For Trip # 11 (Yay Me!), I flew to the city of Hyderabad in the last week of November, for another short weekend getaway. I was attending a friend’s wedding, so while most of my time in Hyderabad was spent at the festivities, there was no way I would be leaving without exploring at least some of the city’s many, many highlights.
Mark Twain once referred to India as the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition! He probably had Hyderabad in mind (second to New Delhi, perhaps)…!
A city steeped in history, the legacy and opulence of the Nizams is gloriously flanked by the cultural gems and architectural marvels left behind by the Qutb Shahi dynastly. The City of Pearls, the Birthplace of the Kohinoor Diamond, and the home of the sublime delicacies that are the Hyderabadi Haleem and the Hyderabadi Biryani; there are many claims to fame, each one more iconic than the last.
The city of Hyderabad was founded by the Qutb Shahi dynasty, the ruling family of the ancient kingdom of Golconda. Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth sultan of the dynasty, established the city on the banks of the Musi River in 1591. Initially called “Bhagnagar” after Bhagmathi, a local nautch (dancing) girl with whom he had fallen in love, the city was renamed Hyderabad after she converted to Islam and adopted the title Hyder Mahal. According to another source, the city was named after Haidar, the son of Quli Qutb Shah. (Source: Wikipedia).
The Qutb Shahis were all great builders, a line of rulers apparently known for their beautiful monuments, mosques and mistresses. A significant portion of the city’s architectural wonders owe their existence to them. And then a couple hundred years later, the line of rulers known as the Nizams of Hyderabad left their mark for the world to see.
Short for Nizam-ul-Mulk (meaning Administrator of the Realm), the Nizams belonged to the Asaf Jahi Dynasty which originated near Samarkhand, Uzbekistan. They ruled in place of or as Viceroys of the Mughal Emperor until Aurangzeb’s death in 1707. Eventually the Mughal Empire began to disintegrate and the then Nizam Mir Qamar-ud-Din Siddiqi or Asaf Jah I declared sovereignty in 1724 to rule Hyderabad as an independent kingdom.
The Asaf Jahi leadership continued to rule Hyderabad for two centuries until 1947, when Independent India’s new leadership deposed Mir Osman Ali Khan Siddiqi, the seventh and last Nizam, once the richest man in the world.
The dynasty that ruled Hyderabad for seven successive generations might have ended, but their legacy lingers, to this day. Great patrons of The Good Life; enjoyment of art, architecture, culture, jewels and rich food flourished during the Asaf Jahi years; and much of what we revere today as the History and Heritage of Hyderabad can be credited to them.
The Charminar is to the city of Hyderabad what The Taj Mahal is to the city of Agra; their stories are inextricably intertwined. Literally translating to “Four Towers”, the Charminar is an icon so irrevocably linked to Hyderabad that no trip to the city can be complete without paying it a visit.
Built in 1591 AD by Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth sultan of the ruling Qutb Shahi Dynasty; legend has it that the sultan offered fervent prayers to Allah for salvation when a deadly plague was ravaging his city. When his prayers were answered, he had a mosque built at the site to express his gratitude. The Charminar is thus a symbol of faith, built to honor the Sultan’s promise to Allah.
Intended as a grand and majestic centerpiece to the city of Hyderabad that was also established around the same time, the Charminar is a square structure with four beautiful and elegantly carved arches facing the streets; there is a minaret or Tower on each corner. 149 narrow and winding stairs built into the minars lead you to the upper levels, and if you’re able to brave the claustrophobia during the climb up, you’ll be rewarded with views extending over the city.
It’s easy to get bullied by the crowds, but do try and linger a moment; admire the intricate carvings and delicate arches, the design and aesthetics are really quite remarkable.
Bangles, Ittar and Pearls
The streets and bylanes surrounding the Charminar might seem to be in pandemonium, but there’s a certain orderliness to the chaos, a method to the madness, in a way. It’s a veritable paradise for shoppers, if you know how to decode the disorder.
The road that branches off westwards houses the Laad Bazaar, one of the oldest markets of Hyderabad. Also known as Choodi Bazaar, shop after shop displays colourful glass and lacquered bangles, which is what this bazaar is famous for. But that’s not all, everything from artificial jewellery, to saris and other traditional Indian garments, paintings, antiques, spices, silverware and perfumes can be found here.
