Monday, 30 December 2013

Popping to the south for a couple of days

We landed in Hyderabad at some late hour - surprise, surprise.

I like IndiGo though - they do budget airline well. Jugs of filtered water on the trolley - foresight. And the poor stewardess put up with me pretty much wanting to down the jug of water too. You can book your meals online at a reasonable price as well - take that, Ryanair!

I then met an old American who'd travelled everywhere I want to go, and more, but who wasn't quite as crazy as John. But getting there. The weirdest bit: he used to work at Warwick University, my alma mater (I love being able to use that phrase), and knew the number 12 bus well. Ah, memories.

We'd have to wait an hour for the bus, and it wouldn't cost much more to share a taxi.

"Taxi sir? Taxi? Where you go?"

No, prepaid.

800 rupees? You're a funny man.

"Turn left! Left!" No, the prepaid is in front of me. On my right.

500 rupees. Thought so. No, the driver at the front of the queue will take us, regardless of what "good deals" you try to offer us to drop us both off at our separate hotels. No, I can't afford 2000 rupees a night for a room, I'm poor.

There was a proper expressway into town as well, with flyovers and everything, of the kind that I really don't expect of India. They need them too - the traffic is crazy on the city streets.

Walking past all these autos was fun. AUTO, SIR?
And eventually we came across the American's hotel, dropped him off, and were left with the next question: where on earth is my hotel? And how am I going to get there?

200 rupees and I'll take you, the taxi driver said.

OK, we'll go with that. It's late and I need a bed to sleep in.

So we headed in the general direction of the hotel, and got lost. And asked many locals where it was. And laughed about it a lot.

Eventually, we found the place, and I gave him his 200, we laughed about it again, and off he headed.

Always fills you with confidence when you're greated by a security scanner
And after all that, it was 600 a night. I knew it would be more expensive here, but I was hoping for more like 400. Ah well, I'll live, the country's dirt cheap anyway.

Even if I've got to pay for wifi. By the hour. At 50 rupees per hour. The going internet cafe rate is 20 rupees an hour. But I met a Malaysian guy who just gave me the code anyway - even if his impeccable English made me question if he was really a foreigner.

So at some silly hour of night I finally made it to bed.

The next day came around and after being a confused foreigner at breakfast (that's their own fault for giving two neighbouring restaurants the same name) then I wanted to make it to the Charminar, something of a symbol of Hyderabad.

But I had to take an autorickshaw. And so as per usual, I got overcharged, but went with it anyway. It gave me another opportunity to complain about them at least. I like complaining about autorickshaw drivers. Not sure if you've noticed.

The Charminar is pretty impressive actually - even if half the people there wanted to sell me some awful-looking sunglasses (they seemed highly offended when I informed them of this) and luggage.

Yes, there are touts selling luggage. At an historical monument. No, that's not generally where I choose to buy my luggage. In fact, this is a bit weird.

And there was the usual queue of Indians wanting a photo with me. I've decided that I don't want to be a celebrity - it would just annoy me.

Eventually they let me climb up the stairs to the top. I'm a bit of a weirdo who enjoys looking aimlessly at views of places, despite the fact that the view is ALWAYS THE SAME.

And at some point I realised that, and did my usual wandering act. Except I wandered into the bazaar, which as a white man in India was not the best place for a wander.

No, I don't want any pearls. Do I look female?

By the way, hi sexism/feminism brigade.

So it was time for the confused foreigner act again, this time at the Mecca Masijd. It's made of stone from Mecca, and I wasn't sure if us infidels were allowed in. Yes, we are. And I can just keep my bag on my back, despite the fact it most certainly has a laptop in. And probably a Swiss army knife too.

The issue with the confused foreigner look is that certain characters accost you, then demand 100 rupees for their 5 minutes of talking about things I already know. And no, I'm an infidel, I don't particularly want to donate to your charity.

I tried to work out where the buses went from, as the Birla Mandir was a good 8km north and I wasn't particularly feeling like burning my rupees again. In the end, I just ended up walking a good couple of miles north - and I still didn't have a clue where the bus went from.

But it's all OK - some more Indians now have photos of a white man to send to everyone they know.

So I found some autorickshaw drivers and asked how much they'd take me to the bus stand for.

150. Funny man. 120. And the meter's "not working". Oh yeah, of course. And there's lots of traffic. Yes, there's always lots of traffic.

Thankfully, I got bailed out by an honest driver, who took me for 70. He then offered to take me all the way for 150 total, which sounded like a good deal - so I went for it. Mostly because he was actually honest.

Though of course he didn't have change.

So I paid the entry fee for the park (yeah, what now?) with a 100 note. He definitely had a few 10s for change. And yes, he did of course ask if I had change. No, I need 50 rupees for the driver anyway. I also had to put my bag in a locker, because apparently I might blow up a palm tree or something.

