Hyderabad, Telangana, January 2018 - One of the best parts of my job is exploring under-the-radar tourism destinations for my clients. The city of Hyderabad, which sees a lot of tech-related business travel, but very little leisure travel, is one such destination. The city was constructed in 1591 by King Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah of the Qutb Shahi dynasty. At the center of the old city he built the Charminar, or "four towers," which is still surrounded by a lively bazaar and numerous mosques and palaces built by a succession of rulers.
The Qutb Shahi dynasty ruled the region around Hyderabad from 1507 to 1687. For most of the 16th century, their seat of power was Golconda Fort (below left), which was built on the remains of a 13th-century mud fort of the Kakatiya dynasty. Today the ruins of the fort are spread over 15 square miles, and contain decaying palaces, royal baths, gardens and treasuries that were once full of precious gems excavated from the famous Golconda mines. For hundreds of years, Golconda was the primary market city for the diamond trade in India. Standing on the wall of the fort you can see the Qutb Shahi Tombs (below right), where seven of the nine Qutb Shahi Sultans are buried. The tombs, built by each ruler in his lifetime, combine Persian, Turkish and Hindu architectural elements.
During their reign, the Qutb Shahi Sultans faced numerous incursions by the Mughals and the Hindu Marathas. In 1724, the Mughal governor of the Deccan plateau (in which Hyderabad is located) arrived to govern the city. His official title was the Nizam-ul-Muluk, or Administrator of the Realm. After the death of Emperor Aurangzeb, he declared his independence and established the Asaf Jahi dynasty of Nizams.
The Nizams of Hyderabad were known for their tremendous wealth, which came not only from Golconda's gems, but from the area's natural resources, a vibrant pearl trade, agricultural taxes and friendly cooperation with the British. One fact that many people do not know is that until the 18th century, India was thought to be the only source of diamonds in the world. South Africa's deposits were not discovered until the late 19th century, shortly after the Golconda mines were depleted. Famous diamonds hailing from Golconda include the Hope (now in the Smithsonian), the Koh-i-Noor (part of the British Crown Jewels), the Regent, the Princie, the Agra, the Wittelsbach-Graff and the Daria-i-Noor (part of the Iranian Crown Jewels).
The Nizams, like the Qutb Shahi Sultans before them, were enlightened patrons of the arts, literature and cuisine. Hyderabadi culture thus evolved to feature a blend of Hindu and Muslim customs, with Arab, Persian, Turkish and European influences. The Nizam's ecclectic opulence can be seen today at Chowmahalla Palace (above left), which was constructed in phases between 1750 and 1869. It is actually a complex of four palaces, and was supposedly modeled after the palace of the Shah of Iran in Tehran. The Salarjung Museum is a virtual repository of fine art and luxury goods, containing over 40,000 objects once belonging to Salarjung III, Prime Minister of Hyderabad from 1899 until 1949. The collection includes Mughal jade, carved ivory, textiles, European walking sticks, bidriware, miniature paintings, and a mezmerizing Veiled Rebekah (above right) by Italian sculptor G. B. Benzoni.
Falaknuma Palace (shown below), now a hotel managed by the Taj group, was built for the Nizams in 1872 with a Palladian front facade and Indo-Saracenic architectural elements at the back. It contains a dining table that seats 101 people, and a noteworthy library of old books and manuscripts that can be accessed by hotel guests under the supervision of a full-time librarian.
By the time of independence in 1947, Hyderabad was India's largest and wealthiest princely state, and the last Nizam of Hyderabad, Osman Ali, was the richest man in the world. When independence was secured, he refused to join either India or Pakistan, insisting on remaining an independent state. His stubborness was short-lived; in September 1948, India mounted Operation Polo, deposed the Nizam and annexed the state into the Indian Union.
