( This feature originally appeared in NYTimes As Part Of Their 36 Hours In World Cities Series ). NYTimes as part of their cultural exploration series, recently did their part in Hyderabad, in order to true capture the soul of the city. The following were their highly beautiful findings regarding the city.
To immerse yourself in local traditions of Hyderabad, the best time to visit might be the month of Ramadan, which starts in June this year. While Muslims fast during daylight hours, the streets surrounding the Charminar monument in Hyderabad’s Old City come alive after dark, transforming into a vibrant night bazaar — thousands of people pack the lanes to feast on haleem and biryani, sip on Irani chai and get a head start on their Eid holiday shopping.
1. CULINARY CLASSIC, 5 P.M.
Variants of biryani, a fragrant dish of rice layered with meat, fish or vegetables, are a staple across much of India and Pakistan; to those who know a thing or two about food, though, Hyderabad’s take on the classic is the finest you’ll find anywhere in the world. Here, basmati rice is steamed in an airtight pot with chicken or lamb marinated in yogurt and spices, and laced generously with cardamom and cloves. The homegrown chain Paradise might be the most foreigner-friendly. Head to the original Secunderabad flagship, which opened in the 1950s, and take your pick of one of the many spotless dining rooms spanning multiple levels. A generous platter of Paradise’s melt-in-your-mouth mutton biryani will set you back 254 rupees(about $3.80).
2. CULTURE BREAK, 8 P.M.
A former home in a quiet Banjara Hills lane was converted into a refuge for Hyderabadi creative types back in 2010. Lamakaan buzzes throughout the day with young thinkers brainstorming new ideas over chai, and on any given weekend, the space plays host to theatrical productions, comedy shows, concerts, Pecha Kucha presentation evenings and literary festivals. Check the schedule online to see what’s running; recent events haveincluded cooking classes, a quiz night and a Hindi play.
Curious about the artistic talent emerging from this region of India? Then a visit to the Kalakriti Art Gallery at Banjara Hills Road No.10 is a requisite. Here, you’ll browse works by B. Srinivas Reddy, Kauser Qureshi, Balaji Ponna and Muktinath Mondal — but first, brunch. At the adjacent Gallery Café, choose from ice cream waffles (150 rupees), a corn-and-spinach focaccia sandwich (160 rupees) or a paneer-paratha-tortilla wrap (180 rupees). Just be sure to have your cappuccino (90 rupees) with a slice of cardamom-spiced carrot cake (80 rupees).
While Hyderabadi attire is synonymous with opulent threadwork, heavy tiers of silk and gilded beading, the contemporary fashion scene is evolving as well.
5. ROYAL REPRIEVE, 3 P.M.
From a faux palace, make your way to a real one. The late-19th-century Falaknuma Palace stands high atop a hill overlooking Hyderabad’s Old City, but it might well be from another world altogether:The architecture and interiors are an unexpected mix of English, Venetian, Japanese, French, Chinese and Moghul influences. The opulent estate once served as a guesthouse for royal visitors of the Nizam, Hyderabad’s fabulously wealthy erstwhile ruler; in 2010 it was transformed into one of India’s finest palace hotels. Even if an overnight stay is a touch too pricey, you can always make a reservation for a meal and request a guided tour. Afternoon tea (2,250 rupees a person) begins at 3:30 at the Celeste restaurant, near the Gol Bungalow terrace with its gilded dome. Choose from an English high tea with sandwiches and biscuits or a Nizami version with samosas and pakoras; either repast is fit for a king. Visitors need a reservation for tea or for a meal at one of the restaurants to make it past the gates.
6. A VIEW WORTH THE CLIMB, 5 P.M.
At the heart of Hyderabad’s Old City, Charminar, an archway and mosque constructed in 1591 by the then-ruler Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah to commemorate the end of a plague outbreak, is Hyderabad’s most widely recognized landmark — there’s even a gilded tribute erected in the city’s ultramodern IT hub, about 13 miles away. Make a circuit around the structure, admiring its intricate domes and minarets hewed from limestone and granite, but be sure to climb to the top for a panoramic late-afternoon view over the chaotic lanes of the old city below. It’s a fairly easy walk up (albeit through an ancient and very congested staircase), and admission is a mere 100 rupees per person for non-Indians.
7. GLITTERING GIFTS, 6 P.M.
Despite its landlocked location, Hyderabad is lovingly referred to as the City of Pearls, thanks to its bustling jewellery trade. And while diamond mines outside the city may have unearthed some of the world’s most famous diamonds — the Kohinoor and Hope among them — there is bling for every budget on offer in Hyderabad. In one of the lively arteries off the Charminar, Laad Bazaar is famed for its glittery glass bangles in every conceivable color and pattern; don’t leave the city without at least an armful, either for yourself or as an inexpensive gift.
Many Indians lament the decline of the beloved Irani cafe; the team behind the ultrahip SodaBottleOpenerWala went ahead and reinvented one. The original Irani cafes were once a mainstay in Mumbai’s Parsi community, thanks to their lively ambience and staples like berry pulao (rice with vegetables, nuts and berries) and bun-maska (bread and butter). The playful SodaBottleOpenerWala, a chain with outposts in Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bangalore, is a whimsical tribute to retro cafeculture, from the throwback interiors (checkerboard floors, vintage photographs, an old jukebox) to the food (eggs kejriwal, mutton dhansak, kheema pav). Dinner will come to less than 2,000 rupees for two.
9. BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS, 9 A.M.
Kick off your day with the ultimate South Indian breakfast. The strictly vegetarian Minerva Coffee Shop is perennially packed, drawing a loyal following for its behemoth crispy masala dosa (crepe) with all the fixings — sambar, curried potatoes, and coconut, ginger and tomato chutneys. If you come after 11:30, it’s also worth considering the idli, vada or traditional South Indian thali, a round tray dressed with a banana leaf laden with puris, rasam and lentils, curd and more. Try them all for less than 500 rupees, and wash it all down with a strong filter coffee.
10.CEMETERY OF THE SULTANS, 11 A.M.
While the sprawling Golconda Fort and the nearby Qutub Shahi Tombs are best visited in the same trip, if time is an issue, choose the atmospheric tombs. The 106-acre spread is dotted with dozens of domed mausoleums housing the remains of the Qutub Shahi dynasty’s sultans and their families, dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Even if you’ve visited the necropolis before, it’s well worth a return: The tombs are in the midst of a huge restoration project undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, and the gleaming white domes of the refreshed structures stand in stark contrast to the weatherworn buildings awaiting their turn for a face-lift. In fact, the makeover might render the tombs unrecognizable to most Hyderabadis, who’ve long loved their distinctive sepia tint. And speaking of love: Be prepared to dodge plenty of couples who duck behind the colonnades for romantic interludes. Admission, 10 rupees.
11. SNACKS AND SOUVENIRS, 2 P.M.
On your way out of Hyderabad, stop by the gleaming Banjara Hills branch of