A Travellerspoint blog

Hyderabad, India. Part I.

sunny 30 °C

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Since arriving home from East Africa three weeks ago I had been preparing for the upcoming ISPPD (International Symposium on Pneumococcus and Pneumococcal Disease) conference. I had submitted a poster but the data for the poster was in the process of being generated and so the data analysis had to be done.

I arrived in Hyderabad on a daily and packed direct flight from London on the morning the conference started. This conference was terrific but what I’ll spend more time telling you about in these two blog posts were my experiences in India. Several colleagues from MRC also attended this conference and so on the first and second days three of us headed out after the conference ended in the early evening to check out the downtown areas. The conference was at one of the huge conference centres and about 12km from the city centre. Hyderabad has a population over 7 million and is one of the designated IT zones, which were set up to encourage IT and biotech companies from India and around the world to establish operations.. It has been dubbed by some as ‘Genome Valley’ after an influx of such companies in the 1990s. It is the capital and largest city of the South Eastern part of the country in the state Andhra Pradesh and the 4th largest city in India. Hyderabad was historically known as a pearl and diamond trading centre, and it continues to be known as the City of Pearls.
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Every time you go to a new place it is always interesting precisely because it is new. We took these little three wheeled motorized carts around the city as taxis, where like in most of Africa you haggle, and then haggle some more over the price. This type of transport is of course much less expensive than a regular taxi, the meter is always broken, they move at about 5km per hr up hills, and feel relatively unsafe. With the traffic and driving customs we encountered here I’m not sure the vehicle you ride in matters nearly as much as your driver’s 5th sense about the traffic. Road lines mean nothing. Mopeds and motorbikes weave in and out of cars like liquid between rocks. It is an adventure simply taking a ride downtown and finding your way home again. The city is so big taxi drivers generally don’t know your destination location so it is a game of finding well known stores or monuments nearby and then either quickly getting to know your neighbourhood or having the driver ask ‘local’ drivers where to go next.

On our second night we visited Charminar Arch, which is the icon of Hyderabad. The Archaeological Survey of India, the current undertaker of the structure, mentions in its records that "There are various theories regarding the purpose for which Charminar was constructed. However, it is widely accepted that Charminar was built at the center of the city, to commemorate the eradication of plague" as Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah had prayed for the end of a plague that was ravaging his city and vowed to build a Mosque at the very place where he prayed. According to a French traveller of the 17th century the Charminar was constructed in the year 1591 CE, to commemorate the beginning of the second Islamic millennium year (1000 AH). The event was celebrated in the far and width of the Islamic world, thus Qutb Shah founded the Hyderabad city in the year 1591 to celebrated the event of millennium year with the construction of Charminar. It is surrounded by never ending market where you can buy similar items as in African markets, but of a different flavour. Everything here is sparkling. I don’ think the word overdone or kitschy are common words. I had been looking for a few pieces of clothing or fabric to bring home but if you don’t want sequins you’ll have to look a bit harder. There are of course upscale, expensive shops that sell designer sari’s but that wasn’t really what I was looking for.
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This evening we passed through an incredible fruit and veg market. Completely different produce than we were routinely getting in Gambia. There were glistening grapes, about 5 varieties of pomegranates, bright orange tangerines and the list goes on.

We were all by this point hungry but had all heard of ‘Delhi Belly’ and were tentative to eat any of the ubiquitous street food. The day before we had stumbled into a little restaurant where you order each item at a separate counter. Some of the best Indian food I have ever eaten (maybe this says something about the number of times in my life I’ve had really goof Indian food..) We were aiming to find that place again but with us not knowing exactly where it was and the taxi driver taking us to the wrong landmark hotel that plan didn’t materialize. We opted instead for Indian food in very regular, though safer food poisoning wise, food court. Exhausted we did the long trek home, which took about 45 minutes through traffic that was still just as thick as when we ventured downtown.

Posted by Jmclellan 07:11 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day 23-26. The long trek 'home'

sunny 32 °C

Travel in Africa is notoriously slow, unreliable, and expensive. Our flight path was Stonetown, Zanzibar-> Entebbe, Uganda->Addis Ababa, Ethiopia->Bamako, Mail->Dakar, Senegal. Overnight in Dakar and then the 20 minute flight to Banjul, The Gambia. This 20 minute flight can take between 8 and 14hrs overland because, well, if you are not on African backroads you are on poorly paved roads littered with potholes and you need to take a considerable detour around a delta region. Don took the overland route a few months ago on a return trip from Senegal and from his experience we had hence forth always opted for the flight. We first took the headed out to the roadside in Matemwe village and waited about 1.5hrs for a Dalla dalla. This put us in Stonetown 3hrs later at around 1pm. Now we had 20hrs to go up until our 5am flight. We revisited all of our favourite places, the bookstore, Fahari to collect my bag, and the waterfront. There was an 4 day African Roots and Beats concert, whose last day was today but everything was pretty much wrapped up except for the craft fair on the waterfront. Apparently the main act the night before had been scheduled for 1am, but traditionally African style didn’t play until 4am. There was apparently a problem with the sound set up.

