Saturday, June 30, 2007

More biking

I got out fairly early this morning, got 20km in and was back home (to shuffle laundry) when it started to rain. Lucky timing. As usual, I recorded a GPS plot and took some pictures.

I began by winding my way west through the slum between my home and the wealthy MLA colony. Exploring the ridgeline at the southern edge, I was again treated to great views of Golconda, the Qutub Shahi tombs, and the spread of the city. Off to the southeast I could just barely make out the four corner minarets of Charminar - a place I hope to visit tomorrow, if the weather looks reasonable.

I poked around the MLA colony a bit and then continued west, past Apollo Hospital and Lily Pond and into Jubilee Hills. I wanted to find out where some of the side streets come out, and I wound up biking into Mandagiri Hills. This is some of the most expensive real estate in Hyderabad; it's convenient to Hitec City, yet isolated on a hill well away from traffic, noise and pollution. This sign appears a short ways into the colony.

This is a HUDA project: the Hyderabad Urban Development Authority. How promoting a refuge for the rich helps create a "Green Hyderabad" is anyone's guess. If Anil's assertion that 10% of all government revenues go to bribes and other corruption, the auction of plots in Nandagiri Hills must have produced some very happy bureaucrats.

This structure has obviously been at the top of Nandagiri Hills since long before the HUDA auction; I'd love to know its story. It's quite lovely to look at and very well maintained.

On my way out of Nandagiri Hills, I paused and took this picture, across the valley between here and the more southern part of Jubilee Hills. It shows some classic features of Hyderabad: great rocks, luxurious homes, and clusters of tents for the less well-heeled. At least they get a great view...

Biking back to Banjara Hills I stopped just past Apollo Hospital and took these three pictures from the same spot, looking (respectively) east, south and west.

"The poor you will always have with you."

The last three shots were taken as I passed back through the slum to Mithala Nagar, my neighborhood. First, this little scene of mixed-species domestic tranquility.

Next, more great rocks.

Finally, I once again met Mama Donkey and child, this time on the other side of the open area north of my house.

So if you go by my blog photos, you would have to conclude either that there are very few people in Hyderabad, or that I don't find them interesting. Neither is true; I just don't feel very comfortable taking pictures of people, especially if they are interesting! But the people are endlessly fascinating, even if I don't capture their images. Note that "interesting" is not necessarily "pleasant." Some of today's pictures not taken:
  • a deeply upsetting scene of a half a dozen small kids tormenting a tethered dog by throwing fistfuls of sand at it;
  • a man with horribly twisted ankles walking on all fours, like a dog, making pretty good time up Road #12;
  • the blessing of a new car at the temple near my house;
  • two small boys tearing down a hill on a bicycle, laughing hysterically and somehow not wiping out at the bottom. As I rode off, they were pushing the bike back up the hilll, presumably for another go at it.


My landlady, Vijaya, is an excellent cook, and on weekends she has often given me breakfast. Here's this morning's generous offering of idli, sambar, and coconut chutney, which I've rounded out with some lime juice and yogurt. Yum!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Untitled, unthemed

Here I am, halfway around the world, and yet I'm still basically within my bubble. I just spend Rs.400 - $10 - on dinner. This could feed a family here for a week. Yet I don't flinch.

This morning I walked out to Road #12 to wait for my driver; I passed a donkey, hobbled, with her child, unhobbled, the youngster tethered by bonds stronger than rope to mother, never more than a foot from her. The hobble - a short length of rope between a front and back leg - looked like something she was very accustomed to, walking careful and yet seemingly without concern.

I am surrounded by non-human animals here, like this donkey - goats, oxen, cattle, the occasional sheep, the endless variety of dogs, all lean, and all a strange mixture of incredibly bold and yet whipped, watching as you approach, and shying away quickly if you get too close. Chickens, some running loose, but many more in cages or (most horribly) tied togther by their legs in squawking clumps hanging off the back of a truck, destined for slaughter. Other birds - tiny songbirds, like the bright green one that watched me yesterday from an overhead wire, and predators - hawks or maybe eagles, floating above the rooftops, often, it seems, with a squirming something in their claws. Rats. Enormous rats. Rats literally the size of our cat Ditz. Lizards, from the little brown fellow who's taken up residence in my kitchen, to the spiky punk-rockers lounging on the boulders near the office, where Anil and I take our lunchtime constitutional.

