Paul and Rita - India and About, 2005/6 - Andhra Pradesh


Photo Pages
Current Location
India and about home page home  


From our Indian road atlas:
"Andhra Pradesh is the fifth largest state of India in both area and population.  It beckons the traveller to take a journey into its wondrous past.  Here, in the magnificent palaces and shrines and mosques and monuments, time stands still - while not far away it moves at tremendous pace at the sites of gigantic development projects, 'the modern temples of progress'. Great religious and grand grand dynasties have left their imprints on this land for centuries, but here too one feels the throbbing pulse of a nation in resurrection"

That's it in a nutshell, really, what more could I say?

Exchange rate: 1 GBP = 78 Rupees


Itinerary - click link to jump to day

12th Jan 2006 - Jeypore to Bhadrachelam  
13th - 14th Jan - Bhadrachelam 

15th Jan - Bhadrachelam to Warangal
16th - 18th Jan - Warangal and about
19th Jan - Warangal to Secundarabad
20th to 26th Jan - Secundarabad/Hyderabad
27th Jan - Secunderabad toBangalore


Thu 12th January 2006

The final 60 km of our ride from Jeypore  looked like it was going to improve when we stopped for the driver and his mate to have lunch at a village where the road widened and was quite reasonable. Well, relatively, anyway.  But soon after setting off again it narrowed to a single track road and the pot holes returned with a vengeance. After another hour and a half of neck breaking jolting, we arrived in Bhadrachelam, our destination for the day, and where our driver would drop us and return to Jeypore.  

The town of Bhadrachelam seemed quite lively, mainly consisting of a wide main road through the centre, with the usual array of small stalls crowding the edges. and behind them the multi storey buildings of hotels, shops and other businesses.  One of the first things I noted whilst we looked for somewhere to stay was that the hotels are all called "lodgings". We've noticed in India that a lot of places with "hotel" in their title are actually just a basic restaurant, but "hotel" also used by hotels as we know them.  But here, it seems the name is reserved exclusively for restaurants. Maybe that's a good thing, stops confusion.

There are half a dozen .lodging places in the town centre, we drove along to look for the prettiest (well, you've got to have some criteria for selecting somewhere to stay) and decided on the Sri Srinivasa Palace.  Yes, a palace, but only in name.  It had a small garden display in front with the initials SSP spelled out in flowers.  Nice.  I checked out the rooms and prices, the room looked quite good, a nice clean sheet over the stained mattress would improve it greatly, and the price was on 295 rupees. Great.  I was so surprised I even forgot to ask for a discount, a compulsory part of acquiring a hotel, sorry, lodging room.

Unloaded our bags and bikes from the car, the bikes survived the journey intact but were now covered in a fine red dust, and I paid the driver the balance of agreed rate.  But he wanted us to pay for they're evening meal as well, even though we'd already paid for breakfast and lunch. That's another 50 rupees! When will it end?  Will he come back in the morning and expect us to buy them breakfast?   

Settled into our room nicely, like we normally do, bags explode and within 10 minutes it looks like we've been living there for 2 weeks.  Rita wasn't hungry, must have been the bouncy journey, but I soon got over that and was starving.  5 minutes walk up the road I found the a family a/c restaurant in the Geetajali Lodge which looked clean and tidy.  Andhra Pradesh has the reputation of having some of the spiciest food in India, and I was keen to sample some.  I had the Geetajali special vegetable curry, and what a delight it was too.  It didn't seem too spicy when I started, but it was the sort of hotness that creeps up on you, so that by halfway through I was really feeling the effect, and by the end I could safely say it was one of the spiciest meals I'd had in India in this visit. 

Back to Itinerary

Fri 13th to Sat 14th  January 2006

Bit of a slow start today, no need to rush though. Hot water is only available by the bucket, and it took half an hour to turn up.  The day outside started with quite a mist, nice and cool, though not too bad at around 18C.  By 11am the sun had burnt its way through and it turned into a bit of a scorcher, around 30C.  Of course, the locals thought there was a bit of a nip in the air.  Had a great lunch at the Geetajali restaurant, then kept out of the sun for the rest of the day.

Saturday, we were up early and went for a walk to look for the Sri Rama temple, which I had seen a picture of on the internet when I'd been trying to find some information about the town.  It was misty again and a nice temperature for a walk.  We walked down to the river Godavari, which, although it looked like only a trickle at this time of year, cut a huge swathe through the countryside.  The river banks have been built up to a height of maybe 50 feet, testament to the vast flow of water that must course down the river during the monsoon season.  The main road through the town crossed the river over a long, high bridge, maybe a quarter of a mile across.  There are a number of small temples around the edge of town near the bridge, but we were directed along a road following the river bank to find the "big" temple.  We followed a well laid out footpath along the top of the river bank for a kilometre or so, passed a number of interesting statues depicting various religious figures, in what are probably well known scenes to people in the know, but that doesn't include us.  Still interesting to look at, though.  (I'll put some pictures on the AP photos page when I get time)  

