India has a rich history and unique culture – its heritage is special to the world. Many travelers told me that they have concerns visiting India because of hygiene, infrastructure, and safety. People around me asked – is India safe? Is India clean? I would say – yes!
In fact, cities in India are well developed. Given that this is my first post about India, I think I would say this after my few trips to India, it is safe, and it is clean. Foreigners can relax and take a shower in their hotel, brush teeth with tap water, or swim in a pool. (which many had told me not to before my first trip to India). I am not saying you don’t have to be cautious, after all, each individual reacts differently to a new environment. True, there are places in India that still need some work; and I don’t street food are completely safe – like food from the stall in Delhi’s old quarter. Even our guide didn’t recommend us tasting that food. I guess all I am saying is, it’s enough to use common sense and take standard precautions and hygienic actions just like any other country. All in all, if you have a sensitive stomach you would probably be facing the same problem in other third world countries and you should be careful. Many tourists visit India and just relax and soak in the beauty that the country has to offer.
What is the first thing that comes to mind about India, the Taj Mahal? Jaipur’s Wind Palace? Or the Red Fort? These classic tourist attractions are no doubt the landmarks and they are located in the Golden Triangle area, a.k.a. the New Delhi – Agra – Jaipur route, which is the most popular tourist locations. I will write about these places in a future post. To kick off this country, I am introducing a city that is lesser-known to the world; Actually, I didn’t even know how to spell or pronounce properly before visiting there. It’s Hyderabad.
Some may know that the development of IT technology in India is accelerating, many international conglomerates have set up regional headquarters or customer support center India. Some cities like Bangalore and Chennai are the biggest IT hubs, and Hyderabad is one of them. As I was leaving the airport to my hotel, I could see many new office complexes are under construction in the new business area. However, these areas aren’t fun for tourists. After my businesses are done, I spent a day to explore the real Hyderabad – the old city that was actually established since the 1,500 years ago. The historic sites that are well preserved are mainly the Qutb Shahi dynasty between the 14th – 16th centuries. Since I only had a day in Hyderabad, I only covered the highlights in Hyderabad but the genre is somehow quite diverse. I visited a monument, the local market, palace, fort, tomb, mosque and a local art museum that was quite a surprise.
The Charminar is the symbol of Hyderabad. This is the city’s first impression and probably the first picture (including this post’s cover) you would see about Hyderabad. Constructed in 1591, the Charminar is a monument and a mosque located in the city center that views over the Laad Bazaar. The structure consists of four grand arches and four 48-meter-tall minarets, and if you have visited India long enough you will start to understand their fondness of symmetry in their architecture.
The monument is where the local market is – today, the market is known for its jewelry, but it has a wide range of shops and stalls from souvenirs, clothes, daily products to street food. The market has around 14,000 shops. There is a street on one side that the guide took me where you could find numerous local stores just selling different kinds of bangles. I was also brought to have chai at the Nimrah Café & Bakery, which is one of the best cafés in town. While I didn’t actually go up the monument, there is an observatory deck around the clock of the Charminar, where tourists could enjoy the view of the entire city.
Many city’s main attractions are also nearby including the Makkah Masjid.
“Masjid” means mosque in Islam, and the “Mecca Mosque” in Hyderabad is a congregational mosque in the city. It is one of the largest mosques with a capacity of 20,000. The mosque was built between the 16th and 17th centuries and is a state-protected monument close to the historic landmarks of Charminar, Chowmahalla Palace, and Laad Bazaar.
One highlight of the Mosque is the interior – it is built with bricks from Mecca and decorated with Belgian crystal chandeliers.
The Palace was the seat of the Asaf Jahi dynasty from the late 17th century to the early 20th century and was the official residence of the Nizams of Hyderabad while they rule their state. The palace showcases photos and history of the royal family (all the way from Asaf Jah I to Asaf Jah VII), also their collection of weapons in their armory, kitchenware, jewelry, clothes, and many others. Don’t miss out to explore the Persian-style palaces with an opulent Durbar hall in 12-acre grounds open for events and receptions.
Since the dynasty may be unfamiliar to many, that I have a history of the “Asaf Jah”s (The Nizam of Hyderabad was a Monarch of the Hyderabad State) that gives some info about the rise and fall of the dynasty.