With the arrival of the monsoon, the air is cooler, cleaner - the inescapable burnt smell of May has gone. The breezes - hot and unrefreshing in May - are pleasing on my face. But I'm more careful about removing my shoes as I come in the house; the flooding in the streets spreads all manner of shit - literally - to every inch of pavement. There is more sickness, it seems: Anil has has been sick, Praveen - my driver - has been sick, I've seen people vomiting by the side of the road. Everything is damp. Laundry doesn't dry. The mosquitos are rising. My bedroom has remained blessedly bug-free - are the screens I bought really working? Will it last? Or will I someday have to retreat to the tent of the bed net and resume sleeping with earplugs - not to shut out the roar of A/C, but the dentist drill whine of the frustrated mosquitos?

I have yet to leave Hyderabad. Planning a trip seem so - immense. Everything is hard. It will be such a relief to spend two weeks hiking in August, with only familiar decisions to make, and precious few of those, an existence constrained by the contents of a pack. Here I am constrained by ignorance, language and this steady burden of obvious otherness - the stares, some friendly, a few unfriendly, but most just seeming to wonder - what in the hell are you doing here?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Little Italy

Oh, no, another restaurant review.

This is my second visit to Little Italy; I first noticed it two weeks ago on the way in to work and ate there that night on the way home. I've been consistently delighted with the food. It's really an Italian restaurant, with no compromise with Indian preferences on either the menu or prep. Both times I've had crostini de la casa, soup and a "first course" selection. The crostini is slices of crisped bread with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, onions and garlic. Both the minestrone (first visit) and passate di verdure were delicious soups. The mellenzana parmigiana was tasty and filling, and the tortellini del casale (torts w/mushroom) was actually made on the premises and outstanding. The waiter didn't miss a beat when I asked for parmesan cheese; he walked to the counter, pulled out a shaker and brought it over. Amazing.

I skipped dessert on this trip, but the first time I had a slice of absolutely killer blueberry cheesecake. I suspect the coffee is worth trying, too. The Fosters is, of course, Fosters. :-)

All this comforting Western familiarity doesn't come cheap; tonight's bill was Rs.740, and the first night's tab was even higher (the cheesecake...). But as an occasional treat, it's well worth it.

Little Italy is on the extension of Road #12 that skirts the southern edge of KBR Park, close to Apollo Hospital.

Monday, June 25, 2007

a RESTAURANT review?!?

Yes, I'm afraid that's what this is. I must be bored...

Anyway - this evening I ate - again - at Hampi, a place I discovered on my bicycle excursions in Jubilee Hills. It's in the MLA colony, very close to Lily Pond - and an odd mixture of the sublime and ridiculous, as you'll see.

As you approach the entrance, it's immediately obvious that this in not going to be like anyplace else you've eaten in Hyderabad. Here's the covered patio outside the front door.

I always enjoy these; I'm sure there's a name for them, but I don't know what it is. It's a brass vessel filled with water, with flower petals arranged on the surface. I'd love to watch one being made sometime.

Stepping through the beautifully carved wooden doors, you are met with this.

The interior is covered with art, such as these two statues that flank the doors.

I wandered around the downstairs spaces, collecting images.

And this is just the first floor; I haven't even set foot on the second floor. From what I can see, it's at least as elegantly finished.

OK, fine, but it's not a museum, it's a restaurant. How's the food? Generally, very good. This evening I had the "special veg thali." This leads off with a bowl of delicious tomato soup with croutons. The thali itself is two large steel platters filled with small dishes of food. The larger of the two, placed before you, has a traditional banana leaf liner. In the center was one of the worst papads I've ever attempted to eat: soggy, chewy and cold. I gave up after one test nibble.

After this scary beginning things immediately got better. The roti were warm and tasty, and each vegetable curry was delicious and unique. The raita was cool and delicately spiced. The sambar is some of the best I've had - it rivals Chutneys'. A dish of fruit pieces (pineapple, watermelon and apple) provides a change from the curry. The gulab jamin wasn't too sweet, with just a hint of cardamom to make it interesting. I thought this was it for dessert, but after the thali was cleared I was given a small dish of intensely butterscotch ice cream. Yum! All this, plus a fresh lime soda with salt, for under Rs. 200.

The service was mixed. I ordered roasted papad as a starter that never came, but appeared on the bill. (This was immediately corrected when I pointed it out.) Otherwise, the wait staff was attentive yet unintrusive.

One truly jarring note (literally): the background music is insipid, uninspired arrangements of recent-vintage movie themes. Gack! These surroundings deserve better. Still worse, I realized quickly that this was the same set of songs I'd heard on an earlier visit! ARG!

