I’ve been to Hyderabad thrice now, and each time I discover something new about this place. My first trip to the ‘City of Pearls’ was in November last year when I flew down from Mumbai for a weekend with some friends. I did not know then that this city would tempt me to come back for more. The drive from the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport to the city takes a little more than 30 minutes, and the unusually light brown and yellowish colour of the rocks (from the Deccan Plateau) that man the gray 8-lane expressway (Outer Ring Road) contrast well against the light blue skies.
‘Hyderabad’ literally means ‘lion’s abode’ in Persian, and the city gives you a royal visual treat. My first day began with a drive to Eat Street that runs along the Hussain Sagar lake which holds the waters of the River Musi. This place is perfect for a breezy-breakfast.
My next stop was the world-famous monument, Charminar. This facade with 4 towers (and hence the name), situated in the city-centre, was built in the 16th century in celebration of the second Islamic millennium year. The only way to get to the first level of the Charminar is to climb through the minarets. The inside of the minarets are very narrow, stuffy and dark, lit only by a couple of low-watt bulbs. The steps are very steep, and take frequent and sharp turns. You’ll do well to arrive in comfortable footwear. The climb seems endless, but once you see the sunlight seeping through the top, you’ll know you’ve almost made it. You realize that the climb is worth it as you see that the first level lends a lovely view of the entire city which is choc-a-bloc with black-and-yellow rickshaws and small shops.
Chowmahalla Palace figured next on my list. This awe-inspiring royal palace was the erstwhile official residence of the reigning Nizam, and now serves as a museum. The palace is well maintained as is evident from the sparkling chandeliers and floors. Even the royal gardens are well manicured and gleam like emeralds in the afternoon sun. Intricate designs adorn not only the doors and windows but also the ceiling. The museum houses various items of yore, ranging from currency notes & coins to royal blazons.
My day ended with a visit to the Birla Temple. Most Indian cities have a Birla temple, but this is by far the most beautiful I have ever seen. The temple, made of glowing white marble, is a magnificent place of worship and meditation. It is mandatory to leave all electronic gadgets and footwear outside the temple. The cool marble feels wonderful against your naked feet as the serene interiors draw your attention to the ornate carvings and Sanskrit-writings on the walls.
The foodie in me ensures that none of my trips to any place end without sampling the local cuisine and exploring the restaurant-scene. When it comes to Hyderabad, Cinnamon Fusion deserves special mention for its superior ambience and thoughtfully crafted dishes. This restaurant also has live music, thanks to a popular local band.
Apart from the star-hotels, the lion-city has many popular joints in Banjara Hills and Hitech City, of which Barbeque Nation, Village, Dialogue in the Dark (DiD), Rubaiyat and Nautanki Gali stand out for the unique experiences they offer.
My visit to ‘Dialogue in the Dark’ this February left me humbled and in awe of the visually-challenged experts who run this place. A stop here should be on your must-do list for Hyderabad as this is the only Indian city (among 20 worldwide) that offers such an experience. ‘DiD’ insists that you leave all your belongings (including wrist-watch & spectacles) with the guard before a visually-impaired guide takes you into a room that’s pitchblack, effectively rendering your visual faculties useless. In the dark-room, you are made to touch, smell, hear and feel various objects and effects, and let your ‘other’ sense organs work a little harder. The tour ends with a visit to the cafe where your order is prepared in the dark by people who cannot see (at least not in the traditional way), and you must consume your food without looking at it. This concept was first envisioned in Germany and has left many-a-diners with more respect for people with visual challenges.
I know I haven’t seen this city completely as I’m yet to visit Golconda Fort, Salar Jung Museum, Ramoji Film City and many other places of note. This only gives me more reasons to pay this city another visit. I might have been on a typical tourist-trail, but this incidentally happens to be the best trail to follow when you wish to “see-it-all” over a weekend or two.
Tips from the Traveller:-
- Travel between October and February as Hyderabad enjoys its best weather during the winters and spring.
- Carry a sturdy pair of shoes (preferably sneakers) for walking across the vast palaces & climbing sundry steps.
- Pack a mix of contemporary (for the city-restaurants/clubs) and conservative (for the mosques and temples) clothing. A scarf/shrug should suffice for a weekend-trip.
- Hire a cab (Ola Cabs/Meru/Tab Cab) for the full-day as this is the safest and most convenient way to travel across the city. The city-buses don’t ply everywhere and the auto-rickshaws tend to over-charge.
- Don’t forget to buy some pearls for yourself or your family and friends! The quality and finishing on pearl jewellery is remarkable in Hyderabad! Cauvery Pearls remains my favourite jeweller for their elegant and modern designs. They also offer corporate discounts! 🙂
- DO NOT leave Hyderabad without buying some boxes of assorted biscuits, cookies or chocolates from Karachi Bakery! If you remember this only at the airport, fret not, they have a kiosk at the Arrivals area and also before the Boarding Gates.
Last but not the least, remember to tell me about your trip to Hyderabad! Seri?