Sharada’s Hyderabad

When Sharada Annamaraju moved to Hyderabad as a teenager, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. But time and distance can change a person. Eight years (and one language learned) later, she decided to give the capital of Andhra Pradesh in southern India another chance. This time, sparks flew, and she isn’t leaving anytime soon. Here are a few of Sharada’s favorite things about the place she calls home.

Follow Sharada on Twitter at @suitcaseindian

Hyderabad is My City

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is to the Old City to get a crash course on Hyderabad. In addition to being where the iconic Charminar is located, the Chowmahalla PalaceMecca Mosque, and Purani Haveli Museum are all a stone’s throw away. Occasionally, you’ll see remnants of heritage homes built in Islamic, Rajasthani, Maharashtrian, and other architectural styles bearing testimony to Hyderabad’s centuries-old cosmopolitan culture. Walk a little farther and you will come across the Laad Bazaar. Nearby you can see people toiling away in workshops making these bangles and edible silver leaf that’s used on desserts and sweet meats.

After monsoon season (September-December) is the best time to visit my city because the weather is at its most pleasant. Hyderabad’s tourist season is lean to moderate throughout the year, so anytime (save March, April, and May when temperatures skyrocket in the landlocked arid regions) is a good time. Except for the Charminar area, tourist spots are not overly crowded, so you won’t find guides pestering you or peak-season prices.

You can see my city best from the magnificent ruins of the legendary Golconda Fort, where the famous Hope and Kohinoor diamonds were once stored.

Locals know to skip the renowned Hotel Paradise and check out 4Seasons, Banne Nawabs, Hotel Shadab, Shah Ghouse, or Café Bahar for Hyderabadi cuisine instead. However, if you have landed yourself an invite to a Hyderabadi family’s home for a meal, you have won the jackpot in the authentic cuisine department.

Dastkar Andhra, Lepakshi Handicrafts Emporium, and the areas surrounding Charminar are the places to buy authentic, local souvenirs.

In the past, notable people like painter and film director MF Husain, actress Sharmila Tagore, and Nobel-Prize-winning physiologist Ronald Ross have called my city home.

My city’s best museum is the Salar Jung because it houses an astonishing collection of more than a million objects of historical and artistic significance from India and around the world. (Though the art and artifacts on display are impressive, they may represent only half of Nawab Mir Yusuf Ali Khan’s private collection, much of which was pilfered by employees or otherwise lost en route to the museum.) One of India’s three national museums, Salar Jung is also home to one of only four copies of “Veiled Rebecca,” sculpted by Giovanni Benzoni.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that Hyderabad is well connected by a public transport system of buses and suburban trains. There are auto rickshaws on offer, but the drivers are known to fleece customers–especially visitors. Be aware of base charges and additional charges before hailing a rickshaw and insist that the driver runs the fare meter.

The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is Kasu Brahmananda National Park, located in the heart of Hyderabad. The scrubland vegetation and boulder outcroppings there will give you a sense of what the natural landscape looked like before the city was built. The Chiran Palace complex belonging to the erstwhile Nizams of Hyderabad is also located inside the park, but off limits to visitors.

My city really knows how to celebrate Ramzān (Ramadan). Despite it being a period of fasting, piety, and prayer, there is palpable enthusiasm in the air after dusk falls, with people heading out to meet friends and family for Iftar banquets and shop in preparation for the festival of Eid-Ul-Fitr. The streets around Charminar are festooned with bunting and streamers and lined with makeshift shops selling spices, dry fruit, and mounds of a vermicelli-based pudding called sheer khorma. Hyderabadi haleem, a rich meat-and-lentil-based stew, becomes popular during this period and is sold in pop-up stalls all over the city. The fervor associated with this dish is immense; it’s even exported to other cities and has yielded a vegetarian spin-off.

You can tell if someone is from my city if their idea of “the day before yesterday” could mean anywhere between two days and ten years ago. Likewise, something described as “nearby” could mean it’s anywhere between two blocks and hundreds of kilometers away.