Built on the side of a hill, the Sri Rama temple has massive supporting wall on the lower east side, which looks more like a fortress wall.  On the roads surrounding the temple were the usual array of stalls selling gifts, trinkets and temple offerings.  It was shoes off time at the foot of the long staircase on the south side, Rita wasn't fussed about going in so she looked after my shoes (they cost more than some people earn in a year round here! not that they're expensive, either) and I climbed the 60 to 70 steps into a courtyard within the temple.  There were a lot of people in the courtyard, mostly queuing up at several windows, it looked like to buy tickets or something.  I couldn't see what for so I just carried on to the main entrance into the temple itself.  Inside, it was very noisy with people chatting loudly and even shouting at each other, all very strange for someone brought up to believe that inside a church you only spoke in hushed tones, if at all, except, of course, as part of a service.

Outside again I found Rita had gone window shopping up the street, with my shoes.  I hopped around for a while until she returned, then we walked around to the east side  to try and find a better view of the temple.  On the hill behind the Sri Rama is another, much small, temple, with a good view over the surrounding area.  I felt a bit cheeky going into this temple just to get a view of the Sri Rama, but I left a small donation in the collection box.  On the way back down we met a couple of girls who invited us into their garden for a cup of chai and a chat.  Soon the whole family were out in the garden with us, and we were treated to some special food prepared especially for this festival day.  Festival day? What festival is that?  Apparently, today is one of the most important festivals of the Hindu year, and we knew nothing about it.  Unlike Diwali, which you see coming for weeks before, this festival seems to creep up unannounced.  Makar Sankranti marks the end of winter (but it only started 3 weeks ago!) and is celebrated in different ways around the country.  Here, they also call it Pongol, which is the rice harvest festival.  They also gave us some goa fruit, a bit like a round pear, from their own tree in the back garden. Very nice too.  Thanks to the girls, Keerthi, Spooti and Kranthi, and their family, for a very pleasant hour of chat in their garden.

The mist had been burnt off by the sun by now, and it was getting uncomfortably warm in direct sunshine for us, so we wandered back towards the town centre along the back street, trying to keep in the shade when we could.  We noticed a lot of the houses had white chalk drawings on the ground in front of the doors, some had been colourfully filled in.  We also saw some cow dung cakes (no, not for eating) which are placed in front of the house for Pongal and set light to.  Sounds like great fun to me. Another tradition., we were told about but didn't see, is to decorate your cattle with flowers and paint (water based I presume) and take them round to your neighbours houses to wish them a happy Pongal.  

Back in the town we made plans for our escape to Warangal, tomorrow would be the day.  The road here had been pretty rough, so assuming it would continue to be as rough, we planned to catch a regular bus to the nearest train station at Kottagudem, 25km away, then get a train to Warangal, a further 100 km on.  Having made our plan, we returned to the Geetajali for another great Andhra meal.   Back to Itinerary

Sun 15th  January 2006

Checked out of the Sri Srinivasa Palace by 9am, not a lot to pay as we'd paid 500 rupees in advance and it was only 290 a night.  Bargain.  Cycled the 200 meters to the bus station and Rita tried to find a bus to Kottagudem while I watched the bikes.  I could hear snatches of the conversation, and it went something like: "When is the next bus to Kottagudem?" 
"Kottagudem? Kottagudem?"
"Yes, Kottagudem, when is the next bus"
"Bus has already gone"
"When is the next bus?"
"Bus has already gone"
"Are there no more buses to Kottagudem today"
"That bus there is going at 9:30"
Incredible India!

At last, a straight answer.   We double checked with the conductor on the bus, who concurred, so we loaded our bikes onto the roof rack and boarded the bus.  Only 20 minutes to go, we thought, until the driver seemed to get bored of waiting, started up the engine and we were off. Most unusual to leave early.

It turned out that this bus was going all the way to Warangal, taking about 6 hours to cover the 120km.  We soon decided that bus seemed fairly comfortable (relatively, anyway) and it would probably make sense to go all the way instead of getting off at the train station and hoping to find space for us and our bikes and bags on a train.  Weighing up the pros and cons, we decided to stay on the bus.  The time passed fairly quickly, and we even persuaded the bus driver to cut down on the use of the horn, something he found highly amusing at first, but he took it in good spirit and we had a relatively horn free journey, quite relaxing really, and not half as bumpy as our car ride to Bhadrachelam.

The bus arrived on time in Warangal mid afternoon.  Warangal is in our guide book and we had already decided to head for the best sounding hotel in town, the Ashoka.  Unfortunately, there was no map of the town in the book, neither did it give an address, so we stopped frequently and asked directions to the hotel.  Strangely enough, everyone we asked seemed to know where it was, but we seemed to be going a long way from the town centre, so when one person told us it was another 4 or 5 km, we turned around and went back to try some of the hotels near the station.  The best we had seen so far was the Surhya, nearest the station, they had space and a non-a/c room was only 400 rupees a night.  Great room too, with windows on two sides it was nice and bright, maybe a little on the small side but very comfortable.   

