Hyderabad is not one city. It always had its twin in Secunderabad, but today it is like a family of siblings who are as different from each other as possible. To know this city, you need to know a bit of all these cities within this medieval era city made famous by the ultra rich Nizams.
There is old Hyderabad, at the center of which stands the signature building of the city – Charminar. When I first started exploring the lanes around Charminar, it felt so much like Chandni Chowk of Delhi, but as I started interacting with people, I got to know its nuances that reflected in various culinary and cultural aspects. There is of course the famous biryani that you get best around Charminar though many chefs may not agree. There is Lad Bazaar where you see rows and rows of colorful bangles, shining through the glass door. Step behind these shops and you can see the bangles being made. It was a bit of shock and a lot of pleasure to see each bangle being handcrafted by a series of artists. As you walk along Laad Bazaar you see typical bridal wear market with lot of shining shimmering dresses all around. It is only when you step inside one of these shops that you discover Khada Dupatta. It is some 12 meters of cloth that only a Hyderabadi bride can carry. There is a kurta and chudidar, a regular two and a half meter dupatta and a six meter sari like dupatta that is draped around the bride. I tried wearing it, and once all the fabric was on me, I could not even move, forget about conducting any rituals.
You step into a roadside chai shop for Irani Chai—which is a milky sweet chai that honestly I never enjoyed. But then there is a variant called Kesar Chai that I loved having. It is not mentioned on any menu, you have to know that owner has that option to get it. I would not be able to talk much about the culinary delights of Hyderabad being a vegetarian except the Osmania Biscuit and Karachi bakery that is something everyone loved to carry back home. If you have a sweet tooth, then Phullareddy is the answer to all your craving. You get lot of local sweets that are otherwise lost in the humdrum of more popular sweets.
Secunderabad owes its origins to the British who set it up as a cantonment. You see their remains here and there when you walk in areas like Rani Gunj. Over years Secunderabad has primarily emerged as a middle class locality. Not much has been done to preserve any old buildings. Secunderanad has the honour of being the winter home of the President of India. One of the erstwhile palaces of Nizams is now called Rashtrapati Nilayam. A smaller home compared to the one in Delhi, but with lovely sprawling lawns. It is the only place where I have seen an underground tunnel connecting the kitchen and the dining room. President comes here only for few days in December end /January beginning and after that it is opened to public for few days.
Cyberabad is the new age city of Hyderabad— it has all the steel and glass buildings. When you stand here you would not be able to distinguish, you may get a feeling of Deja Vu, for you could be in Whitefield in Bangalore, or Cybercity in Gurgaon or Hinjewadi in Pune. This is where the new age upwardly mobile live. In last 20 years this area has gone from being a city of large pre-historic rocks to a urban concrete jungle. In between shining shopping malls, you can still visit Durgam Cheruvu or the Secret Lake. It is not a secret anymore, but it’s a nice little nature’s abode where you can go boating and walking around. Incidentally Golconda fort is not located too far from this area. Golconda fort is best known for the diamonds mined here including the famous Kohinoor but to me its greatest facet is its acoustics. You can talk to people separated horizontally and vertically by hundreds of meters. Just outside the Golconda fort stand the Qutub Shahi tombs – an example of the Deccani architecture that combines many architectures from across the country.
At the heart of the city lies the Hussain Sagar lake bridging the original twins Hyderabad and Secunderabad. A recently installed Buddha statue is the center of attraction as boats and cruises go around it every evening. It’s like the Buddha keeping an eye on the nerve center of the city. Step outside the borders of Hyderabad and you meet the giant pre-historic rocks balancing on each other in a gravity defying manner.
It is a city that remains old in its old quarters, holding on firmly to the past, while the new areas embrace the age they are born into. It is a city where cultures come together to give birth to a new culture that can but be called Hyderabadi.
(Writer is a leading travel blogger from India. You can read her stories at www.IndiTales.com and reach her on twitter