Thursday 13 May 2010

Adventures in Hyderabad: Handi Biryani & Extreme Sports

Arriving in Hyderabad was a breathe of fresh, errr slightly less polluted, air. An organisation called Gray Matters Capital flew me in but there was some issue with accommodation over the weekend, so Shabnam and her mates very kindly put me up for a couple nights.

I stayed in Banjara Hills, which seems to be the heart of the ‘new’ city with every glass fronted and shimmering American brand you can imagine, and drove through Jubilee Hills where all the ‘Tollywood’ stars live. Turns out there’s a massive Telegu film industry. Who knew?? There’s also a lovely lake in the city and Hyderabad is overall reasonably pretty. Nicer than I expected. Sadly I never made it to the Char Minar, which is in the old city, but I did get to one of the low cost private schools out there, and also to a traditional biryani joint.

Handi Biryani

Chicken 65 is THE snack for Hyderabadis, but Handi Biryani is the main course to eat. The specialty is chicken rather than meat, probably because chicken is generally cheaper to get hold of. You usually get one large piece of chicken and a humongous portion of rice, some kind of curry, raita, onions and lemon. You can get family packs for 4 or 6 which would feed a small army rather than just a family.

Biryani with the team in the old city

Biryani deal at Hyderabad House

The only drawback for some might be the dry heat, which is a bit like stepping out into a hair-dryer every time you leave the house. Personally I’ll take the heat over any kind of cold any day. It does however mean that handkerchiefs are still in full use. Need something to wipe those drips off!

The high point of achievement in Hyderabad is HITEC city, which honestly is mind-boggling. Buildings like you’d never imagine would be built in India. Huge, glass, gleaming and solid. Very impressed!

Apparently the city is also pretty decent for partying, but since I went to Extreme Sports three times in the week I was there, I’m not so convinced :D Having said that, they do the greatest crispy corn snack thing and the biggest chicken platter I’ve ever eaten!

Crispy corn and chicken platter at Extreme Sports with Arfan

There’s big fancy five star hotels all over the place, and apparently Sunday Brunch is a big deal. Apparently you can get flat rate deals that provide food, beers and full use of the facilities for the whole family all afternoon. Can’t knock the life of ex-pats ;)

Hyderabad was also more fun because I had more social interaction; with the lovely folks at GMC, Shabnam and friends, and a bit of UK jokes with Arfan and his mates. Went out for a first anniversary do for Sharayu’s sister’s restaurant, some fancy bar in one of Hyd’s three Taj hotels, Extreme Sports of course, and a Thai place that reminded me of the breakfast joint I used to frequent in Mexico city.


As always. there was work involved. For once I was mostly focused on just one organisation for the whole period.
  • Gray Matters Capital – are trying to improve quality of education for low income populations through market based services focused on low cost (affordable) private schools (APS). The plan is to trigger change through the development and subsidised deployment of a rating mechanism, then investing in and developing the service ecosystem needed to deliver improvements to quality, and supporting the whole mechanism by mobilising a movement around the issue. Over a pretty intense week we looked at mission and strategy, problem definition, long term impact design and assessment, cost modelling, leveraging the web for building movement, and organisational structure.

  • Millee – Unfortunately couldn’t make all that much time for Shabnam’s org which is building educational mobile games to help improve English literacy in government schools. The best I could do was input a little around the user-experience of the games, but Millee is worth a mention to help raise awareness of what they’re doing. Check em out!
While working with GMC, the team took me on a tour to check out some low cost English medium private schools. The level which they focus on fall into the Rs.250 to 350 a month (about £4-5). These are typically built incrementally as you can see from the pics below. They start the school with a basic rough structure and then add plaster etc as income starts to flow in. One fascinating thing was seeing the really fancy school bus at one of the schools. Apparently school buses are taken as an indicator of quality by parents so these schools make it one of their few major investments. However, since the charges are pretty much the same as the whole month’s worth of schooling, the outlay gets covered pretty fast.
Here’s an example of what’s considered to be a really good school…

High quality low cost private school



And one at the bottom of the spectrum…


Low quality low cost private school


Finally, and most nostalgically, I finally laid my hands on Targolas. No idea what they’re called in English, but I love them. Took me back to my childhood and the joys of Indian fruit!!

Selling Targola's on the street

Half peeled Targola
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