RFC- A City Hidden in a Village

The onset of spring brought me to a little known village in Andhra Pradesh – Anajpur. What I did not know was what awaited me there… the gateway to Tollywood!!! 🙂

Entrance to the Ramoji Film City

Entrance to the Ramoji Film City

I had missed the opportunity to visit the famed Ramoji Film City on my numerous visits to this southern state in India. But 2014 ensured I had my fill of entertainment. RFC, the world’s largest film studio complex, is situated atop a hillock that affords all visitors breathtaking views of the entire village.

Hot Tip: You’ll do well to arrive before 10AM as the tickets are always in short supply and booking closes by 2PM.

The Cowboy Town

The Cowboy Town

After you buy your passes, you’re driven to the studio complex area in what looks like a London bus! Each bus stops right in front of a miniature cowboy town that resembles the sets of Wild Wild West. (This is where the popular song, Tha Kar Ke, from Golmaal Returns was shot! 🙂 ) There’s plenty of scope for photo-ops, especially when there are a number of prop-sellers that entice you to buy their cowboy hats and giant goggles. Kids will love the place for its vibrancy and colour!

London? Paris? Maybe Tokyo?

London? Paris? Maybe Tokyo?

Spread over 2000 acres, RFC lets you gasp at the Eiffel Tower and admire Japanese roofs within an hour! As you guessed, it isn’t possible to explore the entire property on foot, so they have shuttles to take you around this wonderland of sorts. The guide that escorted us on the tour was a talented orator who made us laugh at his witty one-liners as he described each set.

RFC has “multipurpose buildings” that can be a university when the young man courts his first love, a hospital when the pretty girl weeps for the injured hero, and an airport when they fly to Switzerland for their honeymoon! 😛

Amer Palace in Anajpur!

Amer Palace in Anajpur!

Our shuttle stopped at the artificial Amer Palace (here you can read about the real one that I visited in 2012) and I had the opportunity to compare it with the original one in Rajasthan. I could hear the faint tunes of Rajasthani folk music from where I stood, and I decided to walk towards the source of the sound. I was mindblown by what I saw!

Captivated by Kalbelia

Captivated by Kalbelia

I witnessed a live Kalbelia dance performance in the middle of a Telegu village! The dancers looked exotic, dressed in their traditional garb, and decked up in Rajasthani ornaments. With the music still ringing in my ears, I couldn’t hear my stomach grumble. It was only after the dancing stopped that I realized I was hungry.

The clock strikes "lunch"

The clock strikes “lunch”

RFC (am I the only one who thinks it sounds like KFC? 😛 ) has half a dozen restaurants that cater to different tastes. We ate at Alampana, which claimed to serve authentic Hyderabadi cuisine, but the food cut no ice with me. If you’re the type that salivates for street food, there are a couple of stalls that sell pani-puris and frankies in front of Dil Se (in the pic above).

Aboard the toy-train!

Aboard the toy-train!

In the afternoon, to avoid the sun that shone directly above us, we hopped onto the toy train in Filmy Duniya. This roofless train chugs through a long, twisty tunnel and takes you into the world of animated characters and crayon-coloured backdrops. I felt like a little girl enthralled on a joyride. RFC is best enjoyed when you’re in primary school, and I appeal to all the mommies & daddies reading my post to take their young ones to tour this film city before they reach high school.

Nordic nights

Nordic nights

We tunnelled through snow-capped mountains of the arctics, saw african tribes dance to congo-beats, waved at the Thai royalty, and dodged the huge camels that the Arabs held with their harness. After what seemed like an overdose of light, sound and colour, we alighted the train and walked into a room full of even more garish lights and sounds.

Inside the royal court

Inside the royal court

The scene was of a royal Indian palace where most mythological TV serials are shot. Real or not, the courts appear larger than life, and the jewelled pillars dazzle in the neon lights. I felt a little lightheaded in the violet lights of the king’s court, and knew it was time again to go outdoors.

Landscaped greens from up above

Landscaped greens from up above

From over the rocks, I could see a carpet of light green laid all over the Sanctuary Garden. Even the grass-sculptured animals seemed to play their part, sipping from the pond and grazing on the field. I did manage to spot a real animal though:-

The special visitor

The special visitor

This monkey followed me all the way to the Japanese garden and managed to scare away the others! Good thing, isn’t it? Considering how I got the entire place to myself! 😀 The Japanese park was a treat to my eyes with its undulating meadows and clear waters that flowed under tiny bridges. I lingered here for quite some time before I moved to my final destination.

Strolling in the Japanese garden

Strolling in the Japanese garden

The Butterfly Park beckoned to us with its greenhouse-like enclosure and sweet smelling flowers. I surprised myself when I managed to identify a couple of butterflies even with the camouflage. RFC also has a bonsai-park and the most amazing collection of bonsai I have ever seen!

