“Every organized person falls in love with the chaos that is India.”
These words describe my upbringing in the capital of world’s biggest democracy.
It’s one of those place where a semi-organized person like me, who, theoretically, would never like to live there, loves every moment that he has spent there. This article is a small glimpse of my motherland, specifically Hyderabad, in terms that can be understood, related to, and immersed in.
Things to do before India
Before I dive into the description of life in India, I want to touch on some important things that one must know before entering India:
India is the world’s biggest democracy. And when I say the biggest democracy, I mean every sphere of democracy is very widely visible. Protests (dharnas), demonstrations, strikes and rallies are common in India, many of which turn violent at some point. You should experience this immense public power in action, but you must also be very careful of your safety. Keep in mind:
- Travel to the states of Jammu and Kashmir is prohibited for foreigners due to unforeseen terrorist activity. You may travel to the city of Ladakh via Manali or the city of Leh by air but not otherwise.
- Travel to the areas bordering Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan is prohibited.
- Travel to protected states such as Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Andaman Islands and Mizoram requires a Protected Area Permit (PAP) usually available on arrival.
Booking flights to India can be a daunting task, especially for Hyderabad, since Hyderabad isn’t the biggest hub of international flights. The nearest hubs are Chennai and Bangalore. You can book a domestic flight from either of them to Hyderabad for around $20-30.
Note that Indian domestic flights are much cheaper and better than anticipated. This is because of two reasons: the intense competition, and governmental regulation. Most airlines are accountable for the prices and services that they provide. For cheap fares, you’ll likely have checked baggage and a meal included.
Indian Immigration is easy enough given that you are aware of certain laws and regulations of the country:
- Travelling on wrong visas is a problem and would prompt immediate action. It is not recommended to travel on wrong visas or using a visa status not meant for academic purposes.
- India is very strict about the import of goods. For example, the government charges a whopping 200% custom tax on new electronics. Be aware of the goods that you import into the country. You cannot exit the customs area without a passport check and an initial screening of your baggage (a newly enforced practice).
- The currency in India is the Indian National Rupee (INR). Approximately 64-65 INR equals $1 US.
- It is very important to note that you can only bring Indian Currency up to INR 25,000 into India.
- The INR is a very controlled currency. All international transactions and currency exchange are tracked by the Reserve Bank of India. In one financial year, you must not exceed the transaction limit of $100,000. Below this limit, each foreign exchange transaction must be accompanied by a BTQ or A2 declaration signed by you (you will be made to sign this form at the currency exchange counter). Above $100,000, you must report to the RBI and properly justify the reason behind the transaction.
Living Costs and Estimated Budgets
India has fewer living expenses than most other countries around the world because of a few main reasons:
- India is a mixed economy aka controlled capitalism. No company or venture is allowed to exploit customers with huge profits and unrealistic margins.
- Each company has a set Maximum Retail Price (MRP) on every object for sale. When you buy something, the seller cannot sell you object for more than the MRP. It is a legal offence to sell a commodity at a price above it’s MRP.
- Food, cooking supplies and other necessities such as natural gas are subsidized by the government to increase accessibility for the people of India. This results in very cheap food prices all across the country (Ever wondered why Indians are so skeptical of food prices in the US or other foreign countries? That’s why).
- The average food budget for a foreigner in India is $30-40/week if you eat out three meals every day. This budget can be cut short by half if you cook most of the meals, which is easy enough.
- The average travel budget is $5-15/week.
Now that we’ve covered basic necessary information about travel to and in India, let’s take an informative tour across it. India, a country which is legally 71 years old and ethnically 9,000 years old, stands in South Asia surrounded by three sister water bodies: the Arabian Sea on the west, the Bay of Bengal on the east, and the Indian Ocean in the south.
It has 29 states and seven Union Territories. Hyderabad is in the state of Telangana. It was originally under the mother state of Andhra Pradesh (AP) before the very recent division resulting in the formation of Telangana.