We headed to the airport around 8, slept on the benches outside the airport (the airport is not open in the night). We were with a bunch of other travelers, all of us trying to figure out how to sleep on the benches and remain completely covered so that the mosquitos didn’t bite you. At around 4am they let us sit inside the airport, where although amenities were limited there were at least fewer mosquitos. After ages long queues we finally boarded the aircraft, touched down in Dar, Entebbe and Bamako and finally arrived in Dakar sometime in the afternoon. We stayed at the Miramar hotel on our way home, which is downtown and much cheaper than the Airport Hotel Onomo that had been steadily raising its prices, and then charging more on arrival than posted on their webpage. In North America, I think in most situations the website price would be honoured, but in West Africa it is accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders.

A great place to eat that Don discovered on said previous trip to Senegal is located down at the pier near where you catch the ferry to Isle de Goree at the boating club. It looks like there couldn’t possibly be a restaurant in there, but after you push through big steel doors you happen upon a really great spot. Relatively inexpensive, huge portions, fresh and tasty seafood. We ate here on the way to Rwanada and came back again on our return. We were both exhausted from the trip thus far and headed to bed early.

We spent the next day trying to pass the hours. There isn’t a whole lot to do In Dakar during the day, except maybe a bit of sightseeing and visiting the island, which we had each done on previous trips. The museums and galleries don’t get great reviews and it isn’t a particularly pretty city. We walked the main downtown core area (several times), eventually found a good place for coffee and croissants and did some minor shopping (Dakar is in general an expensive place). The highlight of the day was lunch at a restaurant called Chez Louatcha, which I had eaten at when I was in Dakar getting a Ghanaian Visa several months ago. This place has an enormous menu but everything looks delicious and everything I’ve tried at this place is good. The portions are enormous and inexpensive. We had some afternoon wine and then headed to the airport around sunset for our 9pm flight. It can be exhausting using up hours waiting for flights.

Posted by Jmclellan 00:02 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 21/22. Zanzibar- Nungwe. Matemwe beach. More SCUBA!

sunny 30 °C

Today was the third and final day of my scuba course and the second of the two open water days. I was again with Frank and we did more skills combined with dives. Today was using a compass and swimming (in just a bathing suit, no scuba gear) to the boat near us, and a few other things related to the scuba equipment. All straightforward and easy with Frank’s help. Don was out with another group doing a deep dive in the morning and also with them for the afternoon. Today we had a very rough seas and a few other people on the boat were seasick. Thankfully neither of us were. The boat was being passed what I would consider pretty big wave crests and troughs for a little scuba boat. During the biggest that caught the boat on a funny angle I saw the dive master look back at the boat crew with a very questioning look. Because of the weather the water wasn’t as clear today but was a great day nonetheless.
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We did one final day of scuba diving after I was certified and so much of the course was fun that the third day felt a lot like the course, except that there were now others in my group instead of just me and the instructor +/- Don. It was today that we rented a small underwater camera from the dive shop (although I did post some of the underwater photos on the last blog because we did see some of the same thing on both days).
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The group was quite large today and had a few advanced divers, who were all grouped together to do a deeper dive than those with only their open water can do. I was with a very nice older Dutch couple (we run into a lot of nice Dutch couples on our trips) and Don with two women. One woman in Don’s group was having a really hard time even though she was supposedly a more advanced diver. She couldn’t get her buoyancy right and was bumping into the coral (you are definitely not supposed to do that because they are easily damaged) and then floating way up (I’d say fluctuating 10m, which you are also not supposed to do in diving). She also was totally unaware of where her group was. At one point near the end of the dive when the groups were near each other she was way over by our group instead of her own group. I watched Don swim over to her, tap her on the shoulder, and point over at their dive master. Similarly in my group the gentleman had a hard time getting below the surface. His wife, I think was the one more interested in diving and certainly more adept. Both the woman and the man in our respective groups used up their air in about 2/3 of the time as everyone else. This can be really frustrating when you dive because as you are supposed to stay as a group when the first person’s air reaches a certain low level trigger point the entire group should surface. At the end of our dives, as I mentioned, both groups ended up in the same spot. Because the other group was there my instructor told me to stay down while he took the couple to the surface. One of the first rules of diving is you always stay with your buddy, but I could see him and thought I should do what he asked. Frank, who had taken out the advanced divers, saw this and motioned for me to come with him. I wasn’t sure what to do but thankfully my dive master came back shortly thereafter. I think Frank had a chat with him about dive protocol during lunch. In any case, the long and the short of all of this was they reshuffled the groups after lunch and I went with Don and the other competent diver and they put the Dutch couple with the other incompetent diver. Our group, as you might have guessed, spent a lot longer down on the bottom. Something I found interesting was that women almost always use less air than men, because they have smaller lungs and bodies, which makes sense. It does mean that women don’t need to be nearly as skilled as men at conserving air, which makes diving for women easier.
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We grabbed dinner at a nearby spot down the beach, did a bit of organizing, and headed to bed early. Amazing how tired you get from scuba diving!
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Posted by Jmclellan 23:21 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 19/20. Zanzibar- Nungwe. Matemwe Beach

sunny 31 °C

Our first day here was more of the same- relaxing, walking up and down the beach, watching the sunset. This is a great place to be to relax. We went by ScubaFish, the place we had chosen to do our scuba diving. I had to take the online test- I had done the e-learning part of the course before our vacation but didn’t realize I had to take the final test. This took a bit of time because the internet wasn’t currently available at the resort while we were there so I used the dial up connection at the scuba centre and used their computer at the main desk. We were now all set for our pool session the next day.