The reason I went through the park was to get across to a boat that went to the Buddha statue that was randomly chucked into the middle of the lake.

OK, all fairly simple. I paid and got on, and so we headed over.

At which point I realised that I was stuck on a small island for 15 minutes with only a large statue of a Buddha for company. So I took an excessive number of photos of the thing so I could waste more time deleting half of them.
Alright mate
An Indian family still had to be rushed back on to the boat after about 20 minutes. What was holding them up was beyond me - but then again, people are confusing creatures.

Eventually we made it back to shore, and I got confused that they actually offered refreshments at reasonable prices here. Then the staff were all paying 2 rupees to weigh themselves on the scales and comparing themselves - so I joined them, which they of course found absolutely hilarious - especially when I was a good 20kg heavier than them.

And you get a printout of it, which is pretty cool.

So with all palm trees intact, I picked up my bag from the place I'd stored it and wandered off towards the Birla Mandir. And of course got accosted by an autorickshaw driver, who said he'd take me for 20. Cool, I'll go with that.

But of course, there was a catch. There's always a catch. He wanted me to go to a pearl shop first.

No, I don't want pearls.

But had he told me that (as it turns out) he got 5kg of rice for just taking 10 people there, I would have gone in, stood around and pretended to be interested for 10 minutes, then left. Instead, he showed me a leaflet that said that the Birla Mandir didn't open until 3pm, so I may as well go inside. No, it definitely opens at 2.

But no cameras or phones inside.
That's all I could sneak a photo of
But it's OK to take your bag in, with a LAPTOP inside. And a swiss army knife.

The security body scanners are definitely just for show here as well - they never actually turn them on. Or if they do, they just make you walk through without taking anything out of your pockets - which kind of defeats the object of them.

And I still couldn't muster the buses, even if I tried. None of them seemed to go to the bus stand, which is a bit strange - but this is India after all.

So I just had to be overcharged by an autorickshaw driver again, as per usual. And he tried to take me to a pearl shop too. No. And "government approved" can mean whatever you want it to mean, don't bother trying.

So having not seen as much of Hyderabad as I liked, I went back to the hotel, where my cultural experience consisted of getting room service to bring me food, and having the cheerful guy try to put my TV on the Bollywood channel. Or the cricket.

He was a great laugh. And the biryani he brought me was huge - and blooming good. So I shared it with him, and told him that I didn't need to buy his maps or toilet paper. Ah, this is India after all.

The next day I had a night train, but until then, I could wander round Hyderabad again. So I walked across to Nampally where I could get a bus up to Golconda, the old Mughal fort.

No, still can't muster these buses.


Who agreed to use the meter.

What now? Maybe it's because I confused him with my here-Golconda-hotel-Secunderabad plan - which would have given him a decent fare at the end of it all, probably with a bit extra for being honest and actually using the meter.

It was 115 rupees by meter to the fort, and so I told him to wait for me. The next was lost in translation, but he asked for 200 rupees for waiting - which is a bit strange, as normally they just ask for money at the end of the day. Fair enough, maybe he doesn't want me to do a runner.

So I had a wander around the fort, without the map that the various touts seemed insistent that I buy.

No, I won't look at it or read it.

It didn't actually take as long as I thought it would to get around the place, even if I had constant stops for photos. Some things never change. And a stop to watch some Indian guys who'd climbed the walls getting shouted at by security. That's the kind of thing I'd usually do.

I had time to go to the tombs nearby, so I went to find my driver.

No, the cheeky bint has taken my money and done a runner, even when he was pretty much guaranteed a fairly big fare off me.

Or maybe I confused him and something got lost in translation.

I have no idea, but autorickshaw drivers were already playing a game of who can shout the loudest to try to get me to go back with them. Eventually I got someone to take me for 150, as was reasonable - I knew the metered fare.

Just in case you have no common sense
Troop Bazaar is here. Yes, this is the edge of the area that my hotel's in, and I have no idea where to go next. Yet he still asked for more money on the basis that it was a "long journey".

No, you've not even taken me to my hotel, and white man fare will cover it. And I don't give to beggars.

I managed to stumble across the correct street though.

So I whiled away the time, and eventually went and found an auto to take me to Secunderabad. 120 rupees? Seems reasonable. Or maybe all the unreasonable fares have made me unable to judge cost, I don't know.

So I had one last Hyderabad biryani and joined the scrum of people in the train station.

I liked Hyderabad though. There was something about the place that I can't quite explain. I kind of wish I'd spent a bit longer there, going into the suburbs a bit more, really understanding the place a bit more. And eating biryani for breakfast a few more times. It's got atmosphere, character, and is a rare example of an Indian city I like.

And next time, I'll work out how to use the buses, because autorickshaws here like to rip you off.

Next stop: Bhubaneswar. Via a 23 hour train journey up the east coast, just as the cyclone is about to hit.

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