Hyderabad is a city that is reminiscent of its illustrious and opulent past when the Qutb Shahi dynasty reigned. Today, this original home of the Kohinoor diamond has turned into a fast growing cosmopolitan centre set against the backdrop of forts, palaces, vibrant markets and of course aromatic biryani joints.
In this excerpt from Lonely Planet’s India’s Best Escapes South India we recommend the top sights and experiences for visitors.
This icon of Hyderabad’s landscape lies in the Old City. The imposing Charminar with its four minarets makes for a striking image as you jostle through a busy market that surrounds it and make your way to the building’s first floor. Built in 1591 by Qutb Shah, it was originally constructed as a mosque from the four sides of which the city would emanate. You can spiral up the staircase to get a view of the area spread around. Intricate Islamic motifs still peep out from the graffiti-scrawled walls of Charminar. Use a guide to hear anecdotes about the building, the favourite being that of an underground 8km tunnel connecting it to Golconda Fort.
Zigzag through the one-way, stone-walled pathway to Golconda Fort, the well-known symbol of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, originally built by the Kakatiyas in the 13th century. Use a guide to take you around the fort that was once the keeper of the Kohinoor and Hope diamonds. Stories of secret clapping signs from the front gate which could be heard till the King’s Durbar on top of the hill, stables and the women’s quarters; of a secret tunnel to Charminar; of a separate gate for royal corpses that had to be transferred to the Qutb Shahi tombs, will keep you engrossed.
NEHRU ZOOLOGICAL PARK
If you are travelling with children, this zoological park, also called the Hyderabad Zoo, can be a daylong sightseeing option with 380-acres to explore on battery run vehicles, cycles, trains and a canter safari. The zoo lets you get close with animals that reside in large enclosures which almost emulate their natural habitat. If you want a quick spin, then the 40-minute ride in the battery vehicle takes you to the main enclosure trail of tigers, lions, leopards, birds, reptiles, elephants, bears, rhinos and a few more animals.
The best view of one of the city’s oldest mosques is from the top of Charminar, but if you prefer to be on ground level, you can walk into a grey sea of pigeons at Mecca Masjid’s main front yard. It is said that almost 8,000 labourers toiled for more than 50 years as the granite structure emerged to accommodate over 10,000 worshippers, making it one of the largest in the world.
More than 200 years old, this former palace lies close to Charminar and has been restored as a vast showpiece of the Nizam’s collection of personal photographs, old cars and antiques. The clock tower and pillared Durbar with grand chandeliers are the most striking features of the palace. The original 45 acres of the palace have now shrunk to only 12 acres, and house history-laden sections of the royal family’s personal belongings.
QUTUB SHAHI TOMBS
Many travellers tend to bypass this on the sightseeing trail, but the Qutb Shahi tombs are a respite from the overwhelming Charminar and Golconda experience. The large green expanse dotted with seven humungous tombs gives you a chance to appreciate the distinct architecture in peace. All but the last Qutb Shahi ruler were laid to rest in these black asphalt, octagonal tombs with a bulbous top.
HUSSAIN SAGAR LAKE & NECKLACE ROAD
Hyderabad’s answer to Mumbai’s Marine Drive, the road skirting the Hussain Sagar Lake, comes alive in the evening with walkers, ice cream carts, hawkers and people enjoying the lake. When lit, the road looks like a string of pearls, and is thus christened Necklace Road. Hazrat Hussain Shah Wali originally constructed the lake in AD 1562, but its popularity now derives from the monolithic statue of Gautam Buddha, which was erected in 1992. It looks lovely when lit up. Many entertainment joints have sprung up around this.
Lumbini Park is rather special as it allows one access to the impressive Buddha statue in the middle of Hussain Sagar Lake. The 7.5-acre well-manicured property teems with visitors during evenings and weekends. It’s child-friendly and it’s best to let the kids make a bee line for the swings, a toy train, viewing deck and pop-up fountains while adults take a breather in the pleasant surrounds. Speedboats make furious trips to the statue and back and slower steamers glide with a larger crowd. The laser show at 7.15pm each evening dazzles a 2000 capacity crowd.
RAMOJI FILM CITY
If the idea of seeing movie sets and famous actors is appealing drive 34km outside the city, to Ramoji Film City – the largest film studio complex according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Vast gardens, kitschy statues and open-air films sets, dotted over 1500 acres, requires a whole day visit. The Film City organises movie shows, and has several restaurants and a hotel if you want to spend a night.
SALAR JUNG & H.E.H NIZAM’S MUSEUM
You can spend considerable time exploring the 38 galleries of the Salar Jung Museum near the Charminar area, right in front of the erstwhile Musi River. The museum houses an impressive collection of art and artefacts not just from India, but Persia, Syria and Egypt. The man behind the museum was Mir Yousuf Ali Khan, better known as Salar Jung III . He took it upon himself to make the museum a robust repository of unique art from around the world. Just a kilometre away from Salar Jung lies the H.E.H The Nizam’s Museum, where you can take a quick tour of souvenirs and gifts given to the seventh Nizam on the occasion of silver jubilee celebrations of his reign in 1936. Go there only if you have time to spare.