So - that's Hampi. I'll be back - I still need to see the second floor! But I may bring earplugs...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Guest Houses and a shoulder bag

This morning I went biking in the drizzle to check out guest houses and get a shoulder bag. I'll flesh this out later, but for now:

[Yet another thunderstorm in progress; we already had one power cut just as I was about to upload the GPS track.]

OK, here's the full story.

I awoke this morning to the same sort of overcast, breezy weather as yesterday. After fiddling with the laundry (most of which is still not dry) and checking email, I decided I couldn't stand another day trapped in the house, so onto the bike and out the door.

I had in mind two goals: check out some of the guest houses on Road #14, and try once again to find a workable shoulder bag so I don't have to walk around with a backpack all the time.

As always, routing was an issue. I really prefer to stay off the major roads as much as possible, but sometimes it can be remarkably difficult to find a path between to points, even when the map claims that a connection exists. I decided to take another stab at finding a connection between roads #13 and #10 - which the map claims is possible - over the stream that flows into Guntla Cheruvu.

I never would have found it if not for the kindness of a passerby who noticed me looking puzzled and asked where I was trying to go. He lead me on a well-traveled dirt path behind a row of small houses (gathering very curious looks all the while...) to the crossing, which is, in fact, a substantial concrete bridge.

Once over the stream I had no trouble (well, no real trouble) finding my way to Road #10 and my usual air-for-tires stop. From there it was easy to get to Road #14, and the guest houses.

I visited this area on an earlier ride, and my first stop was at Zion Guest House, which I checked out briefly in May.

This visit confirmed my first impression that this would be a nice place to stay. All rooms have A/C, and are Rs. 1300 per night (single occupancy) or 1600 (double occupancy). There were no rooms available today, and the place evidently books up regularly. Contact information:
phone numbers: 2354 5848, 2354 1958, 2360 0305, 3090 7482

The next stop (moving east on Road #14) was Lucky Guest House.

I was not impressed. The fellow who met me at the door seemed very suspicious, wanting to know why I wanted the room, if any one would be with me and the relationship is between us, and on and on. I could not see a room. The rates were Rs. 400 per night (non A/C) or 750 (A/C). I won't be back.

The last stop was at Kuna's Guest House.

The people there were very friendly, and they were willing to show me a room even though they hadn't cleaned it yet from the prior night. The place seemed clean and quiet. Rooms are Rs. 750 per night; all are air conditioned. Contact information:

Mr. Veeranna/ Mr. Shastry
Phone numbers 2355 2940/41/42, 6515 7912

I kept an eye out for other guest houses, without effect.

Practically across the street from Kuna's is Spice Touch. I've eaten there twice: once for Sunday brunch on afternoon bike trip, and for dinner on a weeknight. The brunch was very successful; the veg thali was delicious and the service outstanding. The evening dinner was less successful; service was so-so, and the meal wasn't memorable.

I decided to use this trip to capture some restaurant images, so I next headed toward Road #3 (via back streets, of course). While wandering about I came across this marvelous sign.

Confusion notwithstanding, I did eventually get to the corner that is home to Silver Spoon and Southern Spice.

Southern Spice is one of my regular evening dinner stops. The special vegetarian thali is delicious and (as is typical for thalis) a real bargain. If you're hungry, a thali is your ticket; they generally include seconds on anything you particularly like.

Across the street from Southern Spice is Silver Spoon.

Haranadh and I ate there on a weekend afternoon during my 2006 trip. The food wasn't memorable; perhaps I should give it another try on this trip.

From here I headed toward Panjagutta. When I went shopping with Preethi she suggested I check out stores in the alleys near Hyderabad Central, and she mentioned in particular Kashmir Cottage Emporium. So - I pedaled over and stopped in (luckily they are open Sundays). I finally got a shoulder bag - not exactly what I want, but way better than nothing.

I then meandered back to Chutneys for brunch. On a street near Kashmir Cottage Emporium I came across this shop, with its great example of Indian signage.

Ah, dear, sweet Chutneys - I'm pretty sure that it's now my favorite restaurant in the world. Katy will no doubt wonder, "What about Judy's?!?" Well, Judy's is a great place as a special treat; Chutneys I can enjoy day in, day out.

As usual, Chutneys was crowded and I had to wait. While hanging around outside, this funeral procession passed, on the way to the graveyard across the street from Chutneys.

