Your flight to Hyderabad will reveal not one city, but two. There’s the Old City and its bounty of breathtaking historic architecture, and then there’s the HiTec City – commonly known as “Cyberabad”. Although its own district, it reflects a wider modernisation evident in Hyderabad’s flashy malls, clubs and restaurants. But whether old or new, all the glitz and glamour sits comfortably in a destination that’s been known as the “City of Pearls” for centuries.
The population of Hyderabad is culturally diverse but they all need to eat. Head to the Old City to mingle with all sorts of locals and sample traditional market food like chaat and pani puri. Chinese food is also incredibly popular, albeit with an Indian twist. But it’s not just food you should visit the marketplaces of the Old City for – they’re particularly lively around Mehboob Chowk’s 19th-century clock tower and the exotic birds market at Chiddi Bazar is an incredible sight.
Hyderabad’s religious life is evident across its many eye-catching spiritual sites. The Birla Mandir, Chilkur Balaji Temple and the Shri Jagannath Temple are three of the most important Hindu places of worship. The Mecca Masjid and the exquisite Spanish Mosque are two of the most splendid Islamic sites. You also can’t miss the city’s huge Statue of Liberty-inspired Buddha Statue in the Hussain Sagar lake.
For something a little more modern, swing by the Lamakaan cultural space. Here you’ll be able to indulge in a programme of plays, concerts, films, art exhibitions and lectures. Otherwise check out the Kalakriti or Birla Modern Art Gallery to see some of India’s finest displays of regional contemporary art.
People and Traditions
This cosmopolitan city’s mix of tradition and modernisation means it’s hard to pin down the typical Hyderabadi. In general you’ll find people to be quite friendly and happy to help with directions and other simple favours. People tend to dress modestly and it’s worth noting that not doing so will attract a lot of stares. Most people are Hindu, followed by a significant Muslim population. Hindi and Urdu are the most commonly spoken languages, but it’s fairly easy to get by speaking English.
Hyderabad is mostly warm, with winter temperatures rarely dipping beneath 10ºC at nighttime. Even then temperatures can reach highs of about 30ºC, with the hottest months of April and May often exceeding 40ºC. Try to plan your trip outside of the June to September period as it’s the monsoon season.
The Golkonda Fort isn’t the only hilltop site worth making a trek for. Other great journeys to consider include visiting two significant pilgrimage sites: the Ananda Buddha Vihara in nearby Secunderabad and the Moula Ali Dargah, a pilgrimage site containing a handprint believed to be that of Ali, son-in-law to the Prophet Mohammed. Alternatively you might prefer to visit Ramoji Film City, the beating heart of the Telangana/Andhra Pradesh film industry, or “Tollywood” for short. Here you’ll find plenty of rides, shows and tours of the studios.
Hyderabad’s most spectacular monument is the Golkonda Fort. This magnificent 16th-century citadel on the town’s western border is built upon a 120-metre hill, offering incredible views from the Deccan foothills to the inner city. You’ll also see the domed Qutb Shahi Tombs just two kilometres away. It’s quite a sight but worth making the trip down to learn about the important figures buried there, including Hyderabad’s founder, Mohammed Quli. He also erected Charminar – the city’s impressive central landmark – and the Badshahi Ashurkhana, where local Shiites pay tribute to Hussain Ibn Ali. And while we’re on the subject of breathtaking landmarks, check out the 18th-century Chowmahalla Palace, the extensive grounds of which are home to many opulent buildings and courtyards.
Seek shelter from the heat in one of Hyderabad’s excellent museums. Try the Salar Jung Museum and the State Museum for sprawling collections that span the history of Hyderabad, India and beyond, or the much smaller Nehru Centenary Tribal Museum for a more manageable insight into the region’s 33 indigenous cultures.