JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH IRFAN QUADER FROM HYDERABAD, INDIA !
Irfan is a biker, rum aficionado, vegetarian foodie and proud Hyderabadi. After travelling regularly in India and abroad for over 15 years, he turned his back on the corporate world to work full-time on his blog The Good Life With IQ. If you want real first-hand travel experiences, vegetarian recipes and reviews, and tips on sustainability, this is a good place to find them.
Which is the best time to visit Hyderabad?
Weather-wise, the best time to visit Hyderabad is between November and January. The ‘winter’ months here are very pleasant, with temperatures at night going to down to around 10o Celsius. It can still get a little warm during the day, but nowhere near the temperatures of the hot summer months. And even if it does get warm, the breeze will mostly be nice and cool. It gets coolest between the end of December and beginning of January.
If you visit in November, you’ll also be able to experience the festival of Diwali (the ‘festival of lights’ celebrated across India). This is mainly a Hindu festival, celebrating the symbolic victory of good over evil and light over darkness. But because it’s so much fun, Diwali is celebrated by pretty much everyone everywhere in India, regardless of religion. Diwali is called Deepavali in Hyderabad and other parts of south India.
Which is the most convenient and favoured transport of Hyderabad?
The easiest way to get around Hyderabad is by taxi. Apps like Uber—and the local equivalent Ola—are very popular, and they make it very convenient to get from one place to another in Hyderabad. Ola even has a long-hire option in case you want to see sights outside the city, and both also offer cheaper motorcycle taxi and auto rickshaw (tuk-tuk) services.
Besides taxis, Hyderabad also has lots of public transportation options like buses, public auto rickshaws and a local train service called MMTS. These tend to be crowded and slightly erratic, though, and might be a little daunting to use for a first-timer. They city has also begun constructing an elevated metro rail network, part of which is already operational. Once the entire network is operational (hopefully by 2020), it will probably become the most preferred mode of transport for most people in Hyderabad.
What are the top three must visit places in Hyderabad?
The top three places to visit in Hyderabad are all heritage monuments built by the Qutb Shahi kings, the city’s founders, between 300 and 500 years ago.
The first is the Golconda Fort, a fortified township of about 10 square kilometres that the Qutb Shahis ruled from before founding Hyderabad. The township is still occupied, with narrow crowded lanes and frequent traffic jams. The central citadel, though, is only for visitors. The citadel is built on a hill, with buildings like the royal palaces, elephant stables and the armoury climbing up the sides. On top of the hill, with a spectacular view of the surrounding city, is the royal court where the king would receive visitors and petitioners.
The second is the royal necropolis of the Qutb Shahi kings, also called the Qutb Shahi tombs, or simply ‘the seven tombs’. The necropolis is a kilometre or so from the Golconda fort, and contains the massive tombs of seven generations of Qutb Shahi kings. It also contains around 30 other tombs and buildings, all built between 1500 and 1700. Pride of place is given to the tomb of the founder of Hyderabad, Momammed Quli Qutb Shah.
The third is the iconic Charminar, a combination of monument and mosque that stands in the centre of Hyderabad’s old city. The Charminar (literally ‘four minarets’ in the Urdu language) was supposedly built to commemorate the eradication of cholera in the city, and to mark the beginning of the second millennium in the Islamic calendar. The more romantic at heart, though, prefer to believe that Mohammed Quli built it on the spot where he first saw his future queen Bhagmati. They point out that it must be so, since it can be seen from the entrance of his tomb, nine kilometres away. Whatever the reason it was built, today the Charminar is the symbol of Hyderabad, and one of the most easily-recognized monuments of India.
The Charminar is surrounded by a pedestrian zone, which is lucky because the old city of Hyderabad can get terribly congested. But there will still be crowds of people, visitors, shopkeepers and locals alike. The best time to visit is about 7:00 AM, because there will be fewer people and it’ll be cooler. But you’ll have to wait until 9:00 AM to be able to enter the Charminar itself and climb up to the viewing gallery. Near the Charminar, Chudi Bazaar (‘bracelet market’), the Chowmahalla Palace and the Mecca Masjid mosque are also worth a look.
Which is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Hyderabad?
Hyderabad is a melting pot of religions and communities, so there are lots of festivals all year round. The city has a very prominent Muslim community, and the most important Islamic festival in Hyderabad is Eid ul Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The celebrations are centred on the old city, but Muslims across Hyderabad celebrate with feasting and visiting family and friends. Because the dates of Ramadan and Eid are based on the lunar hijri calendar, the corresponding dates in the solar Gregorian calendar (the one most of us use) change each year. In 2019, Eid will probably be celebrated on June 4th, and sometime in May in 2020 and 2021.
The most prominently celebrated Hindu festival in Hyderabad is Ganesh Charturthi, locally called Vinayaka Chavithi. This is a 10-day festival that celebrates the birth of the elephant-headed god Ganesha, who is worshipped as the remover of obstacles and the god of auspicious beginnings. Worshippers fast and pray during this time, and large idols of Ganesha are installed in lots of different public places. The festival culminates on the last weekend, where both public and private idols are carried in large processions to the city’s central Hussain Sagar lake for ritual immersion. Again, the dates for Ganesh Chaturthi are not fixed and depend on the Hindu calendar. Sometimes, the dates coincide with that of Eid ul Fitr, bringing the city to a complete standstill.
Of course, Diwali is a favourite with everyone, regardless of religion. There are also local festivals that are gaining in popularity. Bathukamma, the ‘festival of flowers’ celebrates the rejuvenation of the earth after the rains, and is celebrated in September or October. Bonalu is another local festival, during which locals offer specially cooked food in ‘bonam’ to the mother goddess Mahankali to make the end of summer. As with the other festivals, the dates change each year.