And then there’s Pather Gatti, famous for pearls and other gems. The Nizams of Hyderabad amassed a huge fortune in their 200-year reign; Nizam VII Osman Ali Khan earned himself the title of the ‘Richest Man in the World’ at one point during his rule. It’s really no surprise then that a precious-jewellery industry thrived in Hyderabad. In its heyday, some 14,000 shops were said to have been carrying out the trade in the Charminar bazaar. In fact, I read somewhere that there’s a village just outside of Hyderabad called Chandanpet where almost all the residents are engaged in the delicate art of drilling pearls. Hyderabad is pretty much the largest drilling centre in India, and is often called ‘The City of Pearls’.
Not as popular as the Biryani, Bangles and Haleem, but as much a part of Hyderabad’s heritage is Ittar, an Arabic word which means scent. Made from all natural products, Ittar or Attar, is a perfume oil that almost enchants with its fragrance. Some of the first lovers of Ittars were the Mughal nobles of India and the Jasmine-scented ones were the favorites of the Nizams. Decorated crystal-cut bottles or small jeweled decanters selling these heavenly perfumes are available all over the city.
The seat of the Asaf Jahi dynasty and what was the official residence of the Nizams of Hyderabad while they ruled their state, the Chowmallah Palace still exudes an elegant grace that’s hard to ignore.
Construction began in the year 1750, and with a design believed to be modeled on the Shah of Iran’s palace, it was completed between 1857 and 1869. Originally covering 45 acres and combining unique elements of many different architectural styles, only 12 acres remain today.
Literally translating to four palaces (Chow means Four and Mahal means Palace in Persian), there are two courtyards, four palaces, perfectly manicured lawns and attractive fountains to keep you busy for the better part of an afternoon.
The central Durbar Hall where the the Takht-e-Nishan or the royal seat was laid is truly gorgeous, and the grand pillars and gorgeous chandeliers lend a splendor that is hard to come by today. But possibly the highlight for us at Chowmallah Palace, most certainly for the mister, was the Nizam’s personal collection of Vintage Cars, on display in the lawns at back; including a custom-made Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.
Salar Jung Museum
It’s unbelievable, but every piece in this museum was collected by just one person.
The third largest museum in the country and also one of India’s three National Museums, believe it or not the Salar Jung Museum is solely dedicated to a one-man collection of antiques. Sculptures, paintings, textiles, carpets, furniture and other artefacts from all over the world, numbering into tens of thousands, probably; that’s what this genius of a man collected.
Nawab Mir Yusuf Ali Khan Salar Jung III, former Prime Minister of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, spent over thirty-five years building his priceless collection. Some of the remarkable items we saw here were Mughal-era swords and daggers belonging to Emperor Jehangir and Shah Jehan, ivory inlaid artefacts such as chess boards, jeweled furniture, the richest of tapestries and rows upon rows of sparkling jewels.
Two priceless gems on permanent display are the Veiled Rebecca by the Italian sculptor G.B. Benzoni, an absolute stunning creation by the artist of a lady who appears to be draped in a wet garment, with a delicate and transparent marble veil covering her face; and the intriguing Double Statue, a 19th century sculpture from France made of a single block of wood, with good (female) and evil (male) symbolically depicted in the same life-size statue.
And then there’s the nineteenth century musical clock, said to have been acquired by Salar Jung from the Cooke and Kelvey Co. in England. Rich and ornately inlaid, the clock has a mechanism by which a small toy figure of a bearded man comes out from his enclosure and strikes the gong at the change of every hour, before retreating back again.
Taj Falaknuma Palace
A royal palace and former residence of the Nizams of Hyderabad, leased to the Taj Group of Hotels by the Royal Family and superlatively refurbished into a luxury hotel, the Taj Falaknuma Palace is nothing short of enchanting in its appeal.
Also known as ‘The Mirror of the Sky’ because it was built over a hill 2,000 feet above the city, readers in India will recognize the Falaknuma Palace as the venue that recently hosted one of the most glittering and star-studded Bollywood weddings in recent times. Superstar Salman Khan booked the entire Heritage Luxury Hotel for his younger sister’s fairytale wedding, and if the afternoon I spent walking amidst the extravagance is anything to go by, I’m sure guests are transported into a bygone era while in the lap of luxury.
If your pockets are deep, you should stay the night to fully experience the glory of the property. If not, the Palace offers a Heritage Walk at the Falaknuma Palace two or three times a day. Stay tuned, there’s a full blog post coming up on that soon.
Have you been to Hyderabad? Have you visited any of these places? What was your favourite? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
So, where are you off to today?
This entry has been shortlisted for Holidify’s Travelogue Writing Contest in association with Linger. The content and pictures may not be used without prior permission of the author.
Submitted by: Upasna Verma
The original post can be found here.