The hotels restaurant is on the ground floor, it looked quite nice as we went in, but it was so dark, just a small very low wattage bulb in the ceiling above each table.  We sat down and were handed menus, but it was too dark to read them.  I got out my mini-maglight to read the menu, and looking round saw other customer were using the glow from their mobile phones and lighters to do the same.  We asked if they could turn the lights on, but they said there were no other lights to turn on. The meal itself was quite good, and the restaurant filled up while we were there, so it was obviously a popular place, although we hadn't noticed any other restaurants around when we were cycling earlier except for a couple of basic dhabas.   Back to Itinerary

Mon 16th to Wed 18th January 2006

The menu in our room had a variety of South Indian specialities in the breakfast section, including our favourite masala dosa, and even better, it said it was complimentary to hotel guests.  Unfortunately, most of the items had been withdrawn 2 years ago, we were told by room service, and now we could only have idlees and sambar.  Idlees are a boring, tasteless little cake sort of thing made from rice flour, which I have never taken to, so we passed on the offer, we'd get some fruit from s street stall instead.

We planned to visit the Warangal Fort this morning, and maybe the 1000 Pillar Temple later on.  I asked for a map of the area at reception, and was proudly shown an outline map of Warangal region with 4 little stars arranged on it, denoting the relative positions of the areas main attractions.  Unfortunately, there was no other detail that you would expect to find on any normal map, such as roads, railways, rivers and lakes.  Not much use really, but we were assured by the receptionist that this was the best map of the area available.  So we set off towards (hopefully) the fort with the detailed route given to us by the receptionist, its 4km that way, sort of.  With the advice of several helpful people on the way, we found the fort without to much difficulty.  Well, it turns out to be almost a mile across, so it would have been a little embarrassing to have missed it.  

The fort dates from the 11th and 12th centuries, and consists of three concentric defensive walls.  The outer two walls are made of mud and badly eroded, but the gateways and inner wall made of large granite blocks are still largely intact.  The approach roads to the gates were surrounded by high granite walls for 50 metres before the actual gate, with a ninety degree turn half way along, to make a direct attack on the gate more difficult.  Today, within the walls of the fort, a lot of the land has been given over to farming, and small houses line the roads though the fort.  We passed many smiling friendly people on the way to the centre, through tree massive gateways, before arriving at the restored palace.  Didn't seem too big for a palace to me, but apparently most of the building within the fort had been destroyed in various assaults over the centuries.  Maybe they had only partially restored this building, we could only guess as there was nobody to ask and the signs were only in Telegu and Hindi.

A few hundred metres further on were the most impressive remains of the fort, not so much a building as a collection of intricately carved stonework, mostly in black basalt, which are all that remains of the Siva temple that was here.  There is a 100 rupee entry charge into the compound for foreigners, 5 rupees for Indians, and as we could see most of it from the perimeter fence, Rita decided to sit in the shade by a tea stall, chatting to the locals while I went in for a closer look.  I paid the entrance fee and was handed a special foreigners entry ticket, which I put in my wallet and was about to walk on in when the same guy who had given me the ticket, asked for it back so he could check it. Obviously the official ticket checker was not on duty at this time so the official ticket seller had to perform both duties, but why he couldn't have checked the ticket before he handed it over is beyond me.

One of the first things I spotted was a map of the fort area on a notice board, and it was in English.  One great use of digital cameras is taking pictures of maps at places such as this to refer to as you go round, especially when there are no other maps available.  I could see now from this map that we had covered all the important sites on the way in.   The stonework in the compound was quite amazing to see, and as most of it was carved in basalt, it had survived the weather very well.  A lot of the pieces had been reassembled to form walls and archways, but they had obviously not be put back in the same original order, so the overall appearance was rather haphazard, but that didn't really detract from the intricate carvings of animals, people and gods.  I'll leave the description to the photos, they'll do a far better job than I could ever do with words.

Next to the compound is a children's play garden, with the added attraction of small temple atop a massive granite boulder. I paid the 5 rupees entrance fee and 10 rupees extra for taking in a camera (at least it was the same price as for Indians), walked through the surprisingly lush and pleasant gardens, and clambered 50 metres up the steps cut into the side of the rock.  The temple wasn't very interesting, to me anyway, but there was a small stone tower which had a good view of the surrounding area from the top.  I could see the big granite rock in the centre of the town, just behind our hotel, which also had a temple on top of it.  That's a feature of the landscape around here, mostly flat plains but with the occasional outcrop of weathered granite popping out of the ground occasionally.

