Its a cool winter morning. I get off the plane at the modern Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad, the largest city in the Indian state of Telangana. A city famed for being the high-tech capital of India in today’s times and for its immense wealth, culture and nobility in older times. I am here to take part in the wedding festivities of a dear friend and also to discover the sights of this city. Here are the 9 Hyderabad attractions that left an indelible mark on my travel tapestry.
1. Qutb Shahi Tombs – The serene resting place of the kings
My Uber driver meanders through narrow residential lanes. Clearly lost and unable to find the Qutb Shahi tombs, he attempts to make us alight far from the destination. I would’ve expected a place as renowned as this to be an easy find. After bumping down narrow alleys, we finally arrive at the Qutb Shahi tombs. Instead of finding a place teeming with hordes of tourists, we seem to be the only ones visiting this Hyderabad attraction that day. Adults indulge in a game of football in the open lawns. Kids play badminton sheltered by sand-colored arches. All oblivious to the fact that they are disturbing the eternal rest of a king – not just one king but an entire dynasty of royalty. For here lie in eternal rest, the various kings of the Qutb Shahi Dynasty who ruled Hyderabad in the 15th century. The tombs are impressive structures with a combination of Persian, Pashtun and Hindu architectural styles. Each tomb has an accompanying mosque. A mosque that would be used only once for the final prayer upon the death of the sultan. The Qutb Shahi tombs are in various states of neglect. However, the Aga Khan foundation is sponsoring a restoration of the tombs and the surrounding gardens. Perhaps at the end of the restoration, we will get to marvel at the true grandeur of this compound.
2. Golkonda Fort – The fort that housed the best diamonds the world has seen
The Golkonda fort lies in ruins. To the uninitiated, the fort would seem similar to all the other forts that dot india. To the initiated however, the fort is something else altogether. This fort once housed 13 of the 18 most famous diamonds in the world. Diamonds that are now part of the British Crown and in other museums. India used to have the only known diamond mines in the world. These diamonds were the source of the immense wealth of all the dynasties that ruled Hyderabad. It is no wonder then that the Golconda fort was probably the most impregnable fort of its time – designed to protect the precious diamonds that were housed in its vaults. The wealth of Hyderabad attracted armies who were keen on usurping its riches. One of the armies to lay siege on the fort was the Mughal army led by Aurangzeb. They laid siege on the fort for 8 long months without making any inroads. Treachery from within the fort walls led to the Mughal victory. This marked the end of the Qutb Shahi dynasty’s rule and laid the foundation for the Nizams of Hyderabad to reign.
3. Charminar – The iconic landmark that is the centerpiece of old Hyderabad
The Charminar is the world famous icon of Hyderabad. The old city of Hyderabad was designed with the Charminar as its centerpiece. History tells us that it was built to celebrate the end of a plague that had devastated the city. I prefer the story told by our Charminar guide. He spoke of a great love story. A story of a king and a commoner. A story of forbidden love. According to his version, the Charminar marks the spot where the king first laid eyes on his future queen – Bhagmati. The structure houses a mosque and madrasa. Going up the narrow stairway to the higher floors of the Charminar is quite an experience. Once there, you get rewarded with a commanding view of the old city.
4. Mecca Masjid – A mosque with a connection to the Islamic holy land of Mecca
The Mecca Masjid is a short walk from Charminar. Among the oldest mosques in Hyderabad, the mosque gets it name due to the fact that its central arch is made from bricks baked from Meccan soil. The mosque is similar in architectural style to the other old mosques in Hyderabad – they are all without a central dome. It is flanked by the tombs of the Nizam’s family. On the opposite side of the tombs are two marble stone slabs. Local legend says that sitting on the marble slabs will ensure that you will one day return to Hyderabad.
5. Laad Bazaar – The old Bangles Market
The Laad Bazaar is one of the oldest markets in Hyderabad. In operation since the time of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, the bazaar specializes in bangles, jewellery and other wedding related items. Step into its labyrinthine alleyways and you get transported to the colourful world of bangles. Here the bangles come in all kinds of awe-inspiring designs and colours.
6. The best biryani you will ever have
Everyone says that Hyderabadi biryani is the best biryani in the world. I wouldn’t be satisfied with any biryani though, I want to dig into the best biryani in all of Hyderabad. From my rickshaw wallahs to my Uber drivers, they all get the same question from me, “Where is the best biryani in Hyderabad?”. Hotel Shadab, Shah Ghouse and Paradise are the best places I’m told. And Hotel Shadab is where I head to right away. I underestimate the popularity of the place. There is an hour long wait to get my hands on the biryani from this establishment. The biryani is well worth the wait. Light basmati rice grains, the flavourful chicken and the assortment of spices combine to make a biryani oh-so-good that you have to try it to understand all the accolades associated with Hyderabadi biryani. (The biryani in Hyderabad was so good that I tried to have it for almost all my meals).
7. Chowmahalla Palace – The Opulent Residence of the Nizams of Hyderabad
The Chowmahalla Palace is a collection of 4 palaces that is the official residence of the Nizams of Hyderabad. The Nizams used to be richest men of their time. The last Nizam was known to use a £ 50 million diamond as a paperweight. You can get a glimpse of this unimaginable wealth by walking through the Chowmahalla Palace compound. The highlight of this space is the grand Durbar Hall of the Khilwat Mubarak. This was the seat of power of the dynasty. A pure marble platform takes centre stage in this expansive hall that is adorned with 19 chandeliers made from Belgian crystal.
8. The Buddha Statue of Hyderabad set amidst the heart-shaped Hussain Sagar lake
A visit to the Buddha Statue of Hyderabad allows you to experience both the man-made Hussain Sagar lake and the tallest monolith of Gautama Buddha in the world. Inspired by The Statue of Liberty on a trip to the United States, then Chief Minister N. T. Rama Rao commissioned the statue as his contribution to society. This is probably the only Buddha statue that has spent 2 years at the bottom of a lake. Enroute to its present site for installation, the barge carrying the statue sank. It cost the lives of 10 men. A tragic beginning for a site that has a calm air about it.
9. Salar Jung Museum – The largest one-man collection of antiques in the world
The Salar Jung Museum is the largest one-man collection of antiques in the world. The museum houses the collection amassed over the years by the Prime Minister of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad. Hyderabad is definitely an Indian city that should be given a spot on your list of places to visit. I wish I had visited this gem of a place earlier. Thankfully, I did sit on the marble platform at the Mecca Masjid to ensure I return for another trip. Hyderabad, I will be back again.