After 3 flights, a night in the Mumbai airport, and a harrowing cab ride (traffic here is crazy!), I arrived at my dorm in Hyderabad at 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning. I am staying at the International House on campus with 13 American students in my group and many more from around the world. The dining hall at the house prepares authentic Indian food for us, but thankfully holds back on the spiciness and gives us purified water that our sensitive stomachs can handle. I love the food and all of the unique spices here! A local restaurant owner came to talk to our group and explained that Indian food is unique because of its many spices that must be mixed in a specific order, much like chemistry. He told us that, historically, widows in India were often confined to communal homes (watch Deepa Mehta’s Water to see it in action), so they spent time experimenting with spices and came up with these scientific mixtures. According to the restaurant owner, an Indian meal usually includes between 5 and 50 different spices!
One of the first things I noticed when I arrived in Hyderabad was that the weather is wonderful! May is the hottest month of the year in this part of India, so by now, it has cooled down to a temperate 84 degrees Fahrenheit. To make it better, the monsoon rains don’t hit Hyderabad nearly as badly as they do up north.
Orientation this week has been a whirlwind of lectures and excursions around the city. We have already discussed many interesting topics such as food, transportation, and living as a woman in India. After learning about transportation in Hyderabad, we split into small groups for a hands-on navigation exercise. Lead by our language peer tutors (Indian students who will be helping us with language practice this semester), we spent the afternoon taking auto rickshaws, buses, and direct autos all over the city to get used to navigating and bargaining. This just happened to be an afternoon when the monsoon was in full force here in Hyderabad, but splashing through puddles on the auto rickshaws made the day even more exciting! My friend Jennie and I, with our peer tutor Salomi, took two “sharing autos” to a restaurant for lunch, then a “direct auto” to the mall to shop for some Indian clothing. Both types of autos are open-air rickshaws, but sharing autos are cheaper because the drivers pack as many customers in as possible as they drive along a set route. Direct autos will take you exactly you want to go, but they are more expensive.
One of our trips that stood out most this week was to the Old City, which is often considered “downtown” Hyderabad. Because Hyderabad was never fully colonized, there is no trace of urban planning as there is in other Indian cities. The bustling streets of the Old City seem too narrow for traffic, but somehow cars, bikes, motorcycles, and pedestrians seem to pile on top of one another between never-ending rows of shops. Local women say that the Old City is the best place to shop for anything shiny or sparkly, including saris and bangles.
While we were in the Old City, we visited its most prominent landmarks: Chowmahalla Palace, Charminar, and Mecca Masjid. Chowmahalla Palace is an estate with four palaces, which were home to the Nizam monarchy from the late 1800s until Indian independence in 1947. The palaces, now turned into museums, are magnificent and reminiscent of a time much earlier than when they were actually used. The high ceilings are covered in ornate carvings and chandeliers, and in one of the main rooms there is even a large thrown where a prince may have sat less than 70 years ago! As we walked through the gardens of the estate, we could hear the call to worship being played over loud speakers from the Mecca Masjid mosque near by.
Although I am staying on campus now, I will be moving into a home stay next week! I will be living with my friend Jennie and an Indian mother and daughter in an apartment about 30 minutes from campus. I am anxious to meet the family because my program directors say they are very welcoming and exciting to live with. I was a little nervous about the commute at first, but now that I am getting used to using autos and busses, I’m not so worried. Hopefully Jennie and I will have similar schedules and will be able to ride to and from campus together most of the time.
Tomorrow I will go to my first class at an Indian university! I will be “shopping for classes” at first, so I’ll just go to a few different ones each day until I decide which ones I like and which professors I can understand. I am excited to start classes because it will give me an opportunity to meet Indian students and hopefully engage in some events or clubs on campus.
I can’t believe I have only spent one week in Hyderabad! I have seen and done so many things this week that it is difficult to put it all into words, but hopefully as the semester continues, it will all get easier to process. Despite what a great week I have had, my semester really has yet to begin!