Hyderabad is one of two capitals in southern India’s Andhra Padesh and Telangana state, twinned with Secunderabad. It’s an old city – founded in 1591 – with bazaars, museums and palaces to explore, as well as a burgeoning technology scene that’s giving the area a much-needed surge of energy. Nearby is Hussain Sagar, an artificial lake, that separates Hyderabad from Secunderabad.
But if you take the time to step away from the tourist trail, you’ll be rewarded with something altogether different; a spot that will undoubtedly become one of the highlights of your trip. Intrigued? We don't blame you. Here’s why a visit to Hyderabad's Maqtha Art District should be at the top of your list of things to do in India.
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The small neighbourhood of Maqtha bursts with colour: children dash through bright-yellow alleyways, washing is hung to dry out of the windows of electric-blue flats and motorbikes cluster at colourful street corners. It was once an area that was busy but anonymous – the streets were so small they didn’t have any names – one that looked similar to countless other neighbourhoods, with roadside shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. But if you visit there today, it makes for an unforgettable experience: there can be no confusing where you are as soon as you step foot in this distinctive art district.
Situated next to the Hussain Sagar, Maqtha was one of the greenest area in Hyderabad, a fertile ground which was used for agriculture. In the piece @saadhux associated the name of the lake with an imaginary poet giving him the feature of a primitive looking character whose face takes on the characteristics of the masks (Nazar Battu) that are found outside the houses in Maqtha to ward off bad omens. The personification of the lake gives birth to the geometric patterns of the tree that stands central in the composition reimagining the lost past greenery of Maqtha. The colourful and cluttered chaos that characterises the piece with additional elements such as calligraphy resonate with the hustle of the layered concrete architecture and the multicultural nature of Maqtha.
It all started with not-for-profit organization, St+Art India. The foundation aims to make public spaces more vibrant, with a focus on promoting social roots, urban design and, most importantly, art that is accessible to all. They’ve previously worked in two other cities in India: Lodhi Art District in Delhi, and Mahim (E) Art District in Mumbai. Maqtha was once an unassuming neighbourhood humming with the comings-and-goings of daily life, but St+Art’s initiative breathed new life into this hard-working area.
At first, the majority of residents opposed the project, but when the artists – mostly local to Hyderabad, with some international names – showed them their designs, local inhabitants soon changed their minds and became advocates for the project, offering cups of chai to the artists as they worked. The extraordinary street murals show the passion the artists have for their work, and this passion has transferred the residents, too.
The area is split into four districts: Green Gully, Yellow Gully, Pink Gully and Blue Chowk. There are painted arrows that guide you along the way, although some are a little faded – so go off-route to create your own experience. St+Art also organize walking tours of the district on a regular basis, too. Adding to its beauty are the continuation of the comings and goings: life still carries on as normal, in between the swarms of artists and photographers. These activities punctuate Maqtha, from a yellow rickshaw parked in front of a lime-green car park to a woman wearing a pastel pink sari passing an abstract painting of a park.
One stand-out is a jellyfish (painted, of course) that glides along bright yellow walls; another is a low building stencilled with intricately-detailed geometric shapes. It seems as if every edifice is covered here, but there are still the odd couple of faded-coloured buildings that haven’t yet been targeted. Hyderabad’s Art District opens up art to those who may not have felt it reached out to them before: it is a stamp of colour and of passion. It proves that art can be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere – it is not exclusive to the rich, the foundation are keen to promote – here is Indian art in all its imaginative, explorative beauty.
With many street murals to take in, Maqtha is somewhere you could easily while away a good few hours. The hub brings a new interest to the city by promoting contemporary art created by local artists, and as a result, it has seen a large increase in tourists visiting the area, who may not have considered as a spot to visit before. The art creates a dialogue and provides a great way to get chatting to others about what you, or they, can see.
If you’re thinking of staying in Hyderabad for longer, there are plenty of other sights to take in. By far the most atmospheric part of Hyderabad is the old city, immediately south of the River Musi. This is where you'll find the city's liveliest and most interesting bazaars, as well as many of its most important sights, from the eclectic Salar Jung Museum, through the majestic minarets of Charminar to the extensive complex of Chowmahalla Palace. Accommodation-wise, Hyderabad caters for a range of budgets. There are cheaper options in the area east of the railway station and others just 1km north of Secunderabad Railway Station.
While you're there, taste some local Hyderabadi cuisine – the city invented the biryani (mutton/chicken/veg mixed with rice and spices) – or try one of the meat dishes that are cooked with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and garlic.
You can reach Hyderabad by plane (Rajiv Gandhi International Airport; then a taxi or bus ride), by train (Hyderabad [Nampally] Railway Station), or by bus (Mahatma Gandhi Bus Stand; then a short walk). To reach the Art District itself, exit the Metro at Necklace Road Station.
Top image: Metro rail at Hyderabad, India © BABU JAKKULA / Shutterstock