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Inside the train it was surprisingly quiet as it moved, pretty slowly, through the Indian countryside. Everyone who got on with us seemed to bed down immediately and go to sleep. Sometime after 6am I was woken by a chai seller walking through the carriage, hawking his tea in a loud voice. Carol and I huddled in our little space together on the bottom bunk again, and then I decided to unlock the backpacks and we had our first big travel drama – the Pacsafe lock on Carol’s pack wouldn’t open! I had checked and re-checked the combination when I set it back home, but it refused to work. You can imagine how disturbing this was, caught in the very situation the lock was designed to guard against. After trying many combinations I tried to cut through the thin wire with my pen knife, and was about to begin trying to saw through the thick handle of the backpack when I tried one more number shift and it suddenly unlocked. A huge wave of relief washed over me.

Needless to say we won’t be using Pacsafe ‘Retractasafe’ wire locks ever again – they’re overcomplicated and obviously unreliable.

Sweating a bit, I could relax as we pulled into Hyderabad station in Telangana state about 9am. There was supposed to be an Ola counter there (the Indian version of Uber), but it didn’t exist, so we just navigated the chaos outside the station and I picked a tuk-tuk driver who took us to Golconda Hotel for 300 R (about NZD$6, which seems to be the rate everyone is happy with for about half an hour’s drive through traffic, though they usually ask 400 R initially).

Hyderabad traffic is absolutely insane. It’s the busiest, most polluted, noisiest, most chaotic traffic I’ve ever experienced, and you breathe in every lungful of pollution and hear every beeping horn when you’re in an exposed tuk-tuk. Despite the increased risk of death it’s always kind of fun however, being right amongst it all.

The Golconda Hotel is one of those Indian hotels pretending to be 5 star when they’re about 2 and a half stars. We checked in and immediately went to the buffet for breakfast and – well, I’m blaming the breakfast sausage, which I even identified at the time as possibly being dodgy, for what happened next. Really, by now I should have learned my lesson and gone full vegetarian as Carol is (she got stomach problems all through the trip, but never anything like as bad as I did).

Blissfully unaware of my fomenting gut troubles, we headed out again on another crazy tuk-tuk ride to the Charminar (which means ‘four minarets’), the symbol of the city, a four-arched structure in the centre of the Old City and a maze of bazaars. Utter madness. We were the only non-Indians I saw wandering around. The chaotic traffic-filled streets, thousands of shops and stalls, astonishing noise and chaos was overwhelming and exciting.

We bought our tickets and climbed a narrow spiral staircase to the galleries that overlooked the central covered area (the decorations awash with pigeons and pigeon shit) and out to the streets packed with people, motorbikes and tuk-tuks and extending the four cardinal points into the city.

Nearby we visited the Mecca Masjid, one of the world’s largest mosques. Carol was a bit nervous about entering, but I asked a guard if it was OK and if she was dressed appropriately, and he waved us in. Sadly, I wouldn’t have thought twice about entering a mosque like this twenty-five years ago, but world events since then have made the experience  a bit more fraught with indecision and care.

The mosque was begun in 1617 and like many of these old places of worship, it’s in a constant unfinished state of repair and restoration. We looked through closed gates into the main prayer hall and sat on the steps of the main courtyard for a bit. Hyderabad has a much larger Moslem presence than the other places we’ve visited this trip and the call to prayer can be heard throughout the city. (I’ve always wondered, how do non-Moslems in places like this feel about having to hear that loud voice on speakers at all hours of the day from dawn to dusk?) Groups of very serious-looking white-bearded men in white robes, and women covered entirely in black, certainly give the city a different feel.

I navigated us through the crazily busy streets to the Chowmahalla Palace, an 18th/19th century palace that was once the residence of some of the nizams, the monarches of the Hyderabad state, who inside are all described on information panels in the most fawningly positive terms – so much so you could almost forget they were unbelievably privileged hereditary client kings.

The palace was interesting in that kind of dusty, worn, semi-museum kind of way, but apart from the impressive throne room that seemed to have about 20 chandeliers hanging from its roof, it was padded out with photos, old painted portraits, a room full of crockery, and a collection of vintage cars going back to the start of the last century.

We were getting pretty tired and worn out at this stage, so we returned to the hotel (via without doubt the craziest, nosiest, most polluted tuk-tuk drive of my life), with vague plans of going somewhere for a drink and food, but instead we had a drink at the hilariously bad bar in the hotel, then flaked. It’s hard to describe how the combination of heat, pollution, noise, and crowds can exhaust you. Carol had some chips and I had chicken biryani in our room, then I started feeling very tired and sore and could hardly move … yes, the same food poisoning symptoms again.

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