3 Reasons to Love Hyderabad, India
The most popular images that often come to people’s minds when they hear of India are the Taj Mahal and the curry. Backpackers would have probably heard of Goa, while pilgrims would be familiar with Kolkata. A lesser known place is Hyderabad, the capital of the state of Telangana, south of India.
Hyderabad is known as the City of Pearls, since it has been a historical pearl trading center. It is also popular for its information technology (IT) industry, particularly in Hitech City.
I went to Hyderabad in the middle of June, a pleasant time in the city – neither too hot nor humid. It rained some nights, but it was bearable – by Filipino standards, of course.
To be honest, it was quite unnerving to be in India for the first time by myself – at least at first – especially because of the stories I’ve heard. I say “at first” because initially I had not met any locals. Later I established friendships with a number of locals and I found myself saying bittersweet goodbye’s. Unexpectedly, I came to love Hyderabad for a number of fascinating reasons:
An ivory sculpture of the Taj Mahal at the Salar Jung Museum
1. Co-existence of Hindu and Muslim traditions
I went to Hyderabad during the Ramzan season (Ramadan), so when I went to their two popular icons – the Charminar and the Makka Masjid – there were so many people! Many pilgrims flock to these sacred places of prayer and line up for hours to pray inside.
While I got to see the facade, I did not attempt to go inside anymore due to the crowds. Apparently, though, during the Eid al-Fitr (a holiday in Hyderabad), these places are the emptiest since most pilgrims celebrate the feast at home with their families.
The Charminar and the bustling crowds all around it on a Sunday afternoon during the Ramzan
Hinduism also thrives in Hyderabad. I visited Birla Mandir, a Hindu temple that opened in 1976 after a decade-long construction. When you visit this temple, there is no entrance fee, but you can offer monetary gifts to the different gods. I liked the breeze on top of the temple where you could have a view of Hyderabad, including the famous Hussain Sagar, a heart shaped lake with a statue of Buddha.
I was surprised though that there are a number of Catholic churches in Hyderabad. I went to one and, surprisingly, we had to remove our shoes before entering the church, much like in Birla Mandir! These cultures coming together was enthralling for me!
2. Food, especially Street Food
Because Hyderabad is historically a trading center, the amalgam of cultures is reflected in the cuisine. Yes, there’s the curry, but there’s more!
Hyderabad is known for the Hyderabad Biryani, which is made of basmati rice with mutton meat, marinated in yogurt, onions, saffron, coriander, lemon, and other spices. This dish supposedly originated with the Nizams, Hyderabad’s monarch.
The popular royal treat, Kaju Katli, is a dessert made with milk, sugar, mild spices, fruits, and kaju (cashew). Whenever there are birthdays or engagements, the celebrants would share these special desserts to friends, family, and even officemates. These treats are sold in grams and cost as much as 1,000 INR per kilogram.
My favorite experience though was eating along Hitech City Road, near Avasa Hotel, where I stayed. My local friends brought me there to try different kinds of local dishes sold by food trucks! There’s the mouth-burning pani puri, momos (dumplings), and my favorite – the paneer dosa. To comfort my tongue from all the spices, they gave me badam (almond) kulfi, which is a dairy dessert almost like ice cream but creamier!
One of my lunch meals at Junior Kuppanna while I was in Hyderabad consisted of roti, papad, (later rice), and curries, curd, and other traditional Indian food
3. Diving deep into Art and Architecture
Three of my favorite places in Hyderabad in terms of art and architecture are the Salar Jung Museum, the Chowmahallah Palace, and the Shilparamam.
Salar Jung Museum
Salar Jung III was the last of five Prime Ministers from the Salar Jung family. He has the largest one-man collection of antiques in the world, and much are in the Salar Jung Museum. Here, you can find the famous Veiled Rebecca (1876) by the Italian sculptor G.B. Benzoni.
Veiled Rebecca (Benzoni)
I personally adored the Deccani miniature paintings crafted for the Deccan sultanates from 13th to 16th century. Inspired by the Islamic culture of Persia, Turkey, and part of central Asia, these paintings had a harmonious color palette, intricate drawings, and unique use of paint.
Deccani Paintings from the 14th Century
The Chowmahalla Palace was a park perfect for an afternoon stroll. Many locals spend time with families and take photos of the surrounding structures. Birds also seemed to love the place. It felt like an oasis from the busy bazaars nearby.
Chowmahalla Palace of the Nizams, the Monarch of the Hyderabad State (1794-1954)
Another majestic view at the Chowmahalla Palace
Lastly, you should go to Shilparamam and experience the local weekend favorite. There are music and dance performances. People can enjoy a simple boat ride on the lake. My friends walked me around the place and the small “cultural village” where you could learn about their history and tradition, such as pottery and weaving. This place is popular for shopping, especially those lovely scarfs, saree, tunics, and jewelry – and so I bought some souvenirs and gifts here for my friends. It’s good to have local friends to get better prices!
And of course, I couldn’t leave without having a mehndi on my hand. In Indian tradition, mehndi, which is an art form using a paste made from powdered henna plant, is typically worn on Hindu weddings and festivals. My friend says the last time she wore it was on her traditional Hindu wedding.
These are just some of the reasons why Hyderabad is so memorable for me. I could have added more to this list, of course, including the hospitable people of Hyderabad, but I am hoping you get to add more to this list by going there yourself!