Founding Class member Gabriella Grahek shares her tips and tricks for living in Hyderabad with the class of 2021 currently stationed there. From where to meet to how to make friends, don’t miss out on this article if you want to make the most of your Spring semester this year!


As Minerva’s class of 2021 begins its journey through the chaos of Hyderabad’s ever-growing beauty and disarray, I want to share a few of tips and tricks for making Hyderabadi life as easy, fun, and rooted as possible.

I lived in Hyderabad (HYD), India with my classmates in Minerva’s class of 2019 from January through April 2018 and continued to be based in HYD on and off throughout 2018. A part of my soul has been captured by the beeps, dust and breeze, dog barks and tiffin centers, rustic history in Old City and shiny HiTech scene which all create a bright and dynamic city.  

Get ready for a wild time. Stay open-minded and curious, ask questions, eat good food, and keep your eyes open. Breathe in the diversity, adversity, and learn from the journey!

Tips and Tricks:

Food

Of course, food is top priority. First, HYD is famous for biryani–it’s a must try dish. There are endless choices and you can ask any local for their favorite biryani spot, but to start I recommend Biryani Ghar, which wonderfully offers a vegan friendly option. A special thanks to founder and owner Sir Imran Hassan who is providing a special deal for Minerva students: a full meal with a choice of veg/non-veg soup, kebabs, roti or naan with a curry, biryani, dessert and chai for 250 rupees. To enjoy this price, message Imran ahead of time on WhatsApp (+91-8008799112) to make a reservation for a weekend day. Anytime you visit, ask if Imran is around, mention “Minerva” (and my name if you so wish) and pick his brain on biryani, food generally, and especially the history of language.

Considering the ease of eating “veg” dishes in India, in the first rotation of Minerva students in Hyderabad many experimented with vegetarianism and I encourage you to do so too! While the case for vegetarianism is not the focus of this article (but cough-cough #savetheenvironment), consider checking out “Eating Animals”  or “The Rich Roll Podcast” if you’re seeking some inspiration.

Beyond the ease of finding “veg” Indian dishes, the city also offers a series of cozy spots for some non-Indian style veg-friendly food, and a few also have wifi (#MinervaLife). For food and wifi, check out Whiteboard Café and the Autumn Leaf. Also with wifi, Smart Alec Alternative Deli is a wonderful vegan spot in a beautiful enclave in Jubilee Hills. It functioned as a second home for many Minervans in 2018 (myself included). It is closed on Wednesdays, generally open 12:00-4:00 and 7:00-10:00 pm, but the friendly co-founders allowed many of us to hang out and continue working through the day to catch both lunch and dinner. Note they will be moving locations mid-February 2019, so keep an eye out (follow on instagram @smartalecalternativedeli) for info on their new spot.

Now, definitely for food and maybe wifi….Alive Café is a recently opened vegan/vegetarian restaurant above the Starbucks overlooking the KBR park. With the aesthetics of Seoul and food reminiscent of California, it’s a fantastic morning meetup with a wonderful view of tree-top greenery.

A bit on the pricier side but worth it for the quality, the Olive Bistro overlooks lake Durgam Cheruvu in Jubilee Hills and is attached to The Hoppery brewery, a fun spot for friendly group gatherings or an exclusive date night. For Italian food cravings, Little Italy also offers a wonderful view overlooking the KBR park and Viva Italia comes highly recommended by an M’19 student. A bit further southeast is Zafran Exotica Bar and Restaurant, which offers a wonderful rooftop ambiance with borders of gently swaying greenery floating in drifting water. They have a pricey but well worth it Sunday brunch offering, for which a birthday celebration could be the perfect excuse.

It may seem cliché, but the chutneys at Chutney’s are just too wonderful to pass up. Definitely visit in the start of your time in Hyderabad so you know your favorite chutney for anytime you may need a quick online order. It’s also a great spot to take visiting family or friends.

