March 31, 2016

Oops, I'm in India: Hyderabadi FAQ, Food, and Malls

DISCLAIMER: As this is a company-sponsored trip, the information that I will be sharing won't be backpacking-friendly. Nevertheless, I encourage you to read on so you can learn more about the country of India--specifically, the city of Hyderabad.



The view from my hotel room.

First, let me start of with...

WIKI FACTS ABOUT HYDERABAD, INDIA

  • It is the capital of the southern Indian state of Telangana
  • Its size is 650 square kilometers (250 square meters)
  • Its population is 7.75 million, making it the fourth most populous city (sixth most populous in urban agglomeration) in India
  • Historically, it is known for its pearl and diamond trading center, but modern Hyderabad is known for its "Genome Valley," a high-technology business district that has developed as a cluster for bio-medical research, training and manufacturing
  • Modern Hyderabad is also known for attracting investors of financial institutions and information technology
  • With an output of 74 billion USD, it is the fifth-largest contributor to India's overall gross domestic product
  • Its average altitude is 542 meters (1,778 feet) and much of Hyderabad is situated on hilly terrain and artificial lakes
  • It has a tropical wet and dry climate;
    • Climate in March to June is hot and humid, with average highs in the mid-30s Celsius
    • The maximum temperature can exceed 40 Celsius between April and June
    • May is the hottest month, with a daily temperature range of 26 to 39 Celsius
    • The wet season falls between June and September, where the heaviest rainfall recorded in a 24-hour period was 241.5 millimeters (10 inches) on August 24, 2000
    • Temperatures in December and January vary from 14.5 to 28 Celsius
    • December is the coldest month, with lows reaching to 10 Celsius
  • It is overseen by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), where the mayor is its  titular head (by process of election) and the municipal commissioner has the executive powers (appointed by the state government)
  • Travel time from Hyderabad to India's most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal, will take around 19 hours by land (around 8 hours by air -- including connecting flights)


FIRST IMPRESSIONS FROM A FIRST-TIMER


This is my first time visiting India; had I the choice I would include northern India in the trip (it being the more popular tourist destination). But as this trip is for business and not for pleasure (an impromptu trip if I may add), I must settle with exploring Hyderabad for now.

To minimize my narrative, I have prepared a list of Frequency Asked Questions (FAQ) for those who have never stepped onto India (specifically, Hyderabad). Read on, please.

HYDERABAD, INDIA FAQ:


Do you need a visa to travel to India?

Yes. In my case, I applied for a Business Visa. But for sight-seeing purposes, Philippine Passport holders can apply for an Indian e-Tourist Visa online.

In a nutshell, an e-Visa allows foreigners to travel to India without having to personally apply at an embassy or at a visa processing center. The e-Visa will be sent to the applicant via email for printing, and this is the actual copy to be presented to immigration upon arrival at India.

Are there non-stop flights to Hyderabad, India?

Unfortunately, Cebu Pacific does not offer any flights to India. One option is to fly to Hyderabad from Singapore.

I took SilkAir from Singapore to Hyderabad. They offer two flights going to this destination:
  • MI 474 - daily flight from SIN (ETD 2005H) to HYD (ETA 2210H)
  • MI 472 - Friday and Saturday flight from SIN (ETD 2115H) to HYD (ETA 2355H)

Travel time from Singapore to Hyderabad is 4 hours and 35 minutes.

What is the time difference between Manila and Hyderabad?

Hyderabad (UTC +05:30) is 2 hours and 30 minutes behind Manila (UTC +08:00). As of writing, it is 1:05 PM in Hyderabad, which means that it is already 3:36 PM in Manila.

What is the exchange rate in Hyderabad?

The currency in Hyderabad is the Indian Rupee (INR), and as per Google Now, 1 INR is equivalent o 0.69 PHP. So yes, mga kababayan, our Philippine Peso has a higher value than the Indian Rupee.

Where can you stay in Hyderabad?

