Hyderabad, the royal city is a blend of the old and the new, having an inherent style and age-old culture, it is a delight to visit. From the magnificent food to the majestic monuments, from its terrific landscapes to a populace steeped in respect and tradition, the city is just full of surprises. One can explore her by lanes, taste the roadside foodstuff, feel the entrepreneurial excitement in the air and get a whiff of the nostalgia as well. It is also the capital of the state of Andhra Pradesh and the only city in the south, where the major language spoken is Urdu. Inhibited by the world's richest royals, the Nizams, it is also the centre of folk arts like shadow puppetry and kuchipudi, which is an ancient dance form.
One of the largest and wealthiest of India's former princely states, the city built its fortune on the trade of pearls, gold, steel, fabric and, above all, diamonds, which some believe remain hidden beneath the foundations of Golconda Fort, precursor to the city some 10km away. Once the most famous diamond kingdom in the world, Golconda was home to the Kohinoor, the worlds most sought after diamond as well as the Orloff, Regent, and Hope, famous for their typically bloody histories. From nawabs and pearls to the world's hi-tech happening point, the city's journey is fascinating. The sprawling metropolis is finally coming to terms with itself.
Hyderabad is more than 400 years old but is today as famous for its burgeoning information technology and biotech research industries, as it is for its minarets. It is one of India's fastest-growing cities, with a projected population of 7.5 million by 2015, but unlike most, Hyderabad is actually getting greener and cleaner. A substantial part of the city is the suburb of 'Cyberabad', where Microsoft and Oracle are but two major players in the development known as Hi-Tech City, responsible for the city's much-needed economic upswing. Despite its newfound attractiveness as a business destination, the city remains steeped in history, and you're just as likely to share the road with camels and bullock carts, and haggle alongside Muslim women covered from head to toe in black burkhas, as you are to converse with cell phone-wielding yuppies. It's a pleasantly manageable city with a vibrant culture, excellent-value luxury hotels, and a heavenly cuisine -- perhaps the most enduring legacy of the decadent tastes and patronage of the cultured Nizams who first put the city on the map.
A Glimpse in the Past
Historically, Hyderabad owes its existence to a water shortage. It was founded in the late 16th century by the Qutab Shahi dynasty, a line of rulers known for their beautiful "monuments, mosques and mistresses". In 1589, Mohammed Quli Qutab Shah decided to shift his capital from Golconda to the banks of river Musi. Consequently, a city adorned with magnificent palaces and mosques, embodying a style of architecture that was unique to the place - was born .In 1724 taking advantage of the waning Mughal Empire the viceroy of Hyderabad Asaf Jah, declared Hyderabad as an independent State and founded his own dynasty. So begun the dynasty of the Nizams of Hyderabad, a dynasty that would, for seven generations, rule the kingdom, a dynasty whose scions would be included among the "richest men in the world", a dynasty under which traditions and customs of Islam flourished and a dynasty under whom Hyderabad developed into a focus for arts, culture and learning and the centre of Muslim India. The Nizams held sway over Hyderabad until 1948, when the State was merged with the Indian Union.
The Legacy Of The Nizams
The Nizams, who ruled from Golconda Fort, have endowed Hyderabad with many landmark buildings, including the Charminar, the Salarjung Museum, the Falaknuma Palace and the Qutab Shahi Tombs. Even for a city that has modernized tremendously in the last decade Hyderabad's rich legacy of Nizams, makes it one of the most fascinating historical places in India.
The Charminar, a symmetrical edifice which was built by Muhammed Quli Qutab Shah in 1591 to commemorate the cessation of plague in the city, has now become the landmark of the city of Hyderabad. The four minarets carved with lotus buds and petals and the central structure, soaring to a height of 180 feet makes it an architectural jewel of the city.
The Golconda Fort
The Golconda Fort is one of the most famous Forts in the south of India. The origins of the Fort can be traced to the Yadava dynasty of Deogiri, and the Kakatiyas of Warangal. The first three Qutb Shahi kings rebuilt Golconda, over a span of 62 years. The fort is famous for its acoustics, palaces, factories and ingenious water supply system. It was also famous for diamond trade and the Kohinoor diamond is said to have come from here.
The Qutub Shahi Tombs
The Qutub Shahi Tombs are situated at a distance of a kilometre from Golconda Fort, these tombs and monuments of the Qutb Shahi Kings are proof of unique architectural excellence, which is a blend of Persian, Pathan and Hindu forms.
Salarjung Museum the single largest one-man collections of the world. If this one-man had not chosen to remain a bachelor the world would have been bereft of one of the greatest collection of antiques. I am talking about art objects collected by Yusuf Ali Salar Jung, the prime minister to the Nizam. Though Salar Jung III is credited with these fantastic collections, it all started with his father and grandfather.
The Mecca Masjid
The Mecca Masjid, whose construction started by Muhammad Qutb Shah in 1617 and completed by Aurangzeb in 1694, is very close to the Charminar. It is majestic figure with a huge courtyard can accommodate nearly ten thousand men at prayer.
The Jami Masjid and the Toli Masjid-are the other two mosques, having small and modest structure.
Other popular places of interest are The Falakuma palace, the Chowmukha palace and the Regency Mansion, built in 1803. The Husain Sagar Lake, Naubat Pahad, the Birla temple, Osman Sagar and Himayat Sagar, and the Nehru Zoological Park.
The City of Pearls
The storied wealth amassed under the 200-year reign of Hyderabad's Nizams naturally called forth a precious-jewellery industry. From the year 1724, when the Mughal governor Asaf Jah titled himself Nizam al-Mulk and established his rule over central India's Deccan plateau, until 1948, when the Nizam VII Osman Ali Khan's authority was forcibly superseded by the Indian Army, untold quantities of gems and pearls passed through the Hyderabad's jewel shops on Patthargatti Road. Under the Nizams there was always peace and always a strong demand for gems. The mines close to the Golconda fort gave the world the Hope and Kohinoor diamonds, now in the Smithsonian Institution and the British coronation crown respectively. Diamonds aplenty there once were, but it is pearls that have, over time, left the boldest mark on Hyderabadi culture and trade, and today it is the city's pearl dealers who are champions of the jewellery market. According to Sanskrit texts on Gemmology, a metaphysical genre known as ratnapariksa, or "appreciation of gems", pearls join diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires as the five "god-given" stones, or maharatni. The millennia-old Vedic prayer of Atharvan invokes their special power: "Born of the wind and the air / Born of flashing lightning and starlight / May this shell and in it this pearl protect us from danger."
Once retrieved from the fastness of the sea, pearls in historic days, reached India in two ways: from the Gulf of Mannar in Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka) via the south Indian city of Madurai, and from the Arabian Gulf via the port of Goa. Then, the finest quality pearls were said to be Ceylonese; they were uniformly white, and they were rare. Today, Ceylonese pearls are unknown in Hyderabad, but the slightly yellowish ones from the Arabian Gulf, known as Basra pearls, are readily available both in newly restrung necklaces and in precious old settings. In Patthargatti's shops'some open to the hot city breeze, others crisply air-conditioned'the pearls most commonly sold today are the freshwater variety from China.
Emeralds and rubies aside, however, Hyderabad does seem an odd city to be at the top of the pearl trade. The ocean is some 325 kilometers distant, and, commercially speaking, the city is a relative backwater compared to booming Mumbai and Bangalore. But any expert will tell you that Hyderabad's commercial position is due to "the high quality and low cost of labor." A visit to his processing centre confirms that behind almost every door in Patthargatti there are pearl sorters, drillers and stringers, each with hundreds of years of family experience.