A Diversion to Hyderabad
Had the opportunity to visit Hyderabad last week. It’s about 800km to the north west of Chennai, inland on a plateau in Andhra Pradesh state but in feel totally different from Chennai
For a start, it has a strong Muslim influence and as you’ll see from the picture above, there are definite elements of the souk about streetlife in the old city. In terms of geography it can be divided into three:
1. The original fortified city of Golconda, which sits on a large hill to the south west and which was occupied in prehistoric times. The fort itself dates from the 12th-16th centuries.
2. The “Old City” which stretches from Golconda to the east and flows along the banks of the Musi River and which grew up from the 17th century onwards
3. The newer developments to the north and around the Hussain Sagar Lake which include the Banjara Hills, most of which is 19th and 20th century
We had 5 days in Hyderababd, but I was working on 4 of them, so just the one day to explore. There’s a lot to see, but we managed to cram in 3 major sites, so here they are
1. Qutb Shah Tombs. These are the tombs of 7 of the kings plus numerous wives and associates spread over a pleasant park to the north of Golconda Fort
It’s a peaceful site and you can wander around without much attention from touts etc
2. The Golconda Fort is enormous and you need a couple of hours to explore it.
It’s a bracing climb to the top, but you have spectacular views of the city as well as some interesting temple and parliament buildings
3. Charminar. This monument in the centre of the old town is iconic though of unknown purpose
After a short cramped climb up the internal staircase you come out onto the platform at the top from where you can see the beautiful stonework
Again the views are stunning
Main differences with Chennai
1. It’s about 5 years ahead in terms of infrastructure
2. Hyderabad is at the crossroads of north and south in India and its Muslim heritage gives it a much more Arabic feel than Chennai with is still very southern
3. Despite the Muslim feel to Hyderabad, you realise how devout a city Chennai is: alcohol if more easily available, more people dress in a western style.
4. Hyderabad is proud of its heritage in a way that Chennai is conflicted about (see my previous posts about the decay of heritage buildings). This may be because Hyderabad has far less of a British influence. It retained a level of autonomy throughout the colonial era that Chennai did not and so its old buildings are very much part of that narrative, unlike Chennai where many of the old buildings were built by the British. However, it is also a cleaner city: there is far less evidence of the littering that is everywhere in Chennai. Men still openly urinate in the streets in both cities, but you are less likely to have to walk through it in Hyderabad.
5. Hills. I realised how much I miss them. The Banjara Hills feel like an Indian version of the Hollywood Hills, clearly nowhere near as wealthy, but the share the sprawling recent development over some pretty steep surfaces. Construction is evident as in Chennai, but the spaces being built on sometimes defy gravity.
6. Chennai is the frontier. Hyderabad is a much more planned and organised city: they have numerous decent roads which have a logic and pattern to them. Chennai is uncontrolled, chaotic and amoebic in a way that would imply complete collapse in Hyderabad. In Chennai, it’s a sign of its energy. I’m not sure it’s a good thing, but it feels closer to where India is going.
7. Food. I’m a fan of the food we find in Chennai. I enjoy Southern Indian cuisine and there is a great variety of SE Asian food to be tried. However, I’ve never had such great biryani’s as in Hyderabad; the home of this dish. Biryani is something of a nondesript dish in London, basically rice mixed with some vegetables and meat. A true Hyderabad Biryani has the meat marinated in spices overnight . It is then steamed over coals between layers of basmati rice and vegetables in a dough sealed container. The taste is richer and creamier as thee rice is infused with the juices from the meat and vegetables. 2 places I’d recommend are Cafe Bahar
which is a canteen style restaurant. Also, Serengeti in Ohri’s Hotel on Road #12 where we also stayed. It’s an improbably African Safari restaurant serving excellent North Indian fare.