Currently, I do not know of any backpacking hostels in the city, but for the purposes of my business trip I booked my stay at The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace. This hotel was recommended to me primarily because it is closest to the office that I will be working in for the duration of my stay.

How do you get around in Hyderabad?

Currently, I am not familiar with the public transportation in the city. However, I've seen autos (i.e. tuk-tuk) in the road, as well as taxis and city buses. So far, I haven't seen MRTs or trains in the city.

Standard rates are 50 INR for the ride, but we were unfortunately charged with the tourist fee of 100-150 INR. :(

It seems that Uber works in Hyderabad as I was able to open the app. Moreover, the app shows three type of Uber services offered in the city: uberGo, uberX and UberSUV.

I can also recommend the chauffeur service I am currently using right now, recommended by my colleagues here in Hyderabad. Praveen (+919989733102) is the go-to driver whenever they have visitors coming to Hyderabad. Payment options are per trip, or after the end of the travel period, and you can pay in cash (USD or INR) or card (AMEX is accepted).

How is the traffic in Hyderabad? What is the driving culture?

Traffic is not as horrendous as expected, in fact, rush hour traffic is is slightly lighter than EDSA on a rush hour. Yes, there are build-ups, but the traffic is consistently moving.

Hyderabad employs right-hand drive, so cars stay at the left side of the road.

And how about the drivers, you ask? Well, to put it bluntly, they drive like your average Manila taxi driver. They like to swerve, drive fast even on minor roads, and honk their horns... a LOT. In fairness, because of their swerving skills, they can navigate through the smallest of gaps in the road.

A video posted by Miriam P. See (@ako_si_iam) on

How about the locals? Do they... smell?

No.

At least, not in the way you imagine them to be.

Understandably, if a local just came from a meal out, chances are he would smell of curry or Indian cuisine, but that's just because the aroma of the food tends to stick to one's clothes, hair, and skin. These things also happen to us, especially after a barbecue or sizzling plate lunch. In general, the locals just smell... neutral. Sure, from time to time I've encountered an individual that smells unpleasant, but I think it's because of that individual's hygiene. I've yet to experience a local that smells unpleasant because of his diet.

But this is Hyderabad I'm talking about. I have no idea how the locals smell like, in the other parts of India.

WHAT TO EAT

First of, you can rarely see beef being served in India, as Hinduism is its major religion. It is for this reason that you can also see a lot of vegetarian options in the restaurants here.

Hyderabadi Biryani


A photo posted by Miriam P. See (@ako_si_iam) on


One of Hyderabad's specialties is the biryani, a dish made of basmati rice, meat (chicken, mutton, lamb, seafood, etc) or vegetable, and a blend of spices. Half-cooked rice is mixed with the rest of the ingredients, then steamed until fully cooked, then set for a couple of hours to ensure that the flavor of the spice is infused into the rice and the meat/vegetable.

SEGUE: "SPICE" IN THE INDIAN CONTEXT

Understand that spices are the primary flavoring ingredient in Indian cuisine. Spice can range from the simple peppercorn, to the powders (curry, turmeric, etc), to the herbs (coriander, basil), and even to the flowers (saffron, ...well I only know saffron). When a dish is "spicy" it does not only quantify the level of hotness, but also the intensity of flavor. Thus, when you request to make a dish "mild," it does not always translate to toning down the anghang of the food, perhaps what you are toning down is the overall linamnam of the food.

There are a lot of restaurants in Hyderabad that serve their own version of biryani. I would recommend trying out Paradise Food Court, as this is one of the older franchises that make Hyderabad Biryani.


To note, so far I do not have any issue digesting the food I've tried, and even from using the tap while brushing my teeth. Then again, I'm staying at a five-star hotel, so...

Chutneys


Chutney by definition is any type of side dish used in India cuisine, similar to the side dishes served in a Korean samgyeopsal.  Different types of chutney range from tomato relish, to ground peanut garnish, or to yogurt. This side dish is meant to complement, and even neutralize, the spiciness of Indian food.