After a few hours in the fort, we decided to head to the Ashoka Hotel for lunch, it allegedly had a good restaurant or two, and it was somewhere near the thousand pillar temple. We retraced our route back to the town centre, then headed north west for about 8 km until we found the hotel.  The bar/restaurant was ok, fairly good menu, and we even persuaded them to let us open a curtain and let the sunlight in on our little corner of the restaurant.  They looked at us like we'd gone mad, but let us getaway with it.  It's the little victories that matter most.  Outside, the sun was beating down now, so we took our time over the meal and had a few drinks as well, something I'm sure they found annoying, as every time we ordered something they would bring the bill out again with the latest item scribbled on the end.  Why can't they just wait until we ask for the bill, but that's not the way it works around here, we often get the bill plonked down on the table as we're finishing our main course..    

Finally we stopped annoying them, paid up and cycled back towards our hotel, stopping at the thousand pillar temple on the way.  Bit of a misnomer, I think, I counted a maximum of 10 pillars in the whole place! Perhaps it not finished yet, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.  Arrived back at our hotel hot and tired, retired to our room for a well deserved rest.   

On Tuesday we had planned to go to Pakhal lake, some 50km from Warangal, but we didn't get our act together in time, so we ended up having a quiet day in and around the hotel, and doing our chores, laundry, etc

Wednesday we got it together finally, booked train tickets for tomorrow to Secunderabad, then caught a bus to Narsampet and hired a auto-rickshaw for the 10km trip out to the lake. Pakhal Lake is man made and was created in the 12th century as part of a water management scheme. It forms part of a wildlife sanctuary, and is,  apparently, one of the richest areas in the state for wildlife, including tiger, panther, hyena and many others.  The lake is also the winter home of a large number of migratory birds.  So we were a little disappointed to arrive at the lake to find little evidence of migratory birds, but a lot of evidence of picnicking Indians.  The shoreline was littered with paper plates, plastic bags, and stones gathered in circles to make a fire place.  The fire places invariably had a patch of bird feathers next to them, perhaps the locals have eaten all the lake birds?  We did spot a few birds on a distant shore, and as it was 2pm I guess it could have been too warm for them to be too active.  There were a few parakeets flying around, disappearing into their nests in holes in tree trunks, but little else.  Our rickshaw driver had brought a mate along with him, and just to completely spoil our day, he insisted on shouting at us from a distance every 5 minutes or so, just to let us know they were still waiting for us.  Not that it would have changed things that much if he had kept quiet, there were so many comings and goings and people making unnecessary noise, that no bird would ever consider this part of the lake for a winter vacation. Disappointed, we returned to Warangal by rickshaw and bus.  

Had our meal of the day in the hotel restaurant, where we quizzed the staff about the lighting situation, just for a spot of light relief!  Pardon the pun.  After we'd finished our meal, accompanied by much use of our torches, just to emphasise the point, and after we'd all had a good laugh about it, they bought us a customer's suggestions leaflet.  Rita had a field day and filled up both sides of the page, then made sure they could read it.  I dont think they took it to heart.   Back to Itinerary

Thu 19th  January 2006

Our train was due at 9am, so to give us some time to spare we were packed and checking out by just after 8.  The station is only across the road, but we needed to find the right platform and get ready to board the train in a rush and find our carriage and seats.  Rita settles the bill while I loaded up the bikes with our bags.  But it was only when we had got to the station that I double checked with Rita that they had knocked off the deposit of 1000 rupees I had paid at check-in.  No, they hadn't mentioned that.  I found the receipt and Rita raced back to the hotel, where they acted as if all was in order and just handed back the extra money.  Surely they must have thought a thousand tip on a 1600 bill was a bit excessive? 

The train was half an hour late, which gave us extra time to try and find which point on the platform our carriage should pull up at.  We got it fairly close, only a coach or so out, but the doors were pretty crowded, and after I had pushed my way on with my folded bike and bags,  about 6 people pushed in front of Rita and  piled in after me, causing the blockage in the doorway. The whistle blew and the train started to move out, barely 30 seconds after it had arrived, with Rita still struggling to get in through the door, and me trapped the other side of the wall of people screaming for them to get out of the way.  Luckily, an off duty railway worker grabbed her bike and pulled it and Rita up into the carriage, just as the train gathered speed.  That was a close one, although there is another train an hour after this one, Rita has our tickets.  Strangely enough, I had been looking at a sign on the platform earlier, saying that travelling without a ticket could incur a 300 rupee fine, and/or a 6 months prison sentence! It seemed a bit disproportionate to me, but who am I to argue.  I could certainly afford the fine, but didn't fancy the time.  

It was about this time, when people started to settle down, that I realised the carriage was not a sleeper, as I had earlier assumed it would be because of the coach designation S2, and just had rows of seats with a small luggage rack above.  So there was nowhere for us to stash our bikes. Well, not near our allocated seats anyway, which I could see had already been taken by someone else.  We ended up stacking them up behind the door, with one of them resting on top of the sink. The guy that had helped Rita on to the train said it would be ok as the train would not be stopping at any more stations before Secunderabad.  When the coffee wallah came round, Rita bought him a cup to say thanks for the help.  He was well chuffed, his head didn't stop shaking from side to side for several minutes.   Soon after, an awkward fat woman who was sitting on the floor near us and blocking the way for everyone, indicated she wanted some water and that our bike was in the way.  So we washed out a paper coffee cup and gave her some mineral water from our bottle, she didn't know what to say after that.   