For supporting local spots with important missions, check out:

  • Sage Organics where all food is sourced from their own organic farm in the outskirts of Hyderabad (#eatlocal) and cofounders Kavitha and Ravi Mantha are often around welcoming newcomers with a friendly smile. Pick Kavitha’s brain on the creativity of her dishes, and Ravi’s (author of The Baby Elephant Diet and All About Bacteria) on evolving healthcare, food practices, and mindsets on healthy lifestyles in India.
  • The Lamakaan, a significant cultural center which hosts themed movie nights on Wednesdays at 7:00 pm, a local food and sustainable goods market on Sunday mornings starting from 10:00 a.m., among other events, is a Banjara Hills favorite. Try the samosas and chai, and if interested in local opinions on politics and culture you can always be sure to find some well informed friendly humans willing to converse.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream! But seriously, check out Naturals for some fresh flavors and Indulge Ice Cream if you want to acquire a beautiful reusable ceramic pot and lid along with some tasty spoonfuls of deliciousness. And for any pastry cravings, find Concu in Jubilee Hills.

For ordering food online, Swiggy and Zomato both work. Be aware, a lot of the aforementioned spots deliver but only if you’re close enough to the restaurant so don’t be surprised if you can’t find a particular restaurant online sometimes (eg. Bon Appediet is great for online ordering if in Jubilee Hills). Also, orders tend to come in a lot of plastic bags and wrapping, so avoid that waste-cycle (#zerowastegoals) and go in person or cook at home!

Work

The obvious next priority in #MinervaLife: working zones. Beyond the aforementioned spots with wifi, there are a handful of coworking spaces Minervans were fond of last year. As a tech hub with a growing population that is increasingly connected online, there is an emerging startup and coworking landscape in HYD. When 2019 and 2020 arrived in early 2018, there were only a handful of identifiable coworking options. One year later and the pool to choose from has expanded, so do your own research as you may find a new jem. Two great options many of us relied on include Jxtapose and Awfis. Contact them to see if you can coordinate a group rate if you get a bunch of Minerva students to commit.

Fitness

As important as food, and #MinervaLife compatible working zones, is fitness. My top recommendation is the Krishna Yoga Shala, just a short distance from the HYD residence with classes at 6, 7 and 8 a.m. then 6 and 7 pm Monday–Friday, it’s the perfect way to start your day. Head there for an early morning class and stop at the “Divy Darsani Tiffins” for a classic south Indian breakfast of idlis and vada. No doubt, you’ll go back for more. Also, founder and teacher Krishna offers Yoga Teacher Trainings, so check out the website to see if it suits your needs. Krishna opened the studio just one year ago and it became a home for many Minervans, some long-time yogi’s, others who just wanted to test the waters, and more who found a new interest they’ve continued to explore since–it’s worth everyone trying!

Other great fitness options include Abhinav Parkour Training which is a great way to add in cardio to your routine, plus a ton of fun.  A lot of people explore rock climbing outdoors with Hyderabad Climbing which beyond being a great activity is a wonderful way to make local friends and HyDance is a great dance studio to get your groove on.

The Hyderabad Ultimate Frisbee Association is, according to an M’20 student, “a team of amazing people who play frisbee every week out of the Microsoft offices in HYD and they’re always looking for people to join!…Sending them a message on the facebook page is probably the most official way [to get in touch] since there is no official league or sign up, just a team for now.” The same student also recommends a recently opened CrossFit gym.

Another M’20 student explored horseback riding, “I took riding lessons at Nasr Polo  all semester. As an already-experienced rider, I didn’t learn much, but it was great regular exercise, got me out of the city to an area with better air quality in the mornings, and I really liked both the owners and the instructors, and chatted with a lot of different people who were also taking lessons, so it was also a fun way to interact with a variety of people. I liked that they were good at evaluating the riding levels of both myself and other people who came with, and matched their instruction to my experience well.”

Meeting Locals

Beyond food, work, and fitness, prioritize meeting locals as it’s the best way to deepen your engagement with the city. To start, learn at least a few phrases in the local language–it can go a long way in building that initial connection. For connecting with other foreigners who live in HYD (and can help guide the process of meeting locals) check out the expat groups online and casually join in–they may judge if you’re not “from their country”, but they may also welcome you and become a whole host of new friends! Worth a shot.

