My wife and I decided in late 1978 to take a trip to South India availing of leave travel concession touching as many places as we possibly could. As we had to travel by trains we had to have reservations but there was no online booking then and there was no system of stopping-over either at multiple places if one had a long-distance ticket. We overcame the problem by an arrangement with a travel agent who agreed to buy our tickets for onward journeys at every destination to be collected by us on payment of the fare. This proved to be not much of a problem except that it proved trifle costlier. Only constraint was to strictly adhere to the pre-determined itinerary which, mercifully, we could do and we didn’t lose money on that count.
The first of halt was Hyderabad, the Qutb Shahi town established more than five hundred years ago on the banks of River Musi. It was then the capital of undivided Andhra Pradesh created in 1956 under re-organisation of states but still had the tell-tale signs of its Qutb Shahi past. It was yet to become Cyberabad and was a plain and simple capital of its state generally known for its pearls market and flavoured “biryani”
The very mention of Hyderabad takes one’s mind to the resistance that its Nizam exhibited soon after independence of the country and reminds one of its Razakar militia led by Kasim Razvi. The militia and the Hyderabad Nizam’s forces were no match for the India’s own nascent divided force that was ably led by Gen JN Choudhury. The Hyderabad action, code named Operation Polo, resulted in breakdown of the resistance and flight to Pakistan of Kasim Razvi, the brain behind it.
Staying plumb in the midst of Abids, a major shopping area, we could get a feel of the place. Named after an Armenian, Albert Abid, a valet of the then reigning Nizam, who had a shop here. The entire area eventually developed taking his name to become a thriving market which it continues to be till today. A trifle crowded, the place witnesses hustle and bustle that builds up by the evening. That used to happen forty years ago; now it should be worse.
Char Minar was close by and we saw it almost every day as we passed by. Built in 1591 by Quli Qutb Shah, it is an iconic monument that is globally recognized as representative of Hyderabad. It has four towers which, unlike Taj Mahal, are part of the structure below which are four grand arches that open on to four streets. It was built like that – as the centre of the city. A mosque is located on the second floor. Theories abound about the reason for which the structure was built but the most plausible one appears to be that Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah had prayed for the end of the plague that was then ravaging the city and had promised to build a mosque if and when it ended – a simple trade-off. After loss of numerous lives when the scourge finally disappeared he built up Char Minar with the mosque and created what now is a globally known monument.
Nearby is the famed market that to a very large extent deals in pearls. Hyderabd has been traditionally a market for pearls even though not a single pearl is harvested from the state’s coastal regions. It is the traditional skill in drilling them of the inmates of a nearby village that has brought laurels for Hyderabad in this unlikely industry.
We did not make it to Golkunda Fort as it was then lying in an uncared for condition. We, instead ssek out the Salar Jung Museum which was something special. It is a huge place, reputed to be one of the largest in the world. It contains collections of one man Mir Yusuf Ali Khan Salar Jung, former prime minister of the Nizam. He spent considerable amount of his wealth to stack up the Museum with sculptures, paintings, carvings, textiles, manuscripts, ceramics, metallic artifacts, carpets, clocks, and furniture sourced from various countries including India. It is impossible to cover it during a visit of an hour or two, enormous as it is. But the collection is fascinating. Some of the European and Indian sculptures are marvelous. Then, of course the museum is known for its collection of clocks. The immense collection defies description. One comes back marveling at human ingenuity.
From Hyderabad we moved on to Bangalore – now Bengaluru. It wasn’t what it is today – Information Technology capital of India. It too was the capital of a state with a spanking new legislative assembly building. It has behind it a complicated history having changed hands several times during the medieval times. Only after the British conquest at the Anglo-Mysore wars that the place attained a semblance of stability.
Happily placed at an elevation of around 3000 feet it has a very pleasant climate all the year round it used to have quite a few water bodies which were then being progressively filled up in the process of urbanisation. With planned gardens. Especially Lalbagh and Cubbon Park inside the city it came to be known as “Garden City”, an ideal base for people retired from civil or military services. That attribute, however, it progressively lost as it continued to emerge as the Silicone Valley of India. Top class educational institutions in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and management facilitated the process. It also had great shopping even then at Brigade Road which, I believe, is not off-colour even today despite having lost out a bit to several malls that dot the city.