Kerala in 5 days

Charley Chaplin arrival

From Goa we planned on seeing Kerala in 5 days. We headed to the railway station to board our 7pm train to Kochi, only to realise it was running late by more than 2 hours. While waiting, we spent time talking to random people, playing with dogs and drinking tea. If it couldn’t get worse, the heavens opened 15 minutes before the train arrived.

Once on the train, we swapped seats with a wonderful old couple. In the morning, we spent our time admiring the beautiful Kerala country side and asking fellow travelers when would we reach our destination as the Indian trains don’t do announcements within the train.

Finally, we made it to Aluva station in the rain and met Mr Shyam, our driver for next 4 days. On the way to our first destination Munnar, we stopped for lunch and thoroughly enjoyed the taste of traditional Kerala meal served on a banana leaf plate. Yum!!!

Kerala Veg Meals on Banana Leaf

The Kerala hills

The drive to the hills was an amazing ride. Mr Shyam was an excellent driver but also an Indian one, which meant he cruised at min. 60km/hr throughout the journey whether it’s a flat road or mountain curves. We concentrated on the view and hoped for the best!

We saw a few waterfalls along the way and stopped at a spice garden. This was our first visit to a spice garden and a guide showed us around the plantation. We saw some common spices, special herbs and trees. We also tried fresh spices and realized what we had been missing out on. At the end, we couldn’t resist buying some spices for our moms :)

In the evening, at driver’s recommendation we headed to Punarjani Traditional Village. There we watched a Kathakali perfomance which is the traditional theatre of Kerala. It was extremely refined and the story involved Lord Vishnu and Godess Laxmi. Having said that, we didn’t really understand what was going on. :/

Kathakali, Kerala

We then watched a performance of Kalaripayattu, the traditional martial art of Kerala, and we were amazed! Although it was only a performance, the fighters were no actors, they fought barehanded, with sticks or even with sharp weapons. We came out thanking the driver for his recommendation!

Kalaripayattu, Kerala

Here is a mashup of various scenes from the performances –

The next day, We started at 9am to see highlights of the Munnar area. We saw a beautiful dam, a picturesque lake, mighty waterfalls and tea estates. This was definitely turning out to be one of the highlights of our trip so far.

Echo Point Lake, Munnar, Kerala

Nilgiri tahr in Munnar, KeralaWe also visited the Evaildukam National Park. It was set up in 1971 but efforts had been going on for a century to stop the killing of mountain goats, Nilgiri tahr, and other animals in the area. The national park sits around the most amazing hills and tea estate patterns form an unique picture of Munnar which is beautiful beyond belief. One could forget they are in India and be in Scotland or New Zealand.

Eravikulam national park view, Munnar, Kerala

To finish the day off, we visited a waterfall in the middle of Tata Tea Estates. We met Aunty Mary, who was the owner of a tea shop just next to the waterfall. We got talking to her and realized that although she and her family have enjoyed living in a scenic spot for 5 generations, they suffer from poverty and find ways to earn more. They grew spices and worked at the Tea plantation but that wasn’t sufficient. This got us thinking and all we could say is – life is tough and the grass is always greener on the other side.

Aunty Mary, Munnar, Kerala

Tip: We recommend hiring a driver for a day or two to see Munnar and all the hidden gems. The transport to commute from one spot to another is very expensive. Furthermore, the driver will ensure he takes you to all the regular tourist spots.

Backwaters

We said goodbye to the hills next morning and started driving to the lake district. On the way, we saw Malayees (Keralites) starting their day and kids going to school.

The Kotianad area and Allepey area have a natural lake between them which is fed by the water from Kerala’s rivers and the sea. The British added to this area by making islands and bunds for farmland. This area is now the food bowl of Kerala and the canals, bunds, islands and the lake make up the backwaters of Kerala.

Our driver searched and found the houseboat drop off next to a tiny canal in the Kumarakom area. Boarding the houseboat, we were shown our bedroom, the living area and explained the yummy menu. After this, we got moving and enjoying the beauty of Kerala.

If we thought Munnar was the highlight of Kerala, we were to be proven wrong. The houseboat on a lake against the backdrop of coconut trees and a blue sky is a sight to behold. Moreover, The pace of the houseboat is slow enough to enjoy the sights but fast enough to not be bored.

Backwaters of Kerala

The beauty of this part of Kerala just can’t be explained in words. Although coconut trees, banana trees, lakes and sea birds exists all over the world, in Kerala all these come together and create a postcard like image everywhere.

