We have just returned from a wonderful, busy, enjoyable three weeks in the UK. We have met family and friends, eaten lots of delicious food and drank lots of wine and Prosecco. We have also visited historic monuments, tourist attractions and traditional seaside activities such as the pier and arcades. The weather was traditionally British with glorious sunshine followed by torrential rain. We had a great time.
Instead of detailing everything we did, I thought I would post a some pictures as ‘a picture speaks a thousand words’. The contrast between the UK and India is stark. The most noticeable to us was the pavements and general cleanliness as well as the great transport links. The parks and other open spaces was another contrast. Make up your own minds though and enjoy some holiday snaps.
Janmashtami is the celebration of the birth of lord Krishna. Krishna is the absolute representation of god to Hindus.
When is it?
It falls on the eighth day of the Krishna Paksha (the dark lunar fortnight or waning moon in the Hindu calendar) in the month of Bhadra (a month of the Hindu calendar that corresponds with August/September in the Gregorian calendar). In 2017 this is Tuesday 15th of August.
When Devaki’s brother, Kansa, was taking Devaki to her husband’s (Vasudeva’s) place after her marriage, an oracle from the skies announced that Devaki’s eighth child would cause Kansa’s death.
According to legend, lord Krishna was the eighth avatar of lord Vishnu (one of the three main deities in Hinduism) and the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudeva. On the birth of the eighth child the prison doors opened themselves and the guards fell asleep. Vasudeva took the new born child to Gokul. Here he was brought up by Nanda (or Nanda Gopa or Nanda Baba) and Yashoda (or Yasoda). Nanda was the head of the Gopas, a tribe of cowherds referred as Holy Gwals. Later, Krishna became the killer of Kansa. Kansa was the tyrant ruler of the Vrishni kingdom with its capital at Mathura.
How is it celebrated?
It is celebrated with much devotion, fervour and gaiety in the northern states of India, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Temples are decorated with tableaus/ images depicting scenes of Krishna’s birth and the various events in his life. Images are also placed in cradles and swings in homes and temples.
Hindus fast and stay up until midnight offering prayers at a special time – when Krishna is believed to have been born. At midnight devotees gather round for devotional songs, dance and exchange gifts.
It is the festival celebrating the bond of love between a brother and a sister. It not only celebrates the bond of love between brothers and sisters but also signifies that love is not bound by the considerations of religion and community. It is also called ‘Janai Purnima’ or ‘Rakhi Purnima’ and is observed by Hindus and Jains. Raksha Bandhan means ‘Bond of Protection’.
When is it?
It falls within the month of ‘Sharavan’ (or ‘Shrawan’) on the day of full moon (‘purnima’). In 2017 this is Monday 7th August.
According to this legend (there are several of them) the festival of Rakhi has its roots in an incident from the Mughal period. Chittor was once attacked by the King of Gujarat. Rani Karnawati sent a silken thread to the Mughal Emperor Humayun. He sent a large army in response to the message seeking protection and helped Rani Karnawati to defend Chittor.
On this day sisters tie rakhis (meaning ‘sacred thread’) made of threads on the wrists of their brothers for their long and happy life, love and prayers for well being. The brothers vow to take care and protect their sisters all their life. Brothers present gifts to their sisters and the sisters prepare delicacies (sweets, dry fruits or other seasonal delicacies) for their brothers and feed them. They then hug. Sometimes an aarti is involved where a tray with a lighted lamp or candle is ritually rotated around the brother’s face, along with the prayer and well wishes. Sometimes a ’tilak’ or ‘tikka’ is applied. This is a colourful mark on the forehead.
Children fly kites.
Cards and gifts have been exchanged and Facebook is full of love posts between siblings. Children have been flying kites in the street. It is not a huge festival but an acknowledgement of love. It brings together families including distant family members and cousins, across religions, diverse ethnic groups and ritually emphasises harmony and love. The rakhis have been worn all day by the brothers.
