Melbourne, February 2015 – travelling from airport back home.
Driver – Hamir, from Hyderabad. Mid-thirties, “semi-muslim” (his words).
I travel a lot. Sometimes when I come back late after a long day and 3 hour flight, I am too tired to talk. That’s when I leave the conversation initiation to the taxi driver. I absolutely love listening to other people’s life stories. I believe that every person has something really interesting about them, even fascinating. A majority of the time, the driver and I will be engaged in interesting conversation. So much so, that I forget about my tiredness, my difficult audits and empty stomach.
Today this was the case. Hamir was very good looking with a long black beard and dark eyes. He was also very cheerful and friendly. Some formalities were spoken about the weather, my flight and where we were actually going. Of course, I asked where he is from. He said South India. But that’s not enough for me, I want details. Then he said that I’d probably never heard about this place – Hyderabad. To that I answered, that I have never been to Hyderabad – yet – but I know very well about it. More than that, I actually want to go there one day. And I mentioned all the other places, that I’d already visited in India. I liked how he reacted – stopped looking at the road, stared at me with his dark eyes and said, “No way, that can’t be true”. I replied that it is, and maybe he should look at the traffic.
After his initial surprise, he started to dig deeper.
– So how come you haven’t gone to the South yet? – He looked offended.
– Oh, you know, I started from the North because I have friends there. And I wanted to finish up there first, but I definitely will go to South India.
– But you must. The south is the best part of India. I recommend it, starting from my city.
– OK, so sell it to me. What is so special about it?
– The food.
– The best food in India is in the South.
– Oh, come on, everybody says that about their town.
– I am telling you the truth. We invented biryani – don’t you know that?
– No, sorry.
– So many different types: chicken, mutton, even beef. The smell, the taste. We have this special basmati rice. And the spices. All cooked to perfection. The main flavours are coconut, tamarind, peanuts and sesame seeds which are extensively used in many dishes.
– I am a vegetarian.
– Doesn’t matter. They will make you vegetarian biryani.
My people love eating and cooking. When you are there, you will be invited to many houses, sometimes even to houses of people you don’t know. And everybody will feed you. Food is religion in my place. Every woman has her own recipe, which she passes in the family and doesn’t share with anybody else. When we go there for a visit, I usually put on about 5-7 kg in two weeks.
– OMG. Look, I am so hungry right now, let’s talk about something else, not food. What places would you recommend to visit?
-Hey, how do you know and remember all this information?
-I was a history teacher in India. I even started to do my Masters Degree, but then circumstances changed and we decided to come here. I could not find job as a teacher, mainly because of my look and the surname. I refused to shave my beard or change surname. So I drive the taxi now. (From my point of view he looked very handsome, by the way. But I heard this time and time again that migrants from Asia find it very difficult to get a first job, no matter how educated or experienced they are).
– I see, now I understand. Ok, what else do I need to visit?
– Another place is Falaknuma Palace. This was a real palace in the past and the Taj Group refurbished it into a hotel. It’s beyond your imagination. Totally beautiful. It’s a bit expensive though.
– What do you mean expensive? How much? (I honestly thought I knew Indian hotels very well by now).
– This place is very luxurious. Newlyweds love to stay there. It’s between $1000-2000.
-OMG, do they provide a husband as well?
He looked a bit concerned and suspicious.
– No, you need to bring YOUR husband.
– No worries, in this case I will save money. But honestly, for this money they have to provide not one husband, but at least two candidates so I can choose.
Seeing, that my joke did not sit right with the driver and we still had more than 30 minutes, I asked for more recommendations.
– Charminar, definitely Charminar. This is the largest bazaar in South India. My wife loves it more than she loves me (his wife obviously needs glasses). Lad bazaar in old city is the main production centre for lac bangles. The craft originated over 500 years ago during Mughal period. When we go there, she buys bangles, earrings, rings, clothes. I always tell her that we can’t afford or carry all that, but she can’t stop. Sometimes she also buys me pajamas (traditional clothes), but I know all her tricks. She just wants me to be quiet.
– Look, I don’t like shopping, but just out of curiosity I will pop in to have a look.
– One more place which I highly recommend is Chowmahalla. This is a large complex consisting of 4 palaces. They all were built in 18th century and include elements of many different architectural styles: Rajastani, Persian and European styles. All those palaces were lovingly restored and are one of the magnets of my city. There are some rooms with antique furniture, bejewelled clothes and jewellery, antique cars, crystal chandeliers, armoury and elephant seats. Make sure you have at least one day free to visit it.
There are two beautiful lakes, Gandipet and Hussain Sagar. Gandipet is a huge lake, bigger than another one. But both are very pretty and provide a nice escape from hussle and bustle of the city. Not much there, but area is quiet and peaceful. Traffic is usually bad, so it could take a while to get there, but you should go anyway.
If you like arts, then go to the Salarjung Museum. It is the third largest museum in India with a huge collection of antiques. Interestingly enough, it belonged to one man and is a result of his life-long passion. He was the former PM of Hyderabad. Originally it was a private collection, but it was opened to public after his death. Jawaharlal Nehru decided to make it available for people to come. All the exhibits were moved from the PM’s home to the current location.
My head started to spin from all the information given to me in such a short period of time. I was furiously taking notes so I could check them later. By that stage, we had almost arrived. Hamir asked me if I know any places where I can try good biryani in Melbourne. When I could not name even one, he made me to write down two restaraunts: Biryani House in the City (King St and Latrobe st) and Nawab Palace in Carnegie.
Then he made me promise him two things: 1. to tell everyone I know how good the restaurants are and 2. to call his number before going to Hyderabad, so he would arrange someone to look after me …mainly to feed me some food.
As you have noticed, I already fulfilled my first promise and told everyone who reads my blog in Australia and overseas about these two restaurants.
Now I just need to postpone all my plans to go to Vietnam, Sikkim, Mumbai and Kerala and call my driver. Clock is ticking!!! Food is waiting!!! Bon appetit!!!
P.S. Since I have never been to Hyderabad myself, I had to borrow all the photos from internet. I apologise for that. I promise after my trip there I will publish only my own.
Music: by arravind sn