Relics and Ru­ins

Once fa­mous for its diamond mines, Hy­der­abad’s trove of an­cient sites makes it an In­dian trea­sure

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Tom Ot­ley

Once fa­mous for its diamond mines, Hy­der­abad’s trove of an­cient sites makes it an In­dian trea­sure

From high atop Gol­conda Fort you can see the an­cient city out­skirts of Hy­der­abad, more than five miles away. White one- and two-story houses chart the un­du­lat­ing hills in the fore­ground, while on the hori­zon are the mod­ern of­fice build­ings of the In­dian high­tech cen­ter. The view has prob­a­bly changed more in the past three decades than in the past three cen­turies, but there’s some­thing time­less about the fort.

Orig­i­nally a mud con­struc­tion dat­ing from the 12th cen­tury, it rep­re­sented the heart of the for­mer in­de­pen­dent state of Gol­conda, home to the fa­mous diamond mines, in the 15th and 16th cen­turies.

Af­ter reach­ing the zenith of its wealth and power, it faced rapid de­cline un­til 1590, when af­ter a wa­ter short­age, Sultan Muham­mad Quli Qutb Shah moved the cap­i­tal to the banks of the Musi River and cre­ated Hy­der­abad.

Left be­hind are thick walls, cham­bers, ar­mory, palaces, tem­ples and even a mor­tu­ary bath. Af­ter pay­ing a small en­trance fee (which seems to vary depend­ing on who you ask), you walk through gar­dens to the gi­ant Fateh Dar­waza Vic­tory Gate, where you may well see an at­ten­dant clap­ping to­gether two pieces of wood.

The rea­son be­hind this be­comes clear at the top of the 400-foot-high fort and the Dur­bar Hall, which sits at its peak, where the sound of the clap­ping is am­pli­fied by the dome above. In times gone by, this would have warned those higher up of an im­pend­ing at­tack.

A tour takes you past cis­terns and the glazed pipework used to con­vey wa­ter around the fort through bar­rel-vaulted rooms, where bats wheel in the dark­ness, then through large court­yards where ope­nair mu­sic and plays are of­ten put on.

From Gol­conda, it’s easy to spot the onion-shaped domes of the Qutb Shahi tombs about a half-mile away. It’s an evoca­tive place, with frag­ile minarets tow­er­ing over gray gran­ite tombs, which are a mix­ture of Per­sian, Pathan and Hindu forms, for an ab­sent au­di­ence of wor­ship­pers and tourists. Some of the tombs ap­pear to be on the verge of dis­in­te­grat­ing, the stucco or­na­men­ta­tion flak­ing away, and the ad­mis­sion fees are not likely to help.

Hid­den Gem

It’s ironic that a re­gion once famed for its wealth is so ret­i­cent to dis­play its at­trac­tions. In a sense, the state of Andhra Pradesh, next to Te­lan­gana (Hy­der­abad is the cap­i­tal of both), is where Bol­ly­wood bling be­gan.

The rulers had cen­turies of wealth and un­sur­pris­ingly spent lav­ishly by dig­ging di­a­monds from the ground – the most fa­mous be­ing the Ko­hi­noor, now part of the Bri­tish Crown Jewels.

To­day, Hy­der­abad seems al­most un­known to for­eign va­ca­tion­ers, in­ex­pli­ca­ble when you con­sider its draw­ing cards

Yet to­day, Hy­der­abad seems al­most un­known to for­eign va­ca­tion­ers, in­ex­pli­ca­ble when you con­sider its draw­ing cards. It has cen­turies of rich and doc­u­mented history, as­ton­ish­ing palaces, forts, for­mal gar­dens and an­cient tombs, all easily ac­ces­si­ble from the city.

The cli­mate is kind, with tem­per­ate weather most of the year, and the cui­sine a marvelous mix of spicy veg­e­tar­ian dishes from the south, along with tra­di­tional ke­babs left by the Mughal rulers.

Un­like much of In­dia, Hy­der­abad has ex­cel­lent in­fra­struc­ture, with a good road sys­tem, a mod­ern air­port and a se­lec­tion of five-star ho­tels at bar­gain prices – the Westin Mindspace, the Tri­dent and the Novo­tel Hy­der­abad Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, to name a few.

Op­u­lence on Show

Still, it’s the mon­u­ments that are likely to be the fo­cus. If you go to Chowma­halla Palace, you’ll see how the post-Mughal Nizam fam­ily spent its wealth. Ex­tend­ing from the fa­mous, hec­tic Laad Bazaar to the north – site of the won­der­ful 1591 Charmi­nar mon­u­ment – to As­pan Chowk Road to the south, the palace orig­i­nally cov­ered 45 acres (about 10 re­main). A replica of the Shah’s Palace in Tehran, it dates from 1750, with Nizam Afzar-udDawla Ba­hadur com­plet­ing the build­ing work in 1869.

The foun­tains and gar­dens are a great place to while away the hours, and you can en­joy ex­hibits from the past cou­ple of cen­turies, or the 1912 Rolls-Royce Sil­ver Ghost or lesser-known Napier cars from the same pe­riod, each lov­ingly re­stored.

Af­ter a spot of shop­ping at Laad Bazaar and a visit to the Mecca Masjid, end your time away at the fairy-tale Falaknuma Palace, built on a hill above the city in the late 19th cen­tury by then-prime min­is­ter Nawab Vikar-ul-Umra.

He wanted to show what the re­gion was ca­pa­ble of, and the fine mar­ble, jade and pre­cious stones, as well as the latest tech­nol­ogy – some of the first fridges and tele­phones in the coun­try – did just that. Un­for­tu­nately, he ran out of money, was res­cued by the Nizam of the day, and the palace was then used to re­ceive im­por­tant visi­tors, such as King Ge­orge V in 1911.

Now ren­o­vated by Taj Ho­tels, it al­lows you, for a short time at least, to live like these op­u­lent rulers, with­out the pesky worry of king-size op­er­at­ing costs. An en­ter­tain­ing sufi band play­ing in the court­yard for sun­down cock­tails, and din­ner at Adaa, where you can feast on Hy­der­abadi cui­sine with the city spread out be­low – it’s the per­fect end to a few days of lux­ury.

Greaves Travel can ar­range in­clu­sive trips to Hy­der­abad, in­clud­ing lo­cal guides: tel 1(800) 318 7801; greavesin­dia.com BT

The foun­tains and gar­dens are a great place to while away the hours The cli­mate is kind, with tem­per­ate weather most of the year, and the cui­sine a marvelous mix

Top: Mecca Masjid and the Charmi­nar mon­u­ment Bot­tom: One of the seven Qutb Shahi tombs

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