Huddersfield Daily Examiner - - FRONT PAGE -

KNEW In­dia was go­ing to be an ‘ex­pe­ri­ence’ but lit­tle can pre­pare a sub­con­ti­nent new­comer for the cul­tural and sen­sory blitz that’s Hy­der­abad. Never sleep­ing, the sprawl­ing me­trop­o­lis of 9 mil­lion peo­ple is a bustling mass of dusty roads packed with mo­tor­bikes, mo­tor rick­shaws, cars, lor­ries, buses, lit­ter, pot­holes, cat­tle, pigs, dogs, goats and count­less peo­ple all mov­ing to a round-the-clock sound­track of en­gines, shout­ing and, above all, horns.

Swanky pri­vate hos­pi­tals stand next to ram­shackle shops, and tem­ples and mosques neigh­bour houses, half-built blocks, ho­tels, restau­rants and car show­rooms.

Count­less stalls line pave­ment­less streets and women in brightly coloured sa­rees walk along­side Mus­lims in black veils – all go­ing about their busi­ness un­der end­less ad­ver­tis­ing hoard­ings as chil­dren play cricket and foot­ball on parched earth.

It in­cludes glimpses of grind­ing ‘Slum­dog’ poverty but the fren­zied city, with its gleam­ing hi-tech busi­ness dis­trict dubbed Cy­ber­abad, seems to work. It may not be ev­ery­one’s cup of chai but stick with it be­cause the re­wards are ex­cep­tional.

Lo­cated in south cen­tral In­dia, Hy­der­abad was a cap­i­tal of em­pires long be­fore the Bri­tish ar­rived – in­clud­ing two Mus­lim dy­nas­ties that in­vaded from Per­sia.

In 1591 the im­pos­ing four-minareted Charmi­nar Mosque was built to cel­e­brate the end of the plague and as a cen­tre piece for the su­per-rich Qutb Shahi dy­nasty’s new city. Their orig­i­nal seat of power is a few miles west at Gol­conda Fort – a par­tial­lyp­re­served citadel built amid pink gran­ite boul­ders with nearly 5 miles of outer walls con­tain­ing 87 tow­ers.

There’s 360 steps to the for­ti­fied hill­top which of­fers hazy views of the sprawl­ing city and the domes of the Qutb Shahi tombs less than a mile away.

Mas­sive and ma­jes­tic and con­structed un­til the dy­nasty’s de­feat by Delhi Moguls in 1687, each domed tomb would alone be a tourist at­trac­tion in any other city. Here there’s more than 30 of them, com­plete with a great mosque.

With Hy­der­abad done, we headed west on a mag­i­cal his­tory tour through the vast dusty state of Kar­nataka where tourists are so rare we were bom­barded with selfie re­quests.

Our trusted steed was a com­fort­able bus com­plete with air-con­di­tion­ing, cur­tains and fans and cru­cially, built like a tank. In­ca­pable of great speed, it was wrought to ride the rough ter­rain of In­dia’s haz­ardous high­ways.

Af­ter many hours we reached Bi­dar – at first sight an un­re­mark­able town but con­tain­ing a ru­ined me­dieval uni­ver­sity and a well­p­re­served fortress.

From Bi­dar we headed nearly 200 miles and over six hours to Bi­japur – through a stark ru­ral land­scape stripped of forests but stud­ded with elec­tric­ity py­lons and mo­bile phone masts; sym­bols of a new In­dia.

We were trav­el­ling with Ex­plore and one of the joys of its guided bus tours is stop­ping when some­thing peaks your in­ter­est such as… thou­sands of painted bulls, wear­ing rib­bons and teth­ered in fields as farm­ers traded at an age-old cat­tle mar­ket.

So to bustling Bi­japur which in­cludes the stun­ning mau­soleum of Gol Gum­baz. Built over 23 years by 20,000 labour­ers as a tomb to the city’s ruler, it was com­pleted in 1656, just 30 years be­fore Bi­japur fell to the Moguls.

For cen­turies, the ma­jes­tic dome was Asia’s largest and high above the mau­soleum floor it fea­tures a whis­per­ing gallery which echoes and mag­ni­fies the slight­est sound.

Just 80 miles down the road is Badami – famed for its four cave tem­ples hewn into a for­ti­fied sand­stone cliff above the town’s 1,400-year-old reser­voir.

All fea­ture walls, pil­lars and ceil­ings packed with or­nate deities carved by skilled sixth cen­tury crafts­men.

Pass­ing through the town’s nar­row streets among roam­ing dogs and live­stock, we reached a man-made rock plat­form at the far end of Agastya lake that serves as a foun­da­tion for low-rise stone tem­ples. They were built by a Hindu king­dom that ruled most of south­ern In­dia while Bri­tain lan­guished in the chaos of the Dark Ages.

It was Jan­uary and mid-20 de­grees but we were ex­tremely chilled as the sun set to the drift­ing sound of women wash­ing clothes in the murky waters.

Af­ter tak­ing in the nearby Unesco World Her­itage site of sand­stone tem­ples at Pat­tadakal, it was to Hampi, the famed cap­i­tal of the Hindu Vi­jayana­gara Em­pire,

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