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A road-trip to Hyderabad was planned over dinner with friends. They were making their summer holiday plans. A visit to Hyderabad in summer was going to be a challenge and driving all the way from Pune to Hyderabad just took the challenge up a notch. Obviously, we were game!
We had heard a lot about Hyderabad’s culinary heritage but didn’t have a local contact to help us discover the hidden treasures. We took to social media for suggestions on-the-go using our swift Airtel 4G. From unknown monuments of the Nizam’s era and one-of-a-kind ice cream parlours to inspiring stories of overcoming all obstacles, we discovered Hyderabad through the eyes of the “virtual” locals.
Here’s what we did during our 3 days in Hyderabad, from obvious, not so obvious to hidden and surprising.
Places to visit in Hyderabad
This is the obvious one. It felt like all the tourist activity in Hyderabad radiated around the Charminar.
When we first visited, it was early morning and the shops on the streets around were still opening up for business.
We climbed the narrow winding stairway to the top. From the top, we got a bird’s eye view of the entire area around the Charminar. Inside, there were as many tourists from different parts of the country as there were the locals. It seemed to be a favourite hangout place of the local youth.
Walking around the Charminar, you get an overview of all the specialties of Hyderabad – from the pearls to the Irani chai.
We visited the Charminar again, the next day, in the evening. This time, we got to see all the glittering markets around. The most notable of which was the Lad Bazar – the bangle market.
Travel tip for Charminar:
Do visit the Charminar area in the night. It’s crowded with lots of action in every corner. It’s a sensory overload. But it’s a great place to absorb in some local life on the old streets of Hyderabad. Look after your belongings and don’t flash any expensive gadgets.
2 Chowmahalla Palace
Google Maps showed us that the place was really close to the Charminar. But could we walk there in the summer afternoon? We asked some people around, and they suggested we walk through the internal lanes of the shops. That way, we could walk in the shade.
Opulent- that’s the only word for the Chowmahalla Palace. We learnt a great deal of the Nizam’s history here. The palace is in top condition. What really caught my attention were the ceilings. They look like laboriously weaved saree drapes, rich in colour and details. It kept us absorbed an entire afternoon. Definitely an interesting indoor option to spend time in Hyderabad.
Travel tip for Chowmahalla palace:
Even though it’s an indoor place, there are different buildings within the palace. To get from one building to the other, you have to cross the vast gardens. Keep your sun wear – hats, glasses, water ready for this, especially in the summers.
3 Paigah tombs
When we mentioned we were at the Chowmahalla palace after which we had a free afternoon, a suggestion that came up on Twitter was the Paigah tombs. Wow, we’ve never heard of this. Where are these tombs? The reply that came up was, “I can’t explain that. You’ll have to figure it out by yourselves.” Perfect, just how we like to roll. We got back to the Charminar chowk, and asked people around where the Paigah tombs were. No one had heard of them. Google Maps did have them marked, we showed the map to the people around, but even then, they said they didn’t know about it. The rickshaw drivers even went on to say that they had never taken any tourists there, no one went to a place called the Paigah tombs, hence, such a place didn’t exist.
Well, we took our chances. We ordered an Uber to the point that Google maps showed. We went through a myriad of narrow shop lined lanes, some fascinating, some mundane. Selling everything from utensils to make kilos of Biryani, to daily groceries. After a while, we appeared to have moved out of the city lanes into what must have been neighbouring villages, back in the day. We got off the cab at the place that the map showed the Paigah tombs to be. Still, no board or gate or sign mentioning anything like a monument. People were giving us the, “are they lost?” look.
Finally, we met someone who pointed us to a non descript lane saying, there was a gate at the end, and once in a while, someone would come to visit it. He didn’t really know what was there.
That was the only lead we had, so we walked in the direction. Surely, there was a gate. We entered the premises. It was empty. And quiet. We walked in the direction of the empty passages. We could see this is where the tombs were. Decorative lattice walls separated the tombs. The tombs looked well preserved. The place was spotless. Clearly, someone took great care of it. Our thoughts were broken by a voice from behind. “Come, I’ll show you around”, a burly man said. He was the caretaker of these tombs, a self learnt historian of the Nizams and a self proclaimed spokesperson and custodian of all the present day updates of the dynasty. The descendants now live abroad, he informed us.