We arrived at the bustling and bright Hyderabad airport in the afternoon and were met at the airport with traditional flower garlands by our friends. We hopped into a cab and chatted along the drive into Secunderabad. We checked in to the Justa Hotel on Necklace Road next to Hussain Sagar reservoir in Secunderabad. Hyderabad was so far typically Indian – rough with the smooth and filthy dirty next to pristine places – a city of contrasts like everywhere in India. The hotel was inbetween two building sites. The staff ere friendly and the room basic and clean. We dropped off our bags (and flower garlands) and headed out.
NTR Gardens and Park
We headed out to a park called NTR Gardens. There was a small fee to get in (I think 20 rupees) and it was busy with families arriving for an evening in the park. There was plenty to do. We took the Toy Train ride around the park and people watched as we went round. Zahra tried to break the bungi trampoline by jumping so high hopes went slack! Then there was the water slide. Sunny and Finny took Zahra on and they had fun as well as getting wet. I noticed that the were a large constituency of Muslims enjoying the park – not something often seen in Bangalore. It was a refreshing change.
Getting hungry we headed over to the Paradise restaurant for the “world’s favourite biryani”. The food was good and plentiful (a take home bag was necessary) but the service was super slow which let it down.
We went to a local mall for a (huge) ice cream for dessert. They chop and mix the ingredients together in a display before you get your ice cream. Zahra went for ferrero rocher and there was a lot of chocolate and chocolate sauce involved!
King’s Temple Church
Sunday involved and early start for church. We headed over to the Mahbub College Grounds for the 9am service of King’s Temple Church. The 7am service is in English, the 9am in English with immediate Telegu translation and an 11am service in Telegu. As our friends are Telegu speakers we opted for the service which suited us all at 9am.
We arrived in a traffic jam. Hundreds of people were leaving the early service and hundreds of people were heading into the 9am service. The college was also a building site. The “hall” had no walls and the ceiling was under construction. Piles of building materials had to be navigated to get into the service.
We were given the “elements”(communion wafer and juice), a church leaflet and a donation envelope as we walked in. We were quickly walked to plastic chairs about a third of the way from the front. The band was in full flow and the singers were giving it their all. It was a party atmosphere. There was a large stage, professional lighting and sound, a band and a blue tarpaulin covering the roof. Incredible India right here and as it is monsoon season I am glad it didn’t rain!
The band and singers continued joyfully for some time before the pastor came on to deliver his sermon on the importance of prayer, and prayer in way that’s biblical rather than a shopping list. It was strange art first that the preacher would say a sentence or two and wait for the translator to translate his every word. The Translator also followed the preacher around the stage, keeping just a few feet away from him all the time. I quickly got used to it and settled into listening to the sermon.
We took communion and the (many) collection buckets were circulated for tithes and donations. Then there was another sermon by video by the senior pastor, again with a translation in the recording. It ended up being rather shouty for my liking and the sound was clearly struggling with the noise and the translation became inaudible towards the end. I was quite relieved when it finished. The sermon, on prayer, was good but I had a headache from the loud shouting. The service was 2 hours long and attended by several hundred people – the congregation was huge.. I did think how many people in the U.K. would sit through a service that long. People get itchy feet when a service runs a minute over one hour in the UK!
We headed over to Cafe Coffee Day (India’s answer to Starbucks and Costa, except they don’t do soya milk) for a caffeine shot and rest.
Salar Jung Museum
Suitably refreshed we headed over to the Salar Jung Museum. This had beautiful collections of art and objects from all over the world. The Salar Jung family were hereditary prime ministers in the Hyderabad court to the Nizams, the rulers of Hyderabad, from the middle of the 19th century. The museum was established in 1951 and moved to its current location on the banks of the river Musi in 1968. It was extended in the year 2000 when two blocks were added. Renovations to three of the galleries were in progress when we visited.
