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  • Shelley Dark

25. Hyderabad

Hyderabad is another 'small' Indian city with a population of 6.5 million. It's also called Cyberabad, with 45% of new job creation for the youth of the city being in IT. Google and Microsoft both have their headquarters in India here and there are many call centres. It's a diamond and pearl trading city - every pearl in the world is said to have come this way.

An overhead metro is being built to try to ameliorate the dreadful traffic problems. Its richest citizen owns the airport and the road to it. He decides who can and cannot use it.

This is a longish post as it covers a day and a half, so you may like to read it in a couple of instalments.

The city is known for biryani, a long grain basmati rice dish vegetarian or with meat. It's cooked slowly over a wood fire in a pot covered with a light pastry. It's served with chutney, a hot green chilli sauce and raita.

Yesterday we said goodbye to our old bus, driver and helper at Bangalore airport. We are in a bigger and far more comfortable bus. The new driver is older with fewer teeth and a gummy smile. The new bus helper Samuel seems unsure of his duties, doesn't clean the bus of our empty drink containers when we alight, and he doesn't remember what we like to drink. I feel sorry for him, as I don't know if he has done this before. We're missing Johnny.

Our local guide, Sai, tells us he is an atheist. His mother is Hindu. I wonder if she is dreadfully upset by this. However he would not dream of being engaged or married on a day not considered propitious by astrologers. I don't think he sees the irony. There are only a few periods during the year when marriages are conducted. Other times would be bad luck.

He takes us to see the Charminar, a monument and mosque at a cross-roads in the centre of the city. It has four minarets which dominate the skyline. Scaffolding for cleaning covers one leg. I far prefer the uncleaned side.

It has very pretty architectural finishes. I especially love the horizontal counterpoints to the vertical lines, the cross-cutting below the arches at the top of the pillars.

These bud droplets hang from the stone eave-brackets in long lines.

It's possible to climb up spiral stairs to see the view.

Locals gather underneath. Schoolchildren line up for entry.

We have a view of the street market below. The open area on the right is part of the grounds of the Mecca Masjid mosque which we are going to visit next. It was bombed in 2007, sixteen people killed. Five of them were shot by police trying to quell the riot.

This cheerful mother is comforting her sick daughter on the right. Head between her knees.

Tall and regal, on the phone, looking a little bit scary. I think I had John's big camera. I probably looked scary myself.

A sign urges us to observe the niceties.

On our way to the mosque we walk past market stalls, grapes hanging, pomegranates cut open.

As usual, I smile and point at my camera. His response speaks a thousand words.

No matter where we walk, the silk, the saris, the trims.

The door from the street into the mosque is a brilliant green. We take our shoes off as we always do. I've started putting on my mosque sox because the stone is sometimes very hot underfoot. They were in the pack given to us at the beginning of the trip.

Projecting from the mosque itself there's a long low colonnade building. Along the raised dais beneath, there are rows of beautifully carved marble memorials to the eight Nizams.

The three arches of the front of the mosque have been carved from one single piece of granite. It took 5 years to quarry with 500 men working on it and 140 oxen to pull it here. Sand was brought from Mecca for some of the mortar.

She is sitting in the sun, wearing a black robe with bling on the cuffs. I admire it, and she's happy for me to take a closeup but it's out of focus.

I point at my camera and smile. He hardly moves a muscle as he nods imperceptibly. I take the photo. He still doesn't move a muscle. Look at the marble carving at the side of the dais, to match the memorial stones.

I'm more taken with the mosque details than the mosque. A carved post, the geometric balustrading, the blue carpet inside.

Our next stop is the crown palace of the Nizams, the Chowmahalla. It's been renovated and is looking grand. We are given free time here. John and I spend ages photographing the sweeper in the magnificent Durbar Hall with its solid marble throne dais, hugely high ceilings, marble floors, chandeliers. The light is fabulous.

It's a hot day. Through an upstairs window I look out at children in the school next door. Some of them are in the shade. Some in full sun.

There are plates of all brands and materials in display cases. The one above is bidri. It's an Indian art form, where a brass alloy is etched with an engraving tool, during the process turns black and is then filled with silver inlay.

There's lots to see at the palace. Rooms full of memorabilia about the Nizams. A portrait gallery, old drawings, maps, photographs, metal brocade clothing worn by the Nizam's family. A room of furniture, a room of china and glass.

On our way to lunch we pass a couple of women pushing a water cart, looking splendid in orange and blue.

The highlight of the day was the Salar Jung Museum. What do you think these jade tongs are used for? I can't work it out and there is no sign.

The main building houses the Indian collections, and this is where I spend my time. The east and west wings house treasures from elsewhere. So much to see, I feel a little frantic that I am going to miss so much. Jade, armaments, silver, miniatures, daggers, walking sticks, textiles, paintings, carpets, bidri.

The jade room is a delight.

While I am absorbed in the display cases, I see movement out of the corner of my eye. I turn just slightly to see a girl in black robe and scarf, sunglasses on her head, with her back to me, holding up her phone at a strange angle. I can see the screen. She has it on selfie, but instead of taking her own photo, she has swivelled it sideways to photograph me. My response is exactly the same as many Indian people when I ask to photograph them. I laugh out loud.

