Saturday, October 12, 2013

Like a HyderaBoss

 If at first you don't succeed....
 Undeterred by last week's Shabbas walk fiasco, I set out again in the afternoon with the goal of reaching Hussein Sagar, the large man made lake in the middle of Hyderabad with its enormous Buddha statue. With corrected bearings and more appropriate dress, I quickly arrived at the first landmark I could observe from my hotel room window, the bright orange MORE Superstore. My confidence building, I passed through an upper class condominium community, with the entrance to each gated community dripping with yellow and orange marigold garlands in honor of the holiday this week. Even in these more upscale areas, the roads are still hazardous, but that did not deter the family of five I saw put putting by on the same motorcycle.
 To keep my heading, I violated my "one turn" rule, made it across a bustling road and continued down a smaller alley. My path emerged onto a legitimate boulevard - intact sidewalks, planters along the median, and well behaved traffic! I realized a bit further on that this was Raj Bhavan Road which includes the Governor's Residence, the headquarters of the Hyderabad Police and the State Police traffic division headquarters. So that explains that.
 Though the buildings in front of me blocked my view, my sense was the the lake was just on the other side. Unfortunately, there was also a light rail line in front of me, and my newfound boldness crossing streets did not carry over to train tracks. I picked a direction and walked, in the hopes of finding something resembling a pedestrian cut-through before running out of road and becoming hopelessly lost. Just as the road ended, fortune smiled, and I found a train station that included an elevated walkway to the other side of the tracks. Entering the station, I saw a dog and goat snuggled up together, apparently waiting for the next train. While crossing over the tracks, a train approached the station. From a distance, it looked almost like a centipede, with scores of legs sticking out on both sides of the train. As it approached, it became clear that those were people hanging out the sides of the train, adding another entry to the ledger of potentially lethal transportation options in this country.
 Exiting the far side of the train station, I found myself on Necklace Road, the vehicle and pedestrian promenade that circles Hussein Sagar! I started around the lake. Vendors were selling fruit, ice cream, vegetables, peanuts and corn roasted right before your eyes, fresh sweet lime (water, fresh crushed lime and sugar), dosas, and a variety of other options I couldn't identify. Business wasn't exactly brisk, but there were a fair number of people in the narrow lakeside park, doing cartwheels, playing catch and chasing after each other in the Indian equivalent of blind man's bluff. It was natural to see young couples canoodling on the benches, though bracing when the woman is wearing a full burqa.
 Before you get too halcyon an image, the walk along the lake is punctuated by signs with messages like "Keep Hussein Sagar clean, it is our legacy!" and such. There is a two foot ring of sludge and garbage around the entire lake, and people casually relieve themselves on the shoreline. The retaining wall, safety fence, part of the promenade and at least a few small boating slips have all crumbled into the lake. The odor is unpleasant and the various entertainment facilities that have sprung up at intervals around the lake are threadbare at best, and more commonly decrepit.
 From the shoreline, I could see the Buddha statue in the southern park of the lake. Now I like big Buddhas, and I can't deny, but this one has a particularly odd story. It's carved from a single piece of granite, is 60 feet tall and weighs 350 tons. After it was carved, the roads of Hyderabad were widened to accommodate its arrival. A platform was erected in the lake to hold. Unfortunately, when the massive statue was moved to a barge to transport it to the platform, it made it less than half way and then tipped and sank, killing ten people. It took years to salvage the Buddha, but it now stands proudly on the platform (dubbed "The Rock of Gibraltar"), is accessible by ferry and is lit an eerie red at night.
 Among other sights, I passed a handicraft show, a political rally, and a massive monument to a former chief minister that requires you to remove your shoes to enter. After making it a quarter of the way around the lake, I decided it was probably best to make it back to the hotel before dark, and retraced my steps successfully prior to nightfall. Sum total: 11 kilometers of round-trip walking in about 3 hours.
 I'll have to take another spin around when I can use a camera, but at least I can give you an overview of my route from my hotel window:

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