Another passenger, stood near us, whose name turned out to be Ashok, was on his way to see his sister in Hyderabad.  He was fascinated to talk to us, he had never spoken to a foreigner before, and spent the rest of the journey practising his English, which was quite good but the accent was a little difficult to understand sometimes. 

When we arrived in Secunderabad, the final destination of the train, we had plenty of time so we stood back and let everyone else get off first, before we retrieved our bikes and bags.   Struggled over the foot bridge with bike and bags, well, I did, Rita hired a porter.  I'm too tight, 40 rupees for 5 minutes work is far too much I think!  (Complaints on a postcard to the usual address) Outside in the blazing sunshine, we bypassed the crowds of touts insisting on knowing where we were going ("There and back to see how far it is" is my favourite retort) we peddled off to look for the Karan hotel, seemed to be the best option in our guide book.  Took us some time to find it, it wasn't where the guide book was and we were fed a lot of duff directions by the locals,  and when we did locate it, we found it full.  Must be something to do with the Congress Party All India Plenary session, their name for a part conference, which is taking place this weekend in a stadium in Hyderabad.  We found the next half dozen hotels we tried were also full, and were just starting to wonder if the whole town was full when we found a room in the Ambassador, but only for two nights. "Please Madam, you must promise to leave after two days, we are fully booked after that". Much shaking of the head.  Well, its a start, and it gives us a couple of days to find somewhere else.  

The room was bright and airy, and at the back of the hotel as well, so not too much noise from the street.  No air-con, which we dont much like anyway because it makes too much noise, but a lovely marble floor and a comfy bed.  Satellite TV of course, I'm just trying to remember the last hotel where we didn't have satellite TV in our room, it was quite some time ago.  That's one thing that has changed since we came to India in '96, just about every hotel room above a couple of hundred rupees a night has sat tv, back then, I dont think we had it once in 3 months.  We went back to reception to hand over our passports for them to make a photocopy, probably extra security for the plenary, and the guy on reception said we might be able to stay longer than 2 days, he'd let us know.  

Across the road is a big restaurant complex called Paradise, which has restaurants on several floors and an open air section as well.  No complaints about the lighting here, well, during the daytime anyway.  We had our late lunch/early dinner, Indian dishes only.  There were a few Chinese dishes on the menu, but no international dishes, quite surprising for a big restaurant in a big city, I thought.  It was all very good though, and not as expensive as we might have thought from the look of the place.

In the evening we took a walk down Mahatma Gandhi Road, or MG Road as it's know to it's mates.  The range of shops seemed quite different from the normal mix in other towns we've been to in recent months, there were no general stores, or "daily needs" stores and they are often referred to, and there were a few posh looking shops selling gold and diamonds, and clothes and shoe shops.  They were shops that you actually went into, instead of standing at the counter at the entrance pointing at things you want.  We stocked up with a few essentials in a well supplied chemist, found some decent toilet roll (couldn't find any at all in Warangal) and some deodorant.  Bet you wondered what that smell was that started last week when I ran out!   Back to Itinerary

Fri 20th to Thu 26th January 2006

Cycled into Hyderabad from our hotel in Secunderabad, about 8km, down MG Road and along the Tank Bund, running alongside the large man made Husain Sagar Lake, which is not only the main water supply for the city, but also the destination for a lot of the cities sewage and industrial waste.   It didn't smell too bad as we went past, but I certainly wouldn't like to drink it.

There was a light mist this morning, making it a bit cooler, just right for a nice cycle. The traffic was quite heavy, but strangely enough, that makes city cycling safer than cycling out of town, in some ways.  In heavy traffic in town, all of the traffic on our side of the road is travelling in the same direction (well, ok, almost all) and because of the volume of traffic, it travels at a relatively slow speed, about our normal cycling speed.  So we are not confronted with the main problem of out of town cycling, which is oncoming traffic on our side of the road intent on forcing us off the road.  Of course, there are a lot more chances of collisions with so much traffic, and we did witness one poor cyclist get squished in between two small trucks, who just closed in together with him in between.  He got away quite lightly, no visible signs of injury, which is more than we could say for his mangled bike.  Ah, the joys of cycling in India.

We cycled up a short, steep hill to the Burla Temple and the Burla Science museum and planetarium, on top of a hill to the south of the Husain Sagar.  The temple is brilliant white and quite impressive to look at, but we didn't go inside.  The planetarium is one of the most modern in India, so we booked in for the first show of the day at 11:30, 17 rupees each, which, luckily, was in English.  Climbed up the long stone stairway to the planetarium building, and were glad to find it had air conditioning.  Inside, we found a large number of schoolchildren with a few teachers.  This could be a noisy experience, we thought, but actually they turned outto be fairly well behaved and didn't make too much noise. The show was fairly interesting, although the presenter used the phrase "Can you imagine" far to many times, I thought what you see at a planetarium should be based on fact, not imagination!