Backwaters of Kerala

Karemeen, state fish of KeralaThe staff on board the houseboat included a navigator and a chef. However, they swapped roles so many times that we couldn’t tell who was who. The food they made was absolutely delicious and I got to try the state fish of Kerala, karimeen, which was fried and tasted amazing. On the other hand, they were like an aunty who over fed you. The portion sizes were huge and we mostly left half the food. Sorry mum!

We heard about a local drink called Toddy, which is made from young coconuts. Although not alcoholic, alcohol can be added to make it a liquor. We wanted to try it so we told the navigator and he stopped us at a Toddy shop along the waters edge. The taste was sweet and sour with a natural fizz. It was refreshing but not our cup of coconut water!

All houseboats must dock at 5:30pm before sunset and our boat also docked along a bund with a power source for the night. We went off shore to see the sunset and we’re stunned at the beauty. It was a beautiful sunset with paddy fields, coconut trees and the backwaters. Life was becoming so still with birds and fishermen all going home.

Sunset at backwaters of Kerala

Flowers in a pondThe next morning we woke up early for the sunrise which was equally as beautiful. On the contrary, everything was getting more hectic. Birds were flying flying out, fishermen were getting out to catch fish and the local ferry service was picking up schoolkids and workers for the new day. Within this chaos, we realized that an empty field next to the
bund had water and some flowers. Upon closer inspection, we realised that we were looking at blooming water lilies both pink and white as far as the eyes could see. Picturesque!

Cochin

Our next stop in the tour was Cochin also known as Kochi. This city was and has been a prominent coastal city in India. It had been trading in spices and ivory for thousands of years. Jew Market, Kochi, KeralaThe result of this trade is a mixed culture and population. Our first stop was the Dutch Palace and the Jew Town Market.

Unfortunately, the synagogue was closed for a Jewish holiday and we didn’t shop for anything – less money and no space. The palace, however, has an amazing history and knowledge about the Cochin royal family especially the matrilineal system they followed.

Chinese Nets, Kochi, KeralaWe ended our tour of the Old Cochin city by visiting the Cochin beach and the Chinese nets. The chinese nets are the result of trade between China and Kerala. The nets are connected to ropes, planks of wood and stone weights. They are lowered every 5-10 minutes and is an amazing sight to see as different nets go up and down and the same time. At the time of our visit, it was off season for fishing and the fishermen were mostly gathering small fish and asking for donation from tourists. The donation price is around Rs 50 or $1 US and they let you pull the net along with other fishermen for the price. Money well spent!

In the evening, we visited the Ernakulam Shiva temple to get some peace and blessings. Since the entire precint was not open till 5pm, we decided to wait inside the main temple. It was our first visit to a Kerala Hindu temple and we watched people’s devotion to the deity as they prayed and circumnavigated the inner precinct. It was a sombre experience for us!

On the contrary, we had been wanting to watch a South Indian film all along the time we were here. However, we never had the chance in Hyderabad. Therefore, we went to watch Loham, a film starring a massive star in Kerala, Mohanlal. The film was a thriller and there were no subtitles. We could guess the general plot of the film but the ending left us a bit confused.

Following advice from my best mate, Bharat, who happens to be from Kerala state, we decided to stay an extra day in Cochin. We took a bus to the Hill Palace Museum, which was another palace of the Cochin royal family. The museum had a great collection of the art and culture of Kerala and India.

Our next destination was the Chottanikkara temple of the Goddess Durga. Did we tell you that we can’t stand autorikshaw drivers? Well here is a classic case why – we took the auto to the temple from the museum and the driver started the meter. Upon getting there, the guy claims some special tax that he’s being charged for going outside the city. We argue with him and threaten to take him to the police, but in the end paid him extra and left the scene.

The temple itself was a huge precinct with many smaller temples and a pond inside it. After seeing all the temples and the pond, we started noticing something strange about the people at the temple. The temple seemed to have alot of mentally ill individuals with families. We had accidentally stumbled upon a temple where people bring family members under a spell or with ‘spirits’ inside them. These individuals were rolling allover the floor, jumping or in a trance chanting the name of the deity. Strangely, the families didn’t feel embarrassed or sad over the condition of the mentally ill. This freaked Shruti out but we stayed a bit longer for the evening aarti. We were glad we did as Kerala temples have oil lamps outside which get lit for the evening and the whole temple appears like a giant lamp. After the Aarti, we left the area in the rain and that was the end of our trip in Kerala.

Summary

Transport

We covered a lot of distance in Kerala using a tour by A life time trip. It is possible to individually visit these places or take public transport between them. Buses are available from government bus stand, but hiring a car is definitely easiest way to commute between these locations.

