With its mix of high-tech industry and old-world allure, Telangana’s capital is a city of fascinating contradictions, says Richard Holmes
Hyderabad is the Silicon Valley of India,” my taxi driver proudly tells me as we speed into the city. He’s not far wrong. The Indian state of Telangana is one of the digital hubs of this vast sub-continent, with everyone from Amazon to Dell to Google having offices here. Most of them have set up shop in the aptly named HITEC City, whose shining office towers suggest the digital revolution is in full swing.
But here on Pathergatti Road, the information superhighway feels a world away. A frenzy of auto-rickshaws clogs the streets, dodging stray dogs and sari-clad shoppers. Stalls are piled high with ripe bananas, fragrant pomegranates and fresh-cut coconut, as black kites wheel in the skies above. Down a side street, a faded sign advertises pearls for sale. It was the trade in precious stones that first gave this chaotic, charming city its wealth, and even today Hyderabad is still known as the ‘City of Pearls’.
However, I’m not here for the pearls or fresh produce. I’m here to marvel at the dramatic, breathtaking Charminar. Surrounded by the detritus of busy streets, it hasn’t the sanctity of the Taj Mahal, nor the serenity of Udaipur’s Lake Palace, but it’s just as memorable.
Built in 1591 by Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of the city, its name translates as ‘Four Towers’ — each tower is a minaret for the mosque housed on the upper floors of the monument. It towers above the maze of alleys and markets that crowd about its feet, and locals like to say it was built on the spot where Shah first spotted his future bride. However, historians tend to agree it commemorates the eradication of the plague from the city.
The Charminar dominates the skyline in Hyderabad’s Old City, a district stretched out along the south bank of the Musi River. I wander south through the warren of shops and markets, heading steadily towards Chowmahalla Palace. Built more than 200 years ago off the vast riches from the pearl trade, it provides a welcome break from the frenetic streets.
But soon enough the crazy, colorful streets beckon. Palaces and monuments offer a glimpse of a grand faded past, but the sidewalks are where you’ll find the real Hyderabad of today. Demure housewives wandering dusty streets in immaculate saris. Street vendors hustling for a deal. Rickshaw drivers heckling you for a ride. With one last gaze up at the Charminar, I hail one down and head for Hussain Sagar Lake.
As we drive, my rickshaw driver whips out his cellphone to check his email. Amid the dust and hooting, it’s easy to be believe the information superhighway is here after all. telanganatourism.gov.in