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  • Shelley Dark

25. Hyderabad

Hyderabad is another 'small' Indian city with a population of 6.5 million. It's also called Cyberabad, with 45% of new job creation for the youth of the city being in IT. Google and Microsoft both have their headquarters in India here and there are many call centres. It's a diamond and pearl trading city - every pearl in the world is said to have come this way.

An overhead metro is being built to try to ameliorate the dreadful traffic problems. Its richest citizen owns the airport and the road to it. He decides who can and cannot use it.

This is a longish post as it covers a day and a half, so you may like to read it in a couple of instalments.

The city is known for biryani, a long grain basmati rice dish vegetarian or with meat. It's cooked slowly over a wood fire in a pot covered with a light pastry. It's served with chutney, a hot green chilli sauce and raita.

Yesterday we said goodbye to our old bus, driver and helper at Bangalore airport. We are in a bigger and far more comfortable bus. The new driver is older with fewer teeth and a gummy smile. The new bus helper Samuel seems unsure of his duties, doesn't clean the bus of our empty drink containers when we alight, and he doesn't remember what we like to drink. I feel sorry for him, as I don't know if he has done this before. We're missing Johnny.

Our local guide, Sai, tells us he is an atheist. His mother is Hindu. I wonder if she is dreadfully upset by this. However he would not dream of being engaged or married on a day not considered propitious by astrologers. I don't think he sees the irony. There are only a few periods during the year when marriages are conducted. Other times would be bad luck.

He takes us to see the Charminar, a monument and mosque at a cross-roads in the centre of the city. It has four minarets which dominate the skyline. Scaffolding for cleaning covers one leg. I far prefer the uncleaned side.

It has very pretty architectural finishes. I especially love the horizontal counterpoints to the vertical lines, the cross-cutting below the arches at the top of the pillars.

These bud droplets hang from the stone eave-brackets in long lines.

It's possible to climb up spiral stairs to see the view.

Locals gather underneath. Schoolchildren line up for entry.

We have a view of the street market below. The open area on the right is part of the grounds of the Mecca Masjid mosque which we are going to visit next. It was bombed in 2007, sixteen people killed. Five of them were shot by police trying to quell the riot.

This cheerful mother is comforting her sick daughter on the right. Head between her knees.

Tall and regal, on the phone, looking a little bit scary. I think I had John's big camera. I probably looked scary myself.

A sign urges us to observe the niceties.

On our way to the mosque we walk past market stalls, grapes hanging, pomegranates cut open.

As usual, I smile and point at my camera. His response speaks a thousand words.

No matter where we walk, the silk, the saris, the trims.

The door from the street into the mosque is a brilliant green. We take our shoes off as we always do. I've started putting on my mosque sox because the stone is sometimes very hot underfoot. They were in the pack given to us at the beginning of the trip.

Projecting from the mosque itself there's a long low colonnade building. Along the raised dais beneath, there are rows of beautifully carved marble memorials to the eight Nizams.

The three arches of the front of the mosque have been carved from one single piece of granite. It took 5 years to quarry with 500 men working on it and 140 oxen to pull it here. Sand was brought from Mecca for some of the mortar.

She is sitting in the sun, wearing a black robe with bling on the cuffs. I admire it, and she's happy for me to take a closeup but it's out of focus.

I point at my camera and smile. He hardly moves a muscle as he nods imperceptibly. I take the photo. He still doesn't move a muscle. Look at the marble carving at the side of the dais, to match the memorial stones.

I'm more taken with the mosque details than the mosque. A carved post, the geometric balustrading, the blue carpet inside.

Our next stop is the crown palace of the Nizams, the Chowmahalla. It's been renovated and is looking grand. We are given free time here. John and I spend ages photographing the sweeper in the magnificent Durbar Hall with its solid marble throne dais, hugely high ceilings, marble floors, chandeliers. The light is fabulous.

It's a hot day. Through an upstairs window I look out at children in the school next door. Some of them are in the shade. Some in full sun.

There are plates of all brands and materials in display cases. The one above is bidri. It's an Indian art form, where a brass alloy is etched with an engraving tool, during the process turns black and is then filled with silver inlay.

There's lots to see at the palace. Rooms full of memorabilia about the Nizams. A portrait gallery, old drawings, maps, photographs, metal brocade clothing worn by the Nizam's family. A room of furniture, a room of china and glass.

On our way to lunch we pass a couple of women pushing a water cart, looking splendid in orange and blue.

The highlight of the day was the Salar Jung Museum. What do you think these jade tongs are used for? I can't work it out and there is no sign.

The main building houses the Indian collections, and this is where I spend my time. The east and west wings house treasures from elsewhere. So much to see, I feel a little frantic that I am going to miss so much. Jade, armaments, silver, miniatures, daggers, walking sticks, textiles, paintings, carpets, bidri.