India V

Saturday 6 October (disappointing):

After 2 weeks of solid work, I made the mistake of buying a guided tour from the conference site. I usually never do this as I prefer to do it on foot, in my own way, but the streets here literally have no name and, after working so much, I just wanted to have a mollycoddled tour of the sites before doing that. Here is what was on offer for INR 1000 (= approximately CAD $20):

  1. Visit Buddha Statue, Lumbini park; drive through Saidanima’s Tomb
  2. State Archeological Museum
  3. Visit Charminar; Mecca Masjid; Chowmalhalla Palace, Baad Shahi Ashoor Khana; drive through Osmania University
  4. Sound & Light show, Golconda Fort
  5. Visit Night Bazaar – Shilparamam

This tour was scheduled for 2:00 pm until 9:00 pm. Foolishly, I expected the tour to start on time and be able to see all of the things on the agenda. We (i.e. some jet-lagged friends who had arrived in Hyderabad the day before) did not even get underway until about 4:00 pm because we had to pick up a pile of people from other hotels. Due to throttling traffic, we skipped agenda item #1 and went straight to the State Archeological Museum. From the outset, this, for me, this was the least interesting thing on the itinerary (to be perfectly honest, museums and art galleries are usually pretty boring unless I am on opiate-based drugs). This museum took the cake though: it was a bunch of discarded European rubbish that was left behind after India was emancipated in 1947. We wandered around from one hall to another wondering why we were in India looking at all of this western crap. Nevertheless, we were surprised to discover that the Mona Lisa is not, in fact, housed at the Louvre in Paris – but instead hangs on the moss-covered walls of Hyderabad’s State Archeological Museum (it is true, honest; I did not even see a “replica” disclaimer after the title). The worst part of it was that the tour guide insisted upon us staying there for an hour and a half, convinced that this was the highlight of the tour.

Because we were so behind schedule, our visit to Charminar (the most interesting part of the tour) lasted about 30 seconds. Chowmalhalla Palace was lovely at dusk, I have to admit, and I will post the pics to Facebook after I am home. It was very beautiful but what struck me most were the flocks of bats that swirled around the area. These bats had the wingspan of an eagle (mild exaggeration) and flew as gracefully as a heron. I was certain we had stumbled upon Batman’s lair. In case anyone cares, this palace is a replica of the Shah’s palaces in Tehran and construction began in 1750. Because this is India, it was not completed until 1869. Today it hosts banquets for rich Indians (who are seriously rich), foreigners and oversized bats.

Baad Shahi Ashoor Khana and the drive through Osmania University were written off due to lateness and traffic and we finally alit (the quaint verb “to alight” is loved in Indian signage) after sundown at the 500 year-old Golconda Fort. This was cool but the “light show” consisted of a few Christmas lights hung lazily from the ramparts at the entrance. Thankfully, we missed the “sound show” which, according to colleagues, is a monotonous drone about the fort’s history. The only interesting thing about the fort’s history is that it was truly impregnable with 8 massive gates built at an angle so that charging elephants could not batter down the doors. Despite its defensive architectural integrity, the fort was easily conquered when a guard accepted a bribe and simply opened one of the gates to the invaders. This is not a joke. This is India.

The Shilparamam night bazaar was also a write-off due to lateness so I was, overall, disappointed with the tour. My colleagues who tagged along with me did not seem to care too much as they slept through most of it in a groggy jet-lagged stupor. Still, a friend and I flirted with a couple of burka-clad chicks on a motorcycle. My God, their eyes were hot!

Saturday 13 October (cool):

Me and my friend, Alex (I know you actually read this blog, Alex, so I will mention you by name), hopped in a Tuk-Tuk after getting frustrated waiting for the girls to get their shit together. The girls were hell-bent on shopping for clothes they will never wear once they get back home.

The Tuk-Tuk driver was bitter that we had bartered him down to INR 450 (= about CAD $4.50) to take us to the Charminar market, on the other side of the city. He stopped twice at pearl markets after talking endlessly to his relatives on his cell phone about having captured two wealthy Americans (!) Alex is a vodka-drinking Siberian Soviet and I am a beer-drinking Canadian, neither of us having any interest in pearls. Our Tuk-Tuk driver was therefore even more bitter when we aggressively instructed him to just take us to the market without setting foot outside of the Tuk-Tuk to buy some pathetic pearls.