Asaf Jah I (1728-1748). The title Asaf Jah means “equal in dignity to Aesop, the Minister of Solomon’, a designation by which his dynasty should be known. Nizam ul Mulk Asaf Jah O laid the foundation of the Hyderabad State and his vase kingdom eventually extended over the whole of the Indian peninsula from the River Tapti in Central India to the frontiers of Karnataka in the South. However, he never deviated from the norms of integrity and loyalty, always acknowledging the supremacy of the Mughal throne in Delhi. A wise administrator, he had an excellent command over Persian and Turkish and was also a poet who wrote under the names Shakir and Asif.
Asaf Jah II (1762-1803). Nawab Mir Izam Ali Khan Bahadur, the fourth son of Nizam ul Mulk Asaf Jah I, assumed the subedari of the Deccan at 28 and ruled for 42 years. His greatest contribution was that he saved his dynasty from both internal and external forces and streamlined the administration of his State. While he settled affairs with the Marathas, the Nizam also entered into alliances with the English and French. In 1763, Nizam Ali Khan shifted the State capital from Aurangabad to Hyderabad. Recognizing the central and strategic location of this city proved to be a turning point in the rule of the Asaf Jahi dynasty. Nizam Ali Khan restored to Hyderabad the splendor that was lost after the fall of the Qutub Shahi rulers. He granted permission to the British Resident, Captian James Kirkpatrick, to construct a residency in Hyderabad. This magnificent early colonial mansion introduced European elements to the vernacular architecture of the city. The Nizam constructed some of the finest palaces in Hyderabad and included many European motifs in their design.
Asaf Jah III (1803-1829). The third Nizam inherited a prosperous state. His succession was ratified by the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II and his father’s titles were also conferred upon him. Sikander Jah recovered from the British the territories between Ajanta and the River Godavari-an area that included the whole mineral-rich region of Berar. However, he continued to have close ties with the British. To improve internal administration and to ensure just means of collecting revenue, Sikandar Jah placed a European officer in charge of his districts. This was to replace the earlier system of revenue collection by wealthy farmers including Arab chiefs and sowcars. Hyderabad enjoyed a new era of progress. In 1806, a large area north of the city was named Secunderabad after Sikander Jah to station 5000 troops of the British Garrison. Secunderabad later become the largest British cantonment in India. As the cantonment become the Largest British cantonment in India. As the cantonment grew rapidly many locals relocated there from the hustle of the walled city across the river Musi, thus creating the “twin city” of Secunderabad.
Asaf Jah IV (1829-1857). Nasir ud Daula inherited a troubled state. Moreover, several natural calamities, cyclones, epidemics, floods, and drought took their toll. Mounting debts forced him to cede Berar and other border districts to the British. The Nizam realized that earlier revenue systems and treaties had begun to weaken the efficient functioning of the State. With the support and guidance of two brilliant statemen, Prime Ministers Siraj ul Mulk and Mir Turab Ali Khan Salar Jung I, he implemented a modern and just system of revenue administration. The State was divided into 16 districts, each under a Taluqdar who was responsible for civil and judicial administration of a district. Hyderabad was steered through a critical time, bringing transparency to the reorganized administrative machinery. The Nizam’s personal qualities of humility and kindness were to hasten these reforms. There was also a growing realization that the world beyond the boundaries of the State was much more enlightened. Hyderabad began to undergo a gradual public awakening and prospered with new schools, commercial centers, churches and bridges. Sati was banned in 1856, making Hyderabad the first princely state to ban this practice.
Asaf Jah V (1857-1869). The Nizam ascended the throne in a turbulent year – 1857 the year of the first war of independence. Guided by the administrative reforms initiated by Sir Salar Jung the progress of the State continued. The Dominion was administered under 5 Subas in addition to the previous 16 districts. This was a period of steady economic development when the revenue and judicial systems were reorganized and the telegraph and postal systems introduced. The first railway lines of the State were laid. However, Afzal ud Daula was not entirely convinced of the benefits of the railways. A munificent ruler, Afzal ud Daula’s generosity spread across the seas to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. There the Nizam procured and built houses and travel inns known as Rubbaths, to provide accommodation for pilgrims from the Hyderabad Dominion and continue to do so today. Mir Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII followed in his grandfather’s steps and in 1933 sent generators for the electrification of the Kabbah and helped electrify the city of Medina. He also laid roads to enable pilgrims to visit the shrines. Charity without ostentation has been a hallmark of this dynasty and continues quietly even today.
