Returning to Hyderabad after many years was an experience that I had really been looking forward to. The Qutb Shahis who ruled the area between the 16th and 17th centuries, had made Golconda their capital. The capital was shifted to Hyderabad in 1590, becoming the base for the Asif Jahi Nizams, who were an offshoot of the earlier rulers.

It was late in the evening when I reached the city, and so it was only the next morning that I could visit its most famous landmark, the Charminar. I was hoping to see it before the area became too busy.

The Hyderabad that I encountered was very different from the one I remembered from my childhood. Heading out from Begumpet, I drove past the Raj Bhawan towards the enormous expanse of the Husain Sagar Lake. Along the way, amazingly modern structures were to be seen reaching skywards, and hardly any old houses. Where was the old Hyderabad, I wondered.

The Charminar did not disappoint — it was every bit as imposing and spectacular as I remembered. The beautifully proportioned monument with the four minarets has a mosque on the upper level, but tucked away on one side of its massive base, I discovered a tiny temple. The entire area was already bustling with activity — children going to school with heavy satchels on their backs, the eateries around the square were full of people catching a quick bite on their way to work, burkha-clad women passed by in auto rickshaws while vendors with hand-carts did their utmost to attract all and sundry.

A little further ahead stood the famous Mecca Mosque, reputed to be the largest mosque in the world, is said to have taken the whole of the 17th century to be built. In this area, which for all purposes may be considered the very heart of the city, time seems to have stood still —the Hyderabad of my memories. The streets around the Charminar are narrow, and four massive gates or Kamans lead out from the square. Many of the buildings that line the streets and the square are at least two hundred years old, having been built by a succession of Nizams. While hoardings and glow-signs of new brand names indicate the changing scenario, the Charminar is much as it was at the time when the Nizam’s legendary photographer, Raja Deen Dayal, took his famous photograph of this historic monument.

Careful to avoid the sun I ventured out at 5 pm, pausing this time at the Hussain Sagar Lake. This lake, the main water body in the city for centuries, is named after Husain Wali, an architect who hailed from Baghdad, and is credited with building some of the more important edifices seen around the city. A statue of the Buddha, that looks deceptively small but is actually massive, stands in the middle of the lake —erected after many mishaps. Boating and yachting clubs are situated on the banks, and it is possible to go right up to the statue by boat. Also on the banks is Lumbini Park, with its colourfully lit musical fountain.

Along the Lake runs the wide Tank Bund Road, with larger than life figures of heroes both mythical and national, lining one side. The road connects Hyderabad with its twin city Secunderabad — the army cantonment built by the British, which earlier seemed to lie far from Hyderabad, but is now fully linked by a busy shopping area.

Beyond the lake, a whole array of Parsi bakeries, can be seen side by side. Further down the road is Paradise Circle, a popular rendezvous for office-goers and shoppers, full of restaurants and fast food outlets. Paradise named after the circle, offers 'decent biryani', but if you want the real thing, try Madina Biryani Hotel, one of oldest restaurants, in one of the lanes in the busy Charminar area. Admitedly not the cleanest place to eat, it has a lot of atmosphere, and their mutton biryani comes with onion raita and pudina chutney.

The Fateh Maidan, that comes up after the shopping area is the spot where prior to the siege of the Golconda Fort, the army was defeated by the Mughals. The Golconda army is said to have included many ‘Dakhani Sikhs’ — darker complexioned than their brethren in the north, the descendants of these legendary Sikhs still live  in a special village.

 The sizable Parsi population of Hyderabad, mostly live around Pendegast Road. Having been closely linked with the Nizams for generations, the Parsis of the city seem to have a

different lifestyle from those of Mumbai. On ceremonial occasions, they were known to don achkans and headgear,  a tradition that seems to continue.

The homes and tombs of Hyderabad’s noblemen of the Paigah dynasty dot the city and are notable for their ornate architecture. The grounds of one of these homes, has been the venue for the city’s keenly contested cricket matches, the Mohinuddaullah Cup. There is also the Country Club that was earlier the home of Bashir Jha who is said to have owned the largest number of dogs – that led to him being commonly referred to as ‘Kutte Ka Nawab’.

The city abounds in a number of handsome buildings, built by the Nizams —their main residence was the King Kothi Palace, the Hyderabad Public School, the splendid white-painted Legislative Assembly building, the Osmania University with its sprawling campus, the Telegu University, the Osmania General Hospital, while across the River Musi, is the High Court.

The Salar Jung Museum now a National Museum, is a must-see on anyone’s itinerary. It houses an amazing collection of rare and unusual art objects collected by Nawab Salar Jung III. Wisitors need to allow at least half a day to do justice to this special collection.

There is much more about Hyderabad that needs to be said — about the famed laid-back lifestyle of the city - redolent with an appreciation of all aspects of art and culture. The posh Banjara Hills is where the famous Faluknama Palace is located, now a hotel — where the rich and famous live. In direct contrast to this is the new surge of interest both nationwide and worldwide in information technology and some of the best medical institutes in the country.

Shopping is very exciting in this city. The legendary wealth of the Nizams helped to make the city a storehouse of jewels. Even today, the finest and the largest selection of real and cultured pearls are available at Hyderabad. Like me, you would probably find it hard to resist the stunning' Pochampalli' silks, the age-old 'Ikat' weaves and the traditional art of Kalamkari - hand-painted images on cotton fabric.

But a trip to Hyderabad would be incomplete without visiting the legendary Golconda Fort, just a half hour’s drive from the city. Near the fort are the Qutb Shahi tombs, and you will need at least three hours to see it all. A sound & light show is held at the Fort every evening, focusing on the fascinating life and times of the Qutab Shahi Dynasty ..... but that is another story.

Shona Adhikari