Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hyderabad The city, people and life

Text and pics by Dhanesh Wisumperuma

The Nation, 04-11-2012, p.  (Fine) 

The City of Pearls and City of Nizams are the epithets for Hyderabad, which is the capital of Andhra Pradesh, a state in South India. Hyderabad and Andhra Pradesh are not well known among the Sri Lankans today, but this was not the case in the past. For instance, the Pallavas who reigned parts of present Andhra Pradesh during the first millennium CE had a significant influence on Sri Lanka. Also, the common Sinhala phrase, ‘andara demala’ used to denote unclear statements, means the ‘Tamil language of Andhra’. This could have originated when the Sinhalese were confronted with Telugu, somewhat similar, but different from Tamil. Telugu is a language spoken in present Andhra Pradesh and surrounding areas.

However, Hyderabad or other sites of Andhra Pradesh (except a few archaeologically important areas like Nagarjunakoda and Amaravati) are not major attractions for the ordinary Sri Lankan visitors. Universities and institutions of Hyderabad have attracted a lot of Sri Lankan students.

City and surrounding

Hyderabad is situated in the northern part of Deccan Plateau at a moderate altitude of 500 meters which makes the city somewhat cooler despite the dry and arid climate of the area. The city is about 650 square kilometers in size, which is slightly larger than the entire Colombo District, and it is among the largest cities in India by population. The city has expanded recently in area as well as of population with the rapid development seen during the last two decades.

A characteristic feature for a visitor to Hyderabad is the landscape with rocks even within the city, mainly in the western side. The city’s landscape and topography is mentioned as a sloping rocky terrain of grey and pink granites and small hillocks are scattered throughout. It seems the multi-story buildings – companies, factories and apartments – are being developed keeping at least some rocks intact. It does add an uncanny beauty to the city, while it also helps to reduce the eyesore of concrete high-rises. It was strange for a Sri Lankan, as the Sri Lankan definition of urban development is to clear all such ‘obstructions’! Some of these rocks are actually protected under state laws. Later I found that this was partly a result of a people’s campaign to save this spectacular landscape, where the ‘Society to Save Rocks’ ( played a key role. This type of an initiative may suit Sri Lanka to protect at least the historical rocks, some of which are being destroyed just for granite.

Hyderabad city is full of urban features. The western quarter of the city is still being developed and skyscrapers of more than 20 to 30 stories are a common sight. Some of these can be termed as architectural masterpieces. Wide roads and elevated highways connect parts of the city, while toll roads connect the city with the other large cities. A large population of the poor still live in shanties within the city and sometimes in the close proximity of the high-rises. A short visit to the old city area, where most of the state agencies and foreign organizations as well as businesses are located, indicated that the situation there may be better than that of the western quarter.

The IT industry is centered in the area known as ‘Cyberabad’. Andhra Pradesh was famous for cigarettes and textile in the past, but today it is well known for its IT industry, pharmaceutical industry and as a center of education. Many of world’s leading IT companies have established branches in Hyderabad. A large workforce consisting of young crowds from various parts of India works here. The area is full of ‘Men’s Hostels’, ‘Women’s Hostels’, ‘Working Girls’ Hostels’ and apartments. Parts of the city are busy and alive until about 11 pm due to the crowds. Girls and women walking the streets even at late hours is a common sight.

City’s history

The present city of Hyderabad was established in 1591 by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah and it became a part of the Mughal kingdom after 1687. Nizam-ul-Mulk, who founded the dynasty of Nizams of Hyderabad, made the city capital of the princely state of Hyderabad in 1724, which continued to exist as an independent state with the agreements first with the French and later the British. Nizam’s agreement with the British in 1798 placed his country under the protection of the British, but retained independency in internal matters. When India became an independent nation in 1947, Nizam wanted to keep Hyderabad as an independent state, but India insisted it to join the Indian nation. Indian forces invaded Hyderabad in 1948 and it was annexed to India. Hyderabad became the capital of the newly formed state of Andhra Pradesh in 1956.

Although the city has a short history, there are a number of historical monuments in the city, mostly around the old city in the eastern side. The list is somewhat lengthy, but a few such sites must be mentioned - the Charminar, Golconda Fort, Birla Mandir, Mecca Musjid, some museums and the large reservoirs known as Sagars like the famous Hussain Sagar.

