Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, epitomizes the perfect blend of diversity, both in culture as well as age, seamlessly integrating the ancient with the modern.
I decided to devote a few days of my summer vacation in 2013 to exploring this historic city, which is known for its magnificent forts and palaces, gardens and lakes, and of course the delectable Hyderabadi biryani, shimmering pearls and colorful glass bangles.
I began my trip with a visit to Charminar in the old city area. The most identifiable monument in Hyderabad, the Charminar is a majestic structure built in the year 1591 CE by Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah. An imposing edifice of four ornately decorated minarets and four grand arches facing onto different streets, the Charminar exudes the grandeur of Indo Islamic architecture. It has a profusion of balconies and balustrades, with a mosque on the fourth floor of the structure.
There is an interesting anecdote associated with the construction of this grand monument. It is widely believed that Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah promised to build a mosque at the center of the city where he prayed, on the eradication of a plague that had been ravaging his city. Thus, the Charminar was built to celebrate the end of the dreaded plague.
Gazing at the tall imposing monument made me feel as if I was looking at a signature icon of the city somewhat like the The Gateway of India is to the commercial capital, Mumbai.
Adjoining the Charminar area is the popular market called the Laad Bazaar, where I found rows and rows of shops selling lacquer and glass bangles studded with many hued dazzling stones. I entered one of the stores to take a closer look and the salesman filled my wrists with the dazzle of multi-colored bangles! It was, indeed, very difficult to choose and buy one or two pairs of bangles out of the many lovely designs and colors available.
Close to the Charminar is the Chowmahallah Palace, which was our next experience of Nizami grandeur. I was awestruck at the sheer brilliance of the architecture and the lavishness of its appointments. The Chowmahallah Palace was once the throne of the Asaf Jahi kings and was believed to have been inspired by the Shah’s Palace in Tehran, Iran.
The Chowmahallah, which literally means four palaces, was originally spread over an area of fortyfive acres (of which only twelve acres remain), consists of the Afzal Mahal, Mahtab Mahal, Tahniyat Mahal and the Aftab Mahal. Though the palace’s construction was originally started by Salabat Jung in 1750, it was completed in 1869 through the efforts of Nizam Afzar ud Dawla Bahadur. The Chowmahalla palace has two courtyards—the northern and the southern. The southern courtyard is the oldest part and has four palaces in it. The Khilawat Mubarak contains the royal throne with the richly decorated chandeliers and architecture complementing the grandeur.
At the time of Indian independence, the Nizam of Hyderabad was said to be the richest person in the world. On September 17, 1948, the Nizams lost Hyderabad to the Indian union. At present, Princess Esra, the last Nizam Mukarram Jah’s wife, is overseeing the renovation of the Chowmahalla along with the government.
The fine intricate carvings on the walls of the palaces; the huge ornate chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the royal throne of the king give a perfect glimpse of royal Nizami setting of a bygone era. The Chowmahallah Palace also houses different items of daily use owned by the Nizams. Ornate items of furniture, exquisite cutlery, pieces of royal clothing, lethal weapons and much more can be found on the upper floors of the palace.
Lingering at the Chowmahallah, we didn’t realize the passage of time. It was past two in the afternoon when we left. To set our hunger pangs at rest, we hailed an auto and arrived at Paradise Food Court; which is well known for its special Hyderabadi biryani.
Hyderabadi biryani is made from a superior quality basmati rice and is flavored with a number of spices and condiments. While cooking, the edges of the vessel are sealed with dough to keep the aroma intact. Hyderabadi biryani has a spicy, tangy taste which lingers on the palate for long afterwards! After the sumptuous biryani, it was my turn to tuck into the delectable double ka meetha. This dessert is a tasty bread and milk pudding topped with dry fruits and is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth.
A visit to Hyderabad would be incomplete without shopping for pearl jewellery. Today Hyderabad is the world leader in the pearl trade and pearls of different hues and designs can be found here. I headed to the showroom of Mangatrai Pearls and Jewellery at Basheerbagh. The extensive collection of pearl earrings, pendants, bracelets, necklaces and finger rings tested my resolve.
Satisfied with the pearls I finally bought, I hired an auto and whizzed off towards Hussain Sagar Lake along Necklace Road. This lake was excavated in 1562 by Hussain Shah Wali during the rule of Ibrahin Quli Qutb Shah. This lake offers facilities for water sports like boating and paddling among others. At the center of the lake stands a majestically built monolithic structure of Gautam Buddha, which is 18 metres (~60 feet) tall. It was carved out of a single white granite stone weighing 496 tons and was erected in the year 1992.
I strolled through Lumbini Park and bought tickets for a boat ride to the Buddha statue. As our boat steered towards the huge statue, a mild cool breeze touched our faces. On reaching the statue and the enclosed garden, I marveled at the serene atmosphere prevailing there.
A visit to South India must accommodate the delicious food of the south. Though usually taken for breakfast, I had a masala dosa for dinner and topped it with a tall glass of lassi at Chutney’s a vegetarian restaurant
I had heard so much about Ramoji Film City that I could not resist verifying it. A drive of one and a half hours from Hyderabad, Ramoji Film City has been acknowledged by the Guinness World Records as the largest film studio complex in the world. A wonderland to the eyes, the film city left me mesmerised. The Mughal gardens, the Japanese gardens and the Hawa Mahal are all here at Ramoji. A movie makers paradise, it has everything from the settings for every scene of a film to the technical support required to make it happen. Our friendly guide, Halder, informed us that scenes of the recently released blockbuster Chennai Express were shot here. Ramoji Film City also has a number of restaurants, shopping centres, hotels and rides. Different cultural programs, which include an opening and closing ceremony, stunt shows, and dances are performed live throughout the day at several theatres and at the central court. There was also a session dedicated to the art of film making, which showed how sound mixing and video editing is done in films.
The world class environs, the magical world of films and the many fascinating sights and rides of Ramoji lure thousands of people to this wonderland of cinema.
Even as I left Hyderabad, the sights, smells and sounds of this Nawabi city lingered on my senses. Hyderabad was an unforgettable blend of history with modernity.
Arundhati Nath is a freelance writer from Guwahati, Assam. She has written for publications like Child, Crystal Quest, Pulse and Sterling World. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.