Don had done his open water and advanced open water while he was in Columbia and so only needed a refresher. Because I was the only one doing the course the instructor, Frank (who was wonderful and you’ll see in some of the underwater photos on the next blog post) had no problem with Don doing the entire pool exercise with me. Don didn’t realize this until we had finished the pool session and commented later that he thought it was an incredibly comprehensive refresher course! I will say that I was a bit sceptical of scuba diving, mostly because I think it scared me a bit. My first few breaths with the regulator and I was panicking. I thought I wouldn’t be able to continue with the course. I think it was the strange feeling of breathing with the water pushing on your chest and breathing through the regulator. As the pool session went on it became easier and easier and by the end I was feeling relatively comfortable (thankfully since I’d already paid for the course and this was what we had planned to do for the next several days).

We had dinner at a nearby place. They surprisingly had great burgers and a neat upstairs dining area. A bit more atmosphere and more going on than at Mohammed’s, which was nice for dinner. I, however, certainly appreciated having the place to ourselves most days for breakfast.
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The next morning we arrived at ScubaFish bright and early for our 8am bus departure to an area about 30km north of the Scuba Centre, close to the private island where &Beyond have their Zanzibari camp (Pnemba Island). The water here is so blue the pictures don’t do it justice. It is the bluest, prettiest water I have ever seen. On the way there the bus broke down (this is Africa, a very common saying). Thankfully, another scuba diving company was making the trip and gave us a ride. We walked to the beach and took a small motor boat out to the larger scuba boat. On our way out to the dive site we saw a pod of dolphins. Everyone hopped in the water with their snorkels as the pod was passing the boat. That was absolutely amazing. They are so fast underwater and you’re there, even with your large flippers on, basically floundering in the water!
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The day consists of two dives (snorkel of scuba) with snacks and warm tea in between. The first dive is the deeper of the two. Your hour or so out of the water allows your body to clear some of the dissolved nitrogen you have accumulated while under water. My first day I was with Frank, the instructor. We had some skills that I had learned in the pool that I needed to practice. These included learning how to surface in an emergency, using your buddy’s air etc. The nice thing about the lessons was that we got the skills out of the way quickly and then spent the remaining 30 or 40 minutes diving. I was in a relatively shallow area. With the open water course your first dive is only to 12 m, and after that you can dive to a maximum depth of 18m. Don, with his advanced, could dive to 40m. He did the morning dive with another dive master and then the afternoon dive with me.

It was so much fun and for me completely new. I really enjoyed the scuba experience, which once you do it you realize is so much more rewarding than snorkelling. With snorkelling you spend most of your time going up for air, and then back down to where the coral and the fish are. With scuba you just need to focus on keeping your breathing slow and getting your buoyancy right. I was amazed at the corals we saw- and they were filled with fish. Everywhere you looked you saw fish! Frank pointed out all sorts of animals- shrimp, eels, a sea turtle resting on the ocean floor, trumpet fish and the list goes on. Really amazing. The underwater camera photos look very blue but in reality the underwater was SO colourful.
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We arrived back at the Scuba shop, about a 5 minute walk from the Beach Bungalows at around 3. With the tides the way they were we did the drive out in the morning and then were able to take the boat all the way back down the beach at high tide. We decided to do a low key dinner at Mohammed’s because it had been a long day.

Posted by Jmclellan 06:14 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 18. Zanzibar- Nungwe region- North Eastern Zanzibar

sunny 30 °C

We left Stonetown early and found a bus headed to Nungwe. You board the converted cargo truck modified with benches and a cover over the back and wait until the bus is relatively full, at which point you depart. No set schedules. Nope. It only took us about 2 hrs (some had suggested it may take as long as 4). We were dropped off in a little fishing village called Matemwe on the side of what by now had become a sandy track. A young guy from Mohammed’s Beach Bungalows (www.mohammedsbungalows.wordpress.com) was on the roadside to greet us. The Bungalows were about 50m away directly on the beach front of Matemwe beach.

This was a modest little place. There were certainly a number of large, fancy resorts nearby but this place, for us was great. It had small separate buildings in the back were we entered from the road, which were the rooms. The main mostly open air building had a bar, kitchen and a few tables looking out to the sea front. On the beach they had lounge chairs suspended like swings, in which we spent a lot of time napping, reading, and watching the ocean.

We didn’t get up to much our first afternoon, except to wander down to the nearby resort to check that all was in order for my scuba course and to check out the various places to eat along the beach.
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Posted by Jmclellan 15:30 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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