Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cyber Cities

Namaste readers! This post is about my recent adventures to India’s two cyber cities, Bangalore (now Bengaluru, trying to shed some colonial baggage) and Hyderabad. I managed to tour these two cities without seeing any hint of technological prowess, although I did stay at a hotel in Hyderabad that had a hot shower, and I watched Friends and Mrs. Doubtfire on the TV. The second time I’ve watched TV in India, I think, so that's high tech for me. Anyways, I went to Bangalore to see my friend Akhila, who was visiting her family. I had a 6 AM flight, so I left my apartment at 3:30 in the morning, since it can sometimes take up to an hour to get to the airport. It turns out I live incredibly close to the airport and Mumbai traffic is that ridiculous, because I got in the cab at 3:38 and was sitting at the gate at 4:08. How well Mumbai functions without millions upon millions of drivers! Also, for anyone traveling within India, take IndiGo or Jet Airways, never trust Air India.

It turns out there isn’t that much to see in Bangalore. It’s more known for being the call-centre capital of India than having any major sights, but I think we did okay. Although, Saturday there was a bandh (strike) for some politician drama, so the whole city shut down, including rickshaw drivers, so we didn’t really get to do anything. Friday we went to the flower show at Lalbagh.

Only in India. Gross habit.


It wasn’t spectacular, but the weather was really great. Then we wandered and got some great South Indian food. This was my first trip to South India, and it’s really very different. They spoke Kannada, not Hindi, so I couldn’t even get my bearings by reading signs or anything. They also mostly eat vegetarian food, which in South India means dosas, idlis, and coconut chutneys. Here is Akhila with puri sagu. Those puffed breads are puris.

And here I am eating a South Indian thali, with my hands, of course.

On Sunday we did the whole temple thing. The majority of people are still Hindus, but some of the practices are different. Hinduism is actually more of a Western concept, so what we consider to be one religion looks completely different in separate regions of India. The gods also have different manifestations, so the form Shiva, for example, takes in Mumbai might be entirely unlike that in Bangalore. The temples are also awesomely colorful in the south. They’re in the Dravidian style, and the big entrances, or gopurams, look something like this:

Here's a close up.

This is a temple for Nandi, Shiva’s bull. That’s right, the bull of one of the gods gets its own temple. It’s a few hundred years old, and the story goes that it was very small, but has been growing ever since the temple was constructed. When its horns touch the ceiling, the world will end, so they had to put something over it so that doesn’t happen.
Here's a priest performing puja on a new car.

Big horns for the big bull.

There she is!

Then I took an overnight, 11 hour train to Hyderabad. You might thing that’s a long time, but that doesn’t even phase me. It left at 8:20, so I read for a bit and fell asleep. This was a “fancy” express train, so we even got food, which I didn’t eat. It was a bit hard to sleep because my curtain didn’t totally close so I could see and hear people opening the train car door all night, but I was rocking peacefully. Then I got into Hyderabad and pulled up to our magical hotel. I’ve never stayed at a hotel in India that costs more than $15/night. This one wasn’t expensive at all, but it had soap. And TOWELS. And a TV! And complimentary breakfast! I guess that’s what India’s like when you’re not backpacking through it, or attempting to live on $426/month. I was originally going to Hyderabad to do some NGO network research for work, but unfortunately due to some miscommunications, I found out that plans had changed after it was too late to change my travel plans. So I went, hoping that some last minute meetings would come through, which they didn’t, but I got to sightsee! And another fellow, Andrew, had two days off because of a big event he had just planned, so I got a travel buddy.

Said travel buddy. He's an enthusiastic one.

Hyderabad was a princely state, relatively independent throughout British rule. It was ruled by the Nizams, who are Muslims, so when India was divided into India and Pakistan, they wanted to join Pakistan, but since it’s in the middle of India, that didn’t really work for the India government. Today, Hyderabad’s population is 41% Muslim, which lends the city a different character, and some DELICIOUS meat dishes. Friday was a marathon tourist day of sightseeing and shopping. Hyderabad, aka Cyberabad, has another alias of the City of Pearls. We spend the day in the old areas around Charminar, or Four Minarets.

Familiar traffic patterns in the subcontinent.

Salaam from Charminar!


This is Mecca Masjid, which holds 10,000 worshippers, and that’s how many people they get on Fridays.

I was not allowed in because I have female reproductive organs. So this is my view from outside the cage. Those little boxes that look like prayer rugs are each individual prayer spaces.

Goats and pigeons.

The masjid.

