A marginally confused person abroad

I packed an awful lot into my time in India. The first thing that I really experienced was a festival called Holi. It’s the festival of colours which is intended to remind everyone that whatever they are doing in life, that it should be full of colour. The sentiment is truly lovely and everyone enjoys the day immensely. It basically involves a *lot* of coloured powder, water and fun.

It had been a very long day at the office and, as usual, something had happened which generally delayed the whole experience of playing Holi until it was quite late on a Thursday night. It was dark outside and I was outnumbered 10:1 by fun loving co-workers who were not going to waste a their opportunity to play Holi with the bossy woman the London office sent over. Needless to say, I was very colourful after playing and felt utterly reminded just how spectacular life is. Here’s a few snaps a colleague took:

The end result of playing Holi

I did give as good as I got but, when you are as woefully outnumbered as I was, there’s no other realistic result than what you see above.

The roads and general driving in Hyderabad terrified me. There were several occasions where I decided my life had very nearly ended. Once, a bus was careering towards the side of the car. Another instance was a lorry driving on the wrong side of the road far too fast hurtling in a head on collision course with the car. Another scary road related experience was my (only) trip in a Rickshaw.

They are known locally as ‘Autos’ but have many other names across the world. I called them yellow death wagons but I think ‘Tuk Tuk’ is a better known variant name. I had seen these  3 wheeled vehicles navigating their way through the traffic in Hyderabad with people literally hanging off the sides of them. I thought it was completely bonkers and therefore, I had to have a trip in one of them. I’m not going to lie, I was scared. It was scary. There are no doors or, actually, anything which could (or would) keep you safe in the unfortunate event of a collision.  Feelings of fear were soon eclipsed by the discomfort of my inner ear. Rickshaws are loud. Really loud. You have the engine whizzing behind you like some kind of demented firefly and, because there are no doors or windows, you have all the road noise assaulting your eardrums too. Add into this another dozen or so demented fireflies within 30 yards and you have some kind of horrifically arranged orchestra blaring away.

I survived, as many many people do every minute of every day, and had to have tourist photo 101 taken.

Once delivered to the dress shop by the Rickshaw, the dress shopping commenced. The first thing I noticed was that, no matter how many times we said “No Pink” in both English and Telugu, pink dresses were presented in abundance.

I tried on a lot of dresses but only really fell in love with one of them (in that shop anyway). The dress style is called a ghagra. It’s a 3 piece dress consisting of skirt, top and shawl. I was measured and advised by the tailor on exactly what alterations could, and should, be made in order that the pieces fit me perfectly. 3 days later, I collected my tailored ghagra whilst wearing a huge, stupid grin. Here’s a quick snap of me in the ghagra in a half Sari style. Please use your imaginations and add perfect hair and make up to this picture:

The beading and detail on the pieces is just beautiful. I have gorgeous beaded tassels everywhere and the skirt is heavy with stones. I feel like some kind of royalty when wearing it and am convinced I give off a disco ball type effect as the gems are so numerous and sparkly. I will be wearing it to events up and down the Country just as soon as I am invited to them (please do email me for the dress’ availibility). The ghagra was purchased from Neeru’s. I also purchased two other dressed from a retailer called Mebaz but I’ll save the photos of those for later blog posts. In summation, dress shopping was a great success.

As I was in Hyderabad to work, I only had Saturday to sight see. Thanks to friendly locals, I compiled a list of what I wanted to see on my one free day. The list began with Golkonda Fort.

The fort sits upon the tallest point in Hyderabad and is surrounded by two walls. An inner wall at 3 KM out from the fort and a second wall at 7 KM out from the fort. I took a guided tour around. It’s a very interesting place and, with the right guide, is a brilliant way to spend a few hours. Luckily, my guide spoke excellent English and was very knowledgeable.

The most fantastic thing about the fort are the acoustics. In certain places within the fort, it is possible to clap and be heard clapping up to 7 KM away. This is achieved by a very clever arrangement of diamond architecture and archways. It’s truly unbelievable to be standing on the edge of a hill and hear someone clapping from a building which looks like a spec. The views are also spectacular. As it is the highest point of Hyderabad, you can see for miles and miles.

The fort is made up of many  parts. On the tour I saw store houses, slave quarters, Eunuch’s quarters, wives quarters, the court, the VIP jail, prayer houses, assembly room, party areas and so on and so on. The Fort is huge and imposing.

It”s also tricky to get to. there are a lot of stairs and I would definitely only recommend it to able bodied people.

My guide informed me that they hold a music and light show every evening between 7 – 8 PM inside the fort. I was not able to attend unfortunately but I bet it’s well worth going to see.

The fort was home to the rulers of Hyderabad in times gone by. It took about 90 minutes to see the fort. When the rulers died, they were obviously buried. This leads me nicely onto the next sight I saw, the Qutub Shahi Tombs. There are 7 rulers bodies found in the tombs with many more wives and children close by. Each ruler designed and built their own tomb during their time as head honcho. Each tomb is architecturally different and all are very imposing.

