As with any Indian megacity, the prosaic reality of modern Hyderabad can seem a far cry from the tales of its exotic past. But the legacy of the Nizams, and the highly refined, hybrid Indo-Muslim culture their rule gave rise to, endures in a wealth of historic buildings, not to mention one of India’s finest regional cuisines.
The starting point for any city tour has to be the Char Minar – a splendid mosque featuring a quartet of identical minarets supported by four grand arches. It was built in 1591 by Muhammed Quli Qtub Shah as the centrepiece of his new capital. Running west from it is Laad Bazaar, the main artery of the Muslim quarter, whose shops specialize in lacquer bangles, pearls and wedding jewellery.
The diamond trade was the root of the Nizams’ staggering wealth, most vividly reflected in the splendour of their 19th century palaces. Recently restored at vast expense by the Taj hotel chain, the Falaknuma is a prime example, with hundreds of lavishly decorated rooms and halls blending Italian Baroque extravagance and Palladian grandeur with Indo-Sarcenic flamboyance. A priceless collection of paintings, jewellery, manuscripts and furniture is displayed inside.
Fans of William Dalrymple’s White Mughals may also wish to seek out the Koti Residency where Achilles Kirkpatrick, British Resident of Hyderabad between 1798 and 1805, lived with his Hyderabdi wife, Khair-un-Nissa, granddaughter of the prime minister. Other attractions include the fabulous Salar Jung Museum and Chowmahalla Palace (another of the Nizam’s 19th century royal residences).