to door...

Street food

Ice Cream


Ola said...

a very nutricuous breakfast:)
this time I am esp. amazed by the birds - exceptional view for me
Blog about life and travelling
Blog about cooking

eye in the sky said...

@ Ola:

It's a mixed vegetable fried rice... healthy indeed. :)