Thursday, December 8, 2016

sightseeing in Hyderabad

Before I flew back home from India, I took the opportunity to see the sights of Hyderabad. As I entered the car, I noticed the image of Ganesha, an elephant-headed Hindu deity. He is known as the remover of obstacles. How apt that he's there in the car, I thought, since he's also famous for being the deity who protects people (according to a colleague of mine who oriented me on this during a dinner at the cafeteria).

The ICRISAT campus feels like being in an international community but it doesn't let me experience what Hyderabad is all about... until I got out of the campus gate and entered the highway. Note that I wasn't driving... it's more intimidating out there than in Manila, honest!
Ganesha, remover of obstacles

One, people use right-hand cars out in India and I've never driven that type of cars before. Two, the public transportation vehicles in Patancheru would start and stop wherever there are passengers who would alight or pedestrians waiting to catch the vehicles... even in the middle of the road. Right, these pedestrians cross the road whenever and wherever they felt like it too. Sounds like Manila, true. Until I saw what it actually looked like. Buses, auto rickshaws, cars, vans, motorcycles, and trucks ply roads wider than the national highway in Laguna but since there are no lines delineating the lanes, it's quite challenging to figure out where to stay on the road. Safe to say that it's best to just get to a spot where you won't get bumped and you won't collide onto another vehicle.

Patancheru morning traffic

On the side of road, I noticed that there were vans waiting for passengers and trucks loaded to the brim with sand or rocks. Also there were vendors selling textiles. These looked like carpets and thick jackets. Unfortunately, I didn't stop over there because I wanted to see what the city looked like... a stop in these roadside shops would mean that I wouldn't have time to explore the city.

Vans waiting for passengers in a parking lot.

Hyderabad, I got the impression during this exploratory trip, is full of contradictions. On the one hand, it is such a modern city: it had a lot of biotech companies, IT companies, and industrial corporations; it has really wide roads with heavy traffic jams (an unfortunate mark of a developing society, yes); and there are big universities and hospitals in the city itself and outside. And there are a lot of construction projects going on; I was told that these were supposed to be high-rise residential properties. On the other hand, however, Hyderabad also has a significant area covered by slums. While on the road, I saw slums located on the outskirts of the science and technology hubs; it was so sad to think that real estate areas are so expensive that people who work in non-executive positions in these industries could be living in the slums. But this is also the case in other developing countries. 

Driving on the left side of the road, well, more like being a passenger... is very confusing for me.

The growth of Hyderabad is evidently booming. Aside from the high-rise buildings, I also saw construction work going on for expanding the railway system in the city. I've not taken the train in Hyderabad because I only ventured into the city only once, and by car at that. I wonder what it would be like. I mean, I've taken the city train in Tokyo (and experienced being pushed into the train before the doors got closed shut), Bangkok (it wasn't very crowded the time I took it), Manila (the queues were long and the passengers do get packed like sardines), San Francisco, Lausanne, Brisbane, Sydney, and Hong Kong ("crowded" in these cities is worlds away from "crowded" in Manila and Japan). I know that India is popular for its crowded trains but I'm not sure if this elevated train is included in that list.

Traffic underneath the new elevated train station.
Lest I leave India with the impression that Hyderabad is all chaos and cramped spaces, the route I took led to a calmer part of the city. On this road, there were fewer cars, no people crossing the roads at inopportune times, and it reminded me of Roxas Boulevard... maybe it was the lighting because the sun was getting low in the horizon and we were approaching the Golden Hour. But still, I found a stretch of road that wasn't as depressing and grey as the others were.

This stretch of road reminds me of Roxas Boulevard.

Driving through all that traffic obstacles is worth it because the destination was the Salar Jung Museum. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed (yes, even cellphone photography) unless you paid an extra fee (on top of the foreigner entrance fee), so I couldn't share photos of what's inside the museum. What I can say though is that it reminded me a lot of the Hearst Castle because the Salar Jung III was also an art collector (and his collections are eclectic... East and Southeast Asian pottery occupied one floor of the museum). But aside from that, he also had an extensive collection of jewelry, furniture, accessories, and ancient books. 

