Once you've read this, you might decide it's not really a 'story' – it's more of an extended 'Thank You' letter to the staff of the Hotel Geetanjali who designed our 4 day tour programme in Hyderabad and especially to our adorable driver Mohin who took amazingly good care of us during our visit. Each day Mohin turned up at the hotel to collect his instructions on where to take us and each day he did everything in his power to make sure we saw all that his city had to offer. The individual sites can each have their reviews later, but it's certainly true that we'd not have got half as much out of this city without the help of Varun the manager and Mohin the driver. We were only the second couple to book one of their tours and we came away as very contented guinea pigs indeed.
Obviously I can't promise that anyone else booking a tourist package with the hotel will be lucky enough to get the same driver but Hyderabad is such a great city that you'll struggle to go too far wrong. I must admit I wasn't too sure what to expect. I have three Indian guide books – Footprint, Frommers and Dorling Kindersley and none of them seemed to reckon much to Hyderabad. Even the on-line forums I consulted advised that you could only stretch a visit to three days if you padded it with a lot of shopping but we had no trouble at all thanks to the package we booked and the imagination that went into its design.
We arrived on Sunday morning on an overnight flight from London. On our first day we slept all morning after flying over-night and asked to meet our driver after lunch. At first we wondered how he was going to cope with us because he didn't seem to speak much English. As the days passed, his English got more confident and we all developed a sort of sixth sense about what he was suggesting and what we wanted to do. He looked after us like we were his relatives and the term 'nothing was too much trouble' was designed for Mohin. He was a safe, reliable driver, his car was always clean and tidy and he went out of his way to make sure we saw everything on the programme, including the things we didn't think we wanted to see. Each morning he picked up his instructions from the hotel about where to take us and if we wanted to change anything he'd call the hotel for confirmation and everything was quickly sorted out.
On day one he took us to the Salar jung museum and that really was all we could deal with for the day. Day two was our main local sightseeing trip and we started with the Birla Temple followed by the Birla Science Museum and then on to the park by the lake for a speedboat trip to the Buddha Island in the lake. We visited the Charminar, Hyderabad's most famous landmark and the Mecca Masjid mosque before heading back north of the river to the bizarre NTR Park and finally onto Golconda for the Sound and Light Show. Day three he took us to Ramoji Film City then back to Hyderabad for an absurd hand-built novelty car museum and Snow World (a giant freezer full of over-excited Indians playing snowballs). On our final day we went back to Golconda for another look and to the Qut'b Shahi tombs.
I think it's fair to say we saw a lot of places that have never made it into guide books, some of them fabulous fun and really interesting and Mohin and Varun are to be congratulated for putting such a great programme together.
At each place we went to Mohin leapt out of the car, rushed off to buy our tickets and then made sure we knew where to go and what to do. When the entrance fees were only a few rupees, he bought an extra ticket so he could come in and show us around, grabbing our camera every now and then to take pictures of us posing around in the parks. A lot of the attractions ban cameras so he always waited outside to make sure we were OK and to take the cameras if we were banned from using them. Every time we emerged from a site he was waiting for us, as if by magic. Even if we tried to sneak out of an attraction and creep back by a side entrance, we couldn't catch him out.
When we needed to find an internet café one evening to print our train tickets, he drove all over town trying to find a place for us because the first few places we stopped all had broken servers. When we wanted to buy packets of tissues and some dental floss, he stopped half a dozen times until we'd tracked down the tissues. Amazingly the dental floss was easy to find but packets of tissues were surprisingly challenging.
Whenever we'd skipped breakfast, the hotel told him and he always tried to make sure to offer us a bakery or another place to pick up some food. He quickly came to understand that our idea of breakfast was a piece of cake and not weird curry. One day when we'd already been out for about 11 hours, he still took us to a place with lots of restaurants and offered to wait whilst we got dinner from one of the many restaurants. We just grabbed some sandwiches and told him he should go home to his family and we'd be happy to snack in our room. We were so well looked after and so fond of him after 4 days together that we were really sad to leave Mohin when he finally dropped us at the railway station.
What we got – we got the lot!
With the exception of the second visit to Golconda and the trip to the Qut'b Shahi tombs, all our entrance fees were included in our package. I wanted to go back to Golconda because I'd fallen asleep the first time thus maintaining my 100% record for not staying awake at Indian Sound and Light shows. We wanted to see it properly in daylight and the tombs were something I'd found in my guide book and wanted to take a look at. Of the long list of attractions included in our package we missed only one thing and that was a zoological gardens which was closed on Mondays (that was our main sightseeing day) and we ran out of time on the last day by going 'off piste' to the fort and the tombs. Not all of the included attractions in the Geetanjali's package were cheap to go into and many charged much higher fees for us as foreigners than they would have been for locals. The entrance fees on the third day alone were more than £20 but all those fees were included in our deal. I did wonder if the hotel had even covered their costs for sending is off all over the place for four days.
A final footnote: if you've got this far and been wondering about the name of the hotel (and why not, it's not a word many would know), Geetanjali (or Gitanjali) means 'Song Offerings' and is the name of a book of devotional songs written by the great Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore, (which I haven't read but apparently it's very beautiful). Tagore was Asia's first ever winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and the man responsible for the National Anthems of both India and Bangladesh, neither of which I could hum or would re