07.03.2014 - 15.04.2014 30 °C
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.
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.
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.