Writing a Travel Story: Hyderabad in 48 hours
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by Editor Peter Walmsley
Most photographers are pretty busy so when the opportunity comes up to visit a new location and we’ve only got a long weekend to do it, some planning is required. This article is a case study on capturing a city in 48 hours (excluding getting there and back) with the aim of gathering enough material (photographs and text) to create a magazine article. In short, a photo story.
Do note that this is quite a different photographic assignment to capturing single fine-art style images. There is more emphasis on gathering information for the text, some of which can be done later. And this type of assignment does not usually allow the luxury of being able to go back to a location for a second chance if we didn’t get it right the first time or we were diverted by circumstances beyond our control. We may be lucky, and planning improves our chances of success, but in the main, with a 48 hour window, we get one shot at it.
The choice of location was deliberate: there had to be enough of interest to create sufficient content and there had to be some unique angles. I hadn’t been to Hyderabad in southern India before or indeed anywhere in that region so, given the diversity of culture across the nation, I was hoping for something different. Some internet searching and talking to locals outside the area seemed to confirm that the place was worth a visit so the next step was to identify a guide. I have learned that it is very difficult to cover more than a few attractions in a short space of time in a new location without a local guide. Even if you know where you want to get to, local logistics can be baffling and finding the best locations for good photography is time consuming.
After some research, I settled on a local photographer and with his assistance, set out a possible visit schedule to cover 48 hours. Such a schedule had to take account of opening times, time-of-day lighting and knowledge of any local events. I then carried out further internet searches to identify ideas for capturing specific scenes (monuments, street life, cityscapes etc.) and refined the schedule with that knowledge. Sometimes, initial ideas just don’t inspire and they are deleted from the schedule. Alternatively, the schedule should not be so tight as to reduce the opportunity for unplanned imagery but it seems to be that case that good unplanned shots generally result from a well-planned itinerary.
My list of attractions included a mixture of street photography and monuments. In the former were typical flower and fruit & vegetable markets but also a more unusual sheep and goat market and a relatively unknown area of potters. On the monuments, it’s always a good idea to pick those off the beaten track or find a creative angle to the traditional point and click image. Standard tourist shots are deadly boring. And don’t forget to carry a notebook and keep a log of where you’ve been: after the 6th venue, they all merge into one! Talk to the locals too: their stories are usually very interesting and add colour to your story.
How did it work out? Well, the itinerary list wasn’t bad. We were caught out by an impromptu public holiday in which a number of shops and markets were closed and by several monuments on our list banning photography. Such is the nature of travel photography. The flower and vegetable markets were not in themselves unique and one had to work harder to be creative but the potters and the goat market were a novelty. It was difficult too to find creative angles to some of the monuments but 2 of the tomb complexes were sufficiently extensive, unusual and uncrowded to provide some interesting opportunities to add local people to historic backdrops.
The resulting story is given below.
Hyderabad in 48 hours
India’s 4th largest city, Hyderabad is big. With a lot of traffic, even by Indian standards. But as the capital of the state of Telangana, it has accumulated a fair amount of history stretching back to 1591, which makes it a fair target for a long weekend visit. Arrival at the airport (which was opened in 2008) was efficient and there are a variety of ways to reach the city. Inside the airport building, pre-paid taxis are priced around Rs 1800 but walk outside to the taxi ranks and metered vehicles cost around half with buses less than half again.
There is quite a lot of choice of accommodation in Hyderabad from the very basic to the Taj Palace whose rooms start at around £400 per night. The Taj was once the palace of the Maharaja but was leased to the Taj Hotel group for conversion to a hotel in 2000. If the budget doesn’t stretch to accommodation, an afternoon tea with a guided tour comes in at Rs3500 a head (plus tax) but be aware that photography is prohibited inside the palace.
Hyderabad’s attractions can generally be divided into ‘architecture’ and ‘street markets’ to use loose labels. They are fairly well spread out around the city so hotel location isn’t too critical but the geographical centre is the large and man-made Hussain Sagar lake which contains a large statue of Buddha. Getting around the city is relatively easy with the Uber network or an auto-rickshaw, traffic congestion notwithstanding and some hotels offer half-day or full day driver packages for greater comfort and convenience.
On the instructions of our guide, we made an early start at 6.30am at Jham Singh temple.
Our next stop was the vibrant Gudimalkapur flower market.
Some 10km away is the Monda fruit and vegetable market, said to have been established more than 100 years ago to provide for the British military, it is now losing its charm as retail outlets and markets in local residential areas have become more established.
Our next port of call was Karwan, a major suburb of Hyderabad with a long history which includes being the site of the former diamond market. Today it is home to the Jiyaguda abattoir and goat & sheep market. Not many foreigners come here and a trip around the market is not for the faint hearted but nevertheless worthwhile and again foreign photographers are generally welcomed if not considered something of a novelty with frequent requests for selfies with the locals.
After returning to the hotel for breakfast and a short rest, our next port of call was the Qutb Shahi Tombs, the last resting place of the kings of the Qutb Shahi dynasty who ruled the sultanate of Golkonda, now covering land in the present day states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, from 1518 to 1687.
Originally restored in the early 19th century, the tombs are now undergoing a further major restoration by the Telangana State Archaeology and Museums Department in collaboration with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. This work started in 2013 and is still in progress. Consisting of 30 tombs, mosques and a mortuary bath, this is a treat for architecture lovers.
Laad Bazaar , one of the main streets leading from the monument, is famous for its bangles though this particular day was a holiday and many of the shops were closed.
By now it was early evening. The sun had set and it was back to the hotel. One cannot visit Hyderabad without tasting the speciality of the region: biryani. A search on any of the online dining websites will produce numerous suggestions and a top 10 of recommended venues but it was a bit harder to find something a little more upmarket and which would serve an accompanying glass of beer or wine. At the end of the day, the Golkonda Hotel fitted the bill and served enormous and very tasty portions.
So, there we have it: Hyderabad in 48 hours. There were a number of other places to visit which we didn’t get to such as the Chowmahalla Palace (note no SLR/professional-looking cameras allowed!) and the Golkonda Fort. Ideally, you’d need another day or possibly 2 to do it justice at a relaxed pace.
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