The street is choc-a-bloc; shops shimmering with lac bangles of all sizes and shades flank it on both sides, pedestrians and vehicles mingle unassumingly moving at the same snail’s pace, an auto is parked right in the middle of the road but no one bothers nothing out of routine here, suddenly two camels appear from nowhere moving gracefully but extraordinarily fast and the traffic scatters to make legroom for them and they are assimilated too, in this organized chaos. Welcome to Chudi Bazaar, Charminar area, old city, Hyderabad. In broad daylight you might miss noticing the Charminar, though it is an imposing structure, the commotion is even more arresting. But there is no way you can miss it in the night, beautifully lit in shades of green and blue with the jet black sky in the background, it transports the whole milieu to that of an era bygone, we could as well have been begums out on a saunter. This is what I like the best about Hyderabad, the way the past and present coexist here.
Hyderabad is a city, which has slowly grown over me after multiple visits; the first time I was there I hated the traffic and the harsh weather. But the moment I visited Chudi bazaar I fell in love with the place, and so I am here again after one year, and with renewed excitement, I have my camera with me this time. Two of my friends who are visiting Hyderabad for the first time go berserk at the sight of the vibrant Chudi shops. The friend who we all were visiting has just returned from USA, she is thrilled to see so many people a sight so uncommon in the States that she is busily taking videos of the crowd, and I as usual am clicking away to glory. A full moon is in bloom, and along with the lit Charminar it looks ethereal, although I try, I quite fail to get the same feel in the pictures I take.
Compared to Chudi bazaar Husainsagar is quite a contrast; the monolithic Buddha statue at an island in the middle of the lake exudes nothing but serenity. The sight of the necklace road flanking a stretch of the lake and the beautiful multi-colored patterns the lights cast on the lake water is one to behold. On a hillock close by the Birla Mandir (aka Sri Venkateshwara temple) washed in light green light is visible. The Lumbini Park on the banks of the lake is packed with the weekend crowd; the ubiquitous street vendors selling bhel, panipuri, bhutta, nimbupani, bhajji and what not, are doing a brisk business. We take a ferry to the rock of Gibraltar, and I should say the experience of being so close to the magnificent Buddha statue is a humbling one.
The next day we visit Gokul Chaat, which is the Grand daddy of all chaat shops. It is jam-packed all hours its open, I am told, and the evidence is there for me to see. There is hardly any place to set foot inside the shop, which is just a small room with half the space being used as the kitchen, forget eating there. But once we get inside and somehow manage to order, we soak in the tangy aroma of the place. Here again the scene is one of organized chaos, amidst so much of commotion I doubt that our order is even placed, but miraculously we are served in just minutes, with the manager paying special attention to us, and needless to say everything is yummylicous. The street food in Hyderabad is scrumptious; I am especially fond of the dry bhel there. At the risk of sounding blasphemous I would say that I didn’t quite like the veg. biryani at a reputed restaurant, but then veg. biryani wouldn’t even come close to the famed mutton biryani of Hyderabad. I am yet to try the irani chai, which is another must-have on a visit to Hyderabad, maybe next time.
As I reflect on my way back to Bangalore from Hyderabad, I realize that I was on a sort of trail in Hyderabad and a bloody one at that. I visited all the areas that were rocked, by bomb blasts in the last one year, Mecca Masjid bombing in the Charminar area in May 2007, and the twin blasts at Gokul Chaat and Lumbini Park in August 2007. But apart from subtle reminders like metal detectors at Gokul Chaat, and the beefed up security at the Lumbini Park, the areas were as vivacious and upbeat as they were the last time I had visited them, a year back. I have heard a lot about the resilient nature of the Mumbaikars, but on this visit I got to see the fighting spirit of the Hyderabadis. Can a bomb blast wipe off the liveliness of the human spirit? For a city like Hyderabad, which just infects you with its soul, the answer is a resounding no.
Cross-posted on Desicritics