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Travel Tales

Hyderabad- The City of Pearls

Ms Khokhar explores this former Capital of the largest and richest Princely state of India, famed for establishing local traditions in art, literature, architecture and cuisine, under the partronage of the Nizams.
By: Sidra Khokhar

Sidra Khokhar is an undergraduate student of architecture at the National College of Arts.

Hyderabad- The City of Pearls Perhaps the most memorable travel experience that I have had so far at the age of 19 was probably when I went to Hyderabad, India. The reason why this trip is so memorable for me is because for the very first time not only did I travel by foot to another country, (only half way through but it was certainly the highlight of the journey!) but I also visited India, the country that I have always associated with negative connotations. Thus, going there personally was perhaps a big eye opener for me for more than one reason. The journey was perhaps an enlightening experience with regard to me familiarizing myself with new people, customs and even food!

The moment when my journey began, I had this feeling that it wasn't the same charade as always- going to the airport and having to painfully wait in the rather unkempt waiting Hall with people looking at you like you're from outer space. Maybe the real reason why this trip of mine was so different was because I crossed the Pak-India border by foot. The feeling that you get when you see the huge mural paintings, the picture of your Quaid-e-Azam and the Pakistani flag waving in the air so freely is actually quite exhilarating.  Not only does this invoke within one feelings of patriotism, which I personally feel we all lack so much now-a-days but, seeing our soldiers and rangers at the gate decked up in all their uniforms one is left even more spell-bound than before. One thing that I made sure of doing was putting my feet at the same time across both the countries gates so that I could be at two places at the same time. After watching numerous movies in which the protaginist does this specific action, I made it a point to do the very same.

I found it rather amusing that when we crossed the Wagah border the scenery on the other side was not so drastically different than what we left behind. The only stark difference that I noticed were the Sikh's eye-popping colorful turbans; their quirky humor and speech didn't make me feel like I had actually crossed borders into an entirely separate nation. I had finally reached Amritsar, and had one more city to go to reach my destination- Hyderabad.

At first Amritsar seemed like a sullen rural community to me, not much different from the villages of Pakistan. But travelling further towards the centre of India, that is, New Delhi was a whole new experience. When we were landing in New Delhi, the view from the airplane's window made me feel like I am landing in Karachi at night. The fact that going to another country and having a constant feeling of it not being any more different than what I left behind back home, made me ponder over the point that, even though Pakistan and India have this history of condescension for one another, I kind of find it odd that we're two completely different races on practically the same land! Apart from this feeling, I particularly remember the ambience that the Hyderabad Airport had. Not only is this airport known to have been named amongst the world's top five in the annual Airport Service Quality (ASQ) passenger survey along with the ones at Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong and Beijing, but the vast green areas found within the airport are indeed picturesque. The types of plants and flowers that I saw were absolutely breathtaking! The entire airport was so well maintained and well equipped that it came as no wonder that it comes up in the world's top five in the ASQ.

Upon our arrival in Hyderabad, the hotel that we stayed in was located in the Northern part of the city. Being a Muslim majority city, commuting within the area was not very daunting, given that we Pakistanis were in the taboo land of India.

The view from my room was actually quite soothing, sandy hills with just a few pink and blue buildings. The diversity of the colors and landscape that I saw from my window made the entire ambience of where I was staying even more comforting. The Hotel was located in the Jubilee Hills, which happened to be a very central place. Only five minutes away was the city mall and a small flea market was nearby which for me was the main attraction of the entire vicinity. The flea market had almost everything that I had in mind to buy with my budget- traditional block printed Sarongs, threaded bracelets in neon colors and vibrant jewelry. The entire trip to the marketplace was quite entertaining. Moreover the shopkeepers were extremely helpful and their slogans for promoting their products were highly amusing as well!

Other than the marketplace, the highlight of the tourist spots that I also happened to visit were the various shrines of the saints who had been living in the city. Most of the shrines were located within the old part of the city, which was not as urbanized as perhaps the rest of the city. The shrines had this amazing architectural style that further heightened the spiritual aura of the place. Upon this visitation, I got to witness the traditions of the locals where they visited the shrines with what one can term as 'offerings' or giving of food, flowers and sweets. The shrines are generally understood to be places for making special prayers, as the people believe that these places, because of their spiritual ambience are sanctuaries. Not only this but also, these shrines are a living community for all the hippies. One sees numerous men, women and children roaming around the place as either cleaners or beggars. Despite seeing so many people who are basically homeless roaming around aimlessly at the shrines, my trip did not go wasted in worry or anxiety. It was actually interesting to watch and compare what the people back home and in India do at places like these. Unsurprisingly, all their customs, beliefs and traditions are pretty much the same essentially because we share the same religion and that is Islam. Some of the famous shrines that I visited included the shrines of Shah Abdul Latif and Abdullah Shah Ghazi.

For me the most important part of a trip is experiencing new and different cuisines. Thus, testing the famous Hyderabadi Biryani and Harissa was extremely relevant for me! After eating these two star dishes I was fully satisfied as each bite of the Biryani and Harissa was worth it.

All in all, I can say that my trip to Hyderabad or, as a matter of fact India in general, was indeed a most memorable one. It made me witness what people at the other end of our border practice, eat and believe in. Furthermore, it only made me realize that we Indians and Pakistanis are not that different. Our traditions are deeply rooted within one another and one must go and see this firsthand to believe it!