My two greatest weaknesses when I am in India are a compulsive need to purchase shiny bangles in a color I don't own already and to eat the local sweets because I can't get them at home. Visiting Hyderabad did not help my cause. At the Nimrah Iranian bakery, I tasted possibly the best butter cookies I have ever eaten. They had been baked in a wood-burning oven, giving them a smoky taste with a slightly salty finish due to the huge amount of butter used. My second favorite cookie at Nimrah featured grated coconut and real silver foil. My third favorite cookie... I even wandered back into the kitchen to witness the resident tea master at work, mixing quadruple-boiled black liquor with hot milk and sugar as orders came rushing in.
In Lad Bazaar, I watched artisans create Hyderabadi-style bangles. Copper wire is formed into spirals, and then molten lac, a type of resin derived from an insect, is wrapped around the wire. Multi-colored crystals are carefully set into the hot lac to create a huge variety of designs. The final product is sold in the bazaar, as well as exported to high-end retailers in the West. As I have already confessed to you, I own a lot of bangles, and these appear to be the sturdiest ones yet.
One other tidbit about Hyderabad. The city is also home to the Ramoji Film City, the largest film studio complex in the world. It produces "Tollywood" movies in the Telugu language, which is the language spoken in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, as well as "Bollywood" movies in the Hindi language, which is widely spoken throughout northern India. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the studios, and even spend the night at one of a number of on-sight hotels. I did not have time to visit Ramoji Film City on this trip, but I am sure I will return to Hyderabad in the near future!
Hyderabad, Telangana, January 2018 - Above I referenced the superb collection of bidriware found in the Salarjung Museum in Hyderabad. This metalcraft originated in ancient Persia, and was brought to India in the 14th century by Iranian craftsmen under the patronage of the Bahamani Sultans of Bidar, a city in Karnataka approximately 150 km from Hyderabad. It involves the creation of intricately-patterned objects by inlaying gold and/or silver into oxidized metal.
When creating a bidriware object, first a clay mold is prepared, into which a mix of molten zinc and copper is poured. The cast piece is filed smooth and then coated with a solution of copper sulphate to cause it to turn black. Designs are etched free-hand into the black coating, and these designs are then filled with extremely fine gold and/or silver wire (today brass is often substituted for gold).
The object is next filed and buffed to smooth out any bumps and remove the black coating, leaving a gleaming white metal surface. It is then submersed in a mixture of soil, ammonium chloride and water which darkens the zinc/copper alloy and brings out the final design. Oil is sometimes applied to the finished piece in order to darken the matte black finish of the background metal.
Bidriware is primarily decorated with Persian-influenced designs, such as flowers, leaves and geometric patterns. Occasionally human figures are portrayed. Traditional bidriware items include hookahs, paan (betel nut) holders, vases, rosewater sprinklers, bowls and keepsake boxes. Today's craftsmen have expanded their repertoire to include jewelry, USB-drive covers, key chains, pen holders, table tops and other keepsake items. Bidriware is extremely heavy due to the metals used, thus the size of objects that can be created is somewhat limited.
Puttupaka, Koyalagudem and Pochampally, Telangana, January 2018 - Ikat is a craft tradition in which the warp and/or weft threads that make up a woven textile are resist-dyed prior to weaving. The word 'ikat' is Javanese and means tied, bound or knotted. The origins of ikat are still debated. Some scholars believe it originated in Central Asia, while others believe it originated in Southeast Asia or the Indian subcontinent. It may have developed in several locations independently, as ikat was known to be produced in several pre-Colombian cultures. While today it is most prevalent in India, Indonesia and Japan, it can also be found in Central and South America, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, the Phillipines, Iran and the Kashgar region of China.
Ikat can be made from cotton, silk, wool or artificial fibers. While in other resist-dye techniques, such as tie-dye and batik, the resist is applied to the cloth after it is woven, in ikat, the resist is applied to the yarns before they are woven. A resist is a material or substance applied to yarn to protect it from absorbing dye. In tie-dye, the resist is typically thread (or rubber bands if you went to summer camp), while in batik the resist is wax. As shown below, bundles of white yarn are bound with string at certain points and submerged in dye. Once dry, the first set of strings are removed, and new strings are tied to protect the color that was just applied. This process is repeated until the proper color pattern is created on the yarn.
