Published: June 27th 2011April 17th 2011
After Ellora Caves, we got dropped off by the taxi in Aurangabad. As it was late and time was pressing, I took Tatiana out for dinner to say thanks for the taxi ride, before she took her train to Hyderabad on the way to Hampi. A route that I was about to follow the day after.
Unfortunately, I didn't spend the next day and what was to be my only day in Aurangabad as well as I could of, simply chilling, talking to a couple of Germans I had met, swapping books with them and using the internet. I got the same overnight train Tatiana had got and arrived in Secunderabad around 9am. The place where the Lonely planet said the cheap hotels were, was in Secunderabad's twin city Hyderabad. On the way there on the train, I asked a local if I was on the right train. He said that I wasn't and explained to me what I had to do to get to where I wanted to going. While he was doing this a police officer/ticket controller got onto our carriage to inspect tickets. Two of the 30 people in our 3m² area hadn't paid and all of
a sudden all hell broke loose. The ticket inspector, probably the biggest Indian I have ever seen, started man handling them, insisting that they give him their cell phones. I asked the local I was talking to in-between avoiding being pushed out of the train, why he wanted their cell phones. He said that if he didn't do that they would probably run for it when the train stopped. Anyway it was a bit of a stop-start rugby scrum until the next train stop.
I thanked the guy who helped me with directions and helped me survive the train ride, then got off and looked for the train I was supposed to have taken. On finding that I hopped on, ready for another adventure. After a couple of minutes, the invariable 'What's your good name', came from the guy next to me. Then the conversation followed the same path that 99 percent of conversations in India that involve me follow. That being 'Hello sir, what is your good name?', 'Leon. what's your name' '_________, where are you coming from', 'New Zealand, where do you come from?' '___________, are you married?', 'How much do you earn?', "What do you do
in your home?' 'What are you making here'?. A lot of the time the conversation fizzes out after this series of questions, due to lack of English and sometimes loss of interest. This one went past this point and as it turned out, the guy had the morning off work and ended up helping me find a hotel and the cricket stadium I wanted to find.
He was a very nice guy, who told me that he was born in a poor village in the North of India and had been sponsored by an aid organisation. As a result of this he had become educated and was now working in Hyderabad's burgeoning IT industry. He had the day off as he had contracted an eye disease and needed to get it sorted it out at the doctor's. He ended up spending most of the day showing me around, helping me purchase some prescription glasses, the cheapest I will ever purchase most likely, find my hotel and pick up my cricket tickets. I had purchased a couple of tickets for the IPL game to be played the next day in Hyderabad between the Deccan Chargers and The King Punjab 11,
for me and the American 'Sarah' that I had met in Varanasi. For his troubles, I gave him the one that was meant for Sarah as I had not heard from her and said see you at the stadium.
The next day, I woke up and took a walk on the wild side. Through the streets of Secunderabad that is. I walked out of the hotel, with the aim of picking up the prescription glasses I had purchased the day before. I got lost coming back and in doing so collided with another sequence of events unlikely to repeat itself during my lifetime. In India when you take a walk there is always so much stimuli and life around you, that unless you shut yourself of to it somewhat you become overwhelmed, well at least I do. On this occasion, my protective shield was first penetrated by the sight of an elderly man lying prone on the pavement with a thin sheet separating him from the tarmac. It was about 42 degrees and his back had been charred black by constant exposure to the sun. He lay there with his head laying face down on the ground between his
two feet. He would have weighed at most 50 kilos. He was wasting away and he sat there in the throngs of people all day in silence, prone, with a cup by his head, in the hope of earning enough money to feed his starved body. These sights are constant in India and I'm not sure why this one hit me but it did and all of a sudden my senses were overloaded. In the next 30 minutes I took a walk that I could only describe as mind blowing. After walking past him the stench of shit and piss evaporating invaded my nostrils. It was probably always there, but during this walk it consumed me. A man with no arm, touched me with his stub and asked me for money. After I walked past him, I dodged a cow and was affronted by a woman with an infant in her arms, begging for money. She wouldn't let me past her and held on to my arms for two minutes, pleading with me to give her money. Things were getting too much for me so I made a beeline for the hotel. Once at the hotel I found seven dwarves
outside the hotel door screaming and throwing punches at one another. I think as I walked past them I saw one of them bite another on the knee out of the corner of my eye. I got into my hotel room and watched cricket for 4 hours. Sometimes the opiate of the masses is just what the doctor ordered and in this case I thanked god for the invention of sport and the placating of the mind it allows.
Murphy's law then struck, with Sarah having sent an email saying that she would now like to go to the cricket at about the time I gave her ticket to my Indian friend. So the rest of the afternoon was then spent trying to organise meeting Sarah who was studying at the University of Hyderabad on the other side of the city, cities. Eventually we organised to meet at Secunderabad train station, a rather big and busy train station at a certain time that was a rather busy and chaotic time in the big and busy train station. This was where I learnt that life must have been a lot harder before the advent of cell phones and internet.
Our meeting became a frustrating non event and eventually I threw in the towel and went off to the cricket by myself.
On the most packed bus that I had been on in my life, I met some more cool Indians, conversing between sweaty armpits and flaying limbs. We managed to talk about cricket for the 40m bus ride and I found that was an extremely useful way to take my mind of the rather disturbing image running through my mind of a bunch of sardines being crushed together in a tin can, that resembled a miniature version of the bus we were in.
