Hyderabad boasts a strong Islamic history and a rich heritage. Panayiotis Markides delves into the very centre of this city’s story.
I arrived in Hyderabad at Rajiv Ghandi International Airport, after a short flight with IndiGo. The hour-long journey was very comfortable and it is always a pleasure to fly when you can see that it is a new aircraft.
At the arrival gate, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Ministry of Tourism office had even sent an official to meet me. During the short car ride, I was given a brief history of Hyderabad, and my guide for the day informed me that the language spoken in Hyderabad is mostly Telugu. Hyderabad was part of Andhar Pradesh state, until 2014, although it is now in the newly created Telangana state.
As it was barely lunchtime, I was taken straight to my hotel – the stunning Marigold by Greenpark, which radiated luxury upon entering. As with previous days, I could only manage a quick shower and lunch before being picked up.
First on the list was Qutub Shahi Tombs – tombs built by the ruling dynasty for the dynasty. Each building is a magnificent reminder of the time and each tomb has its own story to tell. I was informed that the Qutub Shahi kings ruled Golkonda, as the kingdom was known, for nearly 170 years, from 1512 until 1687. The first tomb was constructed in 1543. The intricate designs embellishing each aspect of each building is a unique blend of Persian architecture with local aesthetic. Originally adorned with bright green, blue and gold mosaic tiles, in their peak they must have been a real sight. Still they retain much of their grandeur and there is currently a conservation project to restore the landmarks.
About a kilometre away, Golkonda fort is another inspiring piece of the city’s colourful history. It sits atop Hyderabad’s old town, with the fort walls engulfing the citadel, which is still inhabited and dates back to 1143 CE. It was built originally by the Kakatiyan dynasty, and further strengthened over the centuries, being active until 1687 when the Qutub Shahi dynasty fell to the Mughal dynasty. And a useful tip: one can find some delicious, authentic chai at the local ‘hotels’, or cafes. The ‘hotels’, as my guide informed me, were not in fact hotels in the traditional sense, but simply a place to enjoy a bite to eat and drink. They were given the name ‘hotel’ in an effort to upgrade their status in the eyes of visitors.
The entrance to the fort is a marvel to engineering as a clap of a hand in the entrance can be heard at the top of the hill – a great security feature. After climbing the hundreds of steps to the top of the massive complex, I was rewarded with an amazing view of all of the city – from the old town, to the new luxury high rises in the distance.
Once the sun set, all visitors made their way down to the old royal living quarters to watch the informative light and sound show filled with eight centuries of history, including a perfect love story, and music, taking the audience from the fort’s humble beginning to the peak of the Golkonda kingdom and the wealth it attained through its diamond mines, until its eventual ruin.
There was just enough time to get back to the Marigold for a delicious dinner, before collapsing in bed out of sheer exhaustion.
The next morning, bright and early, I set off for Apollo Healthcare City where I had a meeting scheduled with senior officials of the centre. They were eager to explain the hospital’s many pioneering successes medically and in terms of medical tourism. In fact, director, Apollo Hospitals, Sangeeta Reddy was in Delhi that night to receive a Medical Tourism award from the President of India, Pranab Mukherji. Furthermore, they explained how Apollo Hospitals have opened internationally in Bangladesh, Zambia and Oman.
Following this, I was taken on an in-depth guided tour around the campus. Boasting world-class heart, cancer, neuroscience, orthopaedics, gastroscience, transplant and 24/7 emergency facilities, the healthcare centre is considered a medical beacon for the region. I was shown the pioneering PET-CT scanner. The hospital was also keen to boast that it was the first in Asia to invest in a Novalis TX adiotherapy machine, and has also invested in robot surgery systems allowing for more precision in surgical procedures.
After the tour, there was more history to dive into as the next stop was to see the Charminar, or ‘four minarets’ in the old town. Built in1591 CE when Hyderabad became the capital of the Qutub Shahi kingdom, and a century later the majestic Makkah Masjid – so called because it contains bricks sourced from Makkah – joined it. I was stunned to find that the mosque was designed to handle 10,000 worshipers at a time. Nearby is the historic Laad Bazaar, known for its incredible array of handmade bangles on offer, which was also anther must-see sight.
At last the sun was setting, and there was no time to see the Chowmahalla Palace as my guide had planned, so it was time to return to the hotel and prepare for another morning flight – this time to Bangalore.
Stay tuned for next week’s report!