It’s just before nine in the morning on a sunny, unseasonably warm February day in Hyderabad, India, and several teams of expats, mostly members of the Twin Cities Expat Association (TEA), wait for the start of the TEA Cares Hyderabad Hunt.
TEA Care Hyderabad Hunt
The TEA Cares Hyderabad Hunt is a three-hour scavenger hunt where participants race to find and photograph items, people, animals, and places around the city, with proceeds going to TEA Cares supported nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Today, twenty plus people, not counting drivers, assemble at the Boulder Hills Car park in Gachibowli, their drivers and leased cars ready to race to victory.
There are American and English accents chatting away, but it seems the French dominate the attendee list this year. When asked about the high number of French competitors, one smiling gamer replies in his brilliant French accent, “Yes, the French like to move so we come out for the Hunt. The holiday Gala is dominated by Americans.” I proudly take this to mean he thinks American’s like to party—of course we do—but we also like to play.
Teams anxiously surround the event organizer in search of their lists, wanting a quick peak so they can plan their route. We are the Cobra Gangstas: two spotter packed into the third row of an Toyota Innova, two photographers comfortably seated in the second row, and two drivers. We range in age from our younger Indian drivers who are 37, to us Americans, the oldest being a spry 61. What we lack in youth we make up for in creativity and scary Cobra Gangsta logo t-shirts.
We expect to see another American team at the starting line, but last year’s Gen-Y’er champs are conspicuously absent. It appears the Outsourced-Peace-Rainbow-Wave-War-Expat-Beer-Smugglers-with-a-Joyful-Scavenger-Hunt-Nightmare,-Fun-Yeah team—also known as the Patricks—may not make it in time. Did they get lost? Unlikely, they have a driver. Oversleep? Possibly, as Gen-Yers they don’t get enough sleep as it is. Fail to read the announcement? Absolutely, but as we’ll soon find out, they read the important words and know there is a hunt today.
And We’re Off!
The wait is over, the lists are distributed and everyone hurries to their respective vehicles.
Our first stop is a constructions site. We can amass several points in a single stop with a construction worker, a woman carrying something on her head, a team member driving a Tuk Tuk, and two Tuk Tuk’s together where one driver has his leg on the other Tuk Tuk. We pile out of the car, enthusiastically waving Hcameras, drivers ready to translate our bizarre requests. “What did you tell her?” I ask Rawoof.
“I asked her to put those bowls on her head so we can take her photo, sir.” He says with a smile.
In minutes we have four items checked off and we are on our way to our next stop. Meanwhile, in the back seat, two of the Cobra Gangsta sextet are reading off the list: a herd of buffalo in the water—bonus points for one with a heron on its back; a someone wearing a wool hat and another wearing a winter coat—when its 32 degrees Celsius (that’s 91 for you Americans); bamboo scaffolding—okay, they gave us an easy one; man sleeping on the road…
“Pull over!” Rawoof yells. “Come with me, sir.”
We leap from the car and hurry toward the back. Before I can speak Rawoof has his team shirt off and is lying on the roadside, a handkerchief covering his face. I quickly snap the photo, trying to capture his best side—the entire process taking less than a minute, which is a lifetime in India traffic.
What is this Pan of which they speak?
More items to capture: ‘After Whiskey Driving is Risky’ sign—one of my personal favorites; metal scaffolding—with construction in Hyderabad as rampant as crazy Liverpool soccer fans, this is another gimme from the organizing committee; Bollywood and Tollywood posters where the male lead does not have a mustache—which is like finding an honest man in Gomorrah; team photo with ten different flavors of pan.
“What is Pan?” I ask the team.
Wikipedia, the definitive source of all semi-to-not-so-reliable information, describes pan, or paan, as “a preparation combining betel leaf with areca nut and sometimes also with tobacco.” When chewed, pan produces a red dye, which needs to go somewhere, so people tend to spit it, well, everywhere. Pan is available throughout most of India, including Hyderabad; however, not all paan is created equally. We specifically need ten different flavors of pan.
Wajid, our friend’s driver and co-Cobra Gangsta, is on the mobile talking to someone. The conversation sounds quite heated and one word is repeated, well, repeatedly. Is it ‘dees’? Or ‘duss’? or…“Das, sir,” says Rawoof.
“Who is Wajid calling?”
It turns out Wajid is on the telephone with his cousin, a pan-nipulator of sorts, or paanwala, or panwari, or panwadi—its all quite unclear—the fact is, he makes pan and is willing to sell us ten different flavors. The pan-ufacturer cousin can’t believe it, so Wajid repeats the quantity several times, “Das, das, das,” yes, we want ten!
We arrive at the the cousin’s roadside pan-erating shop—yes, part of the fun of this part of the story is combining the word ‘pan’ with other words—pose with our pan, and recruit a local to take the team photo, after which we donate our pan to the gastro-pan-onomers—last one, seriously, this is getting ridiculous. It seems that although Americans love to party, we do not love red pan-stained teeth.
In the meantime, unbeknownst to us, the other American team was also rabidly pursuing scavenger hunt items. They managed to secure a photo of a woman riding a man on a scooter—no, that definitely doesn’t sound right—how about, the woman was the scooter driver, although technically I think one rides a scooter, making her the scooter rider and bringing us back to where we started. The scooter was not moving, which might mean they staged the photo—no judgement, we totally staged Rawoof as the sleeping man beside the road. They also found and drank from a sugar cane juicing stand—we posed one of our Cobra Gangstas drinking from an empty glass; snapped a shot of a vehicle moving in the wrong direction on their side of the road—which is not as difficult as one might think; and handed bananas to four extremely frightened looking children—the Patricks can be a little scary. But those weren’t their biggest finds.
Bollywood billboard sans mustache?
The other American team managed to find a Bollywood or Tollywood—I really can’t tell the difference—sign where the leading male laid wantingly with his costar sans mustache, which is to say that the male didn’t have a mustache, nor did the female with whom he wantingly laid. One cannot minimize the significance of this one photo. Lets imagine for a moment this was a scavenger hunt in the USA. Finding a billboard with an Indian male lead who does not have a mustache is like finding two straight men in West Hollywood, or a photo of fans at a Packers game without a shirtless, overweight, green and yellow male, or ordering a Tommy burger without chili—yes, its that rare. Kudos to them!
We continued on our way, finding men with red hair, Omni Hospital zippered back billboards, and children in uniform. At the end, we even managed to photograph our entire team in yoga positions. But it wouldn’t be enough. The other American team simply beat us, and pretty much everyone.
The judges were fierce, yet fair. The two-time reigning champions, Outsourced-Peace-Rainbow-Wave-War-Expat-Beer-Smugglers-with-a-Joyful-Scavenger-Hunt-Nightmare,-Fun-Yeah team—also known as the Patricks—managed to get photos of heron-laden, bathing buffalo; a famous Indian dude’s house; a truck with a sign reading ‘horn ok please;’ a sacred masks on a building; a mermaid painting; and a bonus shot of a sign for The Pot House, which unfortunately is not a San Francisco marijuana franchise. They read the important words in the original flyer and spent the last ten minutes, prior to the announcement of the winners, studying the TEA website in case there was a tie breaker involving TEA Cares trivia. They brought their ‘A’ game, energy, commitment, and enthusiasm—along with their ‘A’ game driver, Trip—and won the day despite a late start. Which just goes to prove, we can’t discount these Gen-Y’ers!
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Also posted on Medium.