Monday, May 14, 2007

Weekend at the Zoo and Golconda

Saturday at the Zoo with Rohit

After finishing every other conceivable activity in Hyderabad, to keep myself busy on Saturday I went to the zoo. Rohit, the former MV ambassador, also skeptical about the quality of the Hyderabad zoo, graciously accompanied me with my favorite driver, Said, to the other end of town to one of the ‘biggest zoos in Asia.’ When they say ‘biggest’ they literally mean biggest, not most animals.

To really test my resolve, I chose 11am, one of the hottest points in the day, for the expedition. When we arrived, I found out that we were allowed to drive into the zoo – an interesting development. I was so intrigued by the idea of driving around the zoo in a private car that I paid the 200 rupees to bring the car in (at $5, it was 20 times the entrance fee for walking around the zoo) and it was well worth it. We wouldn’t have made it past the opening monkeys without a car.

The Hyderabad zoo, described by Lonely Planet as ‘less depressing than other Asian zoos’ wasn’t really as bad as I expected. Rohit and I were both intrigued by how little caging separated the animals from the spectators. First off, the monkeys weren’t in cages, they were in areas surrounded by ‘moats,’ which I suppose were meant to keep the monkeys in. Now, I’m not an expert, but the last time I read a children’s book, monkeys don’t tend to walk around the jungle, they climb around the trees instead. And although there was a moat around the monkey areas, there were tall trees hanging overhead, and there were definitely missing monkeys. I wonder how often the people in the tent slums next to the zoo are visited by exotic animals….

The most exciting part of the zoo were the large predatory animals that weren’t in cages. There was a white tiger just walking around, only separated from the audience by a 4 foot deep moat that he was swimming around in (admittedly, the 4 foot deep moat was about 8 feet below where we were standing, but it was also only about 10 feet wide – easily jump-able by a motivated tiger). No cage, no wall, just the moat. He was only 10 feet from us, and if we had been in the jungle, I would have given myself up for dead, but he just stood there, watching us, pacing, and eventually climbing down into the moat to cool off.

The bears were even more scary, because they were visibly aggrivated. There was one bear that was pacing and growling as people stood even closer, not more than 8 feet across the moat. Once again, I’m not an expert, but it doesn’t seem like a long shot that a 6 foot tall angry bear could jump across an 8 foot wide moat if he was really motivated. So, beware if purchasing any discount housing in the zoo area of Hyderabad ;)

We also went on a ‘lion safari’ which definitely needs to be in quotes. I wasn’t expecting anything, especially with the sign next to where they sell the tickets, warning patrons in English, Hindi, and Telugu that ‘Wildlife Sightings Are Not Guaranteed in the Safari.’ We waited for half an hour for a bus with barred windows to come and take us into the “safari.” We had to pass through two levels of gates, a la Jurassic Park, just to get into the safari, which I found ironic considering we had just recently been standing 10 feet away from a tiger with no cage. The lion safari ended up on the shit list above Snow World, since Snow World at least attempted to have snow, whereas, I am skeptical about the presence of lions in the lion safari. We did have to stop the bus to wait for a tiger to get out of the road, and when we passed, I could see him watching us out the back of the bus, as he stood in the middle of the road. Not exactly a real safari, but not bad for staying in Hyderabad.

Sunday – Golconda Fort (Finally) -

After many failed attempts, I finally made my way to Golconda Fort on Sunday with Shyam. We went later in the day to avoid the heat (it was only about 103 when we went around 4:30) and the lighting was very nice. The fort is pretty much the only major landmark in Hyderabad other than Charminar, and is much more impressive. It is built on the top of a hill overlooking the city, yet you can’t see it from almost anywhere except right at its base – probably a strategic position. It is very old, and like old strategic places, there were hundreds of years of rulers adding their touches to its architecture. There are mosques and a Hindu temple, and the insides were filled with bats. It was crowded with Sunday visitors – huge families who come to everywhere pleasant in India to spend their afternoons.

Golconda was cool, and we were there in time for one of the daily Muslim calls to prayer, which gave it a lot of atmosphere. Mosques all around the base of the fort gave their calls, so they all clashed as if they were competing for worshippers. Like every place near the old city, lots of families wanted me to pose with them for pictures. If only I had the fame and fortune to go with the stares and giggles that I receive ;)

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