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.