The sheer scale of the tombs is hard to grasp from the photos here. You can see the tombs very clearly from the top of Golkonda Fort. They are enormous and beautiful. Picture here Once again, I was lucky to have a guide who spoke excellent English and was incredibly knowledgeable. He was full of facts and actively encouraged questions which was great because I had quite a few to ask. The grounds do not just play host to the tombs. There is also a prayer house for each tomb, a mortuary building where bodies were prepared and an enormous water tank which serviced the whole grounds. There is a good amount of flora and fauna. I saw mango trees, papayas, coconuts and all manner of pretty flowers. My guide also told me all about the gardens but I seem to have forgotten the details. I think my brain must have been saturated.

It took a good 90 – 120 minutes to enjoy all of the tombs and I can highly recommend seeing them. I would not have enjoyed it so much without a guide as his knowledge really did help tap into the wonder of the place. My favourite piece if information was with regard to a son who killed his Father to steal his rule. The brother of the murderer was, naturally, quite disgruntled about the whole thing so went to gather an army to defeat his brother and take back his Fathers reign. He succeeded and managed to kill his brother to claim the rule as his own. All in all, they were pretty badly behaved, the lot of them. This is the invading and overthrowing Brother’s tomb (not the Father killer).

All in all, the tombs are well worth a guided tour around.

The next place I had resolved to see was the Charminar. The Charminar is an icon for Hyderabad and I saw many a post card emblazoned with an image similar to the one below:

The climb up to the upper level should be undertaken only by the able bodied. The stairs are tight spirals and the steps have become quite slick after many years of footfall. I did not have a guide for the Charminar as it was very crowded. The fort and tombs were deserted in comparison to the crowds at the Charminar. I was visiting all the tourist attractions on a Saturday so I cannot comment on the crowds during the week. The Charminar is also located fairly centrally whereas the fort and tombs are a short drive from the main City. This contributes to the vast increase in people density when compared with the other attractions I visited.

The views from the Charminar are stunning but I was left a little lack luster by the interior. It is obviously very heavily visited and not very well maintained. The views were worth the entrance fee. It is worth a visit but for completely different reasons to the fort and tombs. The Charminar gives a much better impression of the day to day hustle and bustle of the City which was good to see even if slightly scary to experience. I enjoyed myself.

And so concluded my Hyderabad trip. I hope reading about it gives a tiny impression of just how much I enjoyed it. I have resolved to return to India on a strictly R&R basis rather than for work so that I can spend more than a single day and 2 evenings exploring.


Opportunity knocks and puts you on an aeroplane

About two years ago now, I embarked upon a new career in IT. I had no previous experience of working in IT and a completely unrelated Undergraduate Degree. I won through the interview process on my demonstrated ability to learn and work hard. Now, I am managing an online system deployed into 11 Countries. It’s been a steep leaning curve which has frequently left me wishing for a zero responsibility role based mainly around pulling pints of beer for happy revellers and with the distinct feeling that cutting my nose off to spite my face wouldn’t actually be that bad of an idea.

I have had many opportunities presented to me during those 2 years. I have travelled a little inCentral Eastern Europefor work, been to good restaurants, drunk cocktails in very nice bars and generally been able to live my life exactly as I please. I am incredibly fortunate to have earned my job and the opportunities that come along with it.

Most recently, I was asked to visit our sister Company inHyderabad,India, in order to carry out staff training. I have never really trained anyone before and am very used to working and managing my work alone. Therefore, the prospect of being responsible for delivering two weeks worth of training content, designed by myself, was, frankly, terrifying.

After quite a lot of faffing and asking for friends opinions, I accepted. Flights were scheduled and my bosses agreed that I could take some holiday on the route back and spend a few days inDubaiwith a friend. This all helped to soften the hard and cold fear I was feeling about the whole trip. For around 4 weeks before my flight out from Heathrow, I don’t think I really slept. When I did sleep, I dreamt about work and therefore resolved it was probably more productive to be awake and working than to sleep, dreaming about working.

I worked pretty solidly up until I got onto the plane at London Heathrow. Once I was onboard the flight, I resolved that, if I wasn’t ready by then, 15 more hours of feverish typing and emailing was not going to rectify the problem.

The flight was with Emirates so I had a quick change inDubai. I could have kissed the man on the check in desk who upgraded me to business class for the last 4 hours of my journey. I landed inHyderabadat around9amon a Monday morning. I was collected form the airport, whisked to the hotel in order to drop my luggage and then straight to the office to get stuck in.

The hours I worked absolutely kicked my a** but what made it all bearable was the unwavering friendliness and hospitality from everyone I met. I had expected to be looked after to a certain degree. For example, I knew I had a driver to fetch and carry me around wherever I wanted to go and I had the telephone number of fluent English speakers if I got into a pickle at any point. What I had not expected was just how much would be done for me. I had fresh coconut delivered to my desk. My lunch was also delivered to my desk. I was accompanied everywhere, chatted to, befriended, shopped with and, in general, just spoiled rotten.

It was a complete shock to my system being taken into the fold so quickly. I’ve gotten so used to the anonymity afforded to a person inLondon, andEnglandin general, that I had almost forgotten completely what an actual community feels like. A group of people who will do anything for one another for no other reason than they are able to. Not to get anything out of it. Not to be owed a favour. Not to get their name in a good book somewhere. Not even for someone they know particularly well but, just because, they can. Above everything else I saw, ate and experienced during my (all to short) time inHyderabad, the Community there and the friends I made are the things I will always cherish the most.