In 2013, Lonely Planet had declared Hyderabad one of the must-do destinations of the year, describing its old city as ““Elegant and blossoming, but also weathered and undiscovered…” and therefore “ripe for exploration.” This is a piece I had written for the inflight magazine of Silverkris on Hyderabad’s attractions, culled from my memory of several childhood summers spent in the city and a quick trip early in the year.
From many issues ago in Silverkris, 5 Must-Dos: Hyderabad
Hyderabad has been one of India’s best places to buy pearls since the time of the Nizams – rulers of Hyderabad until 1948 – who patronised pearl dealers from the Gulf region. These days they are imported from countries including Sri Lanka, Japan, Indonesia, Iraq and China. Be sure to compare designs and prices. For peace of mind, buy your pearls only from reputed shops like Jagdamba Pearls and Mangatrai. The stretch of Pathar Gatti is known for its array of pearl shops, the most famous of which is Krishna Pearls & Jewellers.
2. Old Quarters
In contrast to its twin and very modern city Secunderabad, located 20 minutes up north, Hyderabad resounds with stories from the past. For deeper insight into this world – one of quiet grace, charm and beauty – head for Hyderabad’s old quarters. The Charminar, named after its four towering minarets, is possibly Hyderabad’s most famous and recognisable landmark. The monument and mosque is located at the physical core of ancient Hyderabad, and stands on the intersection of two main historical trade routes. Andhra Pradesh Tourism conducts guided walks every Sunday at 7.30am. While in the old quarters, be sure to visit the 200-year-old market Lad Bazaar, where you can pick up bangles in every conceivable colour and material from glass to gold.
3. Biryani Binge
Along with Lucknow, Hyderabad is considered one of the best places in India to savour biryani. The subtly spiced yet flavourful rice cooked with marinated succulent lamb (or in some cases, chicken) pieces is a legacy from the days of the Nizams. In the Hyderabadi version of biryani called kacchi (meaning raw), raw meat is marinated and cooked along with fragrant basmati rice. (In other regions, the meat and rice are cooked separately, then combined and baked in a sealed pot.) Order a raita (cold yogurt condiment usually containing vegetables) or mirchi ka salan, the city’s famous spicy curry containing peanuts and long green chillies. The best places to sample Hyderabadi biryani are at Paradise and Shadab (21 High Court Road, Tel: 91 40 2456 5949).
4. History Galore
Don’t miss the once impregnable 13th-century Golconda Fort. Besides the splendid ruins, Golconda – about 11km west from the main city – is famed for mines that have produced the world’s most famous and coveted gems, including the 106-carat Kohinoor diamond. Catch the 6.30pm (from March to October) light and sound show, in which Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan narrates the history of the fort.
Make a trip to the recently restored Chowmahalla Palace. Plans for the palace were initiated in 1750 but it was only completed in 1869. The Palace originally covered 18ha, but it was abandoned in 1973 and after a long period of disrepair, only about five hectares remain today. Architecture buffs will love the palace’s mix of Persian, Indo-Saracenic and European styles. Part of the palace is now a museum, showcasing the opulent lifestyle of the Nizams.
5. This Museum’s a Must
Check out Salar Jung Museum, one of the world’s finest and largest art collections by an individual. The museum, established in 1951, houses artefacts owned by Mir Yousuf Ali Khan. Also known as Salar Jung III, he served a brief two-and-a-half-year term as prime minister of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad state. The art connoisseur, who died in 1949 at the age of 60, amassed a collection of over 46,000 objets d’art and 58,000 books.
Be enthralled by the Veiled Rebecca, a stunning white marble sculpture that represents purity and innocence. Created by Italian artist Giovanni Maria Benzoni in the 19th century, its exceptional craftsmanship is most evident in the face, visible through a gossamer marble veil. Another masterpiece you should not miss is the clock in the central courtyard – a toy soldier appears to strike the gong on the hour throughout the day.
Also read: Pearl of the South – published in South China Morning Post.