Since the surface design is created on the yarn itself, both sides of ikat textiles are patterned. The blurriness or jagged appearance of ikat stems from the inherent difficulty faced by the weaver in lining up dyed yarns so that the desired pattern emerges. It is this blurriness, which to me resembles the disjointed look of early computer-generated photographs, that makes ikat so easy to recognize.
Single ikat refers to the process in which either the warp threads or the weft threads are dyed prior to weaving. Warp ikat is when the warp threads (that run perpendicular to the weaver) are dyed and the weft threads are a solid color. This is the easiest kind of ikat to produce, and the pattern is clearly visible on the loom before the weft has been added (see below).
In weft ikat, the weaving yarn (that the weaver passes on the shuttle through the loom) is dyed, while the warp threads are a solid color, thus the pattern only appears as weaving progresses. This is a harder type of ikat to produce, as the weaver needs to align properly the weft threads with each pass of the shuttle. In the photos below, observe how the red bird motif is clearly visible in the just-dyed yarns that will be made into the spools of weft. The video below shows how the pattern emerges as weaving progresses.
Double ikat refers to the process in which both the warp and weft are dyed. Double ikat is extremely difficult to produce, and is only found in India, Japan and Indonesia. In India, only a few villages still produce double ikat, including Puttapaka in Telangana and Patan in Gujarat. What I found fascinating about Telangana ikat is the fact that the finished textile might have a completely different color scheme than either the individual warp or weft threads. As shown in the left photo below, a warp that has been dyed with primary colors such as black, red, green and yellow can produce a textile with subtle pink and violet hues with the addition of a flourescent pink weft thread.
The photo on the right below shows the enormous range of ikat textiles that can be purchased in Pochampally. The entire region supplies large quantities of cotton and silk ikat to wholesale fabric markets in Hyderabad, Mumbai and Kolkata.
Just added...The Crafts and Textiles of Hyderabad and Telangana
One of the specialties of From Lost to Found Travel is our range of itineraries exploring India's rich craft and textile heritage. So many of these traditions are gradually disappearing, as the children and grandchildren of experienced artisans seek out new professions in a rapidly modernizing world, often away from the villages in which where they were raised and where much of this work is still done in home-based workshops.
Truth be told, making a good living as a craftsperson in India is very difficult. Hours are long, compensation is piece-based and minimal, and intermediaries often control the raw materials and wages. This is particulary true in the textile industry where final pieces such as saris need to be affordable by avergage citizens, resulting in minimal pay for workers. Only a few artisans are skilled enough to align themselves with luxury fashion houses or home decor designers who can pay higher prices for their output, and even these prices might seem low to outsiders in relation to the beauty of the items produced.
While royal patronage, upon which many of India's craft and textile traditions thrived for centuries, is no more, the government of India clearly recognizes its remarkable heritage. It regularly bestows the title of Padma Shri on master artisans, and has given Geographical Indications for many craft and textile forms. Still, the ablity of artisans to earn a solid living really depends upon the specific craft and its global exposure. Some artisans, like the Gond painters of Madhya Pradesh, have come to the attention of foreign collectors and are now represented in galleries in Delhi and Mumbai. Indeed, I recently attended an exhibition and sale of Gond art in Radford, Virginia. Others, like the kantha embroiderers and patachitra painters of West Bengal, participate in major craft fairs not only in Delhi and Mumbai, but in Europe and the U.S. as well.
So what does this mean for a travel company? My love of these crafts compels me to seek out artisans throughout India and to document my visits. If I can bring visitors to their workshops for a personal interaction - where they learn not only about the crafts themselves, but about the artisans' day-to-day lives - I am happy. Sometimes there is an opportunity to bring income directly to these artisans if all of their output hasn't been spoken for by middlemen, but this isn't the primary reason for visiting. Yes, a piece or two often appears from a hidden chest that one of my clients can purchase, but my primary goal is for everyone to learn from each other. We marvel at their creativity, eye-hand coordination and stamina, and they marvel at the fact that there are truly people willing to travel 8,000 miles in an airplane followed by six hours on a bumpy village road just to admire their handiwork. I invite adventurous travelers of all backgrounds to join us!