Located at the crossroads of north and south, the royal city of Hyderabad is a delectable blend of tradition and modernity, a synthesis of Hindu and Muslim cultures and the home of arguably the best biryani in the country. Here’s a guide to the best experiences for tourists in Hyderabad.
Stretching around the banks of the Musi River, Hyderabad lies in the northern part of the Deccan Plateau and is dotted with small hills (the 672m Banjara Hill is the highest) and numerous artificial lakes like Hussain Sagar, Osman Sagar and Himayat Sagar created by damming the Musi. To the west of the city lies Golkonda, originally a hill of shepherds (Golla Konda) fortified by the Kakatiya dynasty and later the seat of the Qutb Shahi rulers. The Sound and Light Show at Golconda Fort is a good introduction to the city’s history. Follow this up with a visit to the majestic Qutb Shahi tombs nearby.
Most of the city’s historic and tourist sites lie in south central Hyderabad, including the iconic Charminar, built to commemorate the eradication of plague and the advent of the new millennia in the Muslim calendar. Hyderabad’s rulers also built the Mecca Masjid, where soil from Mecca was used for the bricks in the mosque’s central arch. Salar Jung Museum is a treasure trove that houses ‘one of the largest one-man-collections in the world’. If you are a museum junkie, also check out the AP State Archaeology Museum, the Nizam’s Museum, the City Museum and the Birla Science Museum.
Heritage buildings constructed during the Qutb Shahi and Nizam eras showcase Indo-Islamic architecture influenced by medieval, Mughal and European styles. Among the oldest Nizami buildings in Hyderabad are the Chowmahalla Palace, the royal seat of power with a Baroque harem and a neoclassical royal court and Falaknuma Palace, inspired by the style of Andrea Palladio, the Venetian architect, which is now a luxury heritage hotel. Everything from hospitals, colleges, universities, libraries and railway stations bear the architectural stamp of the Nizams. Continue on the Nizam trail to Purani Haveli, King Kothi and Bella Vista Palace. The Paigahs were highly influential senior aristocracy at the time of the Nizams and their tombs are architectural wonders, as is the slew of monuments built by them – Jubilee Hall, Paigah Palace, Asman Garh Palace, Basheer Bagh Palace, Errum Manzil and the Spanish Mosque.
North of central Hyderabad lie Hussain Sagar and Tank Bund Road lined with statues of luminaries where most of the city's parks and recreational centres are located – Sanjeevaiah Park, Indira Park, Lumbini Park, NTR Gardens, Buddha statue and Tankbund Park, with Birla Mandir and Birla Planetarium nearby. In the northwest are posh residential and commercial precincts Banjara Hills, Jubilee Hills, Begumpet dotted with bars and restaurants. In the eastern part of the city is the world’s largest film studio Ramoji Film City while Shilparamam (an arts and crafts village) at Madhapur is another big draw for tourists. The Mughal influence also stretches to Hyderabad’s distinctive cuisine, which includes star dishes like Hyderabadi biryani, haleem, patthar ke gosht, Shikampuri kebab and desserts like shahi tukda and khoobani ka meetha.
It is believed Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s invading army introduced biryani to Hyderabad. However, it was under the Nizams or the Asaf Jahi dynasty that Turkic-Persian flavours blended with Andhra spices of Telangana to evolve into the iconic Hyderabadi dum biryani, served with mirchi ka salan and raita. Locals swear by small eateries like Hotel Shadaab near Charminar, Cafe Bahar in Basheer Bagh, Parvez Hotel at Nampally and Hotel Sohail in Malakpet. Here’s our pick of where to eat in Hyderabad:
The IT and BPO boom allow Hyderabad and Cyberabad to coexist side by side, with an on the go, vibrant nightlife. 10 Downing Street or TDS at Begumpet is the city’s oldest party spot and still remains quite popular. If you want to go dancing, try Bottles & Chimney, also in Begumpet, which has DJs playing everything from hip hop and house to Bollywood on Saturdays, with a deck on the first floor for private parties and a great bistro on the lawns. The uber-stylish Kismet at The Park Hotel has a snazzy entrance through a tunnel with laser lights and visual projection screens. Altitude on Hyderabad Marriott Hotel and Convention Centre’s eighth floor terrace overlooks Hussain Sagar Lake and offers retro acoustic blues, classic rock and live fusion with specialty mocktails like Nawab’s Punch made of fruit juices, vanilla ice cream and condensed milk. Don’t worry, there’s also a cocktail menu for those that want something stiffer. The Playboy Club at Novotel Hyderabad has a great dance floor and a VIP lounge with a mini theatre plus a single malt and cognac library. Another option is Grill Room, a nightclub turned lounge, where you can smoke your hookahs in over 100 flavours including green apple, grape and mint.