Outside the sun had reached its zenith and it was baking hot, so we went into the in the Science museum, for an extra 15 rupees each.  On the entrance floor there are some interactive exhibits to demonstrate physical science, they were well worn and mostly purely mechanical, although a few had buttons to press that lit up sections of the exhibit.  There were quite a few playing with the contraptions and they seemed to be having a lot of fun, judging by the level of noise being generated.  Upstairs there was supposed to be a space exhibit, but it turned out to have been temporarily replaced by a saree sale.  I suppose you've got to get your priorities in order.  By 2pm we had seen enough of the museum and its exhibits, and, more importantly, missed the hottest part of the day, although we find its sometime after 3pm when it starts to get noticeably cooler, or should I say less hot!  Set off on our bikes south to the Char Minar, built at the end of the 16th century as the grand entrance to the Royal Palace complex, a square building with a tall minaret at each corner and huge arches on each side, it now stands at a crossroads in the old town.  Best seen at night, apparently, when it is well lit up, it is still quite an impressive sight during the day.   The area is very busy, being at the entrance to the main bazaar, and while we were there, a large Muslim funeral procession went past, blocking the road for some time.   

Cycled back up north to Secunderabad, managing to take a wrong turning on the way and then taking 20 minutes and much asking of directions to find our way back onto the right road.  The roads were well blocked up at some places, mainly die to the Congress Plenary, which starts tomorrow.  We were held up at some traffic lights for 10 minutes while they cleared the path for a motorcade to pass through, though we couldn't see through the tinted windows of the cars to see who was being transported around.

Evening meal at the Paradise Garden.  Biryani is the local specialty, so I felt obliged to have a chicken version, which was quite nice if a little too much rice, but that's the way they like it around here. It's served with a spicy yoghurt and a sort of mild curry sauce.  I was hoping it would have been a bit spicier, especially with the reputation Andhra has, but I guess they tame it down a bit for us namby-pamby foreigners.  

Saturday - the first day of Congress plenary, after our tiring day cycling around in the sun yesterday, had a quiet day in and around the hotel. 

Sunday - A day at the races.  Yes, Hyderabad race course is well known amongst race goers in India, and deservedly so, its one of the finest race course in the country.  We got an auto-rickshaw down to the track, only 80 rupees for the half hour trip.  This was the first time we had persuaded the driver to use the meter instead of asking for a price at the start. Usually they just say the meters not working and ask as much as they dare, so it was a welcome change from the norm.

We went in through the members gate, buying a day visitors ticket for 170 rupees, a bit expensive but it gave us access to the members stands.   The buildings are very clean and quite well laid out, the paddock is nicely kept grass, with two large viewing stands either side.  The main stand is a massive structure, with two levels of seating, and a large grassy area in front leading up to the track itself.  

We weren't sure of the betting procedure, so we went to one of the Tote windows and asked if they used betting slips, a question which drew a complete blank.  Obviously not then.  Do you do each way bets.  Another blank.  Ok, 100 rupees on horse number five to win.  That seemed to work, I was given a small receipt with a code, race 1, number 5, 100 rupees.  Simple, but effective.  Rita followed the same procedure and went for horse number 2.   We watched the horses being paraded around the paddock, number 5 looked lively and I thought I had made a good choice.  Above the paddock, next to the results board is a list of the prices offered by the bookies, and my horse had stated out at 7 to 2, but had shortened to 3 to 1 while the horses were paraded around the paddock.  I said to Rita that perhaps I should have taken the odds when I placed the bet, but then considered what a fuss that could have created.  Probably best not to have asked.

The first race was due to start a 1:15, so we made our way to the upper floor of the big stand to watch.  I'm not a big race-goer, but all the races I've been to I seem to remember the horses went around the track in an anti-clockwise direction. However, here, they seem to be set up to go around clockwise.  Unless, of course, they are going to come out of the stalls backwards, something I pondered for only a second or two before dismissing as being too ridiculous, even for India.   Shortly after 1:15, the starters flag was dropped (or is it raised? I'm never sure)  and the gates flew open.  But horse number five was incredibly slow off the mark, so slow that I thought it must have been a false start and they were all being recalled.  But no, the rest of the field charged on, with my horse (ok, not my horse, the horse I bet on) chasing behind.  All credit to my horse, it did very well, not only catching up, but overtaking the rest of the field and won the race by two lengths!  Just imagine what it could do if it could work out its problems at the start!  Rita's horse came in last, ten lengths behind the next to last horse.  thought I'd better mention that.

