A view from atop the highest point of Golconda Fort – the ‘Old’ of Hyderabad. Beginning life as a mud-built structure in 1143, this citadel and capital of the Hyderabad region, was gradually enlarged and fortified over the next 5 centuries, experiencing it’s greatest period of growth under the Qutb Shahis in the 1500’s. The architecture, gardens and legends of the Golconda Fort make for a terrific day out; fabulous diamonds were mined and traded here – it was in fact the centre of the World’s diamond trade for hundreds of years; the very best finding their way into the Crown Jewels of Iran, Great Britain and France. At it’s greatest extent, the perimeter wall measured some 15km in length and the line of it can be seen running through the greenery in the middle distance of the photo.
In the far distance is the ‘New’ of Hyderabad – Hitec City. This is an area of ultra-high-technology IT businesses and office blocks, which along with Hyderabad’s booming pharmaceutical and film industries present a thoroughly modern, savvy and advanced face of the city.
Unfortunately, as evidenced by what you see in the bottom of the photo, not all aspects of a modern city infrastructure are advancing at the same rate; rubbish is everywhere – discarded without care or thought. There doesn’t appear to be sufficient government provision for the collection and waste treatment services necessary to cope with it all, nor the mindset, culture, or willingness of individuals to overcome it. I have to say that the situation is no worse, or better, than any other major city in India that I have visited, it is just that in this city, with its fabulous past and its incredibly promising future, the sight of so much rubbish jars that much more.
Taken from about 1500′ above the sea and 5 miles away from landing on Runway 25 Right at Hong Kong International Airport, I can almost taste the cold ???? waiting to be drunk when I get home soon. Clue; I’ve just spent nearly 72 hours in Riyadh!
As I was walking uphill on the pathways of Golconda Fort in Hyderabad, this group of ladies were coming downhill towards me. They were all gossiping and laughing and having a high-old-time. Seeing my camera, they indicated me through sign language to take a photo of them all and in the process caught me completely by surprise; I normally feel awkward asking people if I can take a photograph of Them. For the photograph, all the smiles and laughter disappeared and these very serious looking poses were struck. They were all very eager to see the results and when I showed them the image on the camera’s screen, all the laughter and smiles returned. My offer of sending them a copy by email was never going to be understood, but was met with more smiles, more laughs and much hand waving and head wobbling. Within less than a minute, we departed on our separate uphill and downhill ways, with no money or goods being traded, no long-term friendships or commitments being made, but all feeling just that little bit better about the world a me with a nice memory of a good day out – amazing what a camera does, isn’t it?
This is a small part of one of the palaces owned, but never lived in, by a man who, in 1937, was regarded as the richest in the World. Mir Osman Ali Khan was the Seventh Nizam of Hyderabad and his family had ruled this Indian State with absolute authority for the previous 217 years. By 1937 his personal wealth was estimated to be US$211 Billion (at today’s values) and even as recently as 2008, he was thought to have been the 5th richest person in history. Amongst Hyderabad’s many natural assets, it has had a history of being the World’s finest and, until the late 19th century, only depository of diamonds. For many years Hyderabad had been the centre of the World jewellery trade and income from this helped lay the foundations for this immense wealth. From 1937, things began to change; political, economic and moral pressure in the aftermath of the Second World War brought about the creation of the unified Indian State in 1948 and, after refusing to join unification and seeking Independence, the Nizams lost the authority to rule in Hyderabad when the territory was forcibly annexed by the Indian Army.
Over the next 20 years, until his death in 1967, Osman Ali Khan’s personal wealth roughly halved, mainly as a result of legal battles with his descendants (he himself had 7 wives, 42 concubines and at least 149 children – in all the Nizam line had some 14000+ dependants!) and the Indian Government. Upon his death, his 35-year-old eldest grandson, Barkat Ali Khan, became the titular Nizam of Hyderabad and inherited the larger part of his dwindling fortune and increasing legal wrangles. Within 5 years, Barkat Ali Khan had become so disillusioned with the whole process that he bought and moved to live on a half-million acre sheep station about 600kms north of Perth in Western Australia. Things got worse. His First Indian wife, Princess Esra refused to stay with him and he ended up marrying a further 4 wives. In 1974 the Nizams were stripped of all their titular roles. One of his subsequent wives, a secretary named Helen Simmons, died of Aids in 1989 after a relationship with another man, causing an ugly and distressing media sensation. In 1996, liquidators moved in to sell off what was left of the Nizam’s fortune – vast amounts of it having been looted in the intervening years by unsupervised employees. Shortly afterwards, Barkat Ali Khan disappeared. He now lives in a 2-bedroom apartment in Turkey, discovered there by an Australian investigative reporter.
