Hyderabad — née Bhagyanagaram, the City of Fortunes — has an eclectic personality you’d be hard put to find elsewhere.
In this city, the ancient Hindu architecture and the architecture influenced by the Islamic culture have jostled each other over the centuries and ultimately settled down into their own grooves.
Architecture influenced by the Hindu religion is known for its use of color and sculptures. It, in fact, revels in the portrayal of larger-than-life forms of Gods, Goddesses, humans, and animals and their role in the mythological stories. No Hindu temple is considered complete without its share of intricate carvings and murals all along its walls.
Diametrically opposite to this, architecture influenced by the Islamic culture favors tall towers and huge domes. Engravings on the walls depict austere, yet beautiful, geometric and freehand patterns, since Islam forbids depiction of humans in any shape or form.
It is quite common in this city to come upon a temple with its intricately sculpted images painted in riotous colors just around the corner from a solemn mosque, with its towering turrets and domes.
You can’t leave Hyderabad without losing yourself in some shopping, especially for women’s clothing. It is one of the centers in modern India for eye-catching designs, colors, and fashions in ethnic wear.
A six-yard sari (pronounced phonetically as: saa-ree), a timeless example of “less is more” in terms of exposure of skin, used to be the original choice of apparel for the majority of women in India. Unfortunately, it is not the most convenient of fashions, owing to its several layers that hinder free movement and also the amount of time and skill required to drape it in the proper style. As a result, a sari is losing its popularity as an everyday wear among the modern and younger generations. It has become just one ethnic choice among many, depending on the occasion and time and place.
A chudidar or a Punjabi Suit (a style that is the descendant of the traditions and
trends from parts of northern India mixed with those of the Muslim culture) is the most usual style of choice among women in all of India now. It is easy to wear, cheaper than a sari (usually) and stands up to the busy and demanding life of today’s woman.
Hyderabad has brought the trends from North-and-South and Hindu-and-Muslim cultures together and come up with a chic — yet ethnic – and traditional — yet immensely convenient — wear for women.
I realized on this trip that, these days in shops, there are as many style choices in chudidars as there are stars in the sky. (Okay, may be an exaggeration, but only slightly so.) They come in several prices ranging anywhere from $10/- a set all the way up to hundreds of dollars. Depending on the time, money, and energy you are willing to spend, you will find a style to suit any occasion, however big or small.
The food in Hyderabad reflects the marrying of not only the two major religions of the region, but also several cultures from around the country (and beyond).
From roadside food vendors’ carts on the streets to small cafés on the curbside (with names like Irani café or Punjabi Dhabha) to posh five-star hotels, each carries a menu that can only be described as a delightful medley of tastes and flavors.
On the same menu, you see items such as: Hyderabadi Biryani, Gosht ka Salan, and Khubani ka Mitha that are examples of the gastronomic gems that are born of the Hyderabadi Muslim culture, followed by true South Indian specialties such as: Dosa-Chutney-Sambhar, Chicken Korma, and Payasam, with Indian-Chinese items like: Chicken 65, Chilly Chicken, and Hakka Noodles nipping closely at their heels, and Aloo Parantha, Kheema Naan, and Ras Malai, mouth-watering delicacies from various regions of North India, not too far behind. (See below for translation/explanation of the names of each of the dishes mentioned here, if you’re interested :-).)
The same ease and acceptance exists in their general outlook on life among the city’s populace. Telugu, Hindi, English, and Urdu — all with an accent/dialect unique to the region – are only a few of the languages you hear exchanged on an average day in Hyderabad.
For all its journey full-speed ahead into the 21st century and its willing immersion into true globalization – which has brought materialism and dwindling ethics and values with it, unfortunately – Hyderabad (and all of India, for that matter) still retains a flavor, an other-worldliness if you will, on a day-today basis that dates back to centuries of tradition and culture.
— ** —
Hyderabadi Biryani: Fried rice/Pilaf using chicken or mutton cooked in a style unique to Hyderabad.
Gosht ka Salan: A spicy curry of goat or lamb.
Khubani ka Mitha: Khubani is Urdu for apricots. This is a dessert consisting of dried apricots in a thick syrup, served over a thick cream or custard.
Dosa: Crepes made out of lentils and rice. One of the most common breakfast items in southern India.
Chutney: A spicy ground mixture made of peanuts or some kind of lentils to go with crepes.
Sambhar: Yellow lentil soup.
Chicken Korma: Chicken curry made using yoghurt and several spices.
Payasam: Traditional rice pudding.
Chilly Chicken: Chicken cooked in Chinese style (steeped in Indian spices) and garnished with lots of green chillies to make your eyes water along with your mouth.
Hakka Noodles: Also an Indo-Chinese specialty, crispy noddles that taste sweet and savory/hot at the same time.
Aloo Parantha: Unleavened bread stuffed with spiced potatoes.
Kheema Naan: Flat bread with several light layers, stuffed with spiced ground goat meat.
Ras Malai: A dessert made of paneer (somewhat similar to cottage cheese) and thick cream.