Khann Ahmad Hilal
They say “better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times”. I have been travelling to India every year as a part of my travel plan to explore new things. This year, after being sent back from Qazigund due to inclement weather conditions when valley received season’s second snowfall, I kick-started my journey again, this time down to the south where Telangana Rashstri Smiti (TRS) registered their second consecutive landslide victory in the recently held elections. Yes, you guessed it right, Hyderabad it is, the capital of Telangana, a city of palaces and forts, of biryanis and Haleems. The city is a jumble of aromas, some of them strong and rancid, others sweet and stimulating. Hyderabad flourished under the influence of its various Nizams; at its heyday, Hyderabad was one of the grandest and most advanced cities on the planet. It was an artistic and cultural centre and a scholarly mecca. After landing in Hyderabad, I booked a hotel at Dar ul Salam road, next to the office of India’s most famous parliamentarian whose success record is very high, still unbeaten and who speaks valiantly in the parliament.
I heard a lot about Hyderabad’s Biryani as it is called as “the biryani capital of India”. Without wasting much time. I finally had my share. Hyderabad’s biryanis are highly reputed as the world’s best biryanis, and with good reason. Once considered to be the Nizam’s (the state ruler) dish, it is now commonly available throughout Hyderabad and the rest of northern India. The biryani contains long-grained, fragrant basmati rice alongside marinated meat that has been soaked in a special spice concoction overnight. The cooking vessel is then sealed with dough and it is steamed over hot coals (known as dum). The ultimate taste of the biryani is spicy and complex, with a wealth of unusual and rich flavours, the best part is still served in traditional style.
Next day, I hired a cab on a decent amount and kick-started my day tour around the city. The sky above was blameless blue and the sun was at it’s scorching best.
My guide was a short and bulky man who wanted to be anonymous, first took me to the third largest museum in India called ‘Salar Jung Museum’ which is located on the southern bank of Musi river. Here are 39 galleries in the Museum spread over three buildings viz., Central Block, Eastern Block (Mir Laiq Ali Khan Bhavan) and Western Block (Mir Turab Ali Khan Bhavan) on two floors. The Central Block with 27 galleries (ground floor 15 galleries, first floor 12 galleries) Even then, the total exhibited art objects constitute a little over 25% of the entire collection. The museum represents a wonderful exhibition of Indian history and has a very large collection of sculptures, paintings, carvings, textiles, manuscripts, ceramics, metallic artefacts, carpets, clocks, and furniture from several countries. The museum has many coordinating sections such as the Education Wing, Chemical Conservation Laboratory, Photo section, a Display section, Reception and a Sales counter. The museum security is being looked after by CISF.
There are also public facilities such as cloakrooms, restrooms at all cardinal points and a cafeteria run by Telangana Tourism. I spent almost forty-five minutes there before I drove to another destination called Chowmahalla Palaces.
The literal meaning of this place is “Four Palaces” with “Chow” means four in Urdu and “Mahalat” which is the plural of “Mahalel” meaning palaces. Chowmahalla Palace is said to resemble Shah Palace of Tehran in Iran. Built in the 18th century, almost 200 years ago, the Chowmahalla Palace is one of the most popular sightseeing places in Hyderabad. The palace represents the glory of its past, a glimpse of their rulers and enigmatic way of their living, are still alive there, a place worth visiting when on a Hyderabad tour.
After spending around an hour, exploring the palace my guide told me that our next stop is Hyderabad’s most famous symbol, the Charminar (named for char = four, minor = minarets). Place before actually visiting, I had only seen in photographs. My guide told me that there are various theories as to why it was built: one theory is that it commemorated the end of the plague, another states that it commemorates the beginning of the second Islamic millennium. Whatever the reason, it is now one of India’s most widely-recognized landmarks. You can walk up the steps for magnificent views of the city; there are also various markets around the area selling jewellery and other handicrafts.
Then we drove to the world’s largest mosques, the Makkah Masjid (or Mecca Masjid as it is otherwise known) was completed in 1694 after 77 years in the making. The bricks of the mosque are made of soil from the holy city of Mecca, thus giving the mosque its name. The hall indoors can hold up to 10,000 people at a time. The holy Quran is inscribed into the arches of the mosque, and it additionally houses a strand of the Prophet Mohammed’s hair, preserved in a room in the courtyard. Man in command told me that state CM has recently issued a huge amount for its repairment. I noticed renovation was going on.
Then came the much awaited ‘Golconda Fort’ which is located some 11 km west of Hyderabad. It is believed that the fort was built by the Golconda Sultanate. The fort was once the capital of the ancient Golconda kingdom between the 14th and the 16th century. Built on a 400-feet high granite hill, it is one of India’s many architectural wonders. One of its unique accomplishments is a handclap below the entrance dome can be heard nearly a kilometre away at a pavilion; this acoustic marvel was used to warn the royals in advance in case of an impending attack. It has got beautiful architecture and was very famous for diamond mining in medieval times. It produced world-class diamonds, including the Kohinoor. A must-see for anyone.
It was around afternoon and I was told that it’s time for lunch. The driver parked cab outside a famous restaurant where I had nothing more than Biryani. I took rest for next half an hour then it was time for my last leg of the day which was Hussain Sagar Lake.
The lake of Hussain Sagar was built in 1562 across a tributary of the Musi river and is an artificial lake that used to be Hyderabad’s main water supply before two more lakes were built. An 18-meter-tall monolithic statue of Buddha stands in the middle of the lake and is lit up at night. The lake is a popular sailing area, and boats make a 30-minute journey to the statue. Hussain Sagar is not our Dal lake. It’s lean and litter free. I ended my day when the sun sank lower in the horizon skittering different colours.
Next day was reserved for a bit of shopping around the city. Got few bottles of Deccan Achar (pickle) which is very famous there and due to the paucity of time I moved to my next destination ‘Pondicherry’ where I met to a very proud and special friend over a cup of coffee. From there I flew back to heaven where more recently a medic has murdered humanity.
(Author lives in Keran Kupwara and works in the revenue department.
Views expressed are personal.)