Once in a major city, there are buses, taxis and autorikshaws available. We traveled in the govt. buses and there was no issue whatsoever.

Summary

When we were heading to Kerala, we said to ourselves – let’s see if Kerala really is God’s Own Country. And, after spending some time traveling around, we must say, it definitely is. This Indian State has amazing hills, waterfalls, lakes, backwaters and lot of history. Kerala is definitely a very pretty state that provides a complete package of natural beauty.

Another thing we noticed here was the use of Hindi. We were really surprised to see almost everyone could converse in the national language. We had always heard that hindi is not used much in south and that’s not true!

Lastly, the culture and food of Kerala is different to other places we have been. This state has a huge population of Muslims and Christians. Apart from the attire, we couldn’t really tell the difference between people. They all have one culture above their religion, and that that they are all Keralite. The rice used in this state is different as well and we haven’t see it anywhere.

We definitely recommend visiting Kerala. As our houseboat navigator said, come in December and Kerala will be even more green and cool.

Kerala

Kerala in 5 days Gallery

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3 days in Goa

The what and why

Goa is the smallest state in India. It is on the Western coast bordering Maharashtra and Karnataka. Goa was under Portuegese rule from the 16th century and the culture, language, monuments and food are heavily influenced by Portugal.

Goa was made famous by the hippies in the 60s and 70s and is now a big party destination. It has loads of beach parties and has also been featured in bollywood movies. Having grown up in India, our travel around India would not have been complete without visiting Goa, so we spent 3 days in Goa.

The beach

We arrived in Goa out of season – it was either raining cats and dogs or the clouds were preparing for a downpour. At dinner in a local restaurant, we were told that most beach shacks were still closed and the watersports were off until the end of the month. Not the best start! However, this being India and due to a long weekend, Goa had enough Indian tourists. We still managed to visit some beach shacks and chilled each night under grey clouds.

Baga Beach, GoaGoa’s beaches aren’t as clean and pretty as Australia’s but they are certainly very lively through the day and night. Each beach is known for it’s music genre. Baga and Calangute beaches are big for Indian tourists so most beach bars played Yo Yo Honey Singh, while on Anjuna beach there was electronic music played all across. We managed to enjoy beers while listening to music on a beach, true Goan style, on Baga as well as Anjuna beach. Definitely double tick for us!

On our final day in Goa, the Goan Gods were very kind to us and shined in form of the sun. We spent the entire afternoon chilling in a beach shack with a parasol for the sun. After a couple of dips in the sea, few beers and a massage on the beach, we felt like our holiday in Goa was complete.

Baga Beach, Goa

Riders of the storm

Scooty in GoaWe hired a scooty for two days as the public transport in Goa is relatively expensive as compared to other places in India (by expensive I mean Rs. 40 for 12km, it is still cheaper than taxi!). We decided to indulge a little and live it up Goan style. Our plan was to see the beaches, history and the interior of Goa.

To be honest, I hadn’t ridden a scooty since I was 12 and it took me around half an hour to get a complete hang of it. Sometimes though it was a tough task as there was a bit of a road in the middle of a pothole and yes, a cow too!

After filling up the fuel, our first stop was Fort Aguada. Built by the Portuegese as a watering station, Aguada means ‘place of water’ in Portuguese. The ride itself was great and Aguada is only a short distance from Baga and Calangute. However, the fort, in our opinion, was quite boring. Maybe the grand forts in Delhi, Agra and Hyderabad set the bar too high.

Aguda Fort, Goa

Our next destination was Panjim also called Panji. We visited Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church, which has been shown in many bollywood movies. Continuing the bollywood trail, we headed up North to Chapora Fort.

Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Goa

The Chapora Fort, unlike Aguada Fort, had an amazing view. It sits high on a hill overlooking the sea and Vagator beach. This fort was made famous through the movie Dil Chahta Hai, which came out in 2002 and became the voice of a generation. A few key scenes from the movie were shot here and so, it was a must visit for Shruti.

Chapora Fort, Goa

The next day, we rode again to old Goa to see the old churches. It was over an hour ride. We saw the church of Bom Jesus where the remains of St Francis Xavier are on display. Miraculously, his body hasn’t decomposed in 400 years.

Church of Bom Jesus, Goa

 

We saw a few more Portuegese churches and then rode towards some lakes and the Pandava caves. Riding through the countryside of Goa is a special experience. The paddy fields with hills in the distance are a beautiful sight. The narrow lanes twist and turn everywhere with bright and colourful Goan houses next to them.

Check out our Insta video clip of the scooty ride!