Chutneys, on the other hand, is a famous all-vegetarian restaurant in Hyderabad. This restaurant offers various types of cuisine from both north and south India; despite its restriction of not having any meat in the menu, they are still able to serve the familiar curry, rice, and bread.

I was a bit full that time from the hotel breakfast buffet so I was only able to order one butter naan and one palak paneer, with the intention of comparing it to the ones we have in the Philippines (i.e. New Bombay restaurant). The butter naan tastes the same, but the palak paneer tasted a little bit too salty for my liking. Still, a great and filling meal.

 
  
As for accessibility, there are a lot of Chutneys branches in Hyderabad to choose from. Take your pick!

Ohri's Dhaba


For those who want to sample other types of Indian cuisine, or rather, the Indian version of  other cuisine, Ohri's is a good place to start.  Ohri's Dhaba specialty is sizzlers, which is quite literally food on a sizzling plate.

Case in point, check out the two meals we ordered:

Chicken sizzler - contains chicken, vegetables, rice, and butter-garlic sauce (I think)

Mutton (lamb) sizzler - contains  vegetables, mashed potatoes, and pepper sauce.

I admit that the sloppy presentation isn't that appetizing, but the taste is definitely something worth coming back to. I wasn't able to take a picture of the menu, thus my lack of knowledge on the actual names of the dishes. Sorry!


One recurring impression I had from the food I ate was that everything is so tasty, but not the MSG-type of tastiness. Condiments are hardly needed for the dishes, in fact you need complementary side dishes to lower the intensity of the taste. This is probably the reason why I got to enjoy trying out the food of the different restaurants around Hyderabad.

HYDERABAD FOOD RATING: 8/10

WHAT TO DO

I was only able to spend one weekend in the country, thus was only able to go to one tourist-y spot. However, I've got a LOT of pictures to share about that spot (and kwentos to write as well), so I'll be blogging about it on a separate entry.

What I want to discuss here is the malling culture of India (specifically Hyderabad).

**SPOILER ALERT: Walang binatbat ang mga malls nila sa atin. AS IN.


OBSERVATION #1: Mall security is exaggerated (IMO).


This can be observed not only in malls, but in other establishments. Before entering the premises, you have to submit your bags to the x-ray checkpoint, and have yourself scanned/ frisked.

Every. Effing. Time.

Men are scanned on platforms, while women enter a curtained booth for scanning.

I have no idea why they do this, as the streets seem relatively peaceful (at least, in the business districts). This level of security is very different from the ones we have here in the Philippines, where security guards halfheartedly poke through your bags, not really looking at the contents.

OBSERVATION #2: There are no big malls, even in the city. Boo.


The two malls I've been to are said to be (respectively) the largest and the newest malls in Hyderabad, so you can imagine my expectations when I went to those places. I was thinking to see at least something as big as Filinvest Mall, with facilities like SM Aura.

But, no.

Inorbit Mall

Despite this being the biggest mall in the city, I felt that it is just as big as Robinsons Galleria, or perhaps the Podium Mall. While the mall has an expansive department store and supermarket, I find the variety of boutique shops a bit lacking. Granted that they have familiar brands like Lacoste, Nike, Adidas, etc. there aren't a lot of hype clothing/ footwear to go around. This probably explains the stereotype Indian porma of plaid polo shirts, slacks, and sandals.

 

One of the special features of the mall is the top floor, where you can find a viewing deck overlooking the Durgam Cheruvu Lake.

An okay sight, if you're into landscapes and stuff.

If you're staying at The Westin Mindspace Hyderabad, Inorbit Mall is the closest mall to your hotel. The Westin offers free shuttle services to and from the mall, too.


Forum Sujana Mall

Built in 2014, this mall is one of the newest malls in Hyderabad. This one is just about the same size as Inorbit Mall, with a significantly more modern interior.

  

Nothing much to say about this mall, except to note that there is another mall (Manjeera Mall) close this one. So if in any case you run out of mall area to explore (which, if you're Filipino, you will), might as well hop on to the other mall.



Hyderabad Malls Rating: 4/10

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