05 October 2014


Hyderabad is truly one of India's great cities for history, reflected in its beautiful palaces and museums. Located in the southern Indian state of Telangana, Hyderabad is on the banks of the Musi river.

While many South Indian destinations like Hampi, Mysore and Goa are very popular, Hyderabad is relatively overlooked. I recommend this city to all history and architecture buffs, as well as those looking for Islamic influence in South India.

Many sights are located in the Old City, south of the Musi river. Go around 7 km north and you will reach the artificial Hussain Sagar Lake, in the centre of which stands a 17 meter tall Buddha statue. Around 5 km west of the lake is the area of Banjara Hills, a relatively upscale central neighbourhood comprising many hotels, malls and restaurants.

Hyderabad's Rajiv Gandhi International Airport around 30 km south of Banjara Hills.

Home to several dynasties across the centuries, and being the richest princely state prior to India's independence, Hyderabad is a treasure-trove of attractions.

Old City
A bustling warren of tiny streets packed to the hilt, with shops selling everything from pearls to footwear, the Old City exudes images of chaos and exoticism at the same time. The area is home to Hyderabad's most famous remainders of its past grandeur. The following is a non-exhaustive list of them, beginning from the north to the south.

Visit the H.E.H The Nizam's Museum to see many items owned by the Nizams (rulers, of the Asaf Jah dynasty, which ruled from 1724 until independence). Like many other museums in India, many items are of significant importance, and are very interesting, but the infrastructure isn't the top- when we went, the power was out and torches were being used! Nonetheless, to appreciate and get a sense of the history, make a visit here. All the items are in gold and/or silver.

Many of the items on display were gifts from dignitaries from various parts of the world. One of the most famous item is the Nizam's huge wardrobe- the Nizam never wore a piece of clothing more than once.

The Nizam's wardrobe
The museum is open every day except for Friday. Timings from 10 am to 5 pm.
Fees: adult/child Rs 80/Rs 15; still camera/video camera Rs 150/Rs 500
Best time to visit: as early as possible

One of the principal monuments of the Old City is the Charminar (which means "four minarets"), a mosque built in 1591. You can climb to the top, expect lots of crowds and queues, particularly on holidays. Closed Fridays. 

The Charminar
Very near, south-west of the Charminar, is the Mecca Masjid, one of the oldest mosques in the city, and among the largest in India. It is named so, as the central arch was made by soil brought from Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The mosque is home to the tombs of the Nizams and of some of their family members. 

Mecca Masjid
Women must cover themselves with a shawl while visiting. 

A little bit to the south is the opulent Chowmahallah Palace, the official residence of the Nizams during their reign. 

The first interior you will see is that of the Khilwat Mubarak, the heart of the palace, and it is very beautiful. 

Khilwat Mubarak

Ceiling of the Khilwat Mubarak
Upstairs are various halls, such as the Hall of the Heritage Crafts (home to beautiful portraits, for example). In the other halls,have a look at the furniture and furnishings too, in particular the ornate screen.

Outside are the other palaces which make up the compound. You can also see some vintage cars, from jeeps to convertibles. 

Also located outside is the famous Khilwat Clock tower, in operation for well over a hundred years. 

Khilwat Clock
The palace is open from 10 am to 5 pm, and is closed on Fridays. 
Entrance fees: adult/child/foreigner Rs 40/10/150. Still camera/mobile phone for photos/video
camera: Rs 50/50/100

About 4 km south is the Nizams' most opulent palaces of them all- the Falaknuma Palace, now a hotel operated by the Taj group. If you're not staying, you cannot just enter the hotel- you need a reservation at one of the hotel's restaurants. Once in, you can roam around the hotel or take a half-hour palace tour. Among the highlights include a snooker table built specially for the Nizam, the world's longest dining table, as well as the sheer opulence of the palace.

Unfortunately, photography isn't permitted in the interior.

A chandelier at the Falaknuma Palace
Koti is a neighbourhood located just north of the Musi river, about 3 km from the Charminar. Koti Main Rd is just as packed as the Old City, with the absence of the towering minarets. 

For a change, enter the Koti Women's College (part of the Osmania University) from Koti Main Road to check out the British Residency, a grand building virtually ignored by the masses of tourists. 

The Nizam, keen on attaining independence, had to accept a British resident who acted as an advisor. The grand building signifies the strength of the British empire. 

Visit this brilliant blog for more details on the Residency, including its historical context.

Access to the Residency may be difficult, particularly on working days. I visited on a holiday without problems, and was surprised to find a movie shooting taking place. Therefore, going inside the building was not possible.

The British Residency
Hussain Sagar Lake and around
The Hussain Sagar Lake was built during the reign of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, in the year 1562. The road around the lake is known as Necklace Rd, because when lit at night, the road looks like a necklace. 