Hyderabad also has a large Christian population, so festivals like Easter and Christmas are also celebrated, though not with as much public display as in the West.
Which is the most vibrant area in Hyderabad to feel the local culture?
The areas of Jubilee Hills and Madhapur have the highest concentrations of shops, restaurants, bars, pubs and craft breweries in Hyderabad. The ones in Jubilee Hills tend to be a little more upmarket, while the places in Madhapur generally cater to young professionals on a budget. Jubilee Hills is actually is residential area, but the two arterial roads—Road # 36 and Road # 45—that lead to the city’s business district are lined with places to eat, drink and make merry. Road # 45, in particular, has quite a few watering holes, while Road # 36 has more restaurants and shops.
Road # 36 feeds into Madhapur’s Hitech City Road, which is crammed with budget eateries and bars, lots of shops, and a five star hotel or two. This is where most of the young professionals who live and work in the area come to hang out, and is quite congested.
Sadly, Hyderabad doesn’t have many real nightclubs or discotheques because of a strange government order passed in the ‘90s. To get around this, many bars and pubs have a little dance floor in one corner, and allow dancing between the tables. Some large hotels have managed to open nightclubs on the premises, though.
Where can one find amazing street food in Hyderabad?
There’s no real centralized area for street food in Hyderabad, so you’ll find lots of food carts in most places. But if you like meat, then head to the old city, especially the area around the Charminar. There, you’ll find lots of carts and budget eateries selling the traditional kababs (grilled or fried spiced meat), biryani (a dish of rice and meat) and nahari (bone soup) that the city is famous for. You’ll also find carts selling freshly-baked roti, a square bread traditionally eaten with nahari, but just as nice on its own.
Because Madhapur is home to so many young corporate workers, it’s seen an explosion of food trucks. Every evening, food trucks selling everything from the traditional idli (steamed rice cakes) and vada (deep-fried savoury doughnuts) to sandwiches, pizza and waffles.
Almost every non-residential area in the city will have its share of the typically-Hyderabadi Irani cafés. These little places have long communal benches and serve thick, sweet tea, snacks like samosas (deep fried dough pockets), and some basic meals. They might also have a kiosk with a wok outside, with a cook serving up spicy Indo-Chinese rice and noodles.
Where to head for affordable shopping in Hyderabad?
The traditional shopping district in Hyderabad is an area called Abids (the ‘A’ is pronounced like in ‘apple’), whose main road is lined with shops selling clothes, shoes and whatnot. Another popular place for affordable shopping is MG Road in the Secunderabad area. Besides for shoes and clothes, MG Road is also a popular place for sports equipment, and dried fruit and nuts.
The more upmarket areas of Hyderabad like Banjara Hills, Jubilee Hills and Hitech City are dotted with shopping malls. Most of these offer the same experiences of malls anywhere in the world, but the smaller ones have little shops where you can sometimes find a real bargain.
Hyderabad is an important trading hub for pearls (so much so that it’s called ‘the city of pearls’), and if you’re looking to buy some pearl jewellery, this is the place. The area around the Charminar in the old city is dotted with little jeweller shops where you can buy pearl jewellery at very affordable prices. Just make sure you do some research on how to spot fakes before you go.
Which is the most loved local food in Hyderabad, both sweet and savoury?
Besides pearls and the Charminar, Hyderabad is probably best known for its biryani. This is a fragrant dish of rice, meat and spices that is made all over India, but one that Hyderabad is particularly well known for. Traditionally, the meat (usually goat meat) is marinated in curds and spices, before being layered with long-grain rice and slow-cooked in a sealed vessel. Because this takes time, few places cook biryani from scratch anymore, and most pre-cook the meat and rice before finishing it in the vessel. Most special occasions in Hyderabad are incomplete without biryani. In my experience, though, the best biryani isn’t served at restaurants, but rather at traditional Muslim weddings.
Hyderabadis love sweets as much as other Indians, and eat lots of different kinds. The most popular traditional sweet is khobani ka meetha, made from dried apricots stewed in sugar syrup and served with fresh cream or vanilla ice cream. Another traditional sweet that’s sadly not easily available anymore is badam ki jali—delicate patterned shapes made from baked almond dough.
Which side of the road does Hyderabad drive on? Is it cycle friendly?
India was part of the British Empire until 1947, so Indians drive on the left side of the road. But visitors might just think that this doesn’t apply to Hyderabad, because plenty of people drive down the wrong side of the road here, if they can get away with it. The overall philosophy on the road is ‘drive wherever there’s space’, so traffic in Hyderabad is quite chaotic.
Because of this, the city isn’t very cycle-friendly at all. But there are some efforts being made to create cycle lanes and cycle-friendly roads, especially for commuters using the new metro rail. And despite the difficulty, there are still plenty of people who cycle on the roads. There are even cycling clubs that get together regularly to pedal around town.
Would you recommend any popular local apps to tourists for transport, food and hidden gems in Hyderabad?
The best local app for transport around the city is probably Ola, and Uber also has a very strong network here. You can use apps like RedBus and AbhiBus to book long-distance bus tickets, and MakeMyTrip is useful for booking flights, trains, buses and even accommodation.
Hyderabad has a whole lot of food delivery services, and apps like Swiggy and Zomato are useful if you want to order in from nearby restaurants. Many restaurants also offer their own food delivery, but more and more are signing up with specialized delivery services.
Overall, Hyderabad is an interesting place to visit. With almost 600 years of history, diverse culinary traditions, a year-round calendar of festivals and a not-yet-big-city vibe, Hyderabad is like no other city in India.