So, 100 rupees at the starting price of 3 to 1, that meant I should get back 400 rupees.  Right?  So why did they only give me 240?  I protested that I'd been short changed, so they kindly explained the process, which was all very well but they only spoke Hindi, so I didn't quite grasp it.  Eventually, another punter (there are signs at the race course calling the customer punters, so its official) explained that the odds displayed on the bookies-odds board were not related to the Tote in any way, the Tote was run on a dividend basis, and for this race, the winnings were 12 rupees for every 5 rupees placed.  So that explained the 240 rupees, and you dont even get your stake back.  I felt cheated.  Incredible India. 

Next race, we tried the bookies, which we found out the back of the big stand, but it was such a struggle getting there and back to the main stand that we decided to stick with the Tote for the rest of the races.  We didn't come to try and make our fortune, just for a bit of fun.  I always assume that whatever money I take to a racecourse, I should expect to loose.  That way, I shouldn't go away disappointed.   Today, I was glad I was sticking to my usual philosophy, as after getting the winner on the first race, my luck changed and I didn't get any more.  Rita, however, did manage two or three winners, and ended up less down on the day than me,   Having said that, I only spent the equivalent of 12 quid, which included the entrance ticket, a flutter on each race and some food and drink.  Cant be bad.  Of course, it might have been quite a bit more if there had been a bar, but the strongest thing on sale was a bottle of 7up or a strong cup of coffee.  Can you imagine a race track in England without a bar?

Monday - another hot day.  Had breakfast in a South Indian restaurant, a lovely masala dosa.  Rita went to the Salanjung museum in Hyderabad while I chilled out in the hotel.  The museum had on display amongst many other things  some fabulous south Indian carved wooden furniture, a complete set of 6 dining chairs made entirely of ivory, a magnificent musical clock made from  350 pieces  with a little woman popping out a minute before the hour and a little man beating out the seconds on a anvil, apparently made in England and accredited as one of the best exhibits in the museum.   There was also a special jewelry exhibition, 10 rupees entry for Indians, 500 rupees for foreigners, so needles to say, Rita didn't go in despite her love of all that glitters!!!!. 

Tuesday.  Cycled to the other side of Hyderabad to Golconda Fort, about 15 to 20 km from our hotel.  My bike speedo has packed up, so I'm having to guess distances now.  The journey wasn't too bad, traffic wise, and it took us just over an hour, with several stops to ask directions.  There are quite a few very large direction signs on gantries above the road, but unfortunately, someone saw fit to cover them with huge banners for the Congress Party Plenary.  I suppose that's more important than people finding their way around the city.

There's been a fort on the site since the 12th century, but it has been rebuilt several times.  Most of the stone walls date from the 15th to 16th centuries, and a lot of the building were rebuilt since then. It's quite an impressive fort, though, with big stone gateways, and various inner sections, rising up to the top of the granite outcrop in the middle, on which stands the Durbar Hall, a more recent addition.  From the top there are fine views across the surrounding area, including the Qutb Shahi Tombs, a couple of kilometres to the North.  That save us going there, then.   It was midday by the time we reached the top, so, finding the sun a little too hot on the way back down, we sheltered in the shade of a wall on the steps back down, where we chatted to an Australian couple, Tina and Joe.  They had just come back from several weeks in Sri Lanka, where we had been thinking about possibly visiting while we were in India, but they said the situation was declining, and although most of the country would be ok, the international airport tended to be a prime target for the Tamil Tigers, to create maximum effect.  We'd already decided not to go to Sri Lanka this time, we've seen quite a bit about the rising problems on the Indian news programs.  Another time.

Cycled back to our hotel along the same route, managing not to get lost this time, like we did the other day.  It was almost 5pm when we got back, fairly hot and suntanned, but we had managed to keep drinking plenty of fluids so we were just about ok when we reached the hotel.  

Wednesday 25th.  Cooler start to the day this morning, quite a pleasant temperature.  After an easy morning having breakfast and chilling, we got an auto to the train station to book our escape.  At the information counter in the station, we were told there is a train at 7:30am to Yesvantpur, which is on the outskirts of Bangalore, and that the reservations office is ten minutes walk east of the station, next to the bus station.  That's convenient then.   The queue for the Ladies Only counter was a lot short than the rest, so Rita went in armed with our booking request form.  Twenty minutes later, when She finally got served, the clerk at first said there was no such train, then, when he had found the train, said there were no seats.  What about tourist quota? You must see the supervisor, window 36, we were told.  More queuing, we assumed, but no, there was nobody waiting to see the supervisor.  This shouldn't take long, we thought.  But the supervisor insisted there was no train from Secunderabad to Yesvantpur in the morning, there were only evening trains!   It took ten minutes before she admitted there was actually a train to Yesvantpur, departing Secunderabad at 8:10am. She said the problem had been that we said the train went from Secunderabad, but the train started from New Delhi!  We don't care where it starts from, we just want to get on it here!  Aaaaaggggghhhh!   Incredible India!   Because we wanted tourist quota seats, we had to pay using either pounds sterling or US dollars, or produce an encashment receipt to prove we had brought rupees with foreign currency notes. Does anybody do that these days? What a palaver! And the tickets only came to 568 rupees.  Still, we had completed our escape plan, and had a 12 hour train ride to look forward to on Friday.  