I spotted a 'male cruiser butterfly'! :-)

I spotted a ‘male cruiser butterfly’! 🙂

I’ll conclude this piece with some tips for which you’ll thank me later:-

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes as you’ll be clocking quite a few miles on this trip.
  • It’s hard to completely see RFC in a day, so be judicious with your time if you only have 1 day with you.
  • It’s very hot up here at the top (even in spring), so get a hat with you and don’t forget to spray some sunscreen!
  • The lavatories are quite dirty and ill-equipped. The one I used did not even have a lock! So try not to go overboard on that cola. (Yeah, right! Like it’s possible to go without hydrating yourself in this heat!)
  • Monkeys, no matter how innocent they seem, can be dangerous. So, use your judgement and follow the crowd when you have a monkey eager to accompany you.
  • Don’t miss the closing ceremony (in front of Dil Se… at 5PM)!

All Roads lead to Hyderabad

I finished a much awaited trip to Hyderabad earlier this week. And this time, my experiences beautifully complemented the ones I’ve had on my previous visits to the city of pearls.

Hyderabad as viewed from the heavens above

Hyderabad as viewed from the heavens above

My Friday morning began with a drive to Golkonda Fort, a good 15 kilometres from where I stayed. Golkonda means shepherd’s hill, and rightly so, for the highest point of this citadel requires the strength of a shepherd to scale! This ancient castle was built in the 13th century and has an intelligent acoustic system which it is famed for. What now remain are the ruins of white granite that cast a spell on all tourists that walk on these lands. The complex has landscaped gardens and multilevel arches that adorn the walkways and lead to the base of the ‘stairway to heaven’. And this ‘heaven’ is astonishingly a prison – Ramadas Bandikhana, which is now considered sacred due to the unlawful imprisonment of a loyal Lord-Ram-devotee. A visit to Golconda Fort is highly recommended for the breathtaking views that every yard on the 380-step climb lends the visitor. This heritage site is well maintained and has food-stalls and rest-rooms at strategic locations in the caves. The place is almost romantic with the chipped walls, greens peeping out of stones, and beryl skies playing hide-and-seek behind the white clouds.

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Saturday afternoon saw me waiting under overarching branches of trees outside the Salar Jung Museum as my travel-companion parked the car. This 38-gallery art museum has over a million objects from Far East to North America, and is the world’s largest collection of antiques by a single person. The building showcases artefacts like paintings, carpets, sculptures, arms, apparel, crockery, manuscripts and furniture that Nawab Salar Jung III zealously invested in.

Hot Tip: Time your visit such that you can hear the central grandfather clock chime at the stroke of a new hour.

Nightlife and Dining options in Hyderabad:-

(This list is in addition to the eateries I’ve mentioned in my first Hyderabad-post.)

  • The night I arrived in this city, I had the buffet at The Square, Novotel (near the airport). The food wasn’t much to boast about and the couple of drinks we ordered took our bill to almost 7000 INR. But this is a nice place if you’re bored of the airport-food-court and are starving after your flight.
  • Chutneys is a pocket-friendly restaurant specializing in South Indian cuisines. We ordered guntur idlis (very spicy) and palak paneer dosa, and were served an assortment of 6 exotic chutneys (both coconut based and coconut-free) complimentary!
  • Staying in a southern city doesn’t mean you only have to eat South Indian delicacies. Dil Punjabi proves this with flavours of Punjab. We had ordered veg and chicken soups, hara-bhara kebabs for starters, a roti-basket of Amritsari kulchas, naans and tandoori rotis with a paneer dish (large cubes of paneer) and some chicken preparations (for my non-vegetarian friends) for mains. The food was finger-licking good and the portion sizes, befitting a Punjabi eatery! The restaurant closes in the late afternoon, but if you can persuade the maître d’hôtel, you’ll be allowed to order from limited sections of the menu and enjoy a quiet lunch.
  • Hyderabad is mostly a conservative city and has numbered discs, but the party-scene is gradually picking up. I spent my Saturday night at Hard Rock Cafe as the outlet celebrated its 4th anniversary. A large part of the restaurant and bar area was converted to a dance floor and they played some pop and rock chartbusters.

Hot Tip: Ensure you ‘check-in’ on Foursquare if your bill goes over 1500 INR, for a complimentary tequila shot! 🙂

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Insights from an Insider:-

(This is an exclusive interview with a local Hyderabadi)

Praveen in his Deccan Chargers jersey

Praveen in his Deccan Chargers jersey

Me: How long have you lived in Hyderabad?

Praveen: 20 years

Me: Your favourite thing about this city…

Praveen: Our unique language… ‘Hyderabadi Hindi’. You will only hear it in Hyderabad!

Me: Teach me a phrase in Telugu.

Praveen:  ‘garu’ – giving respect to a person. E.g., Oindrila-garu

Me: When does the city go to sleep?

Praveen: Though Hyderabad is one of the thriving Indian cities, the mindset of the people here is still very traditional. You will notice that a typical Telugu girl still prefers to wear traditional dresses over Western. Likewise, the nightlife here is pretty dormant.

Me: One thing nobody must miss doing here…

Praveen: One should visit all heritage locations like Chowhmalla Palace, Chudi-bazaar, Charminar, Golconda, Taramati Baradari and agar aap hyderabad mein hai toh aapko ek bar toh hyderabadi biryani khaani ‘padingi’ ! (a-la-Hyderabadi Hindi) [Now, that you’re in Hyderabad, you must have Hyderabadi biriyani atleast once!]

