Hyderabad, AP, India
Hyderabad is the capital of Andra Praadesh state, India. I was there for a cousin’s wedding. Actually, the wedding was just an excuse to spend a day exploring this wonderful city.
Chandrababu Naidu may not be the CM of Andhra Pradesh anymore but his legacy continues to linger in Hyderabad. The city’s cops prefer to call themselves “The Cyberabad Police” even though it’s Y S Reddy’s chief ministership or Raj now. They have swank police stations that are ISO certified for their service with a welcome desk at the entrance, decorated with a well-groomed cop, Internet enabled computer, phones and the latest communication equipment. I’m not sure if the setup is equipped with the under-the-desk baksheesh counter.
In spite of all the order at the police stations, Cyberabad police has an uphill task when it comes to order on the city’s streets. The Hyderbadis drive like maniacs. In this city, unruly traffic rules. It is ok to drive on the American side of the road. People slow down when there’s a green light. They continue driving if there is a red. When I landed in Bangalore after 3 days of driving on Cyberabad roads, the first thing that happened to me was that I was fined for jumping a signal; a costly reminder that Bangalore’s thigane maris are sharp. Meanwhile, it’s about time Cyberabad’s traffic cops learnt some policing. Not just traffic but also crime but more about it in the next post.
The best place to observe the Hyderabad Street is from a cafÃ©. The city probably has the most open cafes in the whole of India. They open out on to the streets giving a nice view of a Cyberabad traffic cop having a bad day. You can sit here all day sipping endless cups of Hyderabadi Chai while listening to local gossip all around. The flip side is that it can get a bit dusty in there but no one cares.
Charminar or Four Minarets
A place cannot get dustier than the Charminar area. The Cyberabad cops here prefer to go by an older name Hyderabad City Police, after all they police the traditional hub of old Hyderabad. Tata Sumo patrol vehicles with exotic sounding chowki (police outpost) names like Hussaini Alam. When I was here in the early 90s, after the Babri Masjid madness, it was full of cops carrying semi-automatics. Thankfully the cops are more relaxed these days chasing touts and beggars harassing the tourists who are shopping for Hyderabadi pearls and bangles. Shoppers who will hand their bags in shame if they visit the Salar Jung Museum, a kilometer away from Charminar.
Salar Jung III
Salar Jung III was the bachelor Prime Minister of the Hyderabad State until it was annexed by the Indian Union after independence. He traveled around the world collecting all kinds of stuff that will take an average mortal a whole day to browse through. The collection is worth millions and all the semi-automatics that kept peace post-Babri Masjid can be seen protecting the museum. Of all the things in there I loved the miniature paintings from across India. He has hundreds of them, maybe even thousands from across India spanning many centuries. It spent only half a day there because I was short of time and I was very hungry for the famed Hyderabadi Biryani.
The Hyderabadis are very friendly people and the best way to make friends in the Old Hyderabad area is to ask them where you can get the best biryani in town. Their faces light up and they first proclaim that you can eat at any of the many eating-houses in the Charminar and Patherghatti area. When you repeat the question, they reduce the number to two, Hotel Madina and Hotel Shadab. After repeated questioning, Hotel Madina won the day with a lot more local patrons and I headed for it.
Hotel Madina has two floors. The ground floor opens out to the street; a nice place for a chai. The top floor is called the dining area and you have two section. One is for general public and the second is the curtained family area. The service is friendly and the food is very different from what I expected. It is unlike any biryani I have tasted in Mumbai or Bangalore.
It comes in a steel plate and looks like the great pyramid! The quantity is huge. The price is modest, just Rs. 50, which the Hyderabadis consider as exorbitant. There’s no trace of oil. The meat (mutton) is very tender. The spices are delicate and exotic. Each morsel reveals a different spice. Sometimes a couple of them mix divinely to create a whole new flavour. It is not heavily spiced either and you can eat a lot, like I did, without realizing it.
After a leisurely meal, I climbed on to a comfortable Metro Express bus to Secunderabad and slept peacefully, waking up only to see the Tank Bund Rd. and the Hussein Sagar Lake. The ride back to Cyberabad cost me just Rs.7.