Oddly enough, Hyderabad’s Hussain Sagar is home to one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. We took a little boat trip to the island and enjoyed the Buddha and some music.

Hyderabadi food:
Hyderabad is known for its biryani. I love biryani, so I was excited to try it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s definitely not like northern biryani. It’s not as spicy, or spiced in general, and there aren’t onions. It’s also served with curry and dahi, or yogurt. Apparently, biryani is well cooked if the rice pieces don’t stick together when you throw a handful on the floor. We tried it. It’s true.

Everyone knows about kebabs. We were shopping for pearls and befriended the owner, who was partial to Andrew because he knows Marathi, and his wife is Marathi, too. They were speaking Marathi, we were speaking Hindi- it was insane. Anyways, we told him we wanted to eat, so he walked us to this restaurant about ten minutes down the road. That’s right, he left his shop to take us to a restaurant just down the street because he wanted to make sure we’d find it. Indian generosity is amazing. We could tell it was great right away because it was packed and people were sharing tables. I wanted to sit downstairs, but apparently most women don’t do that, so we were ushered to a room in the back. We got mutton biryani, but wanted to get some kebabs too. We didn’t know what was good, so I asked the waiter to bring us their best, and the result was the tangdi (pronounced thaan-ga-ree) kebab. It was succulent and wonderful.

We also got haleem, which is meat and dal and some weird things cooked in a pot. It wasn’t our favorite, but we had to try it. We got it at some random little restaurant. It looks shabby, but the food is always best at places like this.

The next day we did some sightseeing on the outskirts of the city at the Golkonda fort and Qutb Shahi tombs. Rickshaws in Hyderabad are really expensive. We took a rick to Charminar from our hotel and it was 240 rupees. That’s only $5, but for us, well that’s the most expensive taxi/rickshaw I’ve ever taken. We decided we couldn’t do it again, so we decided to take the bus. White people don’t really take the bus in India. It’s crowded and it’s not like New York, where they have signs telling you what stop you’re at, or even maps to tell you what the route is. You really have to have faith in people when you deal with buses here, but our two buses to get to Golkonda cost a grand total of 15 rupees, or 34 cents, according to the converter on my phone. Plus, you make a lot of friends. Telegu is the mother language of Andhra Pradesh, the state Hyderabad is in, but a lot of people speak Urdu, which is like Hindi, but the Muslim version with a different alphabet and more Persian mixed in. Long story short, I spoke Hindi a lot, and my vocab might suck, but I think my accent is pretty good, because I was able to convince a lot of people that I was from here. Someone asked if I was Indian, and I told him that I was half. Then I told people I was actually from Mumbai, and they bought it. I developed the story so I could have something to say when people asked if they could take pictures with me. I did a few, but it was really fun saying that I was a Mumbaikar, and not some regular gori (white girl).

The fort wasn’t entirely well maintained, but great for roaming around.

In India, it's not always about love.


We also found an awesome Kali temple. I haven’t seen any temples for her yet in Mumbai, or ever, actually. She’s fierce.

Me and Kali.

Temple wall

Pandit, Kali, and Durga

Then we went to the Qutb Shahi tombs, which are just a lot of mausoleums for the ruling family of Hyderabad.

But sweet doors.

I am really surprised that there weren’t any serious mishaps, since that’s sort of bound to happen here. It might have made this posting a little more interesting, but I appreciated the smoothness of the journey.

Things I learned this week:
1) If there are worms in your rice, they will float to the top of the pot when you put it in water.
2) Sometimes goats act like dogs, especially when they're being led around the slum on a leashes. Adorable.
3) Towels are the hardest things to wash in the bucket. You don't really realize how much fabric there is and how long is takes to get the soap out.


  1. Hi there. Amazing pictures! The colors are just unbelievable. And so great that you were able to spend time with friends in both cities! I learned quite a bit in this post. I don't know that I will ever fully understand the distinction between the religions/languages/traditions but it's really incredible that you have such insight into everything.
    T-6 weeks until I see your smiling face :)

  2. Samosa,
    Great travelogue. Could you imagine Hyderabad as part of Pakistan. It would be the Berlin of India. Very interesting.
    Two buses for 34 cents?

    You're not some regular gori !!!
    Love D

  3. Hi! I agree with Er it's amazing how much you have come to understand about the different cities and traditions that come with each. I am so impressed each week by your ability to immerse yourself so completely! LOVE YOU!!


  4. Fascinating - as always. With all the different crazy food combinations you are eating, are mushrooms still a no-no?