We were in sleeper class from Bangalore to Hyderabad. We shared our compartment with a family en route to a wedding. They seemed to know everybody in the carriage and routinely had people coming over for a visit. They had also brought a lot of food with them, which they generously shared with us. Little did we know that this food would attract some unwanted visitors.
It was a couple hours later that I saw a little head peak out from between our bags. Uh oh. “What?” asked Rebecca. You don’t want to know. “The mouse? I saw him a little while ago.” But there’s never just one mouse, is there? And when the lights went out, they get even more courageous. At first they just run along the side of the train, and hide underneath our bags on the floor. We imagined them burrowing in and making nests in our bags. Once the lights went out they began meeting in small numbers in the middle of the compartment. Then they started holding conferences and inviting their friends. Then they must have staged some kind of mouse Olympics as they began to sprint around and practice the high jump. I realized that they mice could easily jump up on my lower bunk. I felt like they were taunting me. There were waiting for me to fall asleep. Where’s Samuel L. Jackson when you need him: I want these *#!@/?&!! mice off this *#$@/?&!! train!!
We arrived in Hyderabad very early in the morning. We had been unable to make hotel reservations, so we took a rickshaw to our first choice of hotel, but the driver was unable to find it. As a result we got a free tour of the city while the driver drove around aimlessly and asked for directions. We never did find the hotel. We tried others, but they were either full or too expensive. We even tried the Best Western there – it looked like a huge European castle – but the rooms were filthy. By this time we had had arguments with two different rickshaw drivers who had tried to overcharge us, arguments with hotel managers, and arguments with the entourage of touts that seemed to follow up around to take us to various nefarious hotels in exchange for commissions.
By the time we found and decided on an available hotel, we were already tired of Hyderabad. So we decided to take the first train out of there. We went back to the train station - walking the whole way because we couldn’t find a taxi driver that would use his meter or quote a reasonable price. We stopped for a buffet breakfast in the basement restaurant of the Quality Inn where we would not be bothered by touts, louts and beggars. Even walking to the train station is tough, since train stations seem to have the highest concentration of touts and beggars. As soon as we enter the parking lot, we just put our heads down, put our hands on our wallets and valuables and speed walk to safety of the reservation office – we do not stop for anything or anyone.
We purchased tickets on the first train to Calcutta – at 8:00 am the next morning. This gave us one day to see the sights in Hyderabad. We decided to skip the palaces, the Charminar, and the museums and go instead to the Golconda fort. The fort was impressive and we were surprised by its size and stature. There is a whole series of buildings and ruins within the fort, including temples, mosques, barracks, baths and palaces. The complexes within the fort were in a serious state of disrepair, but it was possible to access and explore most of the buildings.
Although we had to chase away a group of prospective tour guides – we actually had to yell at one to get him to stop following us - we enjoyed wandering around and exploring within the ancient ruins. The fort’s citadel is built on a granite hill 120m high and is surrounded by ramparts, providing an excellent view of the city. There are more ramparts outside the citadel with an 11km perimeter, and still another wall beyond this. Overall, we were very impressed by the fort.
However, our overall disappointment with India continued. Hyderabad is where Rebecca first experienced widespread and insidious sexual harassment. Groups of men openly stare at her, point and whisper things to their friends. Men yell things out the windows of cars and buses. They whisper dirty things in her ear as she walks by. They make kissing noises. They accidently ‘bump’ into her chest. They take her picture with their camera phones and try to get their friends into pictures with her. It does not matter whether I am there or not, and whenever I turn to yell or catch them in the act, they either turn into cowards who apologize profusely or just run away laughing. These are not single or one-time events, but instead they are an ongoing ordeal that occurs each and every time Rebecca steps out of the hotel room. It is a constant source of frustration and annoyance. Rebecca is well traveled, and has dealt with her share of leers and jeers in such places as Egypt, the Middle East, eastern Africa and Whyte Avenue. She wears modest and concealing clothes and respects the local cultures. But the harassment she had dealt with in India so far exceeds what she has experienced elsewhere, in both frequency and intensity. Unfortunately, it has adversely influenced our overall opinion of both the country and the individual Indian male.
We got into another argument with our rickshaw driver when he tried to add on extra charges above and beyond our initially agreed upon price. We then had trouble finding a decent place to eat, and had to settle for a hotel restaurant nearby that was just about to close but was able to make us a few sandwiches. We called it a night; tired, annoyed and disillusioned. We woke up early and loaded up provisions for our train to Calcutta, which is a 30-hour journey.
Later, we see travel posters advertising the beautiful palace and Charminar, and we feel a tinge of guilt for passing on these places. But, after a little thought, we recall exactly how we felt in Hyderabad, what the city was like, and what the we were going through at the time, and realize that we have no regrets about leaving Hyderabad as soon as possible. Overall, it is not a place we’d recommend visiting.