Interiors of Goa

Once at Pandava caves, we had a small lunch and admired the excavated caves. Somewhat unexpectedly, we stumbled upon a waterfall only 100m ahead of the caves. Due to the heavy rains this week, the waterfall had a great amount of water falling off it. The sound and the water flying around was just astounding. We were pretty happy as the waterfalls were totally unexpected.

Tip: Rent a scooty and ride around Goa – because that’s what everyone does. Also, do not fill up the tank. The scooty is meant to be rented with close to no fuel and the extra money spent on petrol can be utilised for beer.

My friend Ganesha

Ganesh Chathurti, GoaThe day after we arrived in Goa happened to be Ganesh Chaturthi festival. It is meant to be the birth day of the Elephant God, Ganesha, which is huge for Hindus in Western India. On this day, Hindus keep a small idol at home, pray to it between 1 and 12 days and subsequently immerse the idol in a water body.

Though the weather was depressing, the festival lifted everyone’s spirits. Everywhere we went, people were lighting firecrackers. Most people had taken the long weekend off to pray with family and we heard prayers while riding the scooty and prayer bells in the distance.

Our experience on the final night, however, was incredible. Many families brought their Ganesha idols to Baga beach for immersion. The kids enjoyed with firecrackers while the Adults prayed. As a sign of respect, the clubs reduced the noise while the immersion went on.

Ganesh Chathurti, Goa

In addition, it was an emotional experience for us watching the kids playing with firecrackers and their older cousins letting off larger fireworks. Neither of us have enjoyed firecrackers with the family since we moved overseas. This Diwali will be different, Dhamakaaa (explosion)!

Summary

Transport

Being a prime tourist destination, taxis and autorikshaws are crazy expensive. There is meant to be a government rate but taxis don’t follow it. Buses run between most towns in Goa but getting to beaches can mean changing buses a few times as well as using autos.

Tip: When you arrive in Goa, check for public buses or ask your hotel for pickup and dropoff. The hotels are likely to provide the best rate.

Seeing around Goa is best done on a scooty within Goa is the best option. They can be hired for Rs 300 a day and give you complete freedom to go anywhere in Goa. However, ride slow and watch for buses and crazy drivers.

Accommodation

Goa has every range of accommodation. From budget to luxury, you can find homestays to hotels to resorts. Be mindful though that prices will vary depending on the time of year.

We highly recommend staying on the beach as you are likely to spend most of your time around it. As different beaches play different music, select the one you are likely to enjoy the most so we can save on late night transport cost.

Final thoughts

Goa, as expected, was fun though the weather wasn’t perfect. The scooty ride through the interiors was definitely the highlight for us, though we thoroughly enjoyed the beach and the culture as well. Like Hyderabad, we saw Hindus, Muslims and Christians living together and celebrating each other’s festivals.

We highly recommend Goa if you are looking keen to party or just take in the culture. Also, do try Fenny, the local alcohol make of cashew nuts. It is best enjoyed with sprite.

3 days in Goa Gallery

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Visiting Hampi

Hampi is a picturesque group of villages in Karnataka state. To be honest,  I don’t remember where or when I first discovered Hampi. Perhaps, it was on my random wikipedia browsing or an image on the Internet. Since it made a nice little stop over between Hyderabad and Goa, we kept it in our list.

Getting to Hampi

We arrived in Hampi onboard an overnight train from Hyderabad. This was our first experience of Indian trains on this tour and we weren’t disappointed. We arrived at Hospet station at 10:10am sharp and took an auto rikshaw (tuk tuk) to our resort.

Tip: Karnataka Tourism Board runs perfectly new buses from Hospet railway station to Hampi bus stand. Its around 30 rupees per person to Hampi which is quite cheap.

The resort, Vijayshree HVijayshree Heritage Village, Hospeteritage Village, itself was beautiful and grand. A sign of modern India, it was a North Indian Rajasthani themed heritage resort in the middle of Karnataka in the South. It had been visited by Bollywood Stars and Indian Politicians of all parties as well as famous Religious Gurus. We were welcomed traditionally with a tikka, maala (necklace) and welcome drink.

After a brief rest,  We left to go to Hampi but first we had to Hospet to Hampi Bus figure out where exactly the bus stop was. Everyone we asked,  pointed like a Bollywood hero pointing
to his diva towards the road. We later realized that the bus stops wherever you want as long as you flag it. Phew!
The bus ticket was around 20 rupees for the both of us and we mentally enacted Brett Lee’s chainsaw at the saving! On the way, we saw beautiful paddy and sugarcane fields as well as crazy bus driving. I think every bus driver in India thinks they are part of NWA. Shieeeeeeeet!