Another tactic, if you’re above age, go to the “bars/clubs” (a few to get you started: HyLife Brewing Company, Kaleido, Tabula Rasa,   Zero40, Prost and the new Prism) as that’s a scene you’re likely to meet some young professionals looking to break loose. Yet another tactic true across cities: join some team sports activities.

Lastly, to stay connected to locals be sure to add their contact info on Whatsapp (the go-to method in HYD) and/or Facebook RIGHT AWAY. Then message them ASAP so the conversation and relationship is initiated. With just four months, it’s important to get over the possible initial lag in friendship building by being proactive in the beginning (i.e. don’t delay sending that first message until you’re a week away from departure). Don’t be afraid to be forward and get the conversation going.

Now, before wrapping up, I highly recommend Dangal and Padman. If possible, catch a film in a local theater too to experience the classic “intermission” and engaging reactions to on-screen drama. And for a great overview of life as an expat in Hyderabad, check out the short film Expatriation Wave, created by French hydrogeologist Adrien Selles who has been based in HYD for four years.

Safety

Most importantly, a few notes on safety. I am no expert, but I am a female who has travelled solo internationally since I was 12 (no, my parents were not irresponsible), visited over 20 countries, and lived in seven.  No matter where you are travelling it is imperative to consider safety and take precautions to ensure your journey is as smooth as it can be. This doesn’t mean be “boring” or that you have to live without “spontaneity”, rather it means having a well-defined framework of what risks you are willing to take and evaluating those risks seriously. And doing this pretty constantly.  Here’s a list of straightforward and easy precautions applicable to any journey on the road:

  • Have a local phone number and data with a trustworthy contact easily accessible and emergency numbers saved (don’t pretend you’ll remember the new code when you’ve just moved five times this year, save it so you don’t have to sweat it later)…if you know someone in the country, let them know where you’re planning to be so if something goes awry someone more local has a sense of your general location.
  • Have a few different addresses memorized and use landmarks as the quick heuristic. This could be a fancy hotel where you know you could get inside and speak to the concierge for assistance, a popular family friendly restaurant, or a company’s offices (i.e. Google, Deloitte, etc. big companies where the buildings would have security). Important is to know where this location is in reference to “home” and that it would be commonly known by general city drivers. When travelling to a new city, familiarize yourself with a map so you have a sense of the basic landscape and a few “go-to” places in mind ahead of time.
  • Consider carrying a tactical pen, a pocket knife, and pepper spray. Be aware the legality varies, so think ahead if you’re flying. And don’t think of them as useful only for self-defense–tactical pens and pocket knives come in handy all the time.
  • It’s also worth carrying a metal reusable water bottle (because again #savetheenvironment) that doubles as a heavy weight when full and thus a self-defense tool. While it’s pricier, bottles styled similarly to this Klean Kanteen are great since the handle is sturdy to grip providing real leverage if needed.
  • Travel with extra battery packs so you’ll never be stuck without a means of connecting, most importantly to cell signal and google maps so you know where you are and can call for help if needed.
  • Specifically for ground transit in India, for buses I suggest booking a single spot on the second level. For long ten-plus hour journeys, this means both you and your stuff are slightly separated from potential prying hands. Be careful not to book a single seat on the two-person side of the bus if you’re travelling solo or you may end up snuggling with a stranger. Lastly, for train-travel in India, the first, second, or third-class compartments have staff roaming through so you’re not entirely alone amidst the travellers. Consider bringing a lock for your bag, particularly if travelling with tech gear.

These tips (safety and otherwise) do not imply don’t go adventure, in fact that’s exactly what I encourage you to do! I simply hope that with this basis, you might spend less time searching for those cozy comfort depots and instead venture for the wilder zones of the Hyderabadi life. Go, be wild and free, discover your curiosity, and of course, study. #MinervaLife

Reach out with questions: gabriella@minerva.kgi.edu