Photo Essay: Under The Hungarian Sun


London has its Eye, Paris has its Tower, Germany has its Forest, Switzerland its Mountain, and Hungary has its… what?

In the climactic scene of the 90s’ Bollywood hit Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Aishwarya Rai, torn between lover and husband, runs madly on an impressive, majestic bridge in Italy. Except, in reality, it’s an impressive, majestic bridge in Hungary. In thousands of theatres all over the country, no one guffawed at the mistake. Not one person in the audience stood up and yelled, “Hey, but that’s the Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest!”

Hungary, then, should be the patron saint of those ignored. And therein lies its charm. Just give it its due attention and the place unravels itself wonderfully.

The Széchenyi Bridge, famously called the Chain Bridge of Budapest, is the most famous of seven such bridges spanning the mighty Danube, connecting Buda and Pest.

Even if you’ve never given bridges a thought, the bridges of Budapest bowl you over. And Liberty Bridge over Danube River is one of the seven stunning bridges that dot the city.

The city of Budapest is made up of 23 districts, divided on both sides of Danube River and the district of Buda, seen on a late evening, forms the hilly part on the west bank of the river.

The best way to enjoy the sights of the stunning European countryside is by hopping onto a cruise along the spectacular Danube.

A glorious example of neo-Gothic architecture, the majestic Hungarian Parliament Building is the world’s third largest parliament structure.

The magnificent churches spread across small villages and grand cities are redolent of distant eras. You don’t have to be religious to stand in awe and gape.

In the pretty little town of Pecs, the centuries-old Mosque of Pasha Qasim still is a reminder of its Muslim past. It is a Catholic church now, but the guidebooks still call it the Mosque Church. Nobody tells you about such a thing, do they?

The Dohány Street Synagogue, also known as the Great Synagogue of Budapest, is the largest in the world and the second largest in Europe.

For a landlocked country, Lake Balaton is its sea. Locals and tourists flock to its shores in summer. In Keszthely, a lakeside town, when one of us asked a local how long it would take to walk to the other side, pat came a reply, “A few months.” It is after all the largest lake in Central Europe. Chances are, no one told you that.

(Right) No one told us that another lakeside town named Balatonfured, with its quaint bistros and fabulous food, took care of our very own Tagore once. In 1926, he visited a spa to heal from an ailment. The town has named a promenade after him and there’s a statue of him on the shore.

(Left) Food and wine. When you talk about the cheap and best, this is the place. Palinka is the traditional fruit brandy. Tokaji, favoured by royalty once, is considered not just the the wine of kings, but the king of wines. We found it cloyingly sweet. We found random wines picked up at gas stations absolutely delicious. As against kings, us plebs are different.

Gerard Gorman, author of books on Hungarian and East European birds, takes us in search of the elusive and shy Great Bustard in the great plains of Central Hungary. We can spot falcons, egrets, night herons (pictured above), geese, mallards, bearded reedlings, and many other species on a good birding day. But the Bustard doesn’t show up. The larger point here is, all they tell you in school is about the Great Indian Bustard, right?

The country is the size of West Bengal but with excellent roads. Rent a car for seven days, wear a decent attitude, and Hungary can be satisfying. To the soul, palate, and pocket, the Hungarian Forint, unlike its Euro cousin, plays well with our rupee.

Small, cheap, diffident. It’s necessary to temper it with the fact that Hungary features on the leaderboard of all-time top Olympic nations with almost 500 medals to date.

But then, no one told you about that either, did they?