Dubbed the ‘City of Pearls’ by some and ‘City of Nizams’ by others, home to the Charminar and Golconda on one hand, and the trendy Cyberabad IT-hub with its street-food joints on the other, the historical and cultural city of Hyderabad is a hotspot for travel and business. Hyderabad truly is a bridge, not just between the cultural past and the trendy future, but also between the northern and southern parts of the country; this explains the multitude of things to do here. Today’s Hyderabad is a sprawling city that has many age-old wonders embedded right between its high-rise buildings, and has rightly been ranked as the best city in India for the fourth time in a row. As one wanders through the older parts of the city, one cannot help but draw similarities between the cities of Lucknow (opens in New Tab) and Hyderabad, between the Nizams and the Nawabs, between the Lakhnawi and Hyderabadi Dum Biriyanis, between the Saffron and Iranian teas among others. Hyderabad, today, including the city of Secunderabad and areas of Cyberabad and Banjara Hills, is a megapolis.
Top 10 things to do in Hyderabad
1. Walk through the lanes surrounding the iconic Charminar:
As you avoid the bustling shoppers and the energetic Rickshaws, you must stop for a moment to appreciate the beauty of the iconic Charminar, but mind you, only a moment, or you may end up creating a traffic jam. For those who want a ‘feel’ of Hyderabad, we strongly suggest taking one of the ‘Heritage Walks’ into the narrow lanes surrounding the Charminar. The four cardinal directions are represented by the four lanes surrounding it and each one of those leads into a different dimension of Hyderabad.
The western road houses the Laad Bazaar, a market of bangles, beads, Bidri and balconies, each decorated in its own manner. The de facto shopping destination for weddings and festivals, this crowded bazaar is famous for its Lacquer bangles and bargaining. Despite the glitzy shops displaying boards citing ‘Fixed Rates’, they will give you a discount if you can haggle your way through a deal.
The eastern road houses grand structures such as the Mecca Masjid, one of the largest mosques in the country, capable of housing nearly 10,000 worshippers at a time. Just opposite it is the General Hospital built in a style very similar to that of the mosque. While you are here, do remember to taste the tea at Nimrah Cafe as you dip your Osmania Biscuits in it. This small cafe is the major producer and exporter of Osmania biscuits, a soft biscuit that is best enjoyed with tea.
2. Revel in the beauty of the Chowmahalla Palace:
Quite close to the Charminar is the Chowmahalla Palace, a complex of four palaces in fact – the Afzal Mahal, Mahtab Mahal, Tahniyat Mahal and Aftab Mahal. An ostentatious display of the wealth of the Hyderabadi Nizams of the Asaf Jah dynasty, this once-glorious palace from the year 1751 has now been converted into a museum after huge portions of it were either sold off by the Nizam’s family or plundered by their relatives. The most prominent structure near the entrance is the Khilawat Mubarak – the durbar hall which is used for important announcements and proceedings. The coronation ceremonies of the Nizams were held here and the beautifully decorated throne has been preserved carefully to this day. Right next to this is the famous Clock Tower that has been running since the day it was built, for a whooping 250 years.
Tales have been told of a mile-long Banquet hall that was used exclusively to entertain guests of the palace, which, sadly, was one of the structures sold off to accommodate running costs of the palace. The Buggy Khana houses the automobiles owned by the royalty and their family and makes for an interesting automobile museum.
But then, not all of the structures sold off were converted into apartment complexes, the happy ending to the story is the Taj Falaknuma, which was converted into a luxury hotel by the Taj group, which has not only recreated the royal experience, but also enhanced it by introducing modern amenities. Today’s Falaknuma offers guests a slice of royalty with their signature hospitality touch that quite literally pampers them.
3. Marvel at the acoustics of the Golconda Fort:
Built in the twelfth century by the Kakatiya rulers as a small bulwark atop the hill, it was originally known as ‘Golla Konda’ which meant ‘Shepherds’ Hill’. Over the course of time, it changed hands till the Qutb Shahi took over and expanded the fort and made it battle-ready. During the course of its construction, the rulers also managed to make it a wonder of acoustics that were used in signalling. At the entrance from the Balahisar Gate, you can experience this first-hand. Also, from the bottom, you could pass on signals to people who are at the extreme top of the hill, at the Baradari hall.
Notable places here include the Taramati palace, Premamati Palace, Nagina Garden, Jama Masjid, Akkanna Madanna offices, Badi Baoli, Shutur Khana, Armoury, Ellama Devi Temple and Baradari hall. It was here that the famous diamonds such as Kohinoor, Hope, Regent, Daria-i-Noor, Princie and Wittelsbach-Graff were mined.
