Exploring India – Hyderabad:
Scraping ice off of my car on a typical English frosty morning, my mind is taken back to sitting by a pool in yoga leggings, my toes dabbling in the water, whilst I watched the sun rise over the Hussain Sagar Lake, in Hyderabad, the fourth largest city in India.
I was a guest at THE Park Hyderabad hotel, this autumn, as part of a whistle-stop tour across India, the hotel an architecturally stunning building with a unique communal area structure and stunning displays of modern art. The view from the veranda at the centre of the building takes in the wide vista of the lake, set in the heart of Secunderabad the northern conjoined area of the city. This was a quiet moment before the mornings’ yoga class, where I and my fellow travellers joined in with local residents who use the gym and spa facilities available.
Hyderabad lies in Andhra Pradesh, almost in the epicentre of the country, though since 2014 it has been the capital of the 29th state known as Telangana. It is an historically important city, with a Muslim heritage, and like most areas in the country, residents use four languages – Hindi, English, Urdu and the local dialect Telugu. The formation of the Quli Qutb Shah dynasty and the extension of the Golconda fort in the 15th century was the catalyst for settlement in the area and the subsequent breadth of history. The centre of Hyderabad itself was founded away from the fort, as the population grew, under strong Persian influence by Muslim dynasties, with a bridge which has stood catastrophic floods and endless power struggles, connecting the two areas. In the 16th century, it was the centre of the world’s diamond trade and a magnet for traders.
As European influences started to affect the structure of India in the 17 and 18 hundreds, the city of Secunderabad was founded to station French troops and subsequently, British troops. The British stationed a Resident Minister at Hyderabad and their own troops at Secunderabad, but the state and Hyderabad continued to be ruled by the Nizam, the ruling family, meaning it was reasonably autonomous within the era of the Raj. The city had its own currency, mint, railways, and postal system, for instance. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any colonial architecture but it is not as dominant as in other Indian cities. There are also several palaces that have stood despite ‘assimilation’ and blatant land grab, an issue caused by the propensity of the population to resort to long legal battles, but does mean that there are more modern buildings and some interesting experimental architecture. This has become particularly apparent during the recent expansion of the city as India’s biggest IT centre – both Google and Microsoft have their Indian headquarters in Hyderabad, earning it the nickname Cyberabad.
THE Park Hyderabad hotel building has been part of this recent expansion being completed in 2010. With 270 rooms it blends a modern, sustainable design with local craft traditions, influenced by the gemstone and textile industries fundamental to Hyderabad’s commercial success. The architecture is distinctive and has won awards with its green credentials. This project achieved the first LEED® Gold certification for a hotel in India.
The building’s three sides wrap an elevated veranda that’s accessed from the hotel lobby and first floor. This flexible outdoor area is protected from strong winds and serves as an extension of the restaurants inside but the main feature is an infinity pool. Business people looking for a pool to do lengths in might be disappointed but if you want to cool off and feel like you’re at a private resort then this is ideal, with the pool edge providing us with our yoga space and outdoor breakfast seating. In the evening this space was taken by a live band, something that occurs every Saturday night. Perforated and embossed metal screens edge the double glazing of hotel rooms helping to provide acoustic insulation from passing trains and exterior lights can be blocked out with electronically controlled blinds within the rooms.
If you want a quiet stay then ask for a room facing the lake which, despite the local railway station being directly next to the building, has the best views. From here you can see a giant Indian flag at sunrise and sense the balance between modern and ancient history – Californian style joggers around the lake edge against a backdrop of sailing boats drifting across the water, taking couples to see the 18 m high Buddhist shrine. This shrine has had a chequered history as it spent a period of time at the bottom of the lake in the 1990’s after an accident involving a barge taking it to where it now stands.
Yoga was a perfect start to our day in Hyderabad. We were whisked to the west of the city by our guide, Jonty of detoursindia.com and the fortress of Golconda which lies about 8 km to the west of Hyderabad’s present day old city. Sitting on a formidable outcrop of granite it mixes simple but effective Islamic architectural technology with evocative craftsmanship. This technology, not only involves moving huge lumps of rock to create impenetrable walls that were round so as to stop elephants being able to break through them, but also the inclusion of an echo system to warn of invasion of the fort formed by arches of the roofs in the entrance halls.
In addition to this, to prevent collusion amongst the courtiers, walls in certain rooms allow sound to travel such that a whisper in one corner travels to another – a useful communication/spying system when your brother could be after your throne.
Good shoes are required as to reach the top requires some walking and it would be possible to spend several hours here, as the outer wall measures 10 km, not to mention the numerous photo opportunities given the stunning views.
With limited time we then visited the Qutb Shahi Tombs a short distance away. By the time of the Qutb Shahs, Golconda Fort had already existed for at least three centuries under the Kakatiyas and Bahmani sultanate and was famed for cutting and trading of diamonds, mined in the Krishna River, a river that flows across the centre of India.
There are 21 domed granite tombs, with white stucco facades and the tomb we entered had that unique echo chamber effect, found at the fort, inbuilt in the architecture – our guide paid the guardian of one of the tombs, which are still honoured with offerings, to make the call to prayer inside the dome, to demonstrate.
Seven of the eight Qutb Shahi rulers are buried here, including Mohammed Quli, founder of Hyderabad, and there are plans to make it a World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, as with many things in India, restoration is a slow process fraught with issues of ineptitude.
We were then taken to lunch at a restaurant where typical Southern Indian food was cooked, to sample a tasting menu. Food from the south of India tends to be hot and spicy, as it is believed that by eating the food and then sweating, the body’s core temperature is kept lower. We were told that this was milder tasting menu and as there was both a vegan and a vegetarian in the group our lunchtime feast included quite a selection of dishes.
Another car journey, this time along the banks of the Musi river, and we headed into the ‘Old City’ and Chowmalla Palace. This was where the Nizams entertained their official guests and royal visitors, including English nobility, the last Nizam having been educated in England and having an amassed wealth which made him the fifth richest man in recorded history. The palace has a stunning great hall with Belgian glass chandeliers and is an ideal place to get away from the Laad Bazaar, which has encroached on some of the lands that were once part of the palace.
Laad Bazaar Road is the colourful and enigmatic shopping centre of the Old City with numerous bangle and spice shops and very much loved by both locals and tourists alike. It leads to the four grand arches of the Charminar mosque, constructed in 1591.
Charminar literally means “four minarets”, the structure reportedly being built at the spot at which Quli Qutb Shah prayed for the end to a plague epidemic that was decimating the population. The Charminar has long been the icon of Hyderabad with towers rising to a height of 48 m above ground. The mosque itself is located inside the upper storeys.
This was an all too brief visit to the historical sites of Hyderabad, but before we left the hotel, we had to try the spa and were therefore ferried back to change and spend a snatched hour experiencing an Ayurvedic massage. A much welcome treat.
The final hours of the day were spent eating on the contemporary styled veranda of THE Park Hotel, bathed in moonlight, as fireworks peppered the night sky, discussing very modern topics, having been steeped in history through the day.
Thinking of visiting – why not pin this one for later!
Rates at THE Park Hotel Kolkata start from £100 per night. Based on two sharing a Deluxe Double Room on a B&B basis, excluding tax.
Rates at THE Park Hotel Hyderabad start from £63. Based on two sharing a Luxury Room on a room-only basis, excluding tax.
For further information or to book please visit www.theparkhotels.com
For further information or to book the Plaza Premium Lounge at Heathrow Terminals please visit www.plaza-network.com
For further information about India or to book please visit: www.incredibleindia.org