Union Territories (mentioned above) are special administrative regions that have their own government. They are usually very small and have a unique cultural heritage. The closest and one of the most beautiful Union Territories to Hyderabad is Pondicherry. Bus tickets to Pondicherry from Hyderabad are $20 while flights cost around $200.
Another very beautiful Union Territory is the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which are located in the middle of Bay of Bengal and can be accessed via flight or overnight cruise ship. Return cruise ship tickets to Andaman Islands from Chennai (a coastal city southeast of Hyderabad) cost $50 to $100.
Hyderabad lies in the southeastern region of the Indian Peninsula and a 10 hour drive from the nearest beach. It was established 450 years ago by the Qutb Shahi dynasty before being occupied by the Mughals. For reference, the Mughal dynasty, a Muslim kingdom, was one of the strongest dynasties in the southern Asia, ruling for four centuries over a huge area spanning from Afghanistan to South India. Much of Hyderabad’s culture, food, and religion is influenced by the Mughal dynasty.
Hyderabad is fed by the Musi river in the north and thus, doesn’t face water supply issues. It has a tropical climate throughout the year ranging from 15 to 29 degrees Celsius, making it a climatically tolerable city.
As you walk across the streets of Hyderabad, time seems to have slowed down. It looks like London in the 18th century except that most of the architecture is influenced by Middle Eastern designs.
Hyderabad is currently going through a boom in their technology industry, interesting insight into how a technological hub is shaped.
This city has a lot to say, if you’re willing to sit down and listen. The people of Hyderabad speak an interesting mix of Urdu, Hindi, Telugu and English (just four out of 1652 regional languages that are recognized across India). Hyderabad was an important hub for the development of modern Urdu, which sounds very similar to Hindi with the exception of some vocabulary.
A wide variety of sounds can be heard–a man reading a nawaz in Urdu, a woman chanting Hindu prayers, a huge advertisement screaming in English, or a group of women chatting about each other’s husbands in Telugu. This mix is unique to this city and has fascinated the millions of tourists who come every year to experience the urban chaos that is Hyderabad.
While English signs are common, most workers won’t know English. As such, it is recommended to know basic terms and keywords in one of the native languages spoken in the city.
While learning the Hindu, Urdu or Telugu alphabet is difficult and not recommended for students who are staying/travelling for three to four months, resources to learn are cheap and very accessible.
And as we start our journey in Hyderabad, exploration across the religious and cultural sites, such as the forts, gates of Hyderabad, and biggest temples is highly recommended.
One can travel in Hyderabad on auto-rickshaws (a three-wheeled vehicle similar to tuk tuks in Thailand), taxis, the Hyderabad Tourist Bus (Hop-on Hop-off bus), mobile taxis, metro etc.
The metro is fairly new and limited, and mobile taxi service (mainly OlaCabs and Uber) are prevalent across the city. Olacabs provides a taxi, bike, auto, pool taxi or premium taxi service for two to five dollars.
While city bus system is very accessible, it is not recommended for people of foreign origin. Public transport in India is fairly cheap due to high governmental subsidies in an attempt to make it accessible to everyone. The accessibility results in tightly packed buses that are difficult to get on.
Hyderabad, about five times the size of San Francisco, is divided into three main areas: the new city, old city, and Secunderabad. The old city is the original territory of the Mughal dynasty while the new city houses major tech companies and modern houses. Secunderabad is literally a sister city of Hyderabad, housing mainly military cantonments, major housing complexes and other modern facilities.
One of Hyderabad’s biggest highlights is the pearl industry. It’s known as the city of pearls because of its huge pearl markets that are spread across the city. No one leaves Hyderabad before buying enough pearls to look like a Nawab, governor of a dynasty, themselves.
Minervans will experience a very strong religious belief in people. The practice of two main religions in Hyderabad, Islam and Hinduism, can be widely observed on every street. Temples and Mosques are very common, and many have their own stories to tell, some of which are deep and mind-boggling. Each Hindu temple here is dedicated to a certain god, one of 33 million gods of India. There’s a lot to see, lot to digest and a lot to learn.
There is so much to speak and experience about Hyderabad that hundreds of books could be written on it.