Welcome to the Salar Jung Museum!
The Salar Jung Museum may be the highlight of my sightseeing trip into Hyderabad but I was also fascinated by architecture of buildings near it. The High Court of the Judicature, for instance, reminded me of the Taj Mahal because of the domes. But the domes here are red rather than like the Taj Mahal's white domes. It's a pity that I wasn't able to go any closer to the High Court to see it more closely. One day, I shall visit again.

Throughout Hyderabad, there was a strong Middle Eastern flavor to the architecture to the numerous buildings. I was honestly surprised because India, as I understood my geography, social studies, and history classes, is largely Hindu. However, the Middle Eastern influence suggests Islamic culture strongly embedded in the city. According to the car driver, who doubled as my tour guide, Hyderabad's feudal lords before the unification of India, the Salar Jung and his ancestors, could traced their roots all the way to Persia; hence the strong influence of Islamic culture in Hyderabadi architecture.

Alas, many of the buildings' façades show evidence of disrepair. Many of the buildings were boarded up or had what looked like mobile shops (carts), or niches occupied by homeless people. Some appear to be totally neglected and left to be overtaken by the shrubbery. Of course, I may be wrong because many of the buildings I passed by were also in various states of reconstruction and preservation.

One of the most striking images for me was the presence of this gigantic statue of Mahatma Gandhi, revered political leader of India (whose efforts led to the independence of India from the British) in front of the a building with strong Middle Eastern architectural influence. It just shows how strong the cultural ties here are among different groups. Also, it reflects upon the lingering influence of the former feudal lords (the Nizams and the Salar Jungs) that reaches up to today (though I was told that none of the feudal lords' descendants are in politics anymore). This, I think, makes Hyderabadi culture very unique. In fact, I have to say that this trip is the farthest away (geographically) that I have been from my own culture.

I was visiting on a cool day, I think, because nobody was in line for sugar cane juice. I saw several of these vendors in street corners. If Los Baños has several palamig vendors, I think I have found the Hyderabadi equivalent. They probably must also have a liking for sweet refreshments.

I noticed that there are three scripts that people use out here: English (which I can read), Hindi (script with the sharp strokes), and Urdu (script with lots of flowy curves). This is particularly noticeable on the road signs because there are at least two boards saying the same message. One particular road sign caught my eye because it said "Film Nagar".

Apparently, Hyderabad has its very own film industry. I know only of Bollywood. But the people I met in Hyderabad said that there's also "Tollywood", where Telugu-language films are made. I suppose that this is also the more affluent part of India just because movie stars tend to be richer than average people... so Hollywood, right? So, does it have its own version of Beverly Hills 90210, the zip code that people want houses in? Apparently so. And it is called Banjara Hills.

The driver mentioned to me that one of the Nizam's properties has become a frequent location set for Telugu films. It doesn't look much if one looks just at the gate. But the castle up the mountain was said to have been used in various films. 

Influence of Hinduism is also found all over the place. At almost every corner we drove past, I saw temples or gates that led to temples. Since Hinduism has many devas and (seemingly to me) no central authority on who and what to revere or worship (unlike other religions that have one spiritual leader), it appeared to be a very diversified set of traditions united under one set of life principles.  Obviously my understanding on this religion is very limited. On this field trip into the city, I had a lot of questions about it to the driver, who patiently answered as best he could. 

And his answers made me realize that the practices are quite similar to what I am familiar with, albeit the differences in terminologies and names. He said that each temple is dedicated to one deva. This explains why different figures are featured in the temple. When asked how does he know which deva to worship, he said it depends on what he needed... so, to me, it sounds very similar to people asking for intercession from different saints and each saint has a specialty topic. He did the same gesture each time we passed a temple, very similar to Catholics making the Sign of the Cross when passing by a church. And in the Salar Jung Museum, I saw a tiny statue of a person praying using a rosary. I thought rosaries are prayer beads used by Catholics only! Apparently, these prayer beads are also called rosaries in other religions and Christianity borrowed this practice from Hinduism! Hmmm... Or maybe the museum just labeled them as rosaries for the tourists from other countries. Nevertheless, it's only during this trip that I realised how similar my religion's practices are with the oldest religion in the world. I may be geographically far from home but the cultural distance I initially felt started decreasing.

As the sun set, it was time to go back to the campus and get my stuff ready for the trip home. This visit into the city of Hyderabad was a worthwhile experience. I hope I can visit again someday.