Asaf Jah VI (1869-1911). The youngest Asaf Jah ruler, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan was 2 years and 7 months old when he was installed on the masnad by his co-regents, Mir Turab Ali Khan Sir Salar Jung I and Nawab Rasheeduddin Khan, Shams-ul-Umara III. In 1885, when he was 17 years old, he assumed sovereign rights. Soon after his coronation, Mahbub Ali Khan issued a farman to his 10 million subjects – “nothing will afford me greater pleasure than to see y people living in peace and prosperity, engaged in the development of resources of wealth and in the acquisition of knowledge and cultivation of the arts and sciences.” His communication with his subjects became legendary and he lived up to his name- Mahbub, which meant beloved. His generosity knew no bounds. The catastrophic proportions of the floods of 1908 left a quarter of the city’s population homeless. Mahbub Ali Pasha, as he was affectionately known, opened his Palaces as shelters, his kitchens worked around the clock to feed the afflicted and he contributed generously to the relief fund. As a founder of formal education in the State, he propounded good primary Schools and education for women. Medical training and research reached a high standard of excellence and chloroform as a safe anesthetic agent was confirmed at the Afzalguni hospital! Hyderabad proposed greatly during his reign. Railways were developed. New irrigation works, cotton mills, silk factories, oil, and flour mills were established at Hyderabad, Gulbarga, and Aurangabad. Secularism and communal harmony became an essential component of Hyderabad culture.
Asaf Jah VII (1911-1967). If one epithet could be applied to the VIIth Nizam it must be the word “giving”. Installed at the Chowmahalla Palace, Mir Osman Ali Khan gave away more wealth in one lifetime than is conceivable. Not many know that he donated his last 14,000 acres of land to Acharya Vinobha Bhave for the Bhoodan movement. Osman Ali Khan gave generously to every worthy cause in India, irrespective of race and religion. The lists of beneficiaries included the Aligarh Muslim University, Benaras Hindu University, Shantiniketan, Shivaji Vidyapeeth, the Bhandarkar Institute, Lady Harding Medical College, the Red Cross and the Golden Temple at Amritsar. He envisaged Hyderabad as a modern State on a par with the Western world. He declared, “in every way, I will do my best to do good to my people and my State.” The manifested policy of the State was to improve administration, developed natural resources, established cultural institutions and better the condition of its citizens. Mir Osman Ali Khan’s first official Act in 1911 was to abolish the death penalty from the criminal code for civilians. He was also the first to separate the Judiciary from the Executive in 1921. In would be 53 years before this was implemented in the rest of India. Hyderabad was the only state in British India that coined its own money had its own postal system and printed its own stamps. The Nizam also had his own private army, the Hyderabad Regular forces, comprising 50,000 men. Asaf Jah VIII (1967-1971). Mukarram Jah Bahadur is the last crowned Asaf Jah and was born in times of change. Chosen by his grandfather Mir Osman Ali Khan as his successor, he received the best possible education. He studied at the Princes School in the Asafia Kothi in Bolarum and completed his schooling from Dehradun’s Doon School. He was sent to England with his brother in 1948 and studied first at Harrow and then at Cambridge where he took a Bachelors’s degree with English Literature and a Tripos in History. He joined the Sandhurst Military Academy and on the completion of his training, enrolled in the Royal Territorial Engineering Corps, learning road and bridge construction and mechanical engineering. On his return to India, he wished to join the Indian Army. His repeated requests were turned down as it was believed that his life was too important to risk in the Indo china wat.
Salar Jung Museum
Salar Jung Museum is a special location. It was originally a private art collection of the wealthy Salar Jung family, and it was then endowed to the nation after the death of Salar Jung III – the museum was then open to the public in December 1951. The family has quite an exquisite collection of sculptures, paintings, carvings, textiles, manuscripts, ceramics, metallic artifacts, carpets, clocks and furniture from Japan, China, Burma, Nepal, India, Persia, Egypt, to Europe and North America. The amount is actually massive, and you may not imagine such work could be seen in Hyderabad.
Explore the Founders Gallery, Indian sculpture Gallery, Glass Gallery, Walking Sticks Gallery, Arms and Armour Gallery, Ivory carvings Gallery and more. There are a few highlights in the museum: The Musical Clock, Veiled Rebecca, and the Double Statue; which are so exquisite that they may not be seen in many museums in Europe.