Now like most places of interest in India there is one price for Indians and one price for foreigners. In this case it was 20 rupees (25p) for an Indian and 500 rupees (£6) for a foreigner plus a 50 rupee (60p) phone camera charge. I had my FRO (Foreigner Registration Office) with me and and was going to fight my corner. We live in Bangalore and I’m not paying the extortionate foreigner rate. Purchasing the ticket wasn’t an issue. Getting passed the lady in the women’s security line was. “Madam, not Indian” greeted me when I handed over my ticket. I swiftly announced I lived here and produced copies of our visas, FRO forms, change of address – you name it I had it. The lady security guard looked flummoxed and waved over another (male) security guard who checked our documents and waved us in. Mrs security guard did not look impressed as we walked in through to the next screening (airport security style). Sometimes it is the just little things…
The collections of art and decorative objects is impressive and over the course of several hours we managed to see nearly all of it before tiredness took over. There are collections of paintings, carpets, weapons, textiles, metal work, walking sticks, furniture, jade, ivory, sculptures and much more. The statue of the “Veiled Rebecca” (by Benzoni, a 19th century Italian sculptor) and the jade collection were particular highlights. Collections are generally divided into Far East, Indian, and European spread across two floors and three wings. It’s certainly a walk to take in all the collections. There is a central hall which houses a musical clock and attracts a large crowd to watch it chime every hour. The museum also has a food court and a souvenir shop, neither of which we had time to visit. It was very busy and clearly a popular museum, which sometimes made it difficult to see or get close to some of the exhibits. The first floor exhibits were much less crowded though.
Jalavihar (“exciting water”) waterpark. ₽250 per person admission. Own food and drink is not allowed in the park and is retained at reception until you leave. There were slides (with and without rubber rings), a wavepool (with a ladies only section), ladies and children slide and pool area and a rain disco. Dry games for kids and flocks of birds (chickens, geese, guinea fowl) wandering freely around the park. Views across the lake were stunning from the top of the slides. It was small but with lots of slides to keep a 10 year old happy for several hours until tiredness kicked in. The changing rooms were basic with toilets and showers outnumbering the four changing cubicles considerably. Lockers were available to rent at ₽100 and were small but functional. The was a food area with stalls but we didn’t eat there. It was an enjoyable day out.
We headed over to Eat Street afterwards for food. There are stunning views across Hussain Sagar lake. It was beautiful and peaceful. We drank our coffee and ate pizza and noodles, after all we had worked up an appetite.
Nanking Chinese Restaurant and camel ride
In the evening we headed out to the Nanking Chinese restaurant, stopping en route for a camel ride for Zahra. Two camels in the central reservation car parking with some mini fairground rides. A makeshift tourist spot. The camel ride cost ₽30 if you shared or ₽50 for a sole ride. The camels were walked about 50m away before turning round and coming back. It was short and sweet, but Zahra enjoyed it nonetheless. Camels are huge and have massive feet; just an observation.
The Nanking Chinese restaurant was pretty empty when we arrived. We ordered our food and it came promptly. We ordered small dishes and I’m glad we all didn’t order a dish each because the “small” portions were huge! One plate of “small” noodles provided three large portions. It was ridiculous. We ate as much as we could and asked for the rest of the food to be parcelled up for a takeaway. The restaurant happily obliged.
Literally means four minarets and was built by Sultan Mohamed Quli Shah between 1591 and 1612. It is in the middle of a busy market and effective operates as a roundabout, so to get to it you have to dodge traffic coming from all directions as well as market traders. It was a little hair raising! The queue was about 30 people long but we, as foreigners, were ushered to the front of the queue by a guide. Indian entry fee was 15 rupees (17p) and foreigner entry fee was 200 rupees (£2.40), children were free. I couldn’t be bothered arguing and frankly it was worth it to queue jump. We hired the guide to show us rounds (negotiated down from 300 rupees to 200 rupees) and again proved to be worth every rupee as we skipped the normal queues to go up (and down) and entered (and exited) via the restricted entry gate. We climbed the stone spiral castle like staircase to the first floor and took in the marvellous views across the busy marketplaces.
The markets on each side sell separate things. One side for lacquered bangles (mouled out of pure lac and studded with glittering cut glass), another for pearls, another for fruit and the remaining for clothes and linen. Perfume called Itar or Attar is also sold. This is traditional perfume based in sandlewood oil (rather than alcohol), and fragranced with rose or musk or jasmine.
10km underground tunnel from the Golconda Fort to the fountain under the Charminar.
