Like many destinations in India, Hyderabad is a convergence of opposing forces. As the fourth most populous city in India and the capital of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, it is at once overwhelming and entirely filled with possibility. Architecture aficionados will be struck by the seamless melding of Indo-Islamic, Medieval, Mughal and European building styles. Artists will find their senses alight with the city’s many colors, contrasted nicely against the pale buildings.
But perhaps the biggest contrast you’ll find in Hyderabad will be that between the old and the new. This is a city that has so embraced the global tech and biotech booms that it created a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to attract global and Indian companies, and here you’ll find block after block of sparkling, modern buildings. But head back into the old city, and it’s the historical sites that will drop your jaw.
Today, we’re focusing on just that: Hyderabad, all of its many historical wonders and their position in this modern, bustling and distinctly Indian metropolis.
Hyderabad’s position as an economic powerhouse isn’t anything new. The city was known for centuries as the “Pearl City,” as it was a central hub for the pearl and diamond trades. With industrialization came a number of electrical and scientific research companies, paving the way for the SEZ, and a powerhouse film industry called, “Telugu Cinema” or “Tollywood.”
In Indian terms, the city itself was established relatively recently in 1591 CE by the sultan Muhammed Quli Qutb Shah, and it remained a part of that dynasty until it was conquered by the Mughals. Add the British into the stew several centuries later, and it’s no wonder the city became such a heavy mix of influences, extending beyond architecture into a vibrant artistic, literature and cuisine.
Best Time to Go and How to Get There
Unless you particularly enjoy monsoon season (June to September), the best time to visit Hyderabad is between November to February (winter). If you’re okay with heat, then March to May might work for you, but keep in mind that “hot” here can mean 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hyderabad can be reached by train from any other major Indian city. However, just getting from Delhi to Hyderabad is a good 21 hour trip, not counting the many delays often encountered along the way. Unless you’ll be making tourist stops along the way, flying can be a much faster and more pleasant option. Plus flying allows you a few more guarantees as you can buy flight insurance to ensure a smooth trip along the way.
Top Historical Sites
- Charminar: As one of the most recognized sites in all of India, the monument and mosque called Charminar is a must-see. Built in 1591 by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah as one of the city’s first structures, most experts believe Charminar was erected in the center of the city to celebrate the eradication of plague. Charminar formed the city’s central organizing point, with four distinct roads and quadrants emerging from beneath the structure’s four main arches. Visiting hours are between 9AM – 5:30PM and the entry fee is 100 rupees for foreign nationals. Head to nearby Laad Bazaar when you’re done to pick up some of the world’s best bangles.
- Mecca Masjid: Located just to the west of Charminar, Makkah Masjid is among the oldest mosques in Hyderabad. The structure’s bricks are actually made from Meccan soil, though it would only be completed years later with the addition of a beautiful pagoda.
- Falaknuma Palace: Situated a little over 3 miles from Charminar, Falaknuma Palace is a sight to behold. The palace looms large from its perch atop a 2,000 foot hill, earning the nickname, “Mirror of the Sky.” Unlike other castles in the region, this castle is a unique blend of Italian and Tudor styles, and is shaped like a scorpion. Don’t miss the jade collection, the Venetian chandeliers, the library modeled like that in Windsor Castle, or the Japanese gardens. The Palace has actually been converted to a hotel, so visit the lobby or book a stay of your own.
- Other Palaces: Not to be outdone, there are countless other palaces reflecting more local styles that should be on your list. These include Chowmahalla Palace, Asman Garh Palace, Taramati Baradari, Purani Huveli, King Kothi Palace and Bella Vista.
- Chilkur Balaji Temple: While there are many temples worth visiting in Hyderabad, Chilkur Balaji is among the oldest, built long before Hyderabad came into existence nearly half a millennia ago. Thousands of people still actively pilgrimage here, and are all welcome free of charge. Watch worshippers write their wishes down on a piece of paper and tick them off as they’re called.
- AP State Archaeological Museum (Hyderabad Museum: Housed inside a never lived-in palace built in 1864, the AP State Archaeological Museum is an historical site both for the objects it houses and for its venue. Among other displays, inside you’ll find an Egyptian mummy, a number of coin and arms collections, and 9th and 10th Century Jain figures. The museum is open from 10:30 AM to 5:00 PM every day except for Friday, when it’s closed. The cost of admissions is 5 rupees for children, 10 for adults.
- Golkonda Fort: Last but certainly not least, Golkonda Fort, located just under 7 miles west of Hyderabad, is well worth the visit. Explore the ramparts, canons, drawbridges and giant iron “anti-elephant” spikes installed to prevent collapse from an elephant charge. There are also sultan tombs to explore as you learn all about the fort’s key role in the diamond trade. The fort is open from 9 to 5 every day except Monday, and the entrance fee is 100 rupees for foreign nationals.
Hyderabad is an intriguing and stimulating city, with enough sights to see and foods to taste to fill several visits. Build your itinerary, and enjoy the views!
– Rob Toledo (Guest Writer)