Hyderabad; a Visitor's Perspective

Though the Indian tourism department lists the city of Hyderabad as a part of its South India itinerary, yet the city located south of central India is not distinctly South Indian. It is, in fact, a meeting point of three Indian cultures; North, South and typically Hyderabadi. Everyone would feel comfortably at home in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad no matter which language they speak or religion they profess.

The capital city of Andhra Pradesh having roots deep into history and tradition is also a modern tech city in the making. However, like any other big Indian city Hyderabad also has its woes like heavy and unruly traffic and high pollution levels (indicated by a hazy horizon).

Must see
In my opinion the must visit places, apart from the famous and historic Charminar, Golconda and Qutub Shahi Tombs are the Salarjung museum, Lepakshi (the State Government Handicrafts showroom) and the Birla Planetarium. View the historic grandeur and have a wide glimpse of Indian cultural heritage at the museum. Photography is prohibited inside the museum so you have to deposit your camera in the locker near the ticket booth. Since mobiles are allowed inside I spotted some people taking pictures with their phone-cams. I found Lepakshi the best place to pick up souvenirs or items for our showcases. You may also select from among others; Bidriware, Dokra art (metalware) and Rosewood items which are very attractive indeed.

A visit to the Birla Planetarium is a must for children as well as adults who want them to develop interest in science. After viewing the planetarium show so vividly exhibited by laser beams, one can spot at least two real life planets; Venus and Jupiter, up in the sky just above the south-western horizon after the sunset. However, star gazing in any city is difficult with the haze obscuring most of the sky line.

Bad roads
Hyderabad is a fast emerging Hi-tech city next only to Bangalore and the need for infrastructure development is very high. Some flyovers are under construction but the road network seems poor. As far as quality of the roads is concerned even prime and posh localities in the city have roads with bad riding surface. Numerous ruts and pot-holes are visible and the repair / patchwork is so shabbily done that it makes driving unsafe. Roads as well as the sign boards need considerable improvement.

Hyderabadi Pearls
Driver of almost every three-wheeler we engaged for making it from one point in the city to the other, offered us to take to what he called 'government pearl shop' for the best quality 'natural' Hyderabadi pearls. Upon entering one such shop you don't know whether you'd get your money's worth or not since there is a wide disparity between the prices of similar looking pearl products. I wonder if standardisation of the pearl business on the lines of gold hallmarking could ever be possible. However, one shop owner tried his best to boost buyers’ confidence by performing 'burn' and 'scratch' tests which according to him was the true measure of the natural quality of the pearls they offered.

Auto rickshaw Drivers
As is wont in most of the cities in India one has got to strike a bargain while hiring a cab and Hyderabad is no exception. In this process of haggling the loser invariably will be the tourist. However, after a day or two in the city you can get a clear picture of the fare structure and then strike it even with them. It is worth mentioning here that in three days we chanced upon three auto drivers who voluntarily switched on their meters without any argument.

The Historical
Though all the forts in India are magnificent and marvellous yet each one has one distinct feature or the other. The Golconda fort is impressive in its own right. Three things which, in my opinion, stand out are; the water distribution system, the audio alarm system and the 240 kilograms iron weight lying in the soldiers’ barracks. There are huge water tanks at different levels. The water used to be lifted from one level to the next manually by rope and pulley arrangement and then it flowed under gravity through earthen conduits to the Royal quarters.

They say if there was any sense of alarm at the entry gate the sentry would simply clap and the sound would reach some 200 feet up at the top (the tourist guide gets this clapping exercise done for you). Then there is reverberation of clapping under the main entrance, the arched roof of which is done in deep diamond shapes. Interestingly the reverberations aren't felt outside the seven feet radius. Also there is this big iron weight, 240 Kg according to the guide, which was used to weigh the ration issued from the supplies depot. Another view is that lifting of the weight was compulsory for recruitment into the army which had in its armoury things like heavy swords, spears, lances and guns.

Out of the 146 spiralling stair steps of the Charminar visitors aren't allowed beyond the first 53 which take them to the first floor from where one can see some important spots of Hyderabad. However, the scene is not as panoramic as from the citadel at the Golconda fort, some 11 km away. City haze once again plays a spoilsport. Nearby there is the famous Mecca Mosque and adjoining are among others the Laad Bazaar where one can shop for pearls, bangles and the traditional perfume (itr) and relish the trademark culinary called Hyderabadi Biryani.

The Buddha statue in the Hussainsagar is prominently noticeable and presents an attractive view particularly after the sunset when it is fully bathed in lights. For photography enthusiasts it is a good point to capture sunset with the Birla temple hill in the backdrop. For steady shots do carry a tripod, something I forgot to do. The walkways along the Tank Bund road and the necklace road around the Hussainsagar are walkers / joggers delight. However, the Tank Bund road teeming with traffic urgently needs at least two underground / overhead pedestrian crossings.

(I visited Hyderabad in the first week of December 2008)