Guide to Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India
Founded over four centuries ago on a site occupied since the Iron Age, the vast, sprawling city of Hyderabad holds remnants of its dynastic past set amongst colonial heritage buildings and the trappings of the 20th century. Its former name, Golkonda, is the stuff of legends, and its nickname, City of Pearls, is a reminder of its glory days as a trading hub for diamonds and the precious products of the oyster.
Set on hilly terrain amongst countless man-made lakes, the old part of the city is a treasure trove of spectacular Indo-Islamic and colonial architecture in palaces, religious buildings and imposing Victorian piles. Connected to the ‘New City’ on the northern banks of the Musi River by many bridges, its landmarks, museums and sites of interest are a journey through the changing centuries.
Our bargain week at the Amrutha Castle has cost just 3,750 RCI points and is set fronting the State Secretariat Building and close by magnificent Birla Mandir. A Best Western property and part of the Country Club India chain, its 90 rooms and suites are certainly unique for our stay in this fascinating city.
Dating from 1884 and designed by a British architect in the form of a scorpion with two outstretched stings, Falaknuma is one of Hyderabad’s most splendid palaces. It’s constructed entirely in Italian marble, with its exquisite stained glass windows giving a multi-hued glow to the interior. Briefly the home to Hyderabad’s prime minister until it was gifted to the state’s ruler in 1897, the palace holds a commanding view over the entire cityscape.
The palace was deserted from 1950 to 2000, when massive restoration began, aimed at restoring it to its former glory. The project was complicated due to it’s interior décor being an iconic mix of Renaissance through Baroque, French, Art Deco and other styles. Its highlights are the magnificent state reception room and the palace’s collections of artworks, statues, furniture, manuscripts and carved jades. In 2010, the palace was reopened as a world-class hotel.
Towering over the city from its Naubad Pahad hill, the Birla Mandir Temple is one of a number built across India by the Birla Foundation and is dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Venkateswara. Built 60 years ago using 2,000 tons of pure white marble brought from Rajasthan, the temple boasts two intricately carved towers in the South Indian style and its entire construction is a glorious celebration of the Indian art of stone carving.
The main shrine contains a granite image of Lord Venkateswara, and surrounding shrines are dedicated to the pantheon of Hindu gods including Shiva, the elephant god Ganesh, Shakti, Bhrama, the monkey god Hanuman and Lakshmi. With the blessing of past Hindu leaders including Mahatma Ghandi, the Birla temples are dedicated to meditation and open to visitors of all religions.
Built in 2009, Hyderbad’s Jagannath Temple is modelled on the ancient Jagannath temple at Puri, and is dedicated to the Hindu god of the same name, also known as Lord Krishna. Jagannath is the Lord of the Universe, and the temple, built in homage to the god by the city’s Oriya community, is home to the famous Rathyatra Festival during which the god’s image is transported around the streets in a massive chariot.
Constructed entirely of red sandstone transported from Orissa, the temple’s breathtaking decorations were carved by 60 stonemasons and include shrines to Lakshmi, Shiva, Hanuman, Ganesh and Navagrahas. The main shrine holds images of Jagganath/Krishna and his siblings Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra, and the amorous carvings for which the temple is known are found outside the main shrines.
The Charminar, Hyderabad’s global icon, was built in 1591, and is a monument and mosque combined, set on the river’s east bank. Legends tell of its construction as a monument to the eradication of plague from the city, as a commemoration of the start of the Muslim second millennium or as a memorial to the place where the Ruler first saw his beloved consort.
Legends also suggest a tunnel running under the Charminar to the Golkonda Fort, to be used as an escape route for the ruler during a siege, although no-one has yet discovered it. A Hindu temple is found in its base and a mosque occupies its upper floor. The monument is surrounded by a thriving market specialising in jewellery and pearls.
Set 11kms from Hyderabad on a granite hilltop and built between 945 and 970 BC, the ruins of the fort cover a full 11sq kms and are still protected by massive ramparts. Rebuilt in granite in the 16th century, Golkonda is famed for its vault which once held the breathtaking Hope and Kohinoor diamonds as well as hue quantities of lesser stones. For several centuries, the fortress city was the heart of the world’s diamond trade, with European merchants flocking to purchase the magnificent stones.
Four separate forts are found within the walls, all still equipped with cannons and containing mansions, palaces, pavilions, temples, mosques and stables. The main Victory Gate is studded with iron spikes as a deterrent to breaches by war elephants, and the beauty of the Islamic architecture is still evident even though the once-glorious gardens are now a wilderness.
The home of the rulers of Hyderabad, this palace has received a UNESCO award for its cultural significance. Begun in 1750 and not completed until 1869, it’s still in royal hands, and is said to have been designed with the former Shah of Iran’s palace in Tehran as a model.
Totally unique in the city for its Islamic style and elegance combined with neo-classical elements, the complex contains four palaces set around two courtyards, with the Khilwat Mubarak at its heart and home to the Royal throne. The beautiful gardens surrounding the buildings boast fountains and palm-lined courtyards, and its interiors are decorated with the iconic Islamic natural designs.
Traditional Hyderabad cuisine boasts a royal heritage and is a delicious blend of Arabic, Turkish and Mughlai gastronomies with the addition of local specialities.
Its most famous dish is Hyderabad Biriani, found in eateries all across the city and best-loved as a late-night meal during the fasting month of Ramadan. Rich, spicy, aromatic foods are found everywhere from the streets, the markets and local eateries to the gourmet versions in upscale hotels, resorts and high-end restaurants.
Hyderabad’s tropical wet and dry climate borders on the hot, semi-arid classification with temperatures ranging from 22°C in January to 39°C in May, the hottest month. Temperatures between June and September are lower, but the south-west summer monsoon brings daily heavy rains and very high humidity. The rains are welcome after May’s stifling heat, but by the end of the season their departure is a relief for the city’s residents.