The Quabbala Shahi Dynasty was founded by Sultan Quli Qutb ul Mulk in 1518 CE.He was initially in the court of of Bahamani rulers and in due course was made The Governor of Telangana under the Bahmani Kingdom. After the death of the Bahamani Sultan he declared independence in 1518 and established the Qutb Shahi Dynasty (1518-1687 CE), which ruled over the Golkonda Kingdom comprising of Telangana, Andhra, parts of northern Karnataka, Marathwada and Berra regions for about 171 years, and by seven monarchs of the dynasty. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb conquered Golconda Fort in 1687 CE and subsequently annexed it to his empire.
A rather uninspiring entrance hid the opulence of the magnificent Chowmalal Place. It’s a large peaceful retreat in a busy bustling city with four garden courtyards and several palace buildings. It was the main residence of the ruling nizams in the 18th and 19th centuries. The most opulent of these halls is the Khilwat Mubarak; a Durban hall with magnificent crystal chandeliers and a balcony. It is at the heart of the palace and the coronation of VIII Nizam was held here on 6th April, 1967.
The adjoining halls had various antique collections including an armoury of the Asaf Jami Dynasty.
Amongst the various palace buildings there was an impressive collection of antique cars, including Rolls Royces. It was a pleasant and peaceful walk with plenty to see.
Today was a rest day at our friend’s home. We had mahendi done. A much needed relaxing day.
Nehru Zoological Park was our destination today and it proved to be a good walk too. It’s a sprawling zoo in 300 acres, part of which is a ‘safari’ (aka wild) area. Most of the animals are contained within moated areas but the big cats were rather depressingly in small cages. There were additional fees to look around the very small aquarium, the nocturnal exhibits (literally too dark to see anything in places, including where you are walking) and the ‘safari’ to see the lions and tigers. Whilst it was cleaner than most zoos we have visited in India it was still a building site in places and some of the animals displayed signs of distress by pacing or swaying on the spot. The lions and tigers in the ‘safari’ were in cages.
Unusually, there was a temple to Hunaman (the monkey god) inside the zoo.
Facilities were few as there was only one food area within the entire zoo and only one set of toilets. Both left much to be desired.
We had a trip to the Birla Science Museum and modern art gallery on Friday. Zahra had a great time in the interactive zone.
Then we went to the famous 10 Downing Street (“10D”) pub for lunch. It’s inside a small shopping mall and worth finding as the lunchtime special menu was super cheap for 3 courses including a drink.
Boat ride to Buddha statue
Hussain Sagar is a large reservoir (from the 17th century!) which separates Secunderabad from Hyderabad built by Husain Shah Wali. The Buddha statue is on the island in the reservoir. Boats ferry across tourists at regular intervals for a small fee. It is the largest monolithic statue of Gautam Buddha in India. It was carved out of a single granite rock by 40 sculptors under the guidance of Ganapati Stapathi. It was transported 60kms from Raigiri on a massive carriage with 192 wheels. It was erected in December 1992 is 17m high and weighs 320 tonnnes. It was consecrated by His Holiness the Dalia Lama on 2nd January 2006.
Holidaying in Hyderabad
There was certainly a lot to see and do in Hyderabad and we didn’t see it all in this trip. We have previously been to the Golconda Fort so didn’t visit it again this time. There were various palace hotels and mosques and temples we didn’t have time to see either. If you’re in India it’s certainly worth a trip, especially as flights and accommodation are so cheap.
Bonalu is a folk festival celebrated in the Telangana region, Andhra Pradesh. This century-old tradition is observed with gaiety and devotional fervour.
When is it?
It is during the month of Asadh. This is Sunday 25th June to Sunday 16th July in 2017.
How is it celebrated?
This month long festival is marked by devotional singing and ritualistic worship of the village deities. The ‘Ghatams’ or decorated pots, filled with flowers, are the main attraction of the festival. The flower pots are carried on the heads of women in a procession. Similarly cooked rice is also carried by women on their heads to the local goddess accompanied by male drummers. Every Sunday from the end of June throughout July there are colourful celebrations ongoing.
Bonalu is celebrated chiefly in the cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad ( where we happen to be on holiday at the moment). Saree Jagadambika Temple located on the top of the Golconda Fort attracts the most devotees from the region. The state government also performs puja officially on behalf of the people. Temples are decorated.
