|The Charminar in Hyderabad|
Last week I used an invitation to the wedding of one of Nivedita’s cousins in Bangalore as an excuse to do some travelling in South India. On the first leg of my trip, a 22-hour train journey down the spine of India took me to the city of Hyderabad, known in the past for the ostentation of its Muslim rulers (the last Nizam had 11,000 servants, 38 of whom were tasked with keeping the chandeliers clean) and now reinventing itself as a technology and IT powerhouse. Following a day and a half visiting its historical sites and loafing through the streets of the Old City, I moved on to explore the ruins of the medieval Hindu city of Hampi, scattered across an extraordinary landscape of granite outcrops strikingly interspersed with green sinews of sugarcane plantation and coconut trees. So, after approximately 1400 miles of train travel, multiple dancing-related humiliations, 1 lost voice and 0 cases of sunstroke, here are a few thoughts gleaned from my sojourn in the south.
If you’re attending an Indian wedding, make sure you’re neither the bride nor groom! Friends and family really have it easy; the only entry requirements to a desi wedding are a willingness to dance at any opportunity (age being no barrier) and eat an inordinate quantity of rogan josh and jalebis (ditto). By contrast, the lot of the happy couple is to be spectators to their nearest and dearest’s capering and gluttony as they endure the interminable rigmarole of religious ceremonies. Despite my best endeavours to understand the meaning of these rituals, their exact significance wasn’t always apparent even to those who did manage to tear themselves away from the dancefloor or buffet to indulge my curiosity. By the time Neha and Shivam had become man and wife – at an apparently auspicious 4am on Monday morning – after four days of ceremony, and with most of the guests having been whittled away by fatigue, over-eating or simple disinterest, I could appreciate why they were sharing thousand-yard stares. Nevertheless, for me – who only had to suffer the indignity of having to dance freestyle in front of several hundred presumably pitying guests – it was a welcome and joyous weekend of frivolity and gastronomic body abuse after a lean week backpacking (as I write this I’m enjoying the sweets given to me by Neha’s mother the day after the wedding). I wish Neha and Shivam all the best in their new lives together.
|'So what are you in for?' 'Picking flowers.'|
Many of India’s historical monuments seem to teeter between nurture and neglect; Hyderabad – which I had learnt had already seen much of its heritage lost forever in its rapid transition to IT hub– is a case in point. Extensive restoration work was being carried out on the Charminar (Hyderabad’s premier landmark) while I was there, yet it was easy to find other sites still to benefit from the city’s belated conservation efforts.
Golconda Fort is one such place. Once the stronghold of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, whose legendary wealth came from the diamond mines of the region that spawned the Koh-i-Noor, any visitor today could be forgiven for being underwhelmed by what is billed as one of India’s most spectacular forts. As soon as I had passed through the fort’s gate (embedded with spikes to ward off elephant charges), self-appointed guides eager to reel me in demonstrated the acoustic capabilities of the portico by clapping: the echoes could allegedly be heard on the distant hilltop citadel. It was a nice party-trick but, not wanting to start my visit by haggling over payment for a tour I may have regretted taking, I quickly peeled off, passed through the fort’s pleasure gardens and began a steady ascent towards the citadel. Soon pausing to catch my breath in the heat, I noticed that the fortifications rising above me were bolstered and occasionally supplanted by massive boulders, making for some great photo opportunities. As is so often the case with India’s lesser-known monuments however, zooming in failed to bring reward.
Having reached the acropolis, it quickly became clear that where once there must have been beautiful and precise Indo-Islamic ornamentation, now the citadel’s structures were crudely adorned with lovers’ graffiti, unerringly gouged into fraying plasterwork. Most pitifully of all, someone (perhaps an overzealous official who had got the wrong end of the stick about conservation, or perhaps a well-intentioned but still misguided visitor) had scratched ‘Remove footwear before entering’ into the wall of a dilapidated mosque. Large areas of the hill had been given up to weeds, shrubs and the detritus of tourists. Looking out beyond the walls of Golconda and across the arid sweep of the Deccan plateau, the suburbs of the New Hyderabad, ‘Cyberabad’, seemed menacingly close. As a fellow visitor who shared my dismay put it, although the fort withstood multiple sieges it could not escape neglect.
Golconda still seems to have sufficient gravitas for now. As I wended my way down the path from the citadel, I spotted a film-crew shooting what looked like a Mughal costume drama. But it can only be for the spectacular backdrop. Ignorance, indifference and nature’s steady hand have long stripped away the furnishings.
|Virupaksha Temple, Hampi|
And finally, some wedding photos!
|Not even in step|
|The night of the wedding|
|3am and it's still going...|