The hills are alive…..

Nothing could prepare us for visiting Hampi. At the first sight of huge boulders, We knew that we had made the right decision. As far as the eye could see were hills with rocks the size of buildings.

Visiting Hampi

That experience from the bus was shortlived. Even before we got off the bus, the auto wallahs were at the bus doors like a group of zombies. Auto sir! Auto madam! Full day tour! Half day tour! Lunch place! We were offered everything from day tours to good quality marijuana. One autowallah, Raja however was nice, calm and informing. We told him we may use his service the next day and he pointed us to a great lunch place.

Hippies

We don’t know when hippies discovered Hampi but we can certainly say there’s a lot of people there to “discover themselves” in India. It has its side effects, good and bad – but the great thing is chill out spots. Mango tree restaurant is a great chill-out restaurant for tourists while it offers amazing food for very little cost. At this point, our tummies were burning from the Andhra food and we needed something bland. The menu had falafel and hummus thanks to the Israeli customers and I jumped on to it, while Shruti enjoyed her roti with coconut curry. We highly recommend this great little restaurant if you are in Hampi.

Hampi – A Lost Kingdom

Post lunch, we started wandering around the ruins. We saw the big Shiva temple, Nandi (bull) monolithic statue and the Hanuman temple. There were bazaars and other ruins which had stones cut and carved from the local area. It started raining and we met a hindu bairagi naga, a holy man, who gave us more gyaan (knowledge) about the area and India chasing modernisation.

Medival Meeting Area, Hampi

Hanuman, Monkey God, HampiHampi is a pilgrimage for the Shiva and Vishu sect. The area is believed to be Kishkindha city of the Ramayana which was the Monkey Kingdom. Hanuman, the Monkey God, is believed to have been born here and the temple of his mother was on a hill across the river.

However, in our view, its current beauty is due to the medieval Vijaynagara Kingdom. There are lots of temples and structures built around the area amongst the massive rocks. If you looked towards the horizon, you will see massive rocks and some pillars or temple like structures on the rock top. It is truly amazing. I suppose, the Vijaynagara Kingdom invested a fortune, earned through diamond trade, in their temples.

We then started to climb up a hill overlooking the city with a temple at the top. The view from the top was simply breathtaking with a 360 degree view of the city and the hills beyond. The walk down was in the rain and the stone steps turned wet making it hard to get a grip. We did what the locals do – took off our shoes and trekked down barefoot. It was almost a pilgrimage for us as well :)

Vijaynagar Kingdom, Hampi

Royal Bath, HampiWe hired Raja the next day for a full day tour.  We visited all the big temples, such as, Vittala Temple (known for the stone chariot and musical pillars), Virupaksha Temple, as well as the ruins of the palace, like Lotus Mahal, Royal Bath, etc. It was a sad story of a kingdom built beautifully around the massive rocks. The kingdom lasted for several centuries but lost to its neighbors after betrayal by it’s own soldiers.

Vittala Temple, Hampi

Narsimha, Man-Lion, HampiThe stone carvings in this whole area were exquisite. Some temples had the entire Ramayana scenes carved on the walls while there were lots of monolithic idols around the region. Some of the big ones were of Narasimha, the man-lion and Shivalinga, Shiva’s representation made out of a single rock. Each of them were several feet tall and wide.

Once Raja left, we continued our journey on the foot. We trekked a small hill and saw some temples we had previously missed. Some of the boulders on the hill were several stories tall. We also fed a cow with a new born calf and a pregnant dog.

Feeding Cow, Hampi

We ended our day trip by looking for small change.  Small change is huge problem in India especially while traveling. While the locals couldn’t assist us, an aged uncle, tourist himself, who heard our problem decided to help us out!

Tip: Always break your big notes after food etc as restaurants would be more accommodating than transport facilities or small eateries.

Summary

Transport

In order to get to Hampi, you need to reach Hospet first. There are trains and buses from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Goa or Mumbai. Once in Hospet, utilise the state buses run between Hospet railway station and Hampi. They are comfortable and cheap.

As for seeing Hampi itself, there are two key options:

  1. Raja, Tuk Tuk Driver, HampiTuk Tuk – if you are short of time, hire a tuk tuk for the day and he will show you around. We highly recommend Raja, apart from being safe on the road, he knew the history and communicated with us very well in English. He can be reached at +91-9449420985.
  2. Cycling & Walking – if you have plenty of time (3 days min.), we recommend you to hire a bike and cycle around the ruins. This gives you the flexibility of how you want to spend time and de-rail on an unknown path.

