Alright, so it looks like I have four classes now. Maybe. The sad thing is, my schedule now might make it impossible for me to take the extracurricular dance class that I was really excited about. Maybe I’ll do one of the other ones? (Sitar, tabala, meditation…) We’ll see. I can’t worry about it, because most people here really don’t understand what there is to get worked up about. Maybe I should follow their lead.
Yesterday was Muharram, a Muslim observance during which practicing Muslims mourn the death of Muhammed’s grandson, Imam Hussain. The rituals are apparently violent; men will take to the streets and basically mutilate themselves with knives, sticks, anything that will cause pain. Supposedly there are literally streams of blood flowing through the streets on that day. For this reason, I decided to stay away from the old city (the Muslim part of Hyderabad) that day.
After Hindi class (even though it was an official university holiday our teacher decided to have class because “none of us are Muslim.” I guess it’s valid…) I went with a group of people into the city. We took an incredibly crowded bus (no peer tutors holding our hands this time!!). It was even more crowded than the last time though. The seats and aisles were packed, so packed that some people just clung to the sides of the bus and rode that way. It looked dangerous, but I wonder if it was cheaper. Hmmm. Anyway, after getting off we went to lunch at “Hotel Kamat,” which looked really shabby from the outside, but, like so many restaurants in India, was actually quite nice within. I had real Hyderabadi biryani for the first time, and it was quite good. It truly is nothing like the biryani you get in the states, even at nice Indian restaurants. And the Trader Joe’s frozen variety doesn’t even compare. Biryani here is fluffy, with a very complex blend of spices. There are yogurt and curry sauces supplied that you can add according to taste. Apparently, the preparation process is very involved; the rice, vegetables, spices, and meat if there is any are layered very carefully, in a very deliberate order, and left to sit in an oven so the flavors can combine properly. Then it’s all mixed up. Ok. Enough about food; I’m getting hungry.
After lunch we went to Lumbini Park, which is a nice, but not incredibly exceptional park. Getting there was kind of crazy though. We weren’t completely sure where we were going, so we ended up having to cross the street multiple times. It was kind of scary, but I think I’m getting better at it! I don’t need an experienced Indian holding my hand anymore at least.
Lumbini park is famous for its lake, which has a Buddha statue on an island in the middle. There are ferries that go out there so you can take pictures. I didn’t take the ferry so I stayed back with one other person and we walked around. I had wanted to rent a pedal boat, but no one else would do it with me, as the water literally looked like saag paneer (look it up if you don’t know what it looks like). I guess I can’t blame them. Still, walking around was fun. The park has a cricket batting cage, which I think I’ll try sometime when I come back. I didn’t want to try just yet, as there was a pretty intense guy already in there getting some pretty good hits in. I’m sure I would look quite pathetic next to him, and there are some limits to my touristiness.
Something that I noticed to a great extent today was what a novelty we Americans are in Hyderabad. So many random people just came up and started talking to us. Most were very nice, asking us how we liked India, and giving travel recommendations. Some were sketchy: “Where are you studying? Which hostel do you live in? What’s your room number? But those were few and far between. What I found funny was the number of people who wanted to take pictures of us, and of us with them. Well, actually I don’t think I’m quite as interesting as some of my friends, and I will definitely get less and less interesting the tanner I get. But the blonds are seriously like walking talking statues of liberty or Washington monuments. It’s quite funny. One guy even asked to videotape one of us (blond hair, blue eyes). He declined.
After Lumbini park we took a rickshaw to the Birla Mandir Hindu temple. It was absolutely beautiful, and a great end to a somewhat hectic day. We had to take our shoes off again, so, guided by past experience we decided to go in shifts so we could guard one another’s shoes. The Birla Mandir is on a hill, so once you get to the upper floors you get a panoramic view of Hyderabad. It’s amazing. From that level it’s impossible to see the crazy crowds of people and vehicles, or hear the blaring horns and hawker’s cries, or smell the urine and garbage. It looks really peaceful. I felt like a total tourist, as we were pretty much the only ones not going into the temple to pray and pay respects to the Gods, but no one seemed to mind. Everyone just did their own thing. I really like that Hyderabad has places like this along with its more hectic spots. Even though India’s very stark, extreme contrasts can be jarring, in the end the polarities make you appreciate each contrasting entity a whole lot more.