The southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh was created by combining the old princely province of Hyderabad with the Telegu speaking portions of the former state of Madras. The capital city of Hyderabad is one of the most important center of Islamic culture in India and in many ways happens to be the southern India’s counterpart to the Moghul splendors of the northern Indian cities like Delhi, Agra and Fathepur Sikri.
In the days of yore, Hyderabad used to be the former seat of the Nizams of Hyderabad, the last of whom was one of the richest men in the world. My days with Balmer Lawrie & Co. tourism division provided me with numerous opportunities to visit this magnificent city as a tour guide and I would often take foreign visitors on fascinating walking tours of the city. Given the profusion of Islamic monuments on offer at Hyderabad, I reckon, the best way to discover the ethereal beauty of this splendid city is by embarking on a walking tour.
Here amidst the lively crowded bazzars and impressive monuments, some dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries, it is indeed an awesome experience coming face to face with the city’s pulsating throb.
The city of Hyderabad was founded way back in 1590 by Mohammed Quli, the fourth of the Qutab Shahi kings who ruled over this part of the Deccan peninsula. The impregnable Golconda fortress, 11 Kms. to the outskirts of the city, is the place where the ruins of this fort can be seen together with the tombs of the Qutab Shahi kings.
This dusty city retains much of its century’s old charm and is quite unlike any of the cities further south. The Old City of Hyderabad itself lies on either side of the Musi River and south of the Hussain Sagar Lake that effectively divides the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. In this part of the city are located most of the historical monuments, the bulk of the hotels and cafes used by travelers, the Salar Jung Museum and the zoo.
The iconic Charminar standing in the heart of the Old City with its triumphal arch was built by Mohammed Quli Qutab Shah way back in the year 1591 to commemorate the end of the plague in Hyderabad. If you take the trouble of climbing to the top of the Charminar monument, you are assured of mesmerizing views of the city.
Your next stop is the stupendous Mecca Masjid, which is ideally located in close proximity to the Charminar and is believed to be amongst the largest mosques anywhere in the world with a capacity to accommodate 10,000 worshippers. If you happen to visit Mecca Masjid during any of the Muslim festivals, the colorful congregation of thousands of devout Muslims offering their “Namaz” at this mosque is to be seen to be believed.
It’s definitely an impressive mosque and is conspicuous by its colonnades and door arches made of single slab granite. Legend has it that the granite slabs were quarried some 11 Kms away from the site of the present mosque and required all of 1400 bullocks to drag the slabs from the quarry to the site of the mosque.
Next on your list of must visit site is the stunningly beautiful Birla Mandir that has been built of the finest variety of white marble. The temple is located on a rocky promontory and overlooks the southern end of the Hussain Sagar Lake. In the evenings as the lights come out, the view from the temple makes for a truly kaleidoscopic vignette.
From the grandeur of the Birla Mandir to the sheer richness of the collection of artifacts and relics at the Salar Jung Museum, is in itself an experience to savor. Salar Jung Museum is India’s answer to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The architect of this stupendous museum was Salar Jung III (Mir Yusuf Ali Khan) who served as the Prime Minister of the erstwhile Nizam. The museum is a rich storehouse of historical treasures and it has a collection of 35,000 exhibits inclusive of Persian miniature paintings, sculptures, woodcarvings, manuscripts, weaponry and clothings of Mughal emperors.
Avoid visiting the museum on Sundays as it is bedlam and it seems half of Hyderabad’s population descend on to the museum.
For the avid archaeologists, there is the Archaeological Museum, which has a small collection of archaeological relics of the region together with copies of the Ajanta frescoes.
The zoo at Hyderabad is amongst the largest in India and is well spread out over 320 acres of sprawling landscaped gardens with animals carefully tucked in large open enclosures. There are more than 250 varieties of animals and hundreds of migratory birds that thrive in the favorable microclimate of the Mir Alam Lake. However, the piece de resistance is the Lion Safari Park, where the king of the animal kingdom prowls freely to the sheer delight of the visitors. There are buses at regular intervals that transport visitors to the Lion Safari Park.
To round off your tour of Hyderabad city, a visit to the shimmering Hussain Sagar Lake can be a very rewarding experience. This lake essentially established a link between Hyderabad and Secunderabad in the mid 16th century. If you venture to the southwestern bank of the lake, there is the magnificent Bidhan Sabha Bhawan or Town Hall, which was built way back in the year 1922.
Make it a point to visit the Nizamiya Observatory, which is all of 72.16 feet and happens to be the second highest observatory in the world. The 350-ton monolithic statue of Lord Buddha and the stunningly aesthetic “Water Dance” at the Lumbini Park is well worth savoring.
Hyderabad is well connected to the rest of the country by an excellent network of rail, road and air routes. The recently launched Rajiv Gandhi International Airport is amongst India’s best airports and with the burgeoning growth of the global IT industry in Hyderabad, some of the world’s most preferred airlines like British Airways, Lufthansa, KLM, Kuwait Airlines, Emirates, Malaysian Airlines, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Air Lanka, Thai Airways etc…. operate regular flights to Hyderabad from key international aviation hubs.
The city of Hyderabad offers an eclectic mix of accommodation options ranging from super deluxe luxury hotels to budget category hotels for the new age traveler. Some of Hyderabad’s prominent hotels are – Taj Banjara (Tel: 40 66669999), Taj Krishna (Tel: 40 66662323), Taj Deccan (Tel: 40 66663939), Marriot: (Tel: 40 27522999), Hotel Ista (Tel: 40 44508888), Ellaa Compass Suites (Tel: 40 23002488), Kakatiya Hotel & Towers (Tel: 40 23325678/66135678), Katriya De Royal Hotel (Tel: 40 23411718), The Golconda Hyderabad (Tel: 40 66110102), The Manohar (Tel: 40 66543456), Hotel Green Park (Tel: 40 23757575), Amrutha Castle (Tel: 40 55633888).
Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation, Tourism House, Himayatnagar, Hyderabad - 500 063. Andhra Pradesh, India Phone: +91-40-23262151, +91-40-23262152, +91-40-23262153, +91-40-23262154 +91-40-23262457 Fax: +91-40-23261801