Rooftop lounge bars are the rage, especially in the plush Jubilee Hills neighbourhood–Air Café, Vertigo the High Life, Fly High by LS, Over the Moon at Hotel Daspalla and the enormous Klub Trinity with a complete clubbing experience and separate sections called Star Gazer, Sun Lounger and Moon Walker, are your options! The Sky Lounge at Hotel Avasa in Hi-Tech City has a rooftop dance floor with a great view. Komatose at Holiday Inn offers a great Saturday Drunch (drinks and brunch). Drunken Poets Café at BKR Hotel in Kondapur has good live music. Hard Rock Café at GVK One Mall claims to serve the highest number of tequila shots in town and has live rock bands every Thursday. No matter where you go in Hyderabad, there are a lot of places to party–Café Reboot in Madhapur, the psychedelic Rain, which is packed on Friday and Saturday or the dark interiors of Spoil with the bartender performing flaming cocktails and flaring tricks–this is a city with a lot of options.
Historically a pearl- and diamond-trading centre, Hyderabad is known as the City of Pearls. Even though it’s far from the coast, the city is the best place to pick up pearls and jewellery. Drop into the city’s traditional bazaars that have tantalised buyers for centuries–pick up lac bangles encrusted with coloured stones at Laad Bazaar near Charminar, Begum Bazaar and Sultan Bazaar. There’s a lot to buy here–bidriware (metalwork handicraft from neighbouring Bidar in Karnataka), zari and zardozi (embroidered textiles using gold, silver and other metal threads) and kalamkari (hand-painted or block-printed cotton textiles). Singhania’s, official textile suppliers to the Nizams, sell rare weaves like Jamevar, Banarasi, Bhagalpuri, Kota and Sambalpuri saris at their Banjara Hills outlet. Lepakshi, the Andhra Pradesh handicrafts emporium sells Nirmal paintings, Kondapalli toys, leather lampshades, Banjara embroidery, besides other local handicrafts. Evolution, Contemporary Arts, Crafts and Textiles in Punjagutta sells Andhra crafts, pottery, handloom fabrics and an eclectic range of furniture and wood sculptures. For more retail therapy, try any of the large malls like GVK One Mall and Inorbit Mall, where you can find local and international high street brands.
Hyderabad’s undulating landscape gives it several vantage points to hang out–the boulders of Banjara Rocks, Durgam Cheruvu in Jubilee Hills or Moula Ali hillock are your best bets for a quiet evening outdoors. To enjoy Hyderabad at a slow Nawabi pace, take a heritage walk from Charminar to Badshahi or Purani Haveli or try the Chowmahalla Palace Walk. Discover little known facts about this fascinating city, like the tamarind tree in Osmania Park, which saved many lives during the 1908 floods. Go party hopping at Banjara Hills or take a long drive along the Necklace Road. Be it youngsters, midnight owls or party goers, all are attracted to Hyderabad’s ultimate nighttime treat – the biryani. Whether it’s local eateries or plush 5-star hotels with an extensive midnight buffet, you must remember to order the biryani. Pop into an Irani bakery in the old city like Nimrah Café and Café Niloufer to try Osmania biscuits and Irani chai besides local sweets and savouries – dilkhush, dilpasand, curry or egg puffs and luqmis (deep fried pastries filled with spicy meat or potato mixture). Another local tradition is to try nihari (trotter soup) at the crack of dawn. Don’t forget to visit the Chilkur Balaji Temple (known locally as the Visa God) – since people applying for an overseas visa often come here as it’s believed to make their wish come true.
|Shamshabad, Hyderabad, Telangana 500409||HYD|