I could feel my blood pressure rising as the plane touched down in Hyderabad. With the exception of a small group of Malaysian students, I was the only individual on the plane that didn’t appear to be a local and I could feel the eyes on me before we’d even disembarked. The question on their minds, I suspect, was the same one I was starting to wonder myself: What was I doing here?
I visited India once when I was a teenager and it was a terrifying experience. I had no preconceived notion of what poverty meant, nor any tolerance for the apparent disorder of Indian cities. I really struggled to adjust and one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to come back here was to undo that terror. To understand it.
As I step out into the arrival hall, I am greeted by the huge grin of a man named Sidhu, a friend of a friend back home who has been tasked with showing me around. He speaks little english and my Telugu is non-existent. Despite this we manage a dialogue helped in part by sign language. We drive back to the house and he explains that in the morning he’ll take me to see Charminar & Golconda Fort. I nod, wearily, and retire for the evening.
Venturing out the next morning, I was hit with the odd celebrity that seems to accompany being a westerner in an Indian neighbourhood. People everywhere are staring at you. I walk down the street and it feels as if every eye in a 50-metre radius is on me. We sit down for breakfast and it’s eyes eyes eyes. I eat my food, eyes eyes eyes. At first oppressive, I begin to normalise the experience and enjoy the incredible food on offer.
Later, Sidhu drives me across town on his motorbike and it’s mayhem. A total circus where the star act is a symphony of horns and aggressive braking. I can’t help but laugh as we dart between cars, up onto the sidewalk and around cattle. It’s absurd and yet somehow the system works. Unlike back home, you expect to be cut-off here, to have someone turn right into your path and so on. Most incredibly, there was no road rage to be seen and the people tend to accept that if you can manoeuvre to cut them off then fair enough. There might be something to be learned here for drivers in the west.
An impressive structure, the fort was completed in the 1500s and pre-dates the city of Hyderabad. The king and his 300 wives lived there in absolute luxury, afforded to them by the castles considerable mod-cons (running water, heating and so on). Many of the halls had roofs specially constructed so that they would project the sounds beneath them to watchtowers further up the castle. This ingenious system allowed the king and his guards to listen in and spy on their subjects, as well as raise alarm of an attack quickly.