Monday, October 7, 2013

A brief spin around Hyderabad

 Although the team worked through Shabbat without me, we took a break Sunday morning before getting back to meetings, and did a little bit poc touring around Hyderabad. Our first destination was the Charminar, the iconic monument at the center of Hyderabad, whose name aptly describes its appearance as "four minarets". You can look up the history if you're interested, I won't drag you through it here. Admission to the charminar was 100 rupees, or the equivalent of a buck fifty. It cost another 25 rupees for the privilege of taking pictures. The price for my Indian colleague to join us was 5 rupees (less than a dime).
I was curious that the charminar was still standing despite the series of rulers that held sway here. I assumed the next victor would have demolished it. The secret in preserving it was that they put a mosque on the top floor, so it could not be demolished without inciting the local Muslim population.
 We were able to tour the first flour of the charminar which is about 3 or 4 stories up. We were told that the top floor has been closed off for about 10 years because too many people were committing suicide by jumping off. We determined that if the project takes a turn for the worse, we'll refer to it as "taking to the top of the charminar".
From the Charminar we had a clear view of the Mecca Masjid, a mega-mosque sized for 10,000 worshipers. That's a minyan to the 5th power.
On our typically hair raising car ride across town, we were passing through one particularly chaotic intersection, and were pulled over by a traffic policeman. Harsh words were exchanged, documents were passed back and forth, gestures were made enthusiastically. I couldn't understand a word that was said, but my colleague described the infraction to me afterwards as a failure of driver to wear a white or khaki shirt while driving more than 2 people as a taxi. Honestly, if I were to sit by the side of the road for an hour and make a catalog of the traffic infractions at that intersection and order them by severity and frequency, this one wouldn't rate before the last few pages of a phone book sized tome. The incident ended with no written documentation and a few bills passed through the window. Our suspicion is that it had less to do with the color of the driver's shirt and more to do with the color of the passengers' skin.
 Our second stop was Chowmullah Palace. Much of the discussion in both places centered around the nizams, the Islamic rulers of the area. This Palace was the residence to many of the nizams, whose line still exists today. The nizam in control of Hyderabad at the time of the Indian revolution actually wanted to federate with Pakistan instead of India, but was geographically challenged. His successor had a story that sounded a lot like The King and I - he decided that he would open a university (the first in the city and the first university to teach in Urdu) so that his family and people could be educated and modernity brought to the area... unfortunately this was 50 years after the time depicted in the play. The palace now has an eclectic and somewhat dilapidated collection of furniture, photography, chandeliers, swords, china sets and classic cars, because why not. Each of the nizams had a large museum style display with a picture of them and a short hagiography of their glorious accomplishment. Once I stepped back from the display, we noticed that the pictures of the nizams were copies, each photo-shopped with new facial hair or a different color scabbard to differentiate them.
 We worked the rest of the day, but we'll try to take in some more sights around Hyderabad next Sunday.

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