Say ‘Hi’ to Hyderabad

I’ve been to Hyderabad thrice now, and each time I discover something new about this place. My first trip to the ‘City of Pearls’ was in November last year when I flew down from Mumbai for a weekend with some friends. I did not know then that this city would tempt me to come back for more. The drive from the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport to the city takes a little more than 30 minutes, and the unusually light brown and yellowish colour of the rocks (from the Deccan Plateau) that man the gray 8-lane expressway (Outer Ring Road) contrast well against the light blue skies.

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 ‘Hyderabad’ literally means ‘lion’s abode’ in Persian, and the city gives you a royal visual treat. My first day began with a drive to Eat Street that runs along the Hussain Sagar lake which holds the waters of the River Musi. This place is perfect for a breezy-breakfast.

My next stop was the world-famous monument, Charminar. This facade with 4 towers (and hence the name), situated in the city-centre, was built in the 16th century in celebration of the second Islamic millennium year. The only way to get to the first level of the Charminar is to climb through the minarets. The inside of the minarets are very narrow, stuffy and dark, lit only by a couple of low-watt bulbs. The steps are very steep, and take frequent and sharp turns. You’ll do well to arrive in comfortable footwear. The climb seems endless, but once you see the sunlight seeping through the top, you’ll know you’ve almost made it. You realize that the climb is worth it as you see that the first level lends a lovely view of the entire city which is choc-a-bloc with black-and-yellow rickshaws and small shops.

Chowmahalla Palace figured next on my list. This awe-inspiring royal palace was the erstwhile official residence of the reigning Nizam, and now serves as a museum. The palace is well maintained as is evident from the sparkling chandeliers and floors. Even the royal gardens are well manicured and gleam like emeralds in the afternoon sun. Intricate designs adorn not only the doors and windows but also the ceiling. The museum houses various items of yore, ranging from currency notes & coins to royal blazons.

My day ended with a visit to the Birla Temple. Most Indian cities have a Birla temple, but this is by far the most beautiful I have ever seen. The temple, made of glowing white marble, is a magnificent place of worship and meditation. It is mandatory to leave all electronic gadgets and footwear outside the temple. The cool marble feels wonderful against your naked feet as the serene interiors draw your attention to the ornate carvings and Sanskrit-writings on the walls.

The foodie in me ensures that none of my trips to any place end without sampling the local cuisine and exploring the restaurant-scene. When it comes to Hyderabad, Cinnamon Fusion deserves special mention for its superior ambience and thoughtfully crafted dishes. This restaurant also has live music, thanks to a popular local band.

Apart from the star-hotels, the lion-city has many popular joints in Banjara Hills and Hitech City, of which Barbeque Nation, Village, Dialogue in the Dark (DiD), Rubaiyat and Nautanki Gali stand out for the unique experiences they offer.

My visit to ‘Dialogue in the Dark’ this February left me humbled and in awe of the visually-challenged experts who run this place. A stop here should be on your must-do list for Hyderabad as this is the only Indian city (among 20 worldwide) that offers such an experience. ‘DiD’ insists that you leave all your belongings (including wrist-watch & spectacles) with the guard before a visually-impaired guide takes you into a room that’s pitchblack, effectively rendering your visual faculties useless. In the dark-room, you are made to touch, smell, hear and feel various objects and effects, and let your ‘other’ sense organs work a little harder. The tour ends with a visit to the cafe where your order is prepared in the dark by people who cannot see (at least not in the traditional way), and you must consume your food without looking at it. This concept was first envisioned in Germany and has left many-a-diners with more respect for people with visual challenges.

I know I haven’t seen this city completely as I’m yet to visit Golconda Fort, Salar Jung Museum, Ramoji Film City and many other places of note. This only gives me more reasons to pay this city another visit. I might have been on a typical tourist-trail, but this incidentally happens to be the best trail to follow when you wish to “see-it-all” over a weekend or two.

Tips from the Traveller:-

  • Travel between October and February as Hyderabad enjoys its best weather during the winters and spring.
  • Carry a sturdy pair of shoes (preferably sneakers) for walking across the vast palaces & climbing sundry steps.
  • Pack a mix of contemporary (for the city-restaurants/clubs) and conservative (for the mosques and temples) clothing. A scarf/shrug should suffice for a weekend-trip.
  • Hire a cab (Ola Cabs/Meru/Tab Cab) for the full-day as this is the safest and most convenient way to travel across the city. The city-buses don’t ply everywhere and the auto-rickshaws tend to over-charge.
  • Don’t forget to buy some pearls for yourself or your family and friends! The quality and finishing on pearl jewellery is remarkable in Hyderabad! Cauvery Pearls remains my favourite jeweller for their elegant and modern designs. They also offer corporate discounts! 🙂
  • DO NOT leave Hyderabad without buying some boxes of assorted biscuits, cookies or chocolates from Karachi Bakery! If you remember this only at the airport, fret not, they have a kiosk at the Arrivals area and also before the Boarding Gates.

Last but not the least, remember to tell me about your trip to Hyderabad! Seri?