Tomb after tomb, he explained at great length about the person whose tomb it was, how important the person was in the hierarchy of power, and how the person had met his end. Coupled with everything we had learnt at the Chowmahalla palace, this visit to the Paigah tombs, sort of brought things to a full circle.
Travelling tip for Paigah tombs:
Even though it is far and no one knows about it, we recommend you take the time out and visit this place. For the history as well as for a sense of the place.
4 Hussain Sagar lake
Again, visiting the Hussain Sagar lake is a given, when you visit Hyderabad. But a reader’s recommendation was the visit it in the morning and try visiting on a Sunday, to catch some local event happening.
Luckily, we were there on a Sunday, and for sure there was an event. A cycling group had organised a long distance cycling event. We saw hundreds of cyclists across all age groups participating in this cycling race. We couldn’t participate (because we didn’t have cycles!), but it was great to be in the midst of all this early morning enthusiasm.
We made our way walking around the lake, climbing the watchtowers to get a better view, having some intriguing encounters. Like, discussing global warming with a Hanuman carrying a cricket bat!
The lake is massive, we couldn’t see the other end of it even from the top of the tower. But we did see some fascinating street art painted on the wall across the lake. We didn’t know Hyderabad also had a street art culture, and this splash of colour added a different shade to the Hussain Sagar lake.
Travelling tip for Hussain Sagar lake:
Sunset views at the lake are also good, we were told. But we prefer visiting these places in the morning, where the locals also come for an early morning walk. There’s a relaxed, calm before the storm (of the day) vibe to such places in the morning, and we enjoy pretending that we are also part of this vibe, instead of being mere visitors. Gives us an interesting perspective of the city. Give it a try.
5 Salarjung museum
We can’t really say anything about this museum that hasn’t been said already. It’s easily one of the best museums in Hyderabad. It’s no exaggeration. If museums excite you, you could easily spend a week browsing through the Salarjung museum.
While we do visit museums once in a while, we didn’t want to spend an entire day here.
“The veiled Rebecca” was a common suggestion, so that’s where we headed straight. Call is poetry or call it the sweetest melody. Sometimes, you just have to stand and stare in disbelief. This sculpture is one such “piece of art”.
The musical clock at the Salarjung museum also draws a huge crowd at noon, since that’s when the man walks out of the clock the most times. We views this spectacle from a viewing balcony on the floor above, and seeing the crowds, especially the kids reactions was as much fun as seeing the actual clock mechanisms.
Travelling tip for the Salarjung museum:
It’s a huge museum with lots of galleries covering a range of topics. Read up about the museum in advance, so you can decide which sections to spend the most time in and make the most of your visit.
6 Golconda fort
It’s away from the old parts of the city. The sound and light show happens post sunset. We recommend going here late afternoon, explore the fort and catch the sunset. Then hang around for the sound and light show. We somehow missed visiting the fort and did just the latter. Not among the best of shows, but being in this historic fort in the dark and listening to the tales that took place right there has a thrilling ring to the experience.
Travelling tip for Golconda fort:
If you are going to wait for the sound and light show, be sure to carry a full bottle of insect repellent. They give you some as you enter the seating area for the show, but it’s not enough. Carry your own.
Places to eat at in Hyderabad
From South Indian Andhra cuisine to the Irani fare and Arabic delicacies, Hyderabad is a good lover’s paradise. Our visit to Hyderabad was at the peak of summer, so we couldn’t do justice to everything Hyderabad had to offer. We can’t wait to visit Hyderabad again in the winter. But we did make the most of our visit by gorging on the summer specials.
Which brings us to the first place.
1 Bilal ice cream
There’s a whole line of ice cream shops here and you can eat at a different one each day of your visit (or go ice cream shop hopping, if you want to make this fantasy a reality!). But start with Bilal ice cream. It won’t look like an ice cream store at first (or even second or third) site. How can a stone structure in the middle of the road look like one, right?