In Hyderabad the newspapers reported low attendance at work from female employees who were celebrating Bonalu. Some employers are allowing female staff to leave early to visit temples for puja. Office are reported to be in a festive atmosphere as ladies distribute sweets to colleagues dressed for the occasion.
The Kabini River is surrounded by stunning landscapes, forests, wildlife and birds. It is tranquil (eerily quiet after the constant noise of Bangalore) and beautiful. We watched the sun set over the hills from our villa listening to the monsoon rain lashing into the river and were woken by the sound of the dawn chorus from the huge variety of birds. It was idyllic. I could have stayed a lot longer.
The Kabini lake is a large forest lined reservoir about 70km south of Mysore. The guide book indicated it was a 5 hour drive from Bangalore along the state highway 17 ( the main road between Mysore and Bangalore) then state highway 33 from Mysore to Mananthavady before winding through local villages to get to Kabini itself.
We left on Saturday morning for our weekend away. We usually leave on Friday evening and do part of the journey then to break up the travel. However we had a leaving party to go to on the Friday evening so travel was out of the question. It turned out to be a good decision. The roads to Kabini are best described as variable; some have tarmac (in various degrees of repair) whilst others are merely mud and rock. This was the only road to our destination and frequently goats, cows and dogs blocked the road. There were no street lights and it was across winding roads through farmland. I can’t think how anyone can make that route safely at night; it was difficult enough during the daytime.
It wasn’t helped by me being sick at the roadside part way through the journey. As I don’t usually get car sick I assume it was the revenge of Bangalore Belly. Toilet stops are rare on the highway (never mind the village roads) so I had the indignity of being watched by intrigued locals as I emptied my stomach for all to see. I’m so glad we carry water and tissues with us everywhere.
We arrived at our destination 6 hours after we had departed Bangalore. Not a bad journey time but difficult nonetheless. The road to the hotel was pretty much off roading which is surprising when you’re going to an expensive place.
As we pulled in to the complex staff were ready to greet us (having called on our way asking for our estimated time of arrival). We were greeted by a tribal flute player and being adorned with the traditional red bindi on the middle of the forehead. We were ushered into the arrivals lounge and check in was swift and easy. We were offered sugar cane juice as we gazed out of the lounge looking over the Kabini. It was so quiet.
Various staff members introduced themselves and what the hotel had to offer. We were assigned a specific staff member whose responsibility it was to take care of all of our needs during our stay. Nothing would be too much trouble. We were handed an envelope detailing activities, timings and were applicable charges. We asked immediately to be booked onto a Safari for the following day, having been advised that places are limited and book up quickly. The naturalist looked crest fallen as he advised me that it might not be possible but he would do his best. (He managed it by dinner).
Our assigned staff member then walked us through the complex and pointed out various places and activity points on the way. We arrived at our pool villa which overlooked the Kabini and were shown its features. The mini bar was complimentary (soft drinks and snacks) and would be relensihed daily. There was a snack box and fruit bowl. Anything we specifically wanted would be provided. Zahra immediately asked for some Mysore Pak (a plate was provided) and I asked for some more tea (also provided). Really nothing was too much trouble. The chefs took pleasure in providing specific dairy free meals and desserts for me during our stay which made it great for me (as meals at hotels are usually difficult and I’m made to feel difficult for asking for dairy free).
The villa was so relaxing. We swam and rested by our private pool. We sat out watching the birds along the Kabini river as the sun set. It was quiet but for the sounds of wildlife.
The hotel has a spa, an infinity pool for adults and a children’s pool with slide and games area. None of which we used during our weekend stay – we simply didn’t have time. There was an information display informing of the animals, birds and insects surrounding the hotel. There was also a tribal hut and butterfly garden. We visited the reading room with its majestic views across the Kabini. We took in the stunning landscape whilst we rested awhile.
There were a series of activities planned for children including The Little Bartender, Plant a Sapling, Little Baker, Young Naturalist, Young Hotelier and Towel Artist. Zahra was content with the pool and didn’t want to participate. She was having a relaxing holiday too! e
Tribal Dance Display
The Kadu Kurubas (“forest shepherds” in Kannada) are the original inhabitants of the forests of Nagarhole. They were originally hunter gatherers before switching to Swidden agriculture (slash and burn farming method), then collection of forest produce and basket weaving. They now work as small farmers around the forest.
