In a previous post I heralded the experiences to be had visiting Darwin, one of Lonely Planet’s top cities to visit in 2012. Well as you would expect, Lonely Planet has put out a new top 10 list for 2013 and there are four Asian locations on it: Hyderabad, Beijing, Christchurch and Hobart.

As I’ve visited all in recent times, this is the first in a series of profiles on these top cities to see whether Lonely Planet has really hit the mark or not. Hyderabad in Andra Pradesh, India came in at number three. Here’s what Lonely Planet had to say:

Hyderabad

Old City recapturing past glories

Best for: Culture, food, value for money

Vendor at street stall at foot of the Charminar. © Copyright Lonely Planet Images

Hyderabad was once the capital of a filthy-rich princely state. After India’s independence, the palaces and pleasure gardens were sold off, built over and looted, and you had to be really sharp to see the city’s beauty. But several palaces in Hyderabad’s Old City have recently been refurbished, including Falaknuma Palace, a seven-star hotel that was skilfully restored by the Taj Group and is now an exceedingly plush time capsule. Other monuments and buildings are being fixed up, but the city, and many of its architectural gems, are still off the radar – which keeps the masses at bay. Elegant and blossoming, but also weathered and undiscovered, Hyderabad’s Old City is ripe for exploration.

I was pleasantly surprised by Hyderabad, during a visit in September 2012. This was documented in a post last year: 4 things not to miss in Hyderabad, the city of pearls. So I’m not actually surprised it’s on the list, and it’s also great to see Lonely Planet venturing out beyond more well known wonders on the subcontinent – the Golden Triangle that includes Delhi, Jaipur and Agra (Taj Mahal); Goa’s beaches; and the meditation centres such as Varanasi and Rishikesh all spring to mind as the usual tourist haunts listed in India.

Let’s take a look at what makes Hyderabad a great place to visit.

A modern centre with everything

I hadn’t been to Hyderabad before and I was expecting just another big Indian city with dust, pollution, crowds and rubbish – something you expect when going to an Indian city of some seven million people. But while Hyderabad is one of India’s burgeoning modern metropolises, there are places in the city where you don’t really feel like you’re in India. For example you can wander the central business district and visit air conditioned shopping centres where Armani perfumes, Calvin Klein underwear and other designer items are available. Hanging out in coffee shops is also a popular trend with the increasingly ubiquitous Cafe Coffee Day chain around the city. There are also good bookshops, an inner city lake to enjoy complete with park and gardens and excellent dining around the city.

Markets and food

Despite its modernising and sanitising touches, Hyderabad is, and always will be, part of the colourful and wonderful princely nation of India. And one of the places you know you’re in India are its vibrant markets where turbaned men, sari’ed women, brilliant coloured cloth, rows of spices and tantalizing aromas exude from every corner. There are city markets in every district and these represent wonderful opportunities to taste local produce, meet some interesting people and really experience local life.

A woman cooking corn at a market in Hyderabad. Pic: Joanne Lane, wwwvisitedplanet.com

The Hyderabad biryani is one of the classic dishes of Andra Pradesh and famed around India. Most social occasions you attend here will include a biryani so you’ll have plenty of chance to get used to it. The dish blends Mughlai and Andhra Pradesh cuisine and features basmati rice, lamb meat (although chicken or goat may be used), yogurt, onions, spices, lemon, saffron, coriander and fried onions. As far as Indian dishes go it’s pretty sedate on the senses if you’re a bit wary of chilly and spices.

Historical sights

There’s also plenty of history to enjoy in Hyderabad for those attune to the ancient world. Highlights include the wonders of the 16th Century Golconda fort or the mighty towers of Charminar that date back to 1591. Both are open to visitors and well worth the time to explore. Go later in the afternoon to Golconda and enjoy the sunset and then a sound and light show on the grounds. While Charminar is indeed fascinating from a distance, and the markets around are worth a look, the bird’s eye view of Hyderabad from the top of the towers is well worth the admission fee (about Rs. 100).

While these are the most famous of Hyderabad’s sights, they aren’t the only monuments worth a look. There’s also the Mecca Masjid, Salar Jung Museum, Nizam’s museum and Falaknuma Palace.

The famed Charminar in Hyderabad. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Hussain Sagar Lake

The other highlight of Hyderabad is the Hussain Sagar Lake. The “lake” is actually manmade – built in 1562 on a tributary of the River Musi to help with the city’s water needs. It’s a pleasant space in the bustling roads of Hyderabad and lovely to walk around with gardens and fountains in the Lumbini Park. Boats can also be taken out to the Buddha Statue in the middle of the lake; a peaceful and restful place away from the movement of the city, and somewhat surprising given 90 percent of the state is Hindu. Buddhism is simply listed as the “other” religions for Andra Pradesh which measure 0.17% of the population according to Wikipedia.

Hyderabad zoo

The beauties of Hyderabad don’t stop at ancient sights. The Hyderabad zoo is truly one of the best I’ve seen in Asia with a wide array of animals from lions, to monkeys, reptiles and birds. It’s an easy way to spend the day, with plenty of food inside, and entertainment for children. We had a teenager with us and some younger kids and all of us found something of interest – the toy train, the lion safari in a clapped out old vehicle past said felines and the anaconda snake.

Bear at Hyderabad zoo. Pic: Joanne Lane, www.visitedplanet.com

Absence of tourists

One of the striking things about visiting Hyderabad’s forts, lakes and other attractions is the absence of tourists, or even western faces. Tourism has not made a mark on Hyderabad yet and that remains refreshing, however inclusion in the 2013 Lonely Planet list may start bringing more visitors to its open doors. You may be one!

Assessment

Did Lonely Planet get it right? Absolutely! 10/10

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