For a fancy night out, I head to the Hard Rock Café for live music and great food. Those with fatter wallets should experience the grandeur of the Nizams at one of several restaurants located in Falaknuma Palace (make sure to make reservations and dress accordingly). The Taj group restored the palace, once one of the Nizam dynasty’s finest, and converted it into a heritage hotel. At night, the view of the city spreading out beneath the Falaknuma (which means “mirror of the sky” in Urdu) is a sight to behold.

Just outside my city, you can visit the wooded hills of Ananthagiri, Ethipothala Falls, and the Moula Ali Dargah, where the tomb of poetess and courtesan Mah Laqa Bai lies. The nearby towns of Pochampally, Gadwal, and Narayanpet, where you can learn about three styles of hand-loom weaving of silk and cotton that have been on the wane for years because of the availability of cheaper, mechanized production. Of these three towns, only Pochampally has a formal visitor’s center.

My city is known for being Hyderabad but it’s really two cities. Hyderabad and Secunderabad, often referred to as the “twin cities,” have both common and independent histories and culture that have evolved over centuries.

The best outdoor market in my city is the maze of lanes around Charminar. Be prepared to bargain!

Chutney’s Restaurant in Banjara Hills is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and the numerous street vendors near the DLF Special Economic Zone is the spot for late-night eats. Many restaurants and Irani cafes also feature “midnight biryani” sessions that are well worth checking out.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends read Channel6 magazine and the city supplements in The Hindu and the Times of India.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I catch a free film at Goethe Zentrum, Alliance Francaise, or Lamakaan and then head to the Maharaja Chaat Bhandaar (a wildly popular street vendor who has been selling chaat for many years) or one of the many “Tiffin centers” (small joints selling standard south Indian breakfast and lunch items).

To escape the crowds, I would heartily recommend visiting the Paigah Tombs complex. The tombs are surrounded by trees and flowers in a peaceful setting that allows you to enjoy history, architecture, and wonderful conversation with Rehmatullah, the kindly old man who maintains the cemetery.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Rekha because, like her, Hyderabad has been through alternating phases of success and decline, but through it all has managed to reinvent itself and remain relevant–and timeless–in people’s minds.

The dish that represents my city best is Hyderabadi biryani (fragrant rice prepared with meat) and Irani chai (a milky, sugary tea) is my city’s signature drink. Desserts such as Qubani ka meetha (apricot stew topped with a dollop of fresh cream) and Double ka Meetha (bread slices fried in clarified butter with dry fruit) and savories such as Irani samosa (deep-fried pastries stuffed with minced meat or sweet onions) and osmania biskoot (sweet and salty biscuits served with chai) are equally iconic.

The Chowmahalla Palace is my favorite building in town because of its sheer elegance.

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The most random thing about my city is that if you can learn to safely drive in Hyderabad, you can drive anywhere in the world with your eyes closed.

The Ravindra Bharati auditorium is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out any of the highly rated pubs in the areas of Banjara Hills, Jubilee Hills, Madhapur, or Begumpet. Hyderabadis are generally laid back; we don’t dance as much as saunter in and lounge around!

Homes with massive boulders built into the architecture could only happen in my city.

In the summer you should feast on the varieties of mangoes that flood the city. You should also try the hand-churned, natural mango ice cream at Famous Ice-cream, Shah Ice-cream, or Gafoor’s outlets in Mozamjahi Market.

In the winter you should catch an outdoor concert at Taramati Baradari, Qutb Shahi Tombs, or Chowmahalla Palace.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss catching a film at the IMAX theater or taking a trip to the Nehru Zoological Park.

The best books about my city are White Mughals, by William Dalrymple, The Untold Charminar: Writings on Hyderabad, edited by Syeda Imam, and Hyderabad: A Biography, by Narendra Luther.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Dil Pe Math Lo, Haat Mein Lo” from the movie Hyderabad Blues.

In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because its architecture, language, and culture are singular in the world, and need all the love they can get so they are preserved for the future.

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