A fascinating, fast-developing city in southern India, Hyderabad is one of India’s up-and-coming tourist destinations. Co-author of the Rough Guide to India, Nick Edwards, gives us an insider’s guide.
The rapidly growing metropolis of Hyderabad and its twin city Secunderabad occupy a fascinating place somewhere between India’s past and future. The old town is by far the most traditional Islamic enclave in south India, while on its outskirts stand the gleaming skyscrapers of HITEC City, which have earned the city the nickname of Cyberabad.
Hyderabad is also currently in the unique position of being the capital of of two states at once. It will eventually only be the capital of newly created Telangana but is still acting as the first city of Andhra Pradesh while the latter’s brand new administrative centre is constructed at Amaravati.
Explore the beating Islamic heart of the city
Immediately south of the mostly dry River Musi, there is no mistaking the dominant cultural group. Women in full black burqa or the occasional more colourful hijab scuttle around, shopping in the cramped alleyways of Lad Bazaar, where you can find anything from spices, clothes and cheap bangles to high quality silver filigree jewellery and exquisite bidriware. It’s a great place to get lost and caught up in the atmosphere.
At the centre of Lad and its sister bazaars lies Hyderabad’s most famous landmark, Charminar, which means “four minarets”. This chunky triumphal arch with four 56m-high towers commemorates the city surviving a plague epidemic in 1591.
Nearby the massive Mecca Masjid, built in 1598, boasts some delightfully delicate architectural features and can hold up to 3000 worshippers.
The other major tourist attraction in this area is the now fully restored Chowmahalla Palace. Dating from the mid-nineteenth century, the official residence of the Nizams who ruled the region is actually a group of four imposing palaces and other ceremonial buildings. These are set in extensive and beautifully manicured grounds, which make a fine spot for a picnic.
Find space to breathe on the lakeside
Nobody can claim that Hyderabad is without its issues, principal among them its diabolical traffic and concomitant air pollution. Just crossing one of the main thoroughfares requires putting your faith in Allah or your preferred deity.
The main relief from this mayhem comes in the shape of the large man-made lake called Hussain Sagar, which effectively divides the twin cities.
The best place to enjoy the respite it offers is at Lumbini Park on its southern shore, from where you can also take a short boat trip to get a close-up view of the huge statue of the Buddha Purnima, the water’s focal point.
Nearby stands a prominent hillock, atop which the lively Birla Venkateshwarar Mandir curves and tapers towards the sky. The temple forms part of a complex that also includes the BM Birla Science Centre. This museum typifies the city’s tendency to straddle time by having displays on satellite technology and modern gadgets cheek-by-jowl with a modest collection of dinosaurs, as well as an entertaining planetarium.
See the old and new together
The past and present come into play again with the most notable out-of-town attractions. In many ways, the jewel in Hyderabad’s crown is the magnificent Golconda Fort, around 11km to the west. This grand edifice with ascending ramparts piled on top of gargantuan foundations like grey stone lego completely lords it over the surrounding plains of dry scrubland.
Various halls, baths and palaces are linked by a series of steps, solid arches and lush lawns to give an overall very harmonious impression. While here, be sure to check out the amazing acoustics, which allow claps and shouts at the upper levels to echo clearly down below.
Predictably, there is also a slightly cheesy and over-dramatic sound and light show in the evening. Just one kilometre to the north, more attractive lawns surround the 82 scattered tombs of the Qutb Shahi kings.
In complete contrast, another fun day out can be had at Ramoji Film City, in the opposite direction, 25km east of the city. As the largest film studio complex on the planet, covering an impressive 2000 acres, it cannot fail to impress by its sheer scale.
Although you cannot see actual live filming, it is possible to tour the elaborate facades, watch stunts and other performances, or choose from an array of rides, such as a simulated earthquake. Observing all the cinephile families and groups of youth squealing in seventh art heaven is entertainment in itself.
Get cosmopolitan in the high-tech hub
Cyberabad’s brains are concentrated in the ultra modern environs of HITEC (Hyderabad Information Technology and Engineering Consultancy) City, on the northwest fringes of town.
This futuristic digital hub has led to Hyderabad rivalling Bangalore as south India’s high-tech capital and attracting millions of dollars’ worth of business and many of India’s finest young IT experts.
There’s not actually much to see or do here, and most of the complexes are under heavy security and only accessible if you have business, so you’re better off exploring the nearby neighbourhoods of the Banjara Hills and Jubilee Hills. These modern areas are where the city’s bright young things and visiting foreign IT professionals go out to play in the trendy international restaurants and bars.