Accommodation

We recommend living in Hampi itself – there are relatively cheap accommodations and you can enjoy Hampi to fullest. We missed out on the sun rise and a massive hill because we had to commute back to Hospet.

Final thoughts

Massive boulders in HampiHampi was magical. Period. No words can describe the terrain, ruins and the living temples. It seems like man and nature have worked together to create a beautiful place.

In addition, we managed to see various animals all around us. Goats, cows, monkeys, langoors as well as chickens and a peahen – this made us realize we were in a village.

Goats in Hampi

Our final words – if you are visiting India, please do not miss this tiny village.

Visiting Hampi Gallery

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Hyderabad

Initial planning

During our initial planning, we had a few South Indian cities on our list of places to visit. As time went by, we realised we were short of time and so we had to cut down quite a bit. Some of the major cities like Chennai and Bangalore didn’t make it to the final itinerary. Hyderabad on the other hand, we couldn’t remove. Reason – food. That’s it! Period.

Hyderabad, though it is part of South India, it has a distinct culture due to its mix of North Indians, South Indians, Hindus and Muslim cultures. Growing up in India, we have known Hyderabad for two things: Hyderabad Biryani, a spicy slow cooked rice dish and Hyderabad accent, a mix of North Indian Urdu and South Indian Telugu language. Recently however, Hyderabad has come into the news for protesting for and getting a separate state in India. It seems to us that every few years, the number of states in India increases. I won’t be surprised if Shruti can’t tell you how many states there are in India right now :P

First bite of the cherry

We arrived in Hyderabad in the middle of a thunderstorm but were relieved to be away from the Delhi heat. Telangana state runs PNational Fisheries Development Board, Hyderabadushpak buses which takes you from the airport to the middle of the city for a small cost. The highlight of the bus trip was a building shaped like a fish which understandably happens to be the fisheries department of the state.

After checking in and resting for a bit, our first stop was Biryani, HyderabadParadise Restaurant, supposedly a Hyderabad institution. It is known for its Biryani and kebabs,
so we bought the same – biryani, kebab and desert called Qubani Ka Meetha, to eat in the room. The walk gave us an brief view of the city life and we were shocked to find no animals on the roads. Now that’s unusual for an Indian city.

Once we had the first spoon of the Biryani and bite of the kebabs, we knew that we had made the right decision coming to Hyderabad. The desert, made of apricots, was just delicious. The local newspaper was full of news of floods in the city but we couldn’t care less!

Hyderabad hospitality

We decided to check out the historical monuments of the city and boarded a local bus. The mix of religions, cultures and languages in Hyderabad was very evident on the bus – and we loved it. Growing up in Delhi and Mumbai, we always assumed people in big cities to be rude and far from helping. This wasn’t the case in Hyderabad – as soon as we boarded the bus and asked the bus driver how to get to Charminar, we had a quarter of the bus helping us out. Eventually, a mother and daughter-in-law, who were heading in the same direction, asked us to follow them. They helped us take the right bus, dropped us outside the tourist area and even gave their phone number in case we were lost. The young girl even offered Shruti her seat on the bus and when Shruti insisted she sits, she replied, “aap Hyderabad ke mehmaan ho”, which means, ‘you are the guest of Hyderabad’.  We were definitely taken aback with such politeness.

This incident wasn’t our last – we encountered this helpful attitude throughout our time in Hyderabad.

The history of the city

The old city of Hyderabad is a majority Muslim area and in many cities in India, it can be a no-go zone for non-Muslims. Hyderabad though is a beautiful exception. There were Muslims, Hindus, vegetarian eateries and beef shops near each other. The main tourist attraction of Hyderabad, Charminar, is a beautiful medieval monument. The name itself means four towers and the monument is built in the middle of a crossroad. It was built in 1591 by a Qutub Shahi King but restored and maintained by dynasties afterwards. A lady from the Archaeological department told us that a Hindu princess got married to the Muslim king in the medieval area and the name of the city in Hindi and Telugu is based on the same princess.

Charminar, Hyderabad

The Mughal kings from North India saw Hyderabad’s potential early on due to its diamond mines in the area. Many wars were fought between the Mughals and Qutub Shah Dynasty and the Mughals eventually won. They brought the Northern languages and Persian food which innovated in Hyderabad and is now famous. Mughals left their Generals in charge, known as the Nizams, who eventually became independent and change the character of the area.