The Charminar, located in the old city of Hyderabad, is a monument built by the founder of the city. It is a masterpiece of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture with four minarets and four connecting arches. It is situated in the heart of a crowded city, with various types of merchants selling a variety of items including pearls, for which the city is famous.

The population of Hyderabad is multi-ethnic and multi-religious. Telugu and Marathi are the major ethnic groups and the main religions are Hindu and Islam. There are a large number of minority ethnic groups and minority religions. The first official language is Telugu, and Urdu is the second official language of the State. Hindi is also spoken and many people can understand English.

Food and beverage

Food and beverage of Hyderabad are noteworthy. Among the various foods available in Hyderabad, Hyderabadi Biryani is specific and indigenous to the city. It is made of Basmati rice and mostly chicken, although originally it was made of lamb mutton. It is beautifully garnished with pudina, fried onion and boiled egg. It is said that it is a combination of Mughal and Andhra cuisines and practised by the Nizams. It has a distinct aroma. It is served mostly with side dishes such as dahi-ki-chutney (a dish made of whipped yoghurt or curd, chopped green chilli, onions and mint and served in a small bucket) and mirchi-ka-salan (dish made of chilli and peanuts).

The Hyderabadi tea, offered at normal hotels, is quite different from a cup of tea offered in Sri Lanka. It is about a half of the usual cup of tea one is offered in Sri Lanka. However, the price is also half of its Sri Lankan counterpart. It was extremely bitter with an excess of tea and is able to provide the stimulus required from a cup of tea. It takes a Sri Lankan at least two weeks to adapt to it.

Judging from some of the price-marked commodities one can deduce that prices are higher than in Sri Lanka. For instance, an anti-bacterial soap available in Sri Lanka for Rs.40 is priced at 20 Indian Rupees in Hyderabad – about 50 Sri Lankan rupees.


As in Sri Lanka, three-wheeler fares varied largely on the appearance of the passenger and language he or she speaks. Three-wheeler drivers hang around bus stands calling out names of various cities ‘Kondapur’, ‘Madhapur’, in an attempt to coax potential passengers. They proceed when they gather at least eight people for a three-wheeler, four or five at the back and at least three in front excluding the driver. Some take about 12 to 13 people where some are forced to sit on the lap of fellow passengers.

The main mode of transport is bus, under the purview of the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC), the state-owned passenger transport service. This is said to be the largest fleet of busses in the world in terms of commuters, carrying 13 million passengers a day. Buses are common and one doesn’t have to wait long to get a bus. However, getting into a bus is not easy, as these buses stop at the middle of the road. People wait for buses on the road, while there is a bus stop behind them, while the buses slowdown giving the passengers a chance to get in. It is not an easy task for the disabled and the ladies. One could not understand whether the crowds were in the middle of the road because the buses refused to stop at the bus stop or the buses didn’t stop at the bus stop because the people refused to wait there.

First four or five rows of the bus on both sides are reserved for women, marked in Telugu or English or in graphic form. A seat or two are allocated for ‘Senior Citizens’ and ‘PHC’ (Physically Handicapped Citizens). The normal practice is for a man to give the seats reserved for ladies, when a woman gets in to the bus. However, some men simply refused to give the seat to women.

Motorcycles are also a common mode of transport. Although helmets are required, riders are seldom seen wearing helmets. When in Hyderabad, the single most important matter a pedestrian has to keep in mind is to cross the road without meeting with an accident. No vehicle had any intention of stopping although there were people waiting to cross the road. The act of crossing the road is considered solely the business of pedestrians. Vehicles slow down rather than stop and people had to cross as soon as possible. It is risky for those of us uninitiated in the ‘system’ of the city.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lankans may not look like outsiders until we speak with them. Many of the city dwellers knew of Sri Lanka. Some of them were aware of the ‘terrorist problem’ which prevailed in Sri Lanka and the provocative acts by Tamil Nadu politicians. A police officer, who said that he was in the security squad of the Sri Lankan cricket team, was very supportive. Meanwhile, kottu roti was showcased in an exhibition of food diversity, as a Sri Lankan cuisine.

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