4. Visit the grand Tombs of the Qutb Shahi rulers:
When not plundering Gandikota (opens in New Tab), the Qutb Shahi rulers (1518 AD – 1687 AD) were great patrons of art and architecture and the beautiful acoustic structures at Golconda stand testament to their affiliation. So it should come as no big surprise that the rulers chose elaborately detailed structures for their final resting places too.The tombs are located near one of the gates of the Golconda Fort, in a garden called Ibrahim Bagh. The tombs are heavily influenced by Persian architectural features and less by Indian Hindu or Islamic styles of architecture. Such as the extensive usage of coloured tiles on domes, some of which survive to this day.
Of the seven rulers of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, the first six are buried here and an incomplete tomb stands for the seventh one. The size of the tombs is representative of the power of the dynasty at various times, much like the size of the temples at Khajuraho. The initial beginnings of the dynasty is evident from the modest tomb of Sultan Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of the dynasty. The grandiose of the tomb of Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah, the fourth king and the founder of Hyderabad, represents the zenith of prosperity of the dynasty. The incomplete tomb is metaphorical, for the nadir of the dynasty before its eventual decline. Extensive restoration work has been carried out, courtesy the Tata Trusts, to bring the tombs to the state that they are in today.
5. Catch the legendary Laser Show at Lumbini Park:
Not to be confused with Lumbini of Nepal (read our Lumbini experiences here), the Lumbini Park at Hyderabad is situated right in the centre of the city, bordering the Hussain Sagar Lake. With places nearby such as the IMAX theatre and the NTR gardens, this place turns into a popular hangout spot for families looking to spend a fun-filled weekend evening. If looking at fountains is not your thing, you could always head over to the lake for a boating ride to the centre of the lake where there is a gigantic monolith Buddha statue.
6. Gawk at the spectacular Necklace Road from the Birla Temple hill:
There are some sights that are merely for the eyes and not for the camera, one such sight is the one of the Necklace Road that encircles the Hussain Sagar Lake, also known as Tank Bund, viewed from Birla Mandir. As is the norm at Birla Mandirs across India, such as the one at Jaipur, no cameras were allowed to be carried inside the temple at the top of the hill, so, we merely stood in awe for some time, absorbing the flurry of traffic lights that decorated the Necklace Road. If it is peace that you want after a long day of travelling, then Birla Mandir is the best place to go to.
7. Shop for handicrafts at Shilparamam near Hitech City:
If you thought that Cyberabad was all about folks from the IT industry and consultants sipping coffee at cafes, then think again. Shilparamam next door is a hub of handmade products with its nearly 450 stalls each marketing their wares. The moment you step in here, you forget about the traffic and honking outside and enter into a new world. Evenings also offer shows, skits and traditional folk dances. If you are not heading to Jodhpur or Bikaner any time soon, this place offers all their products under the same roof.
8. Rub shoulders with movie stars at the Ramoji Film City:
With the Mahishmathi palace from the Bahubali movie-series, under its belt, the Ramoji Film City is a must-visit for any buffs of the series. It is no wonder that the place sees nearly 5000 visitors a day. They proudly claim ‘A filmmaker can walk in with a script and walk out with a canned film’ and true to their word, a filmmaker can find everything else that is required, in here – be it sets or lighting or crew or teams for editing and post-production or the accommodation facilities required for crew. They offer one-day packages that include access to a Butterfly Park and Bird Park that are inside the Film City. This would be a great option for those with kids, but do note that you need to travel a lot in open places and would be advisable to explore this when it is not so sunny.
9. Spend a day at the Salar Jung Museum:
It is said that it would take a person three complete days to see every exhibit at the Salar Jung Museum, one of the largest museums in the world. It is also the world’s largest one-man collection of antiques housing some 43,000 artefacts in addition to 50,000 books, mostly collected by Salar Jung III. The most famous of the pieces on show here is the Veiled Rebecca, made by the famous Italian sculptor Giovanni Maria Benzoni. Also found here are a Musical Clock that chimes every hour and a double-faced statue. Go here if you are a museum buff.
10. Go on one of the many foodie trails on offer:
By the way people throng the street-food stalls of Hyderabad, one would think they were going to fast for the next few days. Talking of fasting, the period before Ramzan is when the city’s best foods come into picture, but many shops provide these evergreen delicacies. Here is a rundown of the favourites – Haleem, a mixture of meat in wheat with onions and cashews at Shahdab or Pista House; Hyderabadi Dum Biriyani at Bawarchi or Paradise, a unique dish made with rice steamed in the juices of meat and vegetables; Dosa, crisp rice-based pancake at one of the many eateries around Charminar; Saffron Tea, the Iranian version of tea made with spices such as star anise, cardamom and nutmeg at Cafe Niloufer; Falsa, a drink made from berries, popular in the summer; and the Osmania biscuits, an absolute complement for tea, Pathar ka Gosht, a form of meat grilled on stones; and Luqmi, a meat-filled appetiser similar to a Samosa. Though not a staple in Hyderabad as much as in Lucknow, the Kebabs here are worth eating too. As there are many places here with same name, it would be easier to ask a local before heading out in Hyderabad.