A melting pot of Muslim and Hindu cultures, the capital of Andhra Pradesh comprises the twin cities of HYDERABAD and SECUNDERABAD, with a combined population of around eight million. Secunderabad, of little interest, is the modern administrative city founded by the British, whereas Hyderabad, the old city, has teeming bazaars, Muslim monuments and the absorbing Salar Jung Museum. Hyderabad declined after Independence, with tensions often close to the surface due to lack of funding. Nowadays, although the overcrowded old city still suffers from substandard amenities, the conurbation as a whole is booming. In recent years Hyderabad has overtaken Bengaluru to become India’s foremost computer and IT centre.
The Hyderabad metropolitan area has three distinct sectors: Hyderabad, divided between the old city and newer areas towards HITEC City; Secunderabad, the modern city; and Golconda, the old fort. The two cities are basically one big sprawl, separated by a lake, Hussain Sagar. The most interesting area, south of the River Musi, holds the bazaars, the Charminar and the Salar Jung Museum. North of the river, the main shopping malls are found around Abids Circle and Sultan Bazaar. Four kilometres west of Hyderabad railway station lies the posh Banjara Hills district. Beyond here is the exclusive residential area of Jubilee Hills, while a further 6km brings you to HITEC City.
Hyderabad was founded in 1591 by Mohammed Quli Shah (1562–1612), 8km east of Golconda, the fortress capital of the Golconda empire. Unusually, the new city was laid out on a grid system, with huge arches and stone buildings that included Hyderabad’s most famous monument, the Charminar. At first it was a city without walls; these were only added in 1740 as defence against the Marathas. Legend has it that a secret tunnel linked the city with the spectacular Golconda Fort, 11km away.
For the three hundred years of Muslim reign, there was harmony between the predominantly Hindu population and the minority Muslims. Hyderabad was the most important focus of Muslim power in south India at this time; the princes’ fabulous wealth derived primarily from the fine gems, particularly diamonds, mined in the Kistna Valley at Golconda. The famous Koh-i-Noor diamond was found here – the only time it was ever captured was by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, when his son seized the Golconda Fort in 1687. It ended up, cut, in the British royal crown.
Since 2009, Hyderabad’s future status has been thrown into question by the drawn-out Telangana decision. If the state is divided, it is unclear if the city would be part of the new state, remain part of Andhra Pradesh or serve as a joint capital for both states.Read More
Salar Jung Museum
Salar Jung Museum
The unmissable Salar Jung Museum, on the south bank of the River Musi, houses part of the huge collection of Salar Jung, one of the nizam’s prime ministers, and his ancestors. A well-travelled man of wealth, he bought whatever took his fancy from both East and West, from the sublime to, in some cases, the ridiculous. His extraordinary hoard includes Indian jade, miniatures, furniture, lacquer-work, Mughal opaque glassware, fabrics, bronzes, Buddhist and Hindu sculpture, manuscripts and weapons. The museum gets very crowded on weekends.
Golconda was the capital of the seven Qutb Shahi kings from 1518 until the end of the sixteenth century, when the court moved to Hyderabad itself. Well preserved and set in thick green scrubland, it is one of India’s most impressive forts, boasting 87 semicircular bastions and eight mighty gates, complete with gruesome elephant-proof spikes. Set aside a day to explore the fort, which covers an area of around four square kilometres.
Entering the fort by the Balahisar Gate, you come into the Grand Portico, where guards clap their hands to show off the fort’s acoustics. To the right is the mortuary bath, where the bodies of deceased nobles were ritually bathed prior to burial. If you follow the arrowed anticlockwise route, you pass the two-storey residence of ministers Akkana and Madanna before starting the stairway ascent to the Durbar Hall. Halfway along the steps, you arrive at a small, dark cell named after the court cashier Ramdas, who while incarcerated here produced the clumsy carvings and paintings that litter the gloomy room.
Nearing the top, you come across the small, pretty mosque of Ibrahim Qutb Shah; beyond here is an even tinier temple to Durga. The steps are crowned by the three-storey Durbar Hall of the Qutb Shahis, on platforms outside which the monarchs would sit and survey their domains.
The ruins of the queen’s palace, once elaborately decorated with multiple domes, stand in a courtyard centred on an original copper fountain that used to be filled with rosewater. You can still see traces of a “necklace” design on one of the arches, at the top of which a lotus bud sits below an opening flower with a cavity at its centre that once contained a diamond. At the entrance to the palace itself, four chambers provided protection from intruders. Passing through two rooms, the second of which is overgrown, you come to the Shahi Mahal, the royal bedroom. Originally it had a domed roof and niches on the walls that once sheltered candles or oil lamps. Golconda has a nightly sound-and-light show.