#9: Exploring Hyderabad by Foot
Walks that connect the past to the present.
It’s been a while since I sent out a newsletter and I apologize for the neglect on my part. I recently moved on from my full-time job with a tech startup and spontaneously signed up for a public policy course while I figure out what I want to do next. The course is everything I hoped for but more intensive than I had expected, so I have been busy finding my ground as I settle back into academic life after nearly a decade. I also travelled after a long time — I visited my extended family in Hyderabad, explored my father’s ancestral village in Telangana, and I’m writing this post from an idyllic village in Himachal Pradesh. I intend to write more frequently moving forward, particularly about offbeat travel experiences. So if you haven't subscribed to this newsletter yet, you can do so now to receive all future posts directly in your inbox. If you are a subscriber and like my content, I would be grateful if you could share this newsletter with a friends :)
On my recent visit to Hyderabad, the place of my birth and home to most of my extended family, I wondered why I don’t feel an emotional connection with the city the way I do for other places I have visited often. On further thought, I realized that I have never explored the city on foot. My Hyderabad trips typically involve meeting one relative after another in their homes and devouring delicious home-cooked food, but seldom include aimless meanderings through narrow lanes of unfamiliar neighbourhoods, particularly in the older parts of the city. Getting to know a place through its myriad sights, sounds, and smells on foot, without the barrier of a car window or the speed of a motorbike, is a sure-shot way of forging a deeper, intimate bond with it. I wanted to get to know Hyderabad this way, one walk at a time.
A few years back, I discovered That Hyderabadi Boy, aka Yunus Lasania, on Instagram. A journalist by profession and a passionate Hyderabad explorer, he conducts weekend heritage walks to popular and not-so-popular parts of Hyderabad while sharing tidbits of history and trivia.
“I started conducting weekend walks because I wanted people from Hyderabad to learn more about their city and engage with its culture, history, and people,” he says.
I first attended his walk to Charminar with my mother in 2019. We learned about Hyderabad’s history, visited an old second-hand bookshop near Charminar, and enjoyed steaming hot Irani chai and Osmania biscuits at Nimrah Cafe and Bakery while Yunus told us about Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, founder of Hyderabad, and the one who built the Charminar in 1591 to commemorate the eradication of a plague.
When I visited Hyderabad last month, I went on another weekend walk with Yunus — this time to the Qutb Shahi Tombs. I had visited it a few years ago with my uncle and cousins, but it was good to be back to see the newly restored parts of the complex.
I also explored the outer parts of the Golconda fort with my parents. I’m seldom in Hyderabad during the monsoons, so it was spectacular to see lush greenery interspersed with ancient ruins — a sight I until now associated with the Western Ghats in Maharashtra but never Hyderabad.
In today’s post, I cover three offbeat places in Hyderabad — well-known among locals yet infrequently visited — and overlooked by most tourists who confine their exploration to Charminar and the main Golconda Fort.
Saat Maqbara: Tombs of the Seven Kings of the Qutb Shahi Dynasty
The Qutb Shahi Tombs complex in Hyderabad consists of the tombs of seven Qutb Shahi rulers, their family members, favourite nobles and dancers. Located in Ibrahim Bagh near the Golconda Fort, the complex houses 75 monuments, including 40 mausoleums, 23 mosques, six baolis (step-wells), a hamam (Persian bath), pavilions, and gardens that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. The Telangana State Archaeology and Museums Department and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture commenced restoration work in 2013 and the efforts have breathed new life into the complex.
With Hindu, Pathan, Deccan, and Persian architectural influences, the Qutb Shahi Tombs are some of the oldest monuments of Hyderabad. The tombs feature ornamental parapets and minarets distinct to Islamic architecture, but also lotuses, flower petals… and pineapples!
Pineapples were exotic fruits a few centuries ago and were brought to India from the Caribbean by the Portuguese. It is believed that the fruit signified royalty and prosperity, perhaps why the rulers of the time were fascinated by it, as pineapple motifs can be found in the stucco works of the Charminar as well. The entrance to some of the tombs is inspired by South Indian Hindu temples and Vijaynagara architecture, while Quli Qutb Shah’s tomb resembles Bidar Fort. Each tomb is distinct in its style and it is believed that craftsmen from Iran were involved in the building of the tombs. The Qutb Shahis used granite instead of marble and sandstone as it was locally available. Some of the domes once featured blue and green Persian tiles, including the tomb of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah.
To give some historical context, the Qutb Shahi dynasty ruled the Golconda Sultanate after the collapse of the Bahmani Sultanate and were descendants of a Turkoman Muslim Tribe. Their kingdom covered parts of modern-day Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, and Telangana. They ruled from 1512 AD to 1687 AD, until the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb conquered Hyderabad.
Walking around the Qutb Shahi Tombs complex with Yunus, discussing the origins of Dakhni or Deccani — a type of