The Musical Clock is an English Bracket Clock that said to have manufactured in England and assembled in Calcutta in the late 19th century. It has been acquired by the Salar Jung III, Nawab Mir Yousuf Ali Khan from the Cooke and Kelvey Co. probably in the early 20th century. It has more than 350 parts. The clock contains a mechanism by which a small toy figure of a bearded man comes out from the enclosure three minutes early to every hour and strikes the corresponding hour(s) on the gong to end of every 60th minute and goes back inside. Another toy man who is a blacksmith visible is seen holding a hammer and striking the seconds without any break. Enriched with nicely wrought metallic mounts, the huge mechanical clock has three dials for day, date and month in addition to chiming every 15 minutes. This musical clock is one of the most attractive objects in the museum.
Veiled Rebecca is a marble sculpture created by the Italian neoclassical sculptor Giovanni Maria Benzoni – his most famous and important work. The sculpture was created in London in the late 19th century and it depicts the scene from the Hebrew Bible when a modest Rebecca covers herself with a veil upon meeting her future husband, Isaac (Genesis 24:65). The work highlighted the artistry of the sculptor since achieving the illusion that stone is fabric clinging to a body. Look closely, the work is so refined and delicate that it was really hard to tell if the statue is covered by a veil!
The Double Statue is created in the late 19th century, depicting in the German drama “Dr. Faust”, authored by Goethe (1749-1832). Mephistopheles is the demon to whom Dr. Faust, the hero sold his soul and brings to a tragic end the life of his beloved Margaretta. The sculpture is carved out of a single log of Sycamore wood ad has two distinct images on either side. The life-size sculpture depicts the haughty, evil Mephistopheles back-to-back with the gentle, meek-looking, Margaretta. I was totally surprised before I looked into the mirror only to discover that there is another character carved on the back of the statue! The artwork is so life-like that it took my breath away.
The story of Dr. Faustus begins in Heaven where Mephistopheles makes a bet with God. He says that he can lure God’s favorite human being (Faust), who is striving to learn everything that can be known. The Lord permits Mephistopheles to tempt Faust and thus begins the tragic drama. Mephistopheles comes down to earth in the form of a traveling scholar, befriends Faust and by clever arguments excites his interest in sensual pleasures. Faust makes an arrangement with the devil: the devil will do everything that Faust wants while he is here on Earth, and in exchange, Faust will serve the devil in Hell. Faust signs the contract with a drop of his own blood before setting out on a series of excursions with Mephistopheles.
Qutb Shahi Tombs
Ornate, domed tombs from the 18th century, built for Qutub Shahi dynasty rulers with landscaped gardens.
Qutb Shahi Heritage Park listed on the tentative World Heritage List is situated abutting the famous Golconda Fort and comprises over 80 monuments standing within 106 acres.
The necropolis consists of 40 mausoleums, 23 mosques, seven baoli (step wells), an Idgah, a Hamam (mortuary bath), pavilions, tanks, wells, garden structures and enclosure walls – all built during the reign of the Qutb Shahi dynasty.
Major conservation and landscape restoration works are being undertaken since 2013 and will largely be completed by 2023. These works aim to ensure long term preservation and enhance the visitor experience of this site of international significance.
While many of the locations are under preservation work, it was interesting to walk around and learn about how the water system works in the past. The site has 40 mausoleums that only a few could be entered – and the domes may look a bit differently as they were built at different times. In fact, it is one of the largest tomb complexes in the world; and it is the only Indian tomb that all kings in the same dynasty are buried in one place.
Another notable site in Hyderabad during the Qutb Shahi dynasty is the Golconda Fort or the Golkonda. It is a fortified citadel close to the Qutb Shahi Tombs and it’s an early capital city of the Qutb Shahi dynasty in the 16th to 17th century. We were moving back a little bit further in time to look closer to Hyderabad’s medieval history. Because of the vicinity of diamond mines, especially Kollur Mine, Golconda flourished as a trade center of large diamonds, known as the Golconda flourished Diamonds. The region has produced some of the world’s most famous diamonds, including the colorless Koh-i-Noor, the blue Hope, the pink Daria-i-Noor, the white Regent, the Dresden Green, the colorless Orlov, Nizam, and Jacob.
The fort is well preserved as an archaeological treasure and there are few things that visitors should take notice. First, it’s the incredible architectural style of the citadel. Sound and hot water could be transported through the castle from place to place. If you clap in the center at the entrance, you may hear the echo from the other side; as you walk from through the castle to the underground, you may discover the impressive canals and waterworks that were built.