The Wedding

Chennai, India

Pacing up a darkened street almost as fast as my newly acquired $8 pair of jeans are falling down my waist, I search frantically for the local YMCA in the hopes of making it to the wedding reception in time. Sandeep messages me frantically, “Have you found it??”, as beads of sweat stream down my face. It’s about 30 degrees here even at night; Skinny jeans were a bad choice.

I met Sandeep on the train from Hyderabad and he explained he was on his way to Chennai to attend his cousins wedding. He made no hesitation in inviting me along and, though barely able to contain my excitement, I accepted immediately.

A far cry from the monochromatic, orderly scenes of most european weddings, the crowd here is awash in bright colours. Gleaming saris and bright dress shirts flood the halls as a queue to give blessings to the newly wedded couple extends far out of the door. Sandeep hands me a floral broach, explaining that only the family may wear these: I am a guest of honour, it seems.

Not wanting to disappoint, I make my way around the crowd taking photographs and shaking hands. Downstairs in the food hall they serve dinner on large banana leaves to the 1,200 guests flowing through the venue. On offer: the most delicious mutton biriyani paired with fried chicken, indian bread-and-butter pudding and more. I am in heaven, though it must be said that while I assumed eating with my fingers would come naturally, a life of cutlery use had left me woefully unprepared. I do my best to battle through it much to the amusement of the locals around me.

After 3 or 4 hours spent greeting guests and smiling for photographs, the bride and groom are finally permitted rest and in a move of great flattery summon me up onto the stage to meet them. Congratulating them, I stood and beamed as we posed for one last photograph. They hand me a bouquet of white flowers and profusely thank me for coming. I am floored by their warmth and tell them the pleasure was all mine.

The bride, groom and guests pose for a photograph
The modern wedding: abound with selfies. Sandeep second from the left
Mehndi pattern on the hands of the bride The bride and groom recieve blessings from friends and family
View of the guests in vibrant colours The mother and father of the bride tuck in to dinner. 'He wants to show his friends how Indian people eat!' chuckles the mother as I take a photo

Taxidermy

Chennai, India

To avoid encouraging the slaughter of endangered species, it’s a common practice among Museums to avoid replacing their collections of taxidermied animals. Despite this, I couldn’t help but have a good laugh at the taxidermy on show at the Chennai museum. After a rough couple of days, this was exactly what I had needed.

Ganesh

Hyderabad, India

I wasn’t sure what to expect when Sidhu, beaming, announced he was going to take me to see the Ganesh. We arrived and fought our way through perhaps the most tumultuous crowd I’d encountered so far. Standing at the front of this procession at 60 feet tall, an idol of the Hindu god of wisdom, knowledge and new beginnings: Ganesh. Impressed, I wrestled my camera from my bag just in time to capture it before the frenzy swept us back out of it’s view. Though beautiful, I wasn’t sure what it was for, and would remain perplexed until the day of my departure from Hyderabad.

Expecting to make the most of my last day in town, I caught a rickshaw down to the Salar Jung museum early only to be turned away by a large notice announcing the museums closure for the Ganesh Immersion. Baffled, I made my way to the lakefront, the only area for miles where something 60 feet tall could hope to be immersed. The shores of the lake were lined with cranes as far as the eye could see and lavishly decorated cars, trucks and rickshaws were pouring in from all directions, each delivering colourful Ganesh idols to the cranes. The crowds sang and cheered, burning incense and banging on drums as idols were lifted down into the water.

The immersion ritual marks the end of Ganesh Chaturthi, a Hindu festival spanning 10 days in which temporary shrines are worshipped before being immersed in the lake as a means of purification.

The 60 ft Ganesh, rumoured to be the tallest in the city
A decorated rickshaw delivers a Ganesh idol to the waterfront A group of men pose proudly with their shrine
Ready for immersion A crane lifts an idol of Ganesh down into the water in view of the statue of Bhudda

Hyderabad

Hyderabad, India

Yesterday I caught a rickshaw out to the tombs of the seven Qutub Shahi rulers. The Qutub Shahi dynasty lasted over 150 years from 1518 to 1687 and it was during this period that the city of Hyderabad was founded by the 5th ruler, Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah.

A rather gloomy day, I was reminded of that fact that it’s still monsoon season in this region as it began to rain torrentially shortly after my arrival. A warm, almost comforting storm that served as an excellent soothing agent for the headache I’d earned from a night of drinking at one of the bars in nearby Hitech city.

A man rests in the entrance to one of the Qutub Shahi Tombs
Archways line the exterior of the Qutub Shahi tombs Domes of the Qutub Shahi tombs drenched in rain, serving as a reminder that it is still monsoon season in Hyderabad
Microscopic frogs litter the walkways of the Qutub Shahi gardens The beautiful albeit ill-maintained interior of one of the Qutub Shahi tombs
The largest of the Qutub Shahi tombs Tank Bund, a statue of Bhudda erected in 1992 in the Hussain Sagar lake

Arrival

Hyderabad, India

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.

View from the top of Charminar
Golconda fort with the city of Hyderabad in the background
Charminar, meaning literally the 'Four Minarets' is one of the founding structures of Hyderabad A couple enjoy the view from atop Golconda fort