* The cell phone beeps at 2.45 a.m. giving me a nervous moment. It’s an sms from the roaming service - ‘Welcome to Hyderabad etc…’ I’d reached around 3.30 in the afternoon, almost 12 hours before the welcoming sms.
* On the way to the hotel, I take in the sights and sounds. On the face of it, it looks like any other city. Like Bomay, perhaps. Populous, busy, colourful. The autos are all-yellow though, not like the Bombay’s yellow-black ones. There are film posters all over the city heralding the newest star son on the blog - Chiranjeevi's son, Ram Charan Teja.
*‘Here’s the famous Punjagutta flyover,’ announces Smiley pointing to the city’s newest attraction. A couple of days earlier, a section of the bridge had collapsed leaving 4 dead and several wounded. I glance at the fallen bridge before a person riding a motorcycle captures my attention. He’s speaking into a cell phone being held to his ear by the person seated behind him. “That’s nothing,” says Smiley, “I’ve seen someone holding a phone to the ear of another guy who was peeing.” Hands-free takes on a whole new meaning!
* I’m not much of a foodie, but I am converted in the short time I spend in Hyderabad. Midnight Biryani at the Park Hotel, steamed dosas at Chutneys served on a banana leaf, and delectable Hyderabadi Haleem from Pista House. Considering, it’s Ramadan, there’s a haleem stall almost every few paces. Mutton haleem’s most popular, I figured, followed by chicken. One place even advertised fish haleem. Even with my newfound passion for food, I’m not sure I would try that in a hurry.
* Hyderabad can rock! The moves on the dance floor at F-Bar in Lumbini Mall leave me breathless. It's a week night, but that doesn't deter the avid party goers, who look most crestfallen when the place shuts at midnight.
* Visiting Golconda Fort isn’t on the itinerary. But considering the Salar Jung Museum is shut on the very day that I am there, we head to the Fort. It turns out to be an awe-inspiring trip. Standing amid the ruins of an 800-year old fort was, one tries to imagine what it was like all those years ago. Even the ruins are spectacular. The sheer scale of the fort is apparent after one has huffed and puffed to the top. Except for a few Japanese tourists and a few Indians, there aren’t too many visitors. The fort lies tucked away in a corner of the ‘old Hyderabad’ - away from the slick IT City and other swanky constructions, indistinguishable from each other - an almost forgotten souvenir of a glorious past.
* If travelling on the interstate buses, you have to read the ticket like you would read your rich uncle’s will. Very, very carefully. The information printed right at the top is the location from where you purchased your ticket, followed by the time of departure. In a less obvious corner, is the actual departure location, which turns out to be at least 15 kms. away in the direction of rush-hour traffic. Now, if you’re the kind to speed read the ticket, you turn up well in time at the wrong location, and then make a mad dash across the city only to arrive at the interstate bus terminal where there are at least a 100 buses arriving and departing and you’ve no clue if your bus is among them.
* I miss the bus, but the resulting adventure turns out to be more fun than imagined. Getting information from the beleaguered information desk, haggling for a teeny refund, watching ticket officials wrestle with unfamiliar computerized systems and finally, getting onto the next available bus an hour later all turns out to be a memorable part of the Hyderabad experience. I am pleasantly surprised to discover there’s a ‘women’s seat’ on the bus, which means I don’t have to fret about my seatmate. It’s been a very long time since I’d done a long bus journey, and I’m glad that I didn’t take the flight.
To be continued: Hubli Diary