Back inside, I documented my meal with pictures of both the menu and the food. (Somehow I came away with no pictures of the outside. Oh, well.)

My first course was masala dosa. Clockwise from 9 o'clock:

  • masala dosa, served on a banana leaf
  • fresh lime soda with salt
  • water
  • curd (yogurt)
  • a bunch of chutneys
  • sambar

My second course was the house specialty - steamed dosa. I started before I took the picture...

Then home (via Kashmir Emporium: Feroz is still not back from Kashmir!). A pleasant, if occasionally damp, ride.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

So THIS is the monsoon

No GPS tracks or exotic photos today; I've been kept housebound by the slow, steady drizzle of the monsoon. I had just finished hanging up a load of sheets on the roof when I felt the first drops; those sheets, along with the load of underwear I had just started, are now hanging (notice I did not say drying) in my living room.

Ah, well. Sleeping on dry sheets is overrated.

We've had a lot of rain this week; on Thursday night it took about an hour and a half for Praveen to drive me from my office to Hampi for dinner (a restaurant chosen specifically because it's on the way home) - a trip that usually takes about 20 minutes. Traffic lights were out (not that they do that much good anyway...), roadways were narrowed because of puddles, and - critically - flooding made certain roads entirely unusable. As it was, I was amazed the engine of our poor little Indicab didn't drown.

All this rain is making the plants happy. The tree outside my second floor porch seems to want to invade the house.

And here's the view to the north, into the open area near the house.

It's a lot greener, and much less dusty, than it's been for the past few months. I've been sleeping without A/C (yea!!!), although I've been running it a bit today - not so much because of heat, but because I want to get dry. Anything more than minor activity triggers a clammy sweat and soaked T-shirt. Yech.

At least I have a lot to keep me busy; I'm doing a presentation at work on Monday and I've decided to completely rewrite it.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Durgam Cheruvu

Today I'm trying something new - a non-linear blog. I've uploaded an annotated GPS track of today's bike ride, along with pictures. I'm curious how well this works, so comments are encouraged.

More linearly: I got up this morning and resumed my search for a back-roads only way to Durgam Cheruvu ("Secret Lake"). I started this search on Wednesday morning and was stymied by misleading/inaccurate maps, both paper and Google Earth images. Today I discovered a sneaky little cut-through (only usable on a bicycle) that did the trick. I wandered around in the tony enclaves of Jubilee hills, eventually finding the official Durgam Cheruvu park, which offers lovely views of the lake. It seems to be quite a hangout for couples; they were snuggled together all over the place in the park, and I felt a little sheepish intruding on them as I walked around.

On the way back I stopped and ate lunch at Hampi, a new (to me) restaurant; the buffet was quite good, and I'll certainly be going back.

I returned home via the dense, mostly Islamic urban area to the west of my home. It was pleasing to finally make my way through here; I've been eying this route for weeks, after turning back on an earlier attempt in the other direction.

One thing my trips have ascertained: Hyderabad is not flat. There were several times today when I got off the bike and walked down a hill because I wasn't confident that my brakes and tires would hold me if I needed to stop in a hurry.

A postscript: Hyderabad continues to offer up gorgeous sunsets.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Catching up - Kaaterskill Falls

Over Memorial Day weekend Katy and I drove to Pennsylvania for my nephew's wedding; along the way we stopped for a nice little day hike at Kaaterskill Falls. I've finally blogged it.

Shopping with Preethi

Today I went shopping for clothes for RuthAnne. Preethi, one of the engineers at work, allowed herself to be drafted as my guide and fashion consultant.

Disclaimer: Preethi's assistance notwithstanding, I take full responsibility for for any "Omygod, Dad, I can't wear THAT!" moments...

Our first stop was Westside, where we got these:

These pants (salwar?) go with either of the first two tops.

There's a white pair of pants to go with this top/slip combo, or the next item...

Our next stop was Kalanjali. This place has amazing fabrics. We came away with these two items:

What you can't tell from the pictures is that both skirts are "krinkle" fabric; they are much fuller than they look. I think they will both be great for contra dancing.

Our final stop was (I think) "Brand Mart" on Road #2 near Southern Spice. This was, to my eyes, disappointing, but I'll go back again sometime when I'm not shopped out, and after I get feedback on the stuff I already have. [hint, hint]

We ate lunch at Basil, a pure veg restaurant on the 4th floor of the same building. The food was fine, though not really remarkable; the ambience was nice, and the price (for the buffet) very reasonable.