Access to the Buddha statue in the middle of the lake is via Lumbini Park (entry Rs 10). Find your way to the jetty, where you need to buy tickets for the boat ride. You can take speedboats around the island, but the only boat which will get you to the island is the standard mechanised boat (adult/child Rs 55/35), from 9 am to 9 pm.

17 m tall, the statue is the tallest monolith of Buddha, and was built in 1992, by the state chief minister, who was inspired by the Statue of Liberty.

Close by is the Birla Temple (Birla Mandir- mandir being the Hindi word for temple), constructed with 2000 tons of pure white marble. Located on a 85 m high hillock, there are good views of the area, including of Hussain Sagar Lake. Cellphones and cameras are not allowed. 

The Birla Temple with its various shrines
Golconda Fort and around
Located 8 km west of the Old City, Golconda Fort was the capital of the Qutb Shahi dynasty. The outer wall measures around 7 km- there's a lot to see inside.

The fort
You can hire a guide at the entrance of the fort. They will show you, for example, the cool acoustics of the fort, feats of engineering, for example the structures are so placed that any sound from a particular point is echoed by the opposite structure and can be heard as far away as the hilltop. 

You can walk to the hilltop, passing by great viewpoints which provide a nice overview of the fort and the city too. Unfortunately, the weather is not always conductive for this, so try to come as soon as the fort opens (9 am) and pray for some cloud cover! 

One of the major structures you will pass by on the way to the top includes the Amber Khana (Royal Granary). Here, an inscription in Persian mentions that the granary was built by Khairad Khan in the year 1642, during the Qutb Shah dynasty.

The inscription

People walk up in the heat, against the backdrop of Hyderabad city

You will then come across a mosque called Ibrahim Mosque, followed by a temple. And then you'll reach the final viewpoint- on one direction will be the fort, on another the city. The boundary walls can be clearly seen.

Overview of the fort
Every evening there's a sound and light show at around 7 pm, where the history of the fort is told. An executive class ticket costs Rs 130, in addition to the price to enter the fort. For Indians, the entry fee is Rs 5 and for foreigners it is Rs 100. A ticket for a video camera is Rs 25. Open from 9 am to 5.30 pm.

Not far away are the Qutb Shahi tombs. These are the seven tombs of the rulers of the Qutb Shahi dynasty. Set in expansive green parkland, these are ideal spots to admire the architecture and escape the crowds (these tombs don't seem to be very touristy). 

Qutb Shahi Tombs
Unfortunately, maintenance is not top- expect overgrown grass and fading architecture. Particularly in Golconda Fort, people have scribbled their names on the buildings- so the fault is a two-way street.

Great photography spots
- Roads leading to Charminar (get the shots of Charminar along with the chaos of the streets)
- From the compound of Mecca Masjid (get the Charminar with the pigeons)
- Khilwat Mubarak, the main hall of the Chowmahallah Palace (capture the intricate designs)

Great viewpoints
- The compound of Birla Temple, with views of Hussain Sagar Lake
- Going to the highest points of Golconda Fort

We stayed in the Taj Deccan, located in Banjara Hills. Good quality, as you would expect from a business hotel of this standard. Walking distance to a few places in Banjara Hills.

Like many other Indian cities, Hyderabad is particularly renowned for some food items.

Nimrah Cafe, very close to Charminar and Mecca Masjid, is very famous for Irani tea. They also sell biscuits- another of Hyderabad's specialty.

Kebabs and Kurries, located in the ITC Kakatiya Hotel (in Begumpet, close to the western shore of Hussain Sagar Lake). Serves brilliant biriyani and kebabs.

Check out branches of Karachi Bakery and Bikanerwala, such as their branches in Banjara Hills (they are both next to each other). They serve lots of Indian sweets, snacks etc (and good macarons too).

The official and most widely spoken language in Hyderabad is Telugu. However, many people you will come across (such as in restaurants) will speak at least basic English. Do not expect autorickshaw (3-wheelers) drivers to understand English. Guides in tourist attractions may speak good English.

As Urdu is a relatively popular language here, and since Urdu and Hindi are very similar at a conversational level, Hindi speakers will not have a problem being understood in Hyderabad (which is often the case in smaller cities/towns in South India).

Walking, while a great way to get a feel of the city, particularly in the Old City, requires caution in Hyderabad. First, of course, is the weather. Summer sees temperatures beyond 40 degrees Celsius, and above 30 is the norm even up to October (I went in October and it went up to 36 C). Secondly, those pedestrian lights you see serve just for decoration purposes- many (such as in Banjara Hills) never turn green! Cross with caution, and like anywhere in India, do not expect any vehicle to give way.

Hyderabad lacks efficient public transport, and autorickshaws (who may not hesitate to rip off a non-local) are the often the best choice within the city. Taxis cannot be hailed off the streets. Nationwide brands of radio cabs include Meru, EasyCabs and Ola Cabs.

To hire a car + driver for a whole day, try Savaari.

Check in advance if the driver speaks English.

Hyderabad is served by the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport.

Last visit- Oct 2014
No of visits- 1

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