Of the Nizam’s former wealth, a large part of it was acquired by the Indian government and, in the early part of this century some of the palaces began to undergo restoration as a result of efforts made by Barkat Ali Khan’s first wife, the afore-mentioned Princes Esra. Today’s photo is of one of these palaces – Chowmahalla – probably the principal palace of the Nizam reign and an incredible place to visit.
Charminar can be translated as ‘4 towers’ or ‘mosque of 4 minarets’ and it is the the majestic centrepiece of the city of Hyderabad. Built in 1591 by Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah, the fifth sultan of the Qutub Shahi dynasty of India, it attracts a number of legendary stories. It is said to have been built in praise of the end of a plague that had ravaged the city, or perhaps you would prefer to believe the story that it was built in honour of the Sultan’s wife – a common dancing girl with whom he had fallen in love and who the city is named after; a tunnel that runs from the Charminar to the older Golconda Fort as an escape route for the ruling classes is another popular legend surrounding the monument. Regardless of the stories, this is one of the most recognisable buildings in the whole of India.
Captured on a recent visit to Golconda Fort in Hyderabad, this family are obviously a happy group. However, I find it slightly odd that, as in so many other places in the World, women still dress in attractive, traditional clothing, whilst their men opt for the western style of the ‘slightly scruffy jeans and shirt’ look; in the temperatures of the mid-thirties (centigrade), I hardly think the jeans option was chosen for its comfort provision!
With enticing views, a full stomach, warm dry temperatures, no uphill left to negotiate today and beautiful blooms all around, this is one happy hiker!
As my last blog featured a photo of the old Hong Kong airport, it’s a bit of a coincidence that, the very next day, I went on a hike where I was able to take this photo of the new Hong Kong airport.
With two 3000′ high peaks within a very short distance from the runways, it must be one of the few major international airports in the World to be adorned with this sort of viewing gallery!
Here’s a recent photograph taken on arrival into Hong Kong, looking towards the West with Hong Kong Island on the left and the Kowloon peninsular on the right. In the foreground of the picture, and sticking out into Victoria Harbour, is the still recognisable shape of the old runway at Kai Tak airport, which closed in 1998. I never had the opportunity of landing at this airport – I wish I had; by all accounts it was an ‘interesting’ manoeuvre to say the least! Many old photos abound on the internet of aircraft seemingly brushing the apartment blocks of Kowloon as they made their turning approach to land on Runway 13. Passengers arriving into Hong Kong talked of being able to look into local residents’ apartments shortly before landing.
Last week, the ‘runway’ began a new life as a terminal for the new generation of ‘mega’ cruise ships that now ply the World’s Oceans. The terminal is the silvery blob at the end of the runway; the rest of the old Kai Tak site remains largely undeveloped – an incredible anomaly in Hong Kong’s land hungry dominion.
Flying up over Borneo yesterday, the skies were as free of cloud as I have seen them in a long time. To the right was this view; pristine wilderness and the World’s oldest rainforest, stretching as far as the eye could see. In contrast was the view to the left, below
Palm oil plantations and huge fires being used to clear more land for planting, such as this one. The smoke pall from this one fire alone must have stretched for around 50 miles. It is common practice to use fire for land clearance throughout this part of Asia and it has far reaching consequences. Two small examples; whilst landing at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport this morning in reduced visibility due to haze, passengers were concerned at the smell of burning smoke that permeated the aircraft from below a few thousand feet on approach (who wouldn’t be concerned by the smell of burning on an aeroplane in flight!) Furthermore, after waking up and downloading today’s edition of a UK newspaper, one of the articles was highlighting the problems of smoke, haze and pollution in the neighbouring state of Singapore and the health hazards accompanying it.
So, what is it to be – loss of natural habitat and biodiversity allied to air pollution, health hazards to some and contributions to global warming, or employment, food, wealth, housing and health benefits to some others. Do we have to choose the left or right options; is there a better way somehow more down the middle? I have no answers, I wish I did.