Once at the stadium, I found my area of the stadium and sat down to watch some good cricket. The highlight for me being watching Adam Gilchrist win the game for the visiting team. After the cricket I spent 40m more conversing with some more cricket mad Indians, through sweaty armpits and flaying limbs in the new most packed bus I have ever been in.
The next day, to rub salt into the wound, I heard from Sarah, who said she had spent the first innings looking for me to no avail and
that she spent the second innings in the corporate box with her friend, being ploughed with free alcohol and food, after being befriended in the crowd. Gotta love that salt!
That day I walked around the city for about 6 hours straight. It was the most enjoyable city work I had had, in an Indian city until that point. The vendors were extremely friendly, without being pushy and the pearls, bangles, carpets and other products they were selling made for colourful and pleasant browsing. I don't think too many tourists make it to Hyderabad, so a lot of people were really eager and interested to have a yarn with me, without any ulterior motives. I sat down with one shopkeeper, which ended up being an hour long conversation with 10 or so people. They used a guy who had lived in Australia for a few years to translate their questions about western culture and thinking. They were shocked and I think felt a bit sorry for me, that at 30 I was not married and not in any rush to be so. They wanted to know all about western women, what the chances of them finding jobs in NZ,
Australia and England would be and how they could better their English. In turn they told me about Indian culture, about the pressure they had to marry and the competition they faced to be materially successful. There were a lot of laughs shared and chais drunk in between times and it was one of those conversations which reminded me of why I was travelling in the first place.
After doing some more sightseeing in Hyderabad's centre, including taking in the Charminar and Mecca Masjid, I headed for the train station where I had arranged to meet Sarah on getting back in touch in the morning. We then went out to my first and surprisingly her first Indian pub. The cricket was on and Sarah was the only female amongst the 100 or so clientele. She received her fair share of stares while we were there. To many more conservative Indians a girl who drinks or smokes, is viewed with astonishment, shock and perhaps a bit of contempt. To 100 Indian men watching the cricket in a pub that perhaps has never seen female presence, such a girl is viewed with an open drooling mouth and raw sexual energy. I
had never felt so observed and envied in my life and Sarah for her part who would be considered average looking in the world that I come from, probably had never felt so desired. It all contributed to another bizarre experience.
After that pub, due to being immersed in the cricket, the beer (my first in a good few weeks) and the bizarreness. I ended up missing my train. This meant I had to get a hotel last minute near the train station as Sarah was staying at the university campus, where males are refused entry after dark and girls are expelled (yes from university) who try to bend those rules. So the hotel I ended up staying at ended up being another experience in itself. I being the cheap bastard that I am, went for the cheap single room, rather than the expensive one. I thought that all that would mean was no bathroom. What it ended up meaning was a room made out of a material that I would describe as a hybrid cardboard/wood product, only slightly removed from the cardboard end of the scale. The fan was also nigh on useless and when, lying there drenched
in my sweat, little things began biting me causing me to itch myself from head to toe in perpetual motion, I decided I had to get a breath of fresh air.
That breath of fresh air ended up revealing yet another world in India to me. I left my room, feeling sorry for myself and 10 steps later started to take the biggest dosage of humility pills that I have ever taken. Just around the corner from my room was a balcony, that a couple of hours earlier had been any normal hotel balcony. By night it had been transferred into one giant shared bed. There were 40 people sleeping on it, side by side. I went downstairs to try and find somewhere to buy some water as I was in the most dehydrated state I believe I have ever found myself. In the process I tripped over a few people sleeping at the bottom of the stairs. On leaving the hotel I saw probably three hundred people sleeping on the pavement, on the road, on the roundabout, on what looked like transformers, on the middle of the road, in bus-stops, in their auto-rickshaws and in the gutters. Crashed
out between and around the people were packs of stray dogs and groups of cows. This was at a major intersection just around the corner from the train station, that during the day was a hive of activity.
There was nowhere open to buy water, I retreated to my hotel room, where I spent the rest of the night itching, twisting and turning. At first light I bought the same train ticket that I had bought for the day before. Then I went about doing some more sightseeing. I had arranged to meet Sarah for lunch at her university. She had decided that she would be able to sneak me in during the day if I pretended I was her brother. After taking the new most packed bus that I had ever been on, I found myself at the rather plush University of Hyderabad campus. Sarah walked me in and sure enough, I had to go through a security screening for the privilege.
Once inside, I was treated to the first buffet of Indian food that I had tried since arriving in India. It was delicious, then I had an hour long shower. Then I had a few
beers, before saying goodbye and making my way to the train station. Once there I found out my train was going to be three hours late, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I got in another great walk around Hyderabad, taking in the Buddha on Hussain Sagar Lake and Birla Mandir.
Birla Mandir was another unbelievable thing to see. It is a Hindu temple entirely built out of white marble, dedicated to Lord Venkateshwara. It is very nice. On the way there and back I met some really nice people, who were concerned about me wandering around clearly lost and late at night. One even took me through the hospital grounds she was a director at, saving me 20 minutes walking time and providing me more information than an average guide wouldn't have managed in 5 times the amount of time.
Hyderabad was an amazing and unique experience.
There are more photos below