I point at her, smile and say 'I caught you!' She and her friend both start laughing. They take a photo of me and I take a photo of them. How crazy. Her friend is checking the result.

Part of a Persian prayer carpet. Exquisite.

In the silver room. This is a bangle for a horse. There are enormous elephant bracelets, necklaces and head-dresses. How magnificent must these animals have looked in brightly polished silver ornaments? I can hear the jingling even now.

I am very taken with this Indian costume from the 18th century, with its beautiful silver brocade trim and gathered fabric skirt so delicate I wonder how they spun such fine thread. It has lasted so long.

These exquisite chairs raise more questions than they answer. The sign on them says 'IVORY CHAIRS: a gift from Louis XVI of France to Tipu Sultan'.

Tipu Sultan was a muslim prince, the Tiger of Mysore, one of the few Indian princes to claim a British slaughter in battle. He hated the East India Company with a passion. Just before the French Revolution in 1788 he sent 3 ambassadors to the court of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in Versailles, appealing for help.

Marie Antoinette and the whole of Paris were fascinated by these Indian visitors. They saw the sights, attended the opera. The Sèvres porcelain factory recorded the visit by decorating two tea-cups with 'hubble-bubble' pipes. Although the Americans had just been successful in gaining financial help from the French for their War of Independence, no help was forthcoming from Louis for the Tiger of Mysore. He was busy dealing with the murmurings in France. But he sent back many gifts.

These two chairs amongst them. What confounds me is how did Louis get them? Why give an Indian prince chairs made of a material common in India? Why not typically French wood and gilt? I google it, but can't find any further details.

I stand looking at their details for a long time. What craftsmanship. I remember that an elephant or elephants gave their life to make them. I'm sad they died, but at least something beautiful came out of it.

The walking stick gallery has many 18th century novelty sticks.

I race around the modern Indian painting, the miniatures. I stop at this enamelled dagger in its sheath. Mughal Empire. I've run out of time.

I try to post this night with a heavy cold, but at 12.30am I realise I've been sitting there for hours and achieved practically nothing. At this rate I'll be up until dawn. I give up, send you an email and go to bed. I'm kicking myself I didn't give up earlier to have more sleep. I don't want to miss the Golconda fort the next morning. I want to know more about the siege.

Golconda Fort sits on a hill 500 feet high. Cast your mind back to last night's post about the Nizams. Remember the grand-daddy of them all, and how he threw in his lot with the Mughal emperor, lost his arm and then died during the siege of Golconda?

The ruler had a virtually impregnable fort. He was defending his diamond mines which produced most of the most famous diamonds in the world.

The fort had many rainwater tanks which were filled by an extensive drainage system (above). Unknown to the Mughals, there was also an underground canal from the river which supplied endless water. Supplies were brought in through a tunnel many kilometres long, more than tall enough for a man on a horse, in some places forty feet high. It also offered escape in the case of defeat.

The Mughals couldn't work out why the siege was lasting so long. They went through periods with no food when their own supplies didn't arrive. How were the inhabitants of the fort surviving?

One hundred Mughal canons were used during the bombardment of the fort during the eight month siege. Troops scaled the outer walls but were repulsed. Morale was starting to flag on both sides.

We visit the fort and see the entrance to the tunnel, which has now been bricked up because of concerns about collapse. There are rumours of treasures stashed at different points along its route. Nizam VII started excavating it at one stage, but collapses made it difficult, expensive and dangerous and it was called off.

The acoustics in different areas are so good that signals from one part of the fort to another could be sent by clapping. Hot oil could be poured on attacking troops from specially designed platforms above the front gate. The gates were covered in spikes to repel any elephant charge.

I was full of admiration for the marvellous planning which had gone into the defence of this fort and was very sad to hear how the siege ended.

One of the military officials inside the fort was bribed by the Mughals to open a gate. And so it ended. Not through poor defence. Through human treachery. I am disappointed, aren't you?

Our grand-daddy's son was one of the first commanders to enter the fort, forcing the handover of the the Nur-Ul-Ain Diamond, the Great Stone Diamond, the Kara Diamond, the Darya-e-Nur, The Hope Diamond, the Wittelsbach Diamond and The Regent Diamond. This made the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb the richest monarch in the world.

Our last stop in Hyderabad is to the necropolis of the rulers of the Golconda Fort and Hyderabad. These tombs are quite magnificent in their scale and grandeur on their dusty, solitary sites.

Inside each, a lone tomb.

Signs warn the homeless who might set up house.

Apparently they were once brightly coloured. Only traces remain.

Bougainvillea is such a tough combatant in these dry surroundings. While I am wandering, one of my fellow travellers tells me about an amazing photo opportunity at the rear of one of the tombs. I walk around.

Behind a huge pillar is a couple. A young man is passionately kissing a girl in black robes, one hand behind her head, the other around her waist, pulling her to him. The black against the stone pillar looks stunning. The light is beautiful. Like a Vogue photo shoot. Or a scene from an epic movie.

Of course there is no photo.

That's it for another day buddies. I'm looking forward to telling you about the fabulous Falaknuma Palace. Until then....

shelley dark, writer 

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