The hotel, as part of its responsible tourism program, arranges displays from the local tribesmen of their celebratory dances. We were educated in three tribal dances and guests were encouraged to join in the last. We watched.
Nagarhole National Park is home to some of the most endangered (and elusive!) species in the world. Nagarhole means “cobra river” in Kannada, so named as it snakes through the tropical forests. The Park was set up in 1955 and extended in 1974 when it was accorded National Park status and dammed for an irrigation project. The Park is home to the tiger, asiatic Elephant, leopard and a myriad of other wildlife species.
Nagarhole National Park strictly controls the tourist incursions and they are limited in number, times and areas of the park to reduce the impact on the wildlife. They exclusively manage the jeep safaris and allocate resorts in the area a specific number of seats. As a consequence the twice daily safaris fill up very quickly. They are 6:30am to 9:30am and 3pm to 6pm. We were allocated the early morning slot meaning a wake up call of 5:15am for a meet time of 5:45am to cross the river to get to the Nagarhole National Park by 6:30am. It was a tough get up. It was even tougher for a 10 year old who was basically walking asleep!
Our jeep was like a small bus with 17 tourists. It was a noisey diesel engine so any wildlife would hear us coming a long way off. The guide gave us all a pair of binoculars and told us to keep our cameras ready.
Spotted deer were everywhere in large and small herds. We saw a Sambar deer, which is the size of a small horse, but were unable to get a picture of the camera shy animal. The Malabar Giant Squirrel proved equally elusive to the camera as did the Gaur. Birds proved impossible to capture but I was pleased to spot a rare white bellied woodpecker. I was able to take some shots from my phone of some of the animals we saw. The elephant was particularly close and completely uninterested in our presence as he ate his breakfast.
Check out on the last day was as swift as check in. The chef had prepared a hearty packed lunch for us for our journey home. They took feedback seriously and strived for excellence. They called and messaged us later in the day to ensure we got home safely. Now that is what I call excellent service.
It was too short a holiday and a brief stay in idyllic surroundings. I would highly recommend a trip to Kabini and especially a stay at Orange County (and no, they haven’t paid me for this post – it’s a good old fashioned recommendation based on experience.)
The followers of Islam consider Id-ul-Fitr as one of the most auspicious festivals following Ramadan fasting. It is a celebration of the end of fasting.
When is it?
It is the end of the month of fasting, at the end of Ramjan (Ramzan/Ramadan), by Muslims all over the world. It is usually celebrated on the first day of the month of Shawwal. This tenth month in the Muslim lunar calendar begins when people sight the new moon.
In 2017 that date falls on Monday 26th June.
How is it celebrated?
The Muslim devotees put on new clothes and at the mosque or in the open courtyard to offer namaz. After prayer, devotees participate in the feasts and fairs. Rich people give zakaat or charity to the poor. The elders distribute gifts and money to children. This is called ‘Idi’. A typical sweet dish called Sewaiyan is also prepared.
This traditional festival combines the rituals and traditions of the religion as well as addding fun and festivities to the occasion.
Shawwāl means to ‘lift or carry’. Named because a female camel normally would be carrying a fetus at this time of year.
Namaz (Persian) or Salah/ṣalāt/ṣalawāt called namāz (‘Muslim prayer’) is one of the Five Pillars in the faith of Islam and an obligatory religious duty for every Muslim. It is a physical, mental, and spiritual act of worship that is observed five times every day at prescribed times. In this ritual, the worshiper starts standing, bows, prostrates themself, and concludes while sitting on the ground. During each posture, the worshiper recites or reads certain verses, phrases and prayers.
Zakat/Zakaat means ‘that which purifies’ and is a form of alms-giving treated in Islam as a religious obligation or tax which, by Quranic ranking, is next after prayer (salat) in importance. As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, zakat is a religious obligation for all Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth. It is not a charitable contribution and is considered to be a tax or obligatory alms. Zakat is based on income and the value of all of one’s possessions and is customarily 2.5% (or 1/40th) of a Muslim’s total savings and wealth above a minimum amount known as nisab.