HERITAGE: Kakatiya trail
In their heyday, sometime between 1175 and 1324 CE, the formidable Kakatiyas ruled Warangal and its environs. Today, must-visits at Hanamakonda (8km outside town) include the ASI-maintained Thousand Pillars temple with an exquisite Nandi, and shrines to Siddheswara and Padmakshi with magnificent granite sculpting (especially a quadrangular pillar in the latter). Closer to the village of Palampet, 70 kilometres from Warangal, is the Ramappa temple and lake. Rarely is a site so significant as breathtakingly quiet and lovely as it is here. Back in the city, the 30-feet-high keerti toranas (gateways of glory) still stand tall at the fort. (www.telanganatourism.gov.in)
SPECIAL EXPERIENCE: Join the Society to Save Rocks
The stunning granite ridges, hillocks and boulder-strewn formations of the Deccan Plateau have faced thoughtless destruction over decades of reckless development. And thus the awardwinning Hyderabad-based Society to Save Rocks was registered in 1996 to protect these silent sentinels, with members ranging from bureaucrats to homemakers. Join them on their popular Rock Walks to overlooked treasures like the white quartz cliffs at Shamshabad, Baatasingaram near Ramoji Film City and Fakhruddingutta near Khajaguda as they persuade developers, lawmakers, lay citizens and visitors alike that these rocks are gems too. (www.saverocks.org/TheSociety)
ADVENTURE: Birding with the Birdwatchers Society of AP
They meet at least one Sunday a month, in and around Hyderabad (when the weather is too hot) or farther away (in spring and winter). Join members of the 35-year-old society as they make their way to the Qutab Shahi tombs with special permission, or head out on a threeday camp to Talakona and its lovely waterfall, 60 kilometres from the temple town of Tirupati in the Sri Venkateswara Sanctuary, which was recently making headlines for the smuggling of red sanders. (BSAP’s website is under reconstruction; meanwhile, sign into their lively Google group and receive their newsletter Pitta; call +91-9849229552 or +91-9949038532)
WILDLIFE: Kawal Tiger Reserve
It’s a long drive from Hyderabad (270km), and Mancherial (50km) is the nearest town, permits will be needed after you get here, there are no tourist facilities worth reporting, and a stay in the forest guest house at Jannaram isn’t easily arranged. But none of this should deter you from finding the 893 square kilometres of pristine dry deciduous forests that make up the Kawal Tiger Reserve in the northern Adilabad district. The focus of sustained efforts in recent years, Kawal—awarded tiger reserve status in 2012— is home to the richest teak forests in the state and has rare combinations of species such as four types of antelopes and the Indian gaur, wild dogs, sloth bears, ratel, hyenas, and wolves.
FOOD: Lesser-known Hyderabadi specialities
Had your fill of Hyderabadi biryani, mirchi ka salan, haleem and khubani ke meetha? Well, you still have to sample the delicious luqmi (savoury minced meat morsels), chaakna (a calorie defying stew of goat tripe and liver), tamatar ka qat (tomato curry with eggs),pasinde (slow-cooked tender veal), egg murtabak (layered chappatis filled with a mixture of eggs and meat) and dalcha (mutton and lentil stew simmered in tamarind). Finish off with sublime sweets such as the moz ka meetha (mashed bananas cooked in sugar syrup and garnished with mixed nuts and cream) and gil-e-Firdaus (shredded lauki soaked and cooked with sago and milk to creamy perfection).
ACCOMMODATION: Nawabi grandeur
It’s hard to pick from the many hotels that make Hyderabad a great place to stay but here are five: the opulent labour of love that’s the gorgeous Taj Falaknuma Palace Hotel (from Rs 52,000; www.tajhotels.com); an activity-filled resort suited to a weekend break in the Palm Exotica Boutique Resort & Spa (from Rs 10,000; www.palmexotica.com); the timeless picture of old-wordly grace that’s the Golkonda Resort and Spa (from Rs 6,500; www.golkondaresorts.com); and the affordable contemporary chic of The Lime Boutique Suites (from Rs 2,500; www.thelime.in).
CULTURE: Hyderabad’s Built Heritage with Madhu Vottery
Conservation architect Madhu Vottery, author of A Guide to the Heritage of Hyderabad featuring 275 sites with detailed maps and drawings by her, oversees four splendid walks by trained guides in collaboration the Telangana Tourism and ASI. Three of them begin and end within the Old City (Charminar to Chowmahalla/Badeshahi Ashurkhana/Purani Haveli), while the fourth (Afzalgunj to the riverfront) starts outside and then meanders into the Old City. Their Sundays/public holidays/on demand walks begin with the 7.30am bell at the Charminar, kept open with special permission. (Rs 50 per person; 1.5km, 90mins, no U-turns, 10–12 monuments per walk; +91-9849728841)
Hyderabad’s twin, still separated by the Hussain Sagar lake, has been assimilated into the Telangana capital for all practical purposes. But founded as one of the largest British cantonments in 1806, its colonial legacy and cosmopolitan vibe make it quite different from its neighbour’s princely legacy, even though Secunderabad is named after Sikandar Jah, third Nizam of the Asaf Jahi dynasty. Visit the All Saints Church and fort in Trimulgherry, shop and eat at bustling MG Road (erstwhile James St) and Rashtrapati Road (or King’s Way), and stop by at the serene Ananda Buddha Vihar in east Maredpally. (www.secunderabadonline.in)