When I was little, I had a stuffed, Beanie Baby brand Bengal Tiger. The name on the tag read “India,” and, being as obsessed with cats as I was when I was little, she was one of my favorite. I can tell you precise details about the day when I got her: it was rainy, early spring, my granny was in town, I was wearing a blue jean jumper. I remember that in our kid’s encyclopedia, the page about India had a picture of a Bengal tiger on it, so I remember thinking that “India” was obviously a perfect name.
These were the memories that surfaced yesterday when I stood, under the hot Indian sun, pressed against a waist high metal fence, staring across a moat at a Bengal tiger who (smartly) reclined in the shade. We were at the Nehru Zoological Gardens, and I was feeling some serious nostalgia as I observed this magnificent creature. Across the way was a white Bengal tiger, equally stunning.
Bethany was invited by one of her classmates to go to the zoo, and asked me if I wanted to tag along. The Nehru Zoological Park is about a 40 minute ride from the university. On the way we saw this super cool building. As we drove by, I stared at it for several minutes, feeling as though I had seen it before, which I initially dismissed as I had never been to this side of town, until I suddenly realized that my dad had sent me a picture of it back in April!
This fishy looking structure, known as Matsya Bhavan, is home to the National Fisheries Development Board. One of my friends here commented that it’s always humorous to see serious looking, white-lab-coat clad, briefcase toting people hurrying in an out of this rather whimsical building.
The Nehru Zoological Park was built in 1963. While it seemed very much like any other zoo I have ever visited (zoo shop, canteen-area, playground, train painted in a colorful animal print) this zoo was one of the first in India to use a different method of enclosure for the animals. Except for a few (like the leopards and jaguars who are skilled at climbing and jumping) most animals are kept in an “open moated enclosure,” meaning they are essentially on a little island, surrounded by a moat, and the only other thing separating you from them is a waist-high railing and some plants. While this made Bethany a little nervous, I found it really intriguing; it definitely had less of a “zoo-y” feel.
There are over 1,300 animals at this zoo (and a total of 140 species). The zoo focuses on breeding and rehabilitation of endangered animals, promoting wildlife education and awareness, and conducting research on animal behavior and rehabilitation, along with providing “wholesome recreation” for the public. We spent two
sweltering lovely hours wandering around and viewing the animals, a wonderful day.
Luckily, this past Friday, Ishmeet set up an appointment for us to visit an NGO, in the hopes of finalizing a volunteering position for the rest of our time here.
This NGO was a school for underprivileged children here in Hyderabad: they have over two hundred thirty children from grades K-10, and all the teaching staff is entirely volunteer-based. The woman we met said that they can always use extra help, so we are going on Fridays and Saturdays for a few hours each day to help with reading and writing, and teaching the kids poems and riddles and maybe some arts and crafts as well. I’m so thankful this opportunity worked out, and am really eager to get started!
After discussing timing with one of the women who helps run the school, she took us on a tour to see the building, before inviting us to stay a while to watch the presentation for Janmashtami: Lord Krishna’s birthday. We agreed, and sat with the kids as the teachers symbolized his birth by shaking a gourd out of an orate bag, and then taking a golden statue out of said gourd. They bathed it in curd, oil, and kumkum (colored powder), before rinsing him clean and dressing him in a new dress, wig, and crown. They then placed the figurine on a swing, and blessed it three times with incense burning in a silver spoon. The children were then all invited to pull on a special rope that would rock the swing. It was touching that they had invited us to stay and watch this special demonstration; I’m always grateful for cultural experiences like this!
Last weekend, we got to do a little more exploring in our home city. We spent the evening at Golconda Fort, which is possibly spelled Golkonda Fort (I found equal results for each), which was the capital of an ancient kingdom from the 14th-16th century. It is a huge fortress complex; though we walked around for about an hour, we saw only maybe 20% of the structure. My favorite part was climbing to the top (although Ishmeet has decided I’m a liability, given my falls at Mushroom Rock and in Hampi, and clutched my arm most of the way up) and being able to see the city spread out, blanketing the ground below us, bathed in a cool light as dusk settled around us.
After many photo ops, we hiked down to the base of the fort, for a special light show detailing the history of Golconda Fort. It was a long and complicated history, and kind of hard for me to follow, but the presentation was beautiful. They had a speaker system rigged up, telling the story of the fort and lights flashed all around accordingly, and some classical music played as well. The history of the fort is shrouded in fables and legend, but the most popular story follows the tale of a young shepherd who found an idol in the vicinity that the fort now occupies, and the king of the Kakatiya Dynasty (which ruled the area at this time) ordered that a fort be built around it. The area became known as Golla Konda, which means “Shepherd’s Hill” in Telugu. This occurred in about 1143. Then several wars and battles occurred and the fort changed hands several times, and around 1518 underwent expansive additions; by the time it was 1590, it had a six mile outer wall enclosing the city inside. Today, many many many years later, the fort is still in remarkable condition, and remains one of Hyderabad’s most impressive architectural feats.