Chowmalla Palace, HyderabadWe visited the Chowmohalla Palace, which was home for few Nizam kings. The palace was full of history and grandeur of the royals. It showed everything from their paintings, weapons, furniture, crockery and some of the best cars in the world of their time. The biggest surprise? After India became a democratic country, the last Nizam moved to Australia with his family. G’day Nizzy!

Our discovery of history continued as we visited the Golconda Fort and the Qutub Shahi tombs. The fort was built in the 12th century and was the capital of the region for many centuries. It is built on a large hill and the view from the top is amazing. Unfortunately, as with most historic places in India, people have managed to etch their names into the walls. The security guard caught and threw out a teenager for doing the same before giving him a small beating. Somebody is gonna get a hurt real baddddd!

Golconda Fort, Hyderabad

The tombs were no less than the fort in their grandeur. Their was restoration work going on in many of the tombs but it is still a nice quiet place to spend a few hours away from the sun. Hyderabad being away from the tourist route means that you can have the places to yourself. We rewarded ourselves with another spicy Biryani and gosh, it was hot. Afterwards, all I could sing was Burning Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash.

Qutub Shahi Tombs, Hyderabad

Salar Jung Museum, HyderabadWe also visited the Salar Jung museum in the old city. Salary Jung was the title given to the Prime Ministers of the Nizam Kings. The museum was built by Salary Jung III. Much like the Chowmohalla Palace, the museum displayed the history of the Nizams but also of the Salary Jung family. It has a great collection of Indian art and history.

Other tourist spots

We also visited the Hussain Sagar Lake and the Birla Mandir. The lake was somewhat disappointing though the drizzly weather may have had something to do with it. It has a giant Buddha statue which is the highlight but the lake itself appeared dirty.

The Birla family has built a lot of temples along with other things around the country. The Birla temple in Hyderabad is on top of a hill overlooking the city. It is a must visit site not only for the religious reasons but also the view.

Party scene

Other than the history and food, we were excited that we were in Hyderabad for the weekend. Like any other IT emerging cities in the country, there are lots of youngsters who have moved here from other parts of the country. When the young crowd isn’t working, they are definitely partying. Though, you need to be aware that the party scene in India is limited to posh places which can stay open after lockdown. Unfortunately, no one could tell us when the lockdown actually is.

We met Shruti’s childhood friend Ankit for dinner at Stone Waters Kitchen. It was a great place to chill with live music, good food, alcohol and hookah. The musician played till the cops dropped by to checkout the place – this must have been past lockdown.

We met Ankit again on Saturday night to go clubbing. Shruti and I had never been clubbing in India and Ankit was happy to take us along. We met in the Hi-tech city which is the new part of town full of IT companies and hotels. Heart Cup Coffee had a nice mix of chillout lounges and an electro club. We had planned to stay out til half past 12 since we had to checkout the next day. However, we then moved to Over the Moon which had Bollywood and Electro/House music and we loved it from the start. We loved it so much that we left only after the Indian music finished at 2:30am. Shruti and I had never been clubbing in India and this certainly made up for it. We even grabbed a 3am dosa on the way home!

Hyderabad food

Apart from the yummiest biryanis from Paradise and Rumaan Restaurants, I also tried some of the local delicacies like Hyderabad Chicken Curry and Patthar Ka Gosht. The latter is lamb slow cooked on heated stone and it really melts in your mouth. This is definitely a must try – highly recommended.

We also ate the local desert, Qubani Ka Meetha and Double Ka Meetha. The latter is basically fried bread with cream and sweet syrup – it was definitely delicious.

We made sure we had an Andhra Thali, the local Telegu food. It is basically a massive serving of various curries, roti and unlimited rice. It was a feast and we couldn’t walk after the meal. Make sure you have one of these if you are in Telengana or Andhra Pradesh.

I also wanted to try Haleem – which is a slow cooked sweet dish with lamb, dry fruits and spices. It is usually cooked during Ramzam (Ramadan) festival so all my efforts were in vain. This is still on my must-try list.

We also bought a box of famous Fruit Biscuits from Karachi Bakery. I suppose this box will last us a week or week and half easily. Each biscuit is rich in its content and has rose essence – we are enjoying it with cup of tea during our the train rides :)

Summary

Transport

We used buses to get around the city quite a bit. Though they appear a little aged and dodgy, they manage to get people around the city just fine. The conductors and drivers were quite nice and the buses were cheap. We had no issues whatsoever.

The autos are the bane of Hyderabad. There is a meter system set up by the government but you will rarely find a auto driver who is willing to use it. We only used shared autos for area less than a few kilometres.