With bright red upholstery, fancy light fixtures and tall portraits hanging from its walls, it doesn’t look like one even on the inside. Order for a falooda, or a mango ice cream or anything else that you fancy. And take your time to look around. You won’t get to visit an ice cream store as unique as this!
2 Karachi store
This one is right opposite Bilal, so you can shop around and stay cool inside this store, as your ice cream digests. Some prefer the good old plain Osmanias, for some, the pista butter biscuits are a favourite. We bought both of these and liked the taste of both.
3 Nimrah Cafe
We knew the close-knit relationship of Hyderabad with biryani when we decided to join our friends on a road trip. We didn’t however, know how integral the cafes and bakeries were to the daily life here. It wasn’t until Harshit (@Hyderabadfoodie on Twitter) gave us loads of suggestions for the Osmanias and the samosas that we decided we had to make them a part of our trip. And when @DesiTraveler himself tells you to try out Nimrah cafe, you go ahead and do the must-do!
The big camera first made them think we were “media”. Questions followed. When we told them we were just travelers and this place was highly recommended, we got a grand treat. They got us a piece of each of their biscuits – osmanias, fruit biscuit, oats and raisin, melting moments, and of course, the Irani chai.
We did another round of the Osmanias. And the chai.
Travelling tip for the Nimrah Cafe:
Everytime we crossed the Nimrah Cafe, it was packed. This might tempt one to let this one pass. Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t deprive yourself of the Nimrah Cafe experience. This one is one those few “worth the wait” places.
4 The many nameless cafes and bakeries you inevitably cross in Hyderabad
These aren’t the famous, or even named ones. These are the ones that just stand and do their job. Of filling hungry stomachs. We stopped at a few such places for the osmanias, samosas and chai fare and were never ever disappointed.
5 Paradise Biryani
We have mixed feelings about this one. A common restraint in the biryani recommendations we received was to try biryanis beyond the Paradise biryani. Some even saying, stay away from it.
But this is one of those – visit for yourself and make your own opinion places. It’s so famous, that you have go there and find if it’s famous for being famous, or for the actual biryani.
We had the mutton Biryani, and it wasn’t particularly good. Or bad. It was neutral. Which is a sad thing to say about Biryani.
More authentic places were recommended and like we said, we will return in the winters to give it all a go. Until then, we will wait for more suggestions on the Hyderabadi Biryani.
6 Niloufer Cafe
We walked into this cafe just because we had a few minutes to spare on our last day in Hyderabad. We stepped out for a last stroll around the city. This is one of those times, when you are really happy about having internet at the tips of your finger, because it showed a cafe named Niloufer and just 2-minutes away from our hotel. It also had raving reviews. “Let’s check one last cafe”, we decided.
The huge glass facade and plush interiors of Cafe Niloufer & Bakers made us question its authenticity; these weren’t what Irani cafes of Hyderabad were meant to look like.
The warm sweet whiff of the freshly baked biscuits coming out of the kitchen onto the racks put our doubts to rest. We asked them to give us a piece of each biscuit that was ready and of course the Irani chai.
Cafe Niloufer had the best Osmanias we tasted on this trip!
As we were leaving, we asked why it said ABR everywhere and who ABR was. The guys behind the counter said he was the owner and if we wanted to we could talk to him, as he was right there at the cash counter.
What unfolded was the narration of the most inspiring story we have ever had the privilege to listen to. Mr A Babu Rao (ABR) is a living legend – from impoverished childhood (he had tears rolling down his cheeks when he told us of how his father had sold a cow for ABR’s education), to working as a cleaner in a cafe, to eventually buying it, expanding it and then training youngsters with a background like his, employing them and helping them achieve their dreams.
“You have to do good, that’s the only way to live this life” were his parting words.
Thank you, Sir, was all we were thinking as we stepped out of this cafe, and out of Hyderabad. It was a perfect lasting impression to have of a city we are bound to visit again!