Travel Spotlight on Hyderabad!

“So what’s new in Hyderabad?”  My husband inevitably asks this of our brother-in-law on the ride from the HYD airport, having just landed in the very early hours of the morning.  It seems like a simple question, but it’s actually not because the city has been in a constant state of rapid growth and change.  I’ve made an average of one trip per year since 2005, and since my second visit, have been intrigued by the major changes occurring between each visit.  To see the major infrastructure and commerce that seems to magically appear between visits has been amazing.  I’ve taken to snapping photographs of roads and barren land, knowing that by our next trip, a multi-story mall, 5 star hotel, or a flyover ramp is likely to have popped up.

In addition to all the flashy new roads and buildings, there’s a storied past as well.  More than any other destination or person to that point, a visit to Chowmahalla Palace last fall opened my eyes to the rich (in more ways than one) history of Hyderabad, elevating it to so much more than just a large city in India known for pearls, some tombs, the Kohinoor diamond and Cyberabad (obviously, I’m oversimplifying here).  The stories about all the nizams, the interesting politics, the culture and the international influence (in both directions) that I learned on that visit, got me thinking about how much Hyderabad has to offer, and I wondered if Hyderabad wasn’t fully capitalizing on it’s potential to be a top tourist destination of India.

one of my favorite shots: charminar and the bustling old city, framed by the rear window of our rented jeep.

That’s why it’s been so great to see Hyderabad rising from the 2011 NY Times list of “41 Places to Visit in 2011,” to last weekend’s spotlight “36 Hours in Hyderabad, India.”  Of course, as with most cities, 36 hours will only suffice as an appetizer for Hyderabad, but it’s a great introduction.  I agree with most of the author’s recommendations, and I even learned of a couple new things to try on our next visit!  Here’s some additional thoughts on experiencing Hyderabad today:

I’ll Second That
Tea at Falaknuma Palace – We enjoyed our afternoon tea at Falaknuma so much that we chose that as a theme for our daughter’s first birthday!
Skipping Golconda Laser Light Show – We tried taking my brother there one year and had to leave early.  I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, despite the fact that they would stop the show every few minutes to blast white smoke into the air from what looked like very old vacuums put in reverse.
Chowmahalla Palace – Absolutely.

My Two Cents
Biryani – For the record, my current favorite biryani in Hyderabad is actually Cafe Bahar near Basheerbagh.  We got takeout a few times last trip and loved it – especially the mutton thought the chicken was good, too.  I might also point out that our favorite time to enjoy biryani is after being out with friends for a few beers. “Midnight Biryani.”
Jewelery Shopping – Perhaps it’s my pale skin and light hair, but I’ve actually never received coffee or tea while shopping for jewelry (and I’ve been to more than one location of the suggested store) – only orange soda or water!  Still, jewelry shopping in Hyderabad (and India? My only experience is Hyderabad) is an experience all it’s own, and should be tried.  And definitely take home some pearls!

Additions
Catching a Bollywood or Tollywood Movie – Assigned seating, intermission, and spicy popcorn!  There won’t be subtitles, but even if you don’t know the language, you can understand and enjoy.
Birla Mandir – How can one visit a city in India without visiting one of it’s temples?  This marble temple is gorgeous to visit at sunset, though I’ve also been during the day and evening as well.  Someday we’ll have to try to get there when they open at 7! (note to self: in the spirit of blending cultures, I STILL haven’t visited St Joesph’s Cathedral… I think we need to next trip!).
Qutb Shahi Tombs – Though I’ve not yet been to Moula-Ali or Mah Laqa Bai (as the Times article suggests), I have been to the Qutb Shahi Tombs a couple times and I thought they were great. Our guide really brought it to life for us.
– Salar Jung Museum – Interesting collection, and rather amazing that it was all one man’s private collection.
– Kotla Vijayabhaskara Reddy Botanical Gardens – Only learned of this on our last trip. Loved it!  Next time we will take a picnic lunch on a cool(er) evening.  Just wandering and enjoying the plants, landscaping, water and some animals is fun enough for all ages, but they also have a small playground and activities for kids, too.
JVR Park (Jalagam Vengal Rao) – Our neighborhood park which I was somehow never taken to in 6 or 7 visits to Hyderabad!  Lots of pathways, nice for long walks.  Peafowl (peacock is only the male, I learned at the park!) roamed free and were fun to watch.  But leave your cell phone and cameras at home!  Neither are allowed in the park, lest you sneak a photograph the celebrities you may see taking their morning walk.
– NTR (Nandamoori Taraka Ramarao Gardens) – A nice park on necklace road.  Has a train and a playground for kids, too.
Golf in Hyderabad – Try it. Another unique experience.

General Tips
Timing – Think twice before booking in Hyderabad’s summer months.  On the flip side, I’d also suggest trying to time visits along with festivals or weddings!  If you have the luxury of timing your trip on your own accord (i.e. it’s not tacked on as a weekend after a business trip or something), then opt for going during a major holiday (Diwali, Holi, Navratri (dandiya!), Ganesh Chaturthi ….) and get a dose of local life in a powerful way.  Weddings offer a similar experience, and great food and fun, to boot!

What else?  We’d love to hear your favorites and tips!  I’m sure I’ve missed something in my sleep deprived haze.  I’m sure this list will continue to grow!  In fact after our next trip I’ll have to post a followup of more toddler-friendly activities!

 

 

 

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