January 29, 2011

Hyderabad: From the lens of an NRI

In December of 2010, I visited and worked out of Hyderabad city in India for 3 weeks. My last visit to Hyderabad was 5 years ago and this time it seemed like the city has been on a fast track literally and otherwise in terms of growth and infrastructure development. The airport is truly world class with its magnitude of space and comforts. The roads leading you to the city from the airport compare with the US freeways with the only exception being official speed limits imposed! :) The Hitech city, where I spent most of my work time, has grown tons of times its size 5 years ago with hundreds of corporate offices of Indian and foreign tech companies and educational campuses like ISB and shopping malls and restaurants and the likes.. During this stay, I also visited several tourist spots of the city and my experience was surprisingly spread across a wide spectrum of emotions. Each place had a charm of its own that was either pleasantly reflected in the energy around it or dishearteningly lost among the camaraderie of crowd and its mundane activities in the arena.  Here is my mini-guide for tourists who visit this city with my lens.

Charminaar and Chudi bazaar and Laad Bazaar: These beautifully carved minars (pillars) at the crossroads of one the busiest junctions of the old city is worth a visit to wonder how lonely and neglected a structure of such historic and architectural significance might be! You need to do some ground work before you can brace yourself to shop in the crowded markets, that are most known for pearls and bangles, along the Charminaar crossroads. Warnings of cheating on price and originality of those gems float around in plenty especially if you are an accented English speaking, camera holding admirer of Charminaar's intricate design.

Golconda Fort: The Sound and Light show in the evenings at this huge fort is an experience I will never forget. In the voice of Amitabh Bachan, this show takes you back in time to the days when this fort was full of life and riches and a symbol of strength and power.

Hussain Sagar Lake & Buddha statue: My only low point on this happening area of the city is the strong stench of the stagnant lake water that is quite discomforting after a while. The good news however is that the largest monolithic Buddha statue in the country at the center of this lake is only 10 minute boat ride away and absolutely worth a visit.

Eat Street: This is the most happening food place in the city with a variety of options from Mumbai Frankie to South Indian dosas to Indo-Chinese to MacD to Chaat and several more... They have a comfortable common seating area facing the lake. This place offers some great night shots of the lake and a ride to the Buddha statue as well.

Chowmallah Palace: This is a group of beautiful well-maintained palaces built by successive Nizams. The collection of photographs, crockery, furniture, apparel, currency, weapons and many other royal artifacts including the royal throne in a room roofed under magnificent chandeliers is very interesting.

Ramoji Film City: The film city is huge and can easily consume an entire day worth of time exploring. It has amazing sets in the form of replicas of India's most famous monuments, boasts of a variety of gardens each with its own theme and color, and an arena full of demonstrations of the tricks of the film world. Since I have been to film cities of the likes of Universal Studios, I should have reset my expectations from film themed rides and shows to outdoorsy exploration of natural but not original lawns and parks sets to feel content with this plan.

Birla Temple: Built at a height this temple offers a view of the entire city spread around the lake. The different levels of the temple connected with quite some flights of stairs have a unique layout and magnificent sculptures on the walls.

Qutubshahi tombs: These are domed structures built on a square base and reflect a blend of Indian and Persian architecture. If Charminaar's neglected state can cause any bout of pain, then these tombs will only make one cry for the lack of maintenance and solitude these endure.

Salar Jung Museum: This is one of the oldest museums in the city and has the largest compilation of personally collected artifacts from all around the world. It has hundreds of rooms and requires a lot of time and patience to see each artifact at ease.

Snow World: A big room full of artificial snow, a dirty ice-slide and an igloo and maintained at a temperature below the freezing point is no fun for the ones who have had the experience of snowfalls for entire winters. This place was the biggest letdown of my trip and a complete negative experience being a part of hundreds of visitors packed together in an environment that lacked hygiene and discipline.

A visit to Hyderabad is not complete without eating the famous Hyderabadi biryani. The most popular Paradise restaurant and Zafraan Exotica with awesome ambience and tasty food were among my favorite biryani places. Based on my trip experience my last thoughts on this city - it is now ruled by rickshaw drivers who impose exorbitant fares for rides and tourists like me have no option but to obey their HIGH command!!! 

January 21, 2011

My favorites Live in Concert!!!

The year 2010 has been awesome for several reasons - we traveled to many different places in the US and to Canada, visited and hosted several friends and family, celebrated the arrival of our nephews, moved into and furnished our new apartment and I can keep going on and on. While counting my blessings for this year, the two other unexpected and major events that made it to the list were hearing my favorite musician A. R. Rahman and my favorite band Euphoria live in concert!

A. R. Rahman
Rahman's concert was announced in May and I was both overjoyed and disappointed. After years I thought I had the chance to fulfill my dream of hearing the maestro live but among the locations where he would perform, Seattle was not listed. However my gloom turned into glee when I saw the gift of my tickets booked for his concert in San Francisco. My emotions were filled with excitement with each passing day counting down up to the concert till they were drowned in sorrow with the news of the cancellation of the event. After several such hiccups, I had very little hope left, but I think I was destined to attend the concert this year and so on a beautiful sunny September afternoon in Vancouver my long wait ended. The stage was the grandest of all that I have ever seen. He started the concert with a fusion of "O Saya" and "Maa Tuje Salaam", one of my favorite songs. I was at the edge of my seat for each of his songs and often jumping like a frog only to amuse those sitting around me. The one thing that I would have loved to change about my experience was the passiveness of the crowd around me. Each time I screamed my heart out, leaped out of my seat to applaud and whistled and waved, all I saw around me were some raised eyebrows.. but who cares!! I did what I wanted to! Focusing back on the concert,  the stage, lights, sound, choreography, his entire crew of singers and performers were flawless. The stage was so dynamic, it changed structure with each performance and the variety ranged from classical and historical touch to acrobatic, western and digital wonders (3D projection of Lata Mangeskar to accompany Rahman for the song "Luka chupi"). Among the other popular singers in his team were Hariharan, who stole our hearts with his "Bharat humko" and Shaan. But words fail to describe my feelings hearing classics like "Yeh jo des hai tera" and "Dil Se" from the man himself. He also surprised us by singing one song from the center of the auditorium just few feet away from our seats. The grand finale to this unforgettable evening was expectedly "Jai Ho"!!!

Our response to the next announcement of the Euphoria concert in Seattle in November was a no-brainer. We booked tickets immediately and were pleasantly surprised to get to know on the day of the concert that we were the first ones to book for that concert! I love the songs Maeri, Kabhi aana tu meri gully and Dhoom Pichuk and have been a huge fan of Palash in my undergrad days. I attended their concert few years ago at a college festival during my undergrad days in Mumbai. And I was pleasantly surprised to experience the same sort of energy, and attitude in their performance even after so many years and in a different set up altogether. I could not stay put in my seat after 1 song and jumped out of my seat into the "standing" area closer to the stage. From then onwards there was no moving back from there! Every song pumped in more energy that the previous one and made me nostalgic as I relived the concert time spent with my buddies from undergrad days. The performance almost seems like a one-man show since Palash is only lead singer and the only one who literally keeps everyone on their toes. The same reason was a cause of disappointment for some who expected the whole band to be sharing the limelight on stage. Others were a bit taken aback by Palash's repeated sarcastic remarks to those comfortable in their seats to try shaking a leg and let go of the seat that they paid for. Since this was not a college concert setting they were justified in their disgruntle however I personally got more than what I expected from this concert and returned home  nostalgic and ecstatic with refreshed memories and renewed enthusiasm!!!

So 2010 goes down as the year of  watching my stars "Live" :)