Adaab. The traditional greeting that seems almost old wordly and somewhat princely at once elevated Hyderabad to a hospitable, cultured and graceful destination in our minds.
India is such an exotic destination featuring on the bucket list of travellers from far and wide. India travel is paradoxically the last thing on our list when we plan our trips, and with this being the year of long weekends, we decided that’s just what we’re going to do. We didn’t really consider Hyderabad as much of a destination initially, because well, we know nothing much of it apart from the great biryani which Charles would often express his longing for, and well, Cyberabad, an IT hub in India. But going below the surface, we were in for a surprise.
Hyderabad is an ancient city. Circa 2014, we may consider it one of the up and coming metros of India, but back in the 1500s this stronghold of the Qutb Shahi dynasty was a flourishing one. Diamonds from Golconda made it one of the wealthiest empires in the world in the 17th century. What remains, is once beautiful palaces, monuments, tombs, gardens, lakes, fragments of artifacts and stories. Oh the stories, the romance of a people filled with reverence for a kingdom dripping in pearls.
It isn’t a known tourist hub, but when we visited, we discovered a special place, steeped in history, with rich pockets of sights and experiences.
Historic Museums and Monuments:
- Visit the iconic and beautiful Charminar with its four minarets, prayer spaces and mosque between 9am and 5:30pm for a bird’s eye view from the city’s original centre point. We’d seen it in photographs a million times before, but nothing prepared us for that magnificent feeling of standing in front of it.
- Explore the delightful and intricate design of Mecca Masjid, one of India’s largest mosques that was built with soil from the holy Mecca in the 1600s.
- Stand where the entire dynasty of the founding family of the city lie at the architecturally stunning Qutb Shahi Tombs.
- Shout, sing and enjoy the exemplary acoustics of Golconda Fort while you wait till sunset for the stunning sound and light show that brings alive this historic fort that was once made of mud, and has seen several iconic battles.
- Taramati Baradari is a cultural village with theaters, concerts and other events held here all the time. Discover this heritage monument just a stone’s throw from Golconda Fort.
- If you love antiques as much as we do, forget Chor Bazaar and enter the Salar Jung Museum, the largest one-man collection of antiques in the world. Gasp at the stunning collection of oriental porcelain, jade, Persian carpets and other objects d’art.
- AP State Archeological Museum is a building that rivals the art it houses. Step inside this beautiful piece of architecture to discover Indian art through the ages.
- The Nizam’s Silver Jubilee Museum is another Palace that houses the stunning collection of Silver Jubilee memorabilia including vintage luxury cars, a gold throne and other opulent keepsakes.
- Chow Mohalla Palace is a stunning example of Euro-Mughal architectural style. Currently housing a museum of the Nizam’s luxurious possesions, the grapevine tells us this heritage building is soon to be transformed into something even more spectacular.
The Taj Krishna offers a great day tour of the city with its room package called the Deccan Odyssey. Read all about our experience here.
Shopping, Arts and Craft:
- Laad Bazaar is the quintessential Hyderabad experience. Navigate through this bustling colourful street bargaining for pearls, bangles, bridal wear and other beautiful zaris, lace and cloth from the very shops that once supplied the royal households.
- Shilparamam is a quaint arts and crafts village in Hitec city hosting artisans from across the country at its bazaars and exhibitions. You’ll be sure to discover some unique pieces here.
Rendezvous with Religion:
- Chilkur Balaji Temple touted as a place of serenity actually sees a hundred thousand devotees a week. So avoid the weekend rush if possible. Psst: There’s a visa God here, so if you’re planning to travel out of the country, don’t forget to make an offering!
- Birla Mandir is an iconic structure where science does meet religion. This marble temple is close to a planetarium which has some very impressive Japanese technology as well as a science museum.
Flora, Fauna and Wildlife:
Hussainnagar Lake and it’s surrounding parks are a wonderful day out that you can spend boating and marvelling at the gigantic Buddha statue in the middle. Visit the secret lake of Durgam Cheruvu and enjoy boating there as well. Discover the hundreds of species of birds and animals at Nehru Zoological Park, KBR National Park, Mrugvani National Park or Mahavir Harina Vanasthali National Park or stroll through the 120 acres of Hyderabad Botanical Gardens. Travel to Osmansagar Lake and its gardens in the outskirts as well as Shamirpet lake and deer park 25 kms away.
Hyderabadi cuisine is a bit different from the rest of the food in the state. To call it complex would be an understatement. Every family, restaurant and chef guards their heirloom recipes like real treasure. A biryani masala we purchased had a secret recipe of over 17 different spices. Prepare your stomach for an assault of rich, heavy meals that we promise you won’t be able to get enough of. Try the unmatched Biryani (a spicy lamb rice pot that’s cooked for hours in a gigantic pot) the cholestrol heavy Haleem (ground meat with lentils), an array of delectable kebabs, Nalli Nihari, traditional sweets and end it all with the leaf wrapped digestif – Paan. With cashewnut in most gravies and everything cooked in clarified butter, we really did feel the need to go on a diet after getting back. While Paradise a restaurant that was once touted as the best seems to have slithered down the ladder, we tried some delectable feasts at Firdaus (Taj Krishna) and Adaa (Taj Falaknuma) [coming soon]. Oh, but don’t miss an opportunity to sit at a communal table in one of the old Irani cafes over an Irani chai and a plate of oven-fresh, melt in your mouth Osmania biscuits.
It seems the Taj group has the entire range of accommodation options covered with properties that aren’t your run of the mill cookie cutter hotel rooms. There’s something unique and magnificent about each of these, and we were lucky enough to have experienced two of them.
- Budget: While everything in Hyderabad is grand and palatial, the Taj Deccan gives you that experience at a steal. Feel like a million bucks as you walk around this luxurious hotel and its stunning landscape while getting a brilliant deal on these rooms.
- Midrange: We’re normally bored stiff at business hotels. But the Taj Krishna has so much to take in. From it’s comfortably old worlds rooms, to an astounding number of boutiques and stores, restaurants, corridors, gardens, and an impressively promising spa and pool we were thrilled. They even offer some great packages that include beautifully curated city tours. Read about our experience at Taj Krishna here. (Coming Soon)
- Blowout: Disbelieve any hotel that promises to treat you like royalty. Because at the Taj Falaknuma Palace, they take their responsibility of lineage quite literally. Step into an era long gone and feel like guests of the Nizam at this beautiful little piece of heaven that watches over the city. Read about our experience at Taj Falaknuma Palace here.
When to go:
The best time is in the winter when it’s cool and pleasant between October and February. Summers can be unbearably hot, especially if you’re out and about between March and May. June to September sees heavy rainfall, so avoid it if you don’t enjoy the humidity that comes with it. However, the Muslim festival of Ramazan is a great time to visit as the city gets decked out in all its glory and the road turns into one large feast venue.
Rickshaws are the easiest and cheapest way to get around because these guys really know how to navigate the traffic which can get rather daunting otherwise. However, if you’re here in the summer or monsoon, you’re best shielded from the elements in a rented, air conditioned car.
It might be a city, but it’s traditional, so dress appropriately with your shoulders and knees covered when you’re out and about in crowded areas especially mosques. The more traditional people don’t mix with the opposite gender. Women and men do not shake hands (as I most embarrassingly discovered) A simple bowed head, Adaab or Namaste will do.