Back at the hotel, I went round to my local "wine" shop to buy some takeouts.  I'd become quite a regular customer over the last few days, not quite on first name terms but they knew what I wanted when my smiling face appeared at the counter.  Today, though, there was a more serious air about the place, Tomorrow, they warned, we are closed, you must but beer today.  Persuaded me!  Tomorrow is Republic Day, and apparently, the "wine" shops will be closed.

Thursday 26th -  Republic Day, one of the 4 public holidays in India.  We watched a number of programs on an Indian news channel on tv, trying to find out more about what this day means to Indians.  There was some guy in the studio talking to various rporters around the country, mostly at schools, and the guy in the studio would ask a question of the children at the schools, such as "Why is Republic Day celebrated on 26th January", to which we heard various answers, but we were never given a specific correct answer. So we were left to try and work out which sounded the best answer.   Wanting to know for certain, I looked it up on the internet and found that 26/01/30 was the day that the Congress part passed its Purna Swaraj (“Complete Self-Rule”) resolution, and they started celebrating it as Republic Day in 1950.  Could be wrong, though, I'm sure some of Indian friends will let me know if I am. 

The biggest parade is held at Rajpath in New Delhi, a big military affair, and also floats presented by each of the states.  Rita watched it all, and was very impressed, especially a fantastic display of dancing by people of the Meghalaya and Nagaland states.  There was also an interview with the president, Abdul Kalam, which also impressed Rita, so much so that she went out and bought his autobiography, Wings of Fire.   

Back to Itinerary

Fri 27th January 2006 

Up at 6, packed up and checked out by 7am.  Cycled to the station, nice and quiet on the roads.  Arrived at the station with an hour to spare, that gave us plenty of time to try and find the platform our train would arrive on.  A very helpful policeman went off and found out that our train should be on platform 4.  We have yet to find an Indian station with a lift to get to the walkways between the platforms, and this was no exception, so we carried our bikes and bags up the crowded stairs to the walkway, and along to platform 4.   There, we folded up our bikes and put them in their bags, makes things easier on the train and raises less questions. 

We had 40 minutes to kill, so we tool it in turns to wander around the platforms, seeking out any suitable supplies for the 12 hour journey.  I went to the information desk to double check what platform we should be on, and whether the train was on time, but the only information I could glean was that the train had not been allocated a platform yet, and there would be an announcement when it came in.  8:10 came and went with no announcements for our train, and the train that up until then had been blocking platform 4 departed.  Hopefully, our train would come in on platform 4 now.  

All the announcements up until now had been in several languages, with English first.  But then there was one announcement in only one language, dont ask me which,  it wasn't English.  We asked everyone we could where our train was, and were told by several people that there were no trains to Bangalore in the mornings, only in the evenings.  Aaaagggghhh.  Here we go again.  Finally, one helpful person said our train was standing on platform 10.  So off we went, as fast as we could, me carrying the bagged up bikes, one on each shoulder, and one of my panniers on my back, and Rita carrying the rest of the luggage.  Sure enough, there, on platform 10, was the 2650 service to Yesvantpur.  Now, to find coach S3. The coaches normally have there designation displayed on the side, but no sign of them on this train.  We asked someone on the platform, he pointed at the coach next to us.  Oh, yeah, I'm not falling for that one.  I asked someone else, they pointed at the same carriage.  How do you know? Where does it say this is carriage S3?  Perhaps it's written in special ink on the side of the carriage and if you got ultra violet vision, you can see it  That must be it!  Incredible India.

The train pulled out soon after we jumped on, still no announcements had been made, in English anyway, about its arrival and departure on platform 10.  It's almost as if the whole of Secunderabad are in denial about the existence of this train, right from the the reservation office supervisor through to the station announcer.  Perhaps its a ghost train?  Maybe platform 10 doesn't really exist, and we only found it by slipping into a different space/time continuum? We could be in for an interesting ride.

Found our seat with no problem, and, most surprisingly, there was no one sat in them.  Now there's a first. Put our bikes and bags up on the top bunk, luckily allocated to us, and sat down for the ride to Bangalore. Sorry, Yesvantpur. The train wasn't too busy, there were the occasional empty seats, and there was a steady flow of chai-wallahs and various food vendors crusing the corrdors of the train to keep up topped up.   We had bought several newspapers , English language of course, and I had saved up a few Sudoku puzzles from the last few days.  Oh no, I cant believe I let that slip.  My secret is out. My name is Paul, I am a Sudoku freak!  It all started in New Zealand in May last year, I was .........zzzzzzz   zzzzzzzz

Back to Itinerary


India and about home page home