The tourist version of Charminar market was ho-hum: bangles and pearls. More bangles and pearls. So we went deeper off the beaten track and discovered the real Indian market. This was totally cool once you adjusted to the overwhelming stench in the air. There was livestock roaming randomly around the area, with a pained expression on their faces, wondering when and where they were about to be arbitrarily slaughtered. The fruits and vegetable stalls were lovely in their vivid color but we did not buy anything for fear of dying of terminal dysentery.

Alex and I then made the preposterous assumption that we could walk to Golconda Fort. We walked for about an hour down a dusty, chaotic street. This was fascinating (and again, off the beaten track) but once Alex (a computer nerd from hell) checked in with his GPS and confirmed that we would have to walk for about another week to get to the fort, we hailed another Tuk-Tuk.

The fort was truly astonishing this time around in daylight. It is enormous and it took us about an hour to climb its ramparts to the top. We watched the sun set over the city and took pictures with the locals. What struck me most looking out over the city was how green it is. The Hyderabad I had known was a choking maze of polluted streets and desperation but it is, in fact, quite forested. Sadly, these parks/forests were blanketed with coal-burning smoke. Under the setting sun it was an eerie and haunting testimony to humanity that Dante once wrote about.

Tired, Alex and I made our way back to his hotel. We had a delicious dinner with the rest of our colleagues at a restaurant called ‘Waterfront’ – a gigantic puddle in the middle of the city ringed with a street, poetically named “Necklace Road”. We then went to a nearby nightclub, called Kismet, and danced our asses off with a nice blend of foreigners and locals. Although I am still deaf from the music; all in all: great day and night.

Some brief bullet points:

  • I am still spellbound by the traffic in India. I Googled it and, big surprise, India has the highest road fatality rate, per capita, in all of Asia – even more than China where 1.5 billion people recklessly try and run each other over every day in their thirst for capitalism. In Hyderabad, no one knows where they are even if they are born and raised here. They are all urgently going to a ‘Cyberabad’ in search of milk and honey that exists about as much as the American Dream does in Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. Apparently, in Hyderabad, if you crush a child’s head under the wheel of your motorcycle, a quick bribe to the “police” (armed with pop-guns they think are assault rifles) will make everything go away.
  • My hotel was wedged (I am speaking in the past tense as I am now in Katmandu) on top of a Chevrolet dealership and a pharmacy. The cars were okay but the sick and the poor who crowded the pharmacy doors from dawn until dusk broke my heart. Young children in rags staring at me in my western clothes as they suffered with their parents with no money in their pockets. Do not ask me how much money I gave away in the evenings when I came home from work.
  • In India, rape is not even classified as sexual assault in the press. It is called “misbehaving with women” and another quick bribe to “the police” will get you off the hook – especially when it is gang rape as there are just too many hand-written forms to fill out by the authorities. No, I am not speaking from personal experience. I have “misbehaved” with some women but the word “consensual” seems to be absent despite the common law inherited from the English.
  • I am now a hardcore cricket fan. The NHL can go fuck itself.
  • Another 65-year-old colonial hangover: Indians are in love with the verb ”to rubbish”. I.e. – the Sri Lankan cricket team was “rubbished” by the Indian side, the delegates to the COP “rubbished” the financial mechanism, etc., etc…
  • I am reminded again, as I write this, of flirting with burka-clad Muslim chicks. Hyderabad is 42% Muslim and, amazingly, the reason for this figure is that once Pakistan and Bangladesh were partitioned in the north as Muslim enclaves (the former now being susceptible to American drone attacks) the people in the south (i.e. Hyderabad) simply could not travel the distance to emigrate! Today, Hindus and Muslims live peacefully side-by-side and are un-invaded by religious intolerance. Thank you, Hyderabad!

Will report soon from Katmandu – Internet here is awful.

About Requiem for the Damned

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