Portrait of a City: Hyderabad

Portrait of a City: Hyderabad
The sprawling cityscape of Hyderabad Photo Credit: Shutterstock

A unique mix of history, modern living and unending charm, Hyderabad is where the Irani chai is more of a legend than in Iran

Aroshi Handu
February 21 , 2022
08 Min Read

While growing up I would get asked a lot where I was ‘from’ and I would always hesitate while I did the mental gymnastics. Although having been born on a wintry November night in the glitzy capital of India, my family is originally from the scenic valleys of Kashmir. But for the most part I grew up with the sound, sight and smell of the dusty lanes of Hyderabad. While the city of pearls may not possess the sheer wealth of historic architectural marvels nor the smooth paved roads that the national capital does, it makes up for that in its understated regal monuments and age-old charm. 

The Chowmahalla Palace


Hyderabad is a heady cocktail of history and modern living where the culture-soaked city— often referred to as the land of the Nizams—sits beside the growing IT hub that it is. Food and foodies are welcome with open arms here. Although not much of a food connoisseur myself, I can appreciate the veritable explosion of different grub that is bursting out of the city’s seams, much like you will be, after spending enough time chowing down on the food here. 

The Durgam Cheruvu Lake

Ever since the undisputed God of food— biryani—came into being in Hyderabad in the 18th century, it has made its way to the hearts of many. The royal chefs of Aurangzeb are supposed to have created dozens of versions with different kinds of meat like that of deer, shrimp, hare and even fish. Thanks to its historical association with the Nizams, known for leading lavish lives and a penchant for food, the city is famed for its food carts known as bandis, which typically serve delicious butter dosas, tawa idlis, and vadas. Each of these enjoys a substantial fan following, with the most popular being Ram Ki Bandi. To catch a whiff of the city’s culinary scene, the best place to head to is the Banjara Hills and Jubilee Hills stretch, which is dotted with numerous restaurants serving everything from continental fare to local delicacies. 

Chai and samosas at Lamakaan

If you have kids in tow, the city offers a good mix of adventure, culture, history, and entertainment to keep them busy. With a small backpack slung over our shoulders and a cap fitted snugly on our heads, we would excitedly make our way from the gates of the school, clamber on noisily to the yellow school buses and off we went, to explore forts, museums and palaces. As a kid, those trips to Ramoji Film City were also always charged with palpable excitement. A renowned name in the showbiz of India, Ramoji Film City is an alternate universe in itself. The place is like Disneyland, but filmy. There is a significant possibility that you will spot a familiar palace or a street that you saw in a Bollywood or Tollywood film!

A tour bus inside Ramoji Film City at Hayathnagar

Being the capital of one of the richest princely states in erstwhile British India, Hyderabad is no stranger to historical places. The city is graced with several opulent palaces, grand mosques, markets and other royal structures where its past merges with the present in more ways than one. 

The city’s journey began in the year 1591 when Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah, an aesthete and a dyed- in-the-wool romantic, spots Bhagmati, a village girl on the opposite bank of the River Musi. Her lovely singing voice caused the young prince to fall head over heels for her and after a brief courtship, they got married. A master craftsman from Iran was hired to design a new city akin to the garden of Eden. 

Sultan Quli Qutub Mulk’s Tomb

Bhagmati received two gifts—Bhagnagar, the city and Hyder Mahal, her new moniker. Their love only grew, along with the city and its new improvements over the years. Palaces, mosques, markets, and hospitals were routinely added and then the people poured in as well, enamoured by the grandeur of this promising new city. 

The regal magnetism of Hyderabad can only be experienced by immersing yourself in magnificent landmarks like Charminar and Chowmahalla Palace and forts like the impressive Golconda Fort. The Charminar Bazaar area will have you lost in a sea of street wares and narrow lanes that seem never ending. If you find yourself truly lost in Hyderabad, the locals are very friendly and will go out of their way to help you. 

When younger, I was never really interested in visiting bazaars. My mother spent what seemed like hours, going through everything but barely making a purchase at the end of it. But as an adult, I can now appreciate the charm of the city’s vibrant, age-old bazaars which makes my inner shopaholic prance about in glee at its numerous assortment of shops. If you want to do something offbeat head to Lamakaan, a progressive space for anyone with an open mind. Lamakaan is literally a makaan dedicated to indulgent art and culture with the casualness of a regular outing with friends or colleagues, but also the seriousness of respecting people’s choice to a quiet space to read and relax. It provides scope for an open expression be it through plays, workshops, informal meetings, storytelling sessions, film screenings, book launches or chit-chats with the regulars who throng there for a nice evening. The snacks offered in the quaint little café are pocket-friendly and delicious whether it is the lightly fried samosas or a glass of cool and soothing nimbu pani. Oh, and did I mention they have free WiFi? 

The local market line-up near the Charminar

Hyderabad, one of the fastest growing cities in India, is a melting pot of various languages, cultures, foods and people; so it’s no wonder that the city’s ancient architecture coexists along with newer areas which are as exciting to the people visiting this city as they are to the residents. Apart from the Nizami grandeur that underpins the fabric of this city, swanky, new-age outlets like IKEA, the Swedish furniture company, is a wondrous delight from the start to the end. Unlike sprawling cities, which take a considerable amount of time to explore, most of Hyderabad’s treasures are hidden in plain sight. 

Living in the capital for the past year, I often reminisce about my years growing up in Hyderabad, about all the things I learnt, experienced and how I grew as a person. Now, when somebody asks me where I’m from, the answer comes to my lips without hesitation—Hyderabad.

How to Reach
Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (24 kms, 30 mins to HITEC city) 

Getting Around
Metro: Rs10 for 2kms
Buses: Rs10-20 depending on the type of bus
Auto: Rs20 for 1.6kms
Shared maxis: Rs10-12 for 2-3kms

Where to go
Salar Jung Museum: One of the three national museums in India 

Nehru Zoological Park: Almost 1,500 species of birds, mammals and reptiles 

Golconda Fort: Fortified early capital of Qutub Shahi dynasty 

Qutub Shahi Tombs: Tombs and mosques built by Qutub Shahi dynasty 

Chiklur Balaji Temple: Ancient Hindu temple on the banks of Osman Sagar 

Dhola ri Dhani: Miniature Rajasthani village 

Where to stay
Taj Falaknuma Palace
The interiors of Taj Falaknuma Palace

Glamour of the nizam era
Blend of colonial and Indian aspects
Oak-panelled palace library
Royal dining experience
Tariff: Palace room: Rs18,000 plus taxes, including breakfast
Contact: +91 040- 66298585, [email protected] 

What to eat
Ram ki Bandi, Nampally for the dosas and idlis with dollops of ghee, idli is Rs25 onwards and dosa is Rs40 onwards 

Subhan bakery, Nampally for the Osmania biscuits, Rs260/kg 

Bawarchi, Nallakunta for the mutton biryani, Rs200

Laad Bazaar
Head to the Laad Bazaar near Charminar for shiny bangles and a horde of customers trying to bargain their way through the near-identical shops in the narrow, vehicle-free lanes. 

The Unusual
Sudha Vintage Car Museum:
A one-of-its-kind car museum in the world they’ve got cars in the form of a burger, pencil, football, and even a stiletto and all of them are functional 

Qawwali at Dargah- e-Hazrat Yousufain: An experience in itself, on Thursdays the mehfil stretches well into the late hours, even after the gates close at midnight 

Maqtha Art District: An ethereal expanse of colorful street murals lies hidden within a quaint neighbourhood 

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