For late night travels, Ankit introduced us to Uber in Hyderabad. We used both Uber and Ola in situation where nothing else would do. The drivers were pretty good and the cabs were relatively cheaper than autos as well as safe.

Accommodation

We stayed in Banjara Hills which is a posh locality. There are lots of food options at close proximity. There are lots of lounges and clubbing spots around the area too and getting around at any time of the day isn’t an issue.

Another recommended locality is Jubilee Hills. Similar to Banjara Hills, there are lots of food and entertainment options around.

Final thoughts

Its pretty obvious that we visited Hyderabad for its food. However, we learnt a lot of things about the city which changed how we think of Hyderabad. To be fair, there is not a whole lot to do in Hyderabad. It has a lot of history and culture but it is the people of the city that make it what it is.

Hyderabad still has the old ‘royal’ manners where people will be nice and try to help as much as possible. The busses have 50% of the seats allocated to the women – which I have never seen anywhere. We felt that the women were much safer in Hyderabad then they are in the North. The bus conductors and bus drivers were so nice which is unheard of in India.

As stated previously, Muslims and Hindus living under the royalty has created an amazing mix. It is possible to have Mutton Biryani and Veg Thali within close proximity. You can get by speaking Hindi/Urdu, Telugu or English without anyone complaining. Muslim women with burqas and Hindu women in saris sit side by side without any issues. This truly makes Hyderabad what it is.

Though its history is a highlight, Hyderabad is modernising at a rapid rate. The hi-tech city has attracted people from all over India as well as overseas and this has brought restaurants, cuisines from around the world, malls and towers like any other global city.

Hyderabad

Hyderabad Gallery

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USA Visa for Indian Citizen

While we were in Colombo, we looked into the process for USA Visa application. As I am am Indian Citizen, it was necessary for her to get the USA Visa. Turns out, everything was very straight forward. We looked through US Travel Docs site and followed the steps.

After filling out the online application, we had to make our way to a bank branch to pay the fee. We waited till we got to India for the payment step. Once the fee was paid, we received a receipt number.

We tried to book an appointment soon after but the receipt number wasn’t accepted. We guessed the system had to be updated. We tried again at night and bang, we got to the schedule appointment screen.

As we were scheduled to leave Delhi and travel around India, selecting collection port was an issue. US Embassy allows applicants to submit their application in one city and collect their passport in another. Upon thinking through our options, estimating the process time and discussing with my mother, we decided to pick up the passport from Mumbai.

Step 5 and step 6, both require appointments and although the system allows applicant to schedule appointment for step 6, interview stage, first, the date has to be after step 5, collection of finger prints, is done. This took us a while to figure this out!

We headed to Nehru Place to submit my finger prints and photo. The process took 40 mins, apart from the waiting around for appointment. Usually this step is really quick but make sure you are carrying all your documents, especially your bank statements. Only then your application will be processed. This step is carried out by an outsourced company and not handled directly by USA Embassy.

On the day of the interview, we headed to the Embassy. I queued up while Manish and mum-in-law spent time driving around Delhi. Luckily Rohit, Manish’s friend, had offered to drive us to the embassy. They came back every half hour to check on me as I couldn’t carry my mobile phone inside the building.

Once inside, I felt the US Visa anticipation atmosphere. It was almost like everyone there was preparing for a job interview they really want! The interviewer decides if the applicant will receive the visa or not. The range of interviewers was diverse as well, from an older man to younger female including an Indian origin American. It was also quite a surprise to see Americans speak in fluent Hindi and Punjabi.

I had almost done a walk-in interview, i.e., without any preparation, and was started to get worried. When it came to my turn, I was interviewed by the Indian American. Upon reciting our story, the interviewer double checked a few details. I suppose, mentioning we live in Sydney and Manish is an Australian Citizen, cleared most of his doubts. He clarified why was I applying the visa from India and upon learning that we are backpacking, he quickly dropped the visa in a tray and said that an email with be sent about the collection. It took me a couple of seconds to digest what had happened and I eventually walked out smiling.

Manish and the crew drove back to the embassy and picked me up after 2 hours. At least I had good news for them. Upon hearing my initial concern about the interview and me not being prepared, Rohit said that it appears US Visa is granted to those who don’t need it. So true I must say!

In 3 days we received an email saying my passport was ready for collection. Luckily my mum was in Mumbai and we couriered her a couple of papers, including an authorisation letter. The passport pickup was not an issue at all.

I suppose the entire process for scheduling appointments and receiving USA Visa for Indian Citizen took about 10 days. So now if I get visas to other countries or not, we can at least travel to US and other countries that allow Indians to visit based on the US Visa validity. Hurray!