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Hyderabad – The Pearl City

Sayanti Mukherji

The last stronghold of the Moghuls – Hyderabad, is a city that lives in its’ own time capsule with a heady mix of magnificent Moghul architecture and modern IT high-rise. Established in 1591 by Muhamad Quli Qutub Shah the city had remained under the Qutub Shahi dynasty till the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb conquered the Sultanate and when it became part of his Deccan province. In 1741 Asif Ali Shah, a Moghul viceroy declared his sovereignty and formed the Asif Jahi dynasty, better known as the Nizams of Hyderabad.

Places to Visit - Built on both banks of the River Musi, the older, southern bank comprises of most of the interesting places of visit. Its’ twin city Secunderabad is separated by the Hussain Sagar lake.

Salarjung Museum - The collection of the Salarjung Museum was sourced from the Salar Jung family, mostly from the personal collection of Salar Jung III, Prime Minister of the seventh Nizam. It is the third largest museum in India housing one of the largest personal collections in the world. It has an eclectic collection of sculptures, paintings, carvings, textiles, manuscripts, ceramics, artifacts, carpets, clocks, and furniture. One of the most celebrated exhibits is the veiled Rebecca, where Rebeccas’ face is visible through its translucent marble veil.  The museum sometimes has special exhibitions like the Nizams’ jewelry exhibition in 2005 and 2007 and these usually a not-to-be-missed experience.

Charminar - Worldwide the most iconic structure of the city is the Charminar. Built by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah with (char) four exquisite minarets it is part of the old city. The area around the Char with the famous Laad Bazar and the Mecca Masjid is a time capsule of the Moghul times.

Mecca Masjid - On one side of the Charminar is the Mecca Masjid. Built 400 years back during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Qutub Shah, the Masjid has a secular splendor about it, with tourists of every religion thronging its spacious courtyard. On 18th May 2007 the Masjid was another casualty of terror attack against India when a bomb exploded during Friday prayers killing 13 people.

Chowmahalla Palace - Built in several phases by the Nizams between 1857 and 1869, this beautiful palace complex is now a heritage hotel. The complex comprises four palaces in Moghul and European styles.  Designed along the lines of the Shah of Iran’s palace at Isfahan It was the seat of Asaf Jahi dynasty, where the Nizam entertained his official guests and royal visitors.

The Falaknuma Palace - Another grand palace converted into a Taj hotel was built by the Prime Minister Nawab Vikar ul- Umra around 1893. The interior of the palace is opulent with priceless collection of jade, ceilings of fresco and gilded relief, and the largest collection of Venetian chandeliers in the world.

The Nizam’s Museum - Located behind the Salarjung Museum, the museum mainly houses the gifts given to the last Nizam of Hyderabad state, Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII on his silver jubilee. It has an amazing collection of calligraphic texts and exquisite Qurans. One bizarre exhibit is the walk-in- wardrobe of the Nizam VI with a 150-year old manually operated lift.

Ramoji Film City - Being the heart of the Telegu film industry the Ramoji Film City is a fine example of kirsch architecture and culture.

Day trips from the city

Golconda Fort - About 11 Km from the city, the Golconda fort was mainly built by the Qutub Sahi kings. It remained their capital until 1590 when they shifted to Hyderabad. Built on a 400 ft high granite hill surrounded by massive ramparts this majestic structure has beautiful palaces and an ingenious water supply system.

The fort is known for its amazing acoustic marvel. A hand clap at the north-east gate can be heard at the 'Bala Hisar' pavilion, the highest point almost a kilometre away. Encircled by beautiful gardens and exquisite carving, the fort also contains the tombs of the Qutub Shahi kings.

The diamond mines around Golconda are famous for the most exquisite diamonds of the world; the Darya-e Nur, Hope diamond, The Koh-i-noor, Wittelsbach to name a few.

Nagarjuna Sagar Dam - Nehru called them the temples of modern India. A colossal structure of 490 ft (150 m) tall and 1.6 km long with 26 gates - 42 ft (13 m) wide and 45 ft (14 m) tall Nagarjuna Sagar was the earliest in the series of large infrastructure projects initiated as a part of the Green Revolution of India. At the time of its construction it was the world's largest stone masonry dams.

Shopping in the Pearl City - Hyderabads’ other name is the Pearl City, as once it was the global centre for Pearls and Diamond trade. The city is strewn with jewelry stores mostly of Pearls. The price varies according to the quality you want. To come away from Hyderabad without a string of pearls would perhaps be considered churlish.

Lacquer bangles - Laad Bazar (laad meaning lacquer) or ‘choori bazar’ is the old market famous for glass/lacquer bangles. The market begins at the northeast corner of the Charminar and goes around for a 1Km passing the Chowmahalla Palace.  As Sarojini Naidu rhymed in her poem ‘In the Bazaars of Hyderabad’ the market glistens with bangle shops, Indian perfumery (attar), and kebab shops and old curio stores. One can spend hours browsing and trying out bangles in every style if one ignores the filth and garbage that surrounds the area.

Bidri - For me the most attractive artifacts of these regions are bidri products. Originating in the Bidar kingdom of Karnataka the wares are made from an alloy of zinc and copper and inlaid with thin sheet of silver. Traditionally the final sheen on the black metal was brought about by rubbing it with a combination of soil from the Bidar fort and ammonium chloride, though regional craftsmen swear by the soil around the Musi.

Kalamkari - Kalamkari textiles involve free hand drawing using the kalam (pen) and then filling it with colour. Involving seventeen tedious steps the style flowered under temple patronage, depicting scenes from mythology and religion. Like other folk painting styles, Kalamkari paintings too depict and narrate ancient stories and lore. Today this folk art form has been commercialized for its survival and has been adapted into wearables, linens and home décor.

Pochampally Sarees – About 35km from Hyderabad is the weavers’ village of Pochampally; a living heritage of Indian handloom industry. Now almost a small town, it is surrounded by about 1000 villages dotted with houses of master weavers working with their apprentice on traditional pit looms. The more than century-old geometric ikat designs are first dyed onto warp and weft threads and then woven into yardage. Traditionally natural dyes were used, now though the use of chemical blend is popular. You can buy from the Pochampally Cooperative Society run by APCO, or directly from the craftsmen. Also there are plenty of shops in the town square where one can happily bargain.

Dining - The last Moghul bastion in its extreme southern fringe of the empire, you can’t leave the city without indulging in its gastronomical delights. The dum phukt style of cooking meat in sealed containers to retain its original flavor may have been introduced in the erstwhile principality of Awadh but was refined in the courts of Hyderabad. Biriyani, the rice and meat dish in its various avatars is a must try and do insist for the bhagara baigan that goes with it. If you have place for a desert, then its’ got to be the khubni ka meetha.

Accommodation & Travel - Connected well by air, train and other means of surface transport to almost all other important cities of the country, Hyderabad offers a multitude of accommodation to suit every pocket. Apart from the hot summer months of April and May the weather is congenial for visit all through the year. The city roads are tree-lined and pretty traffic islands with flower beds and potted plants makes driving around a pleasure. Autos are the usual tourist mode of transport within the city; Hyderabadi auto drivers still maintain their tameez (manners) unlike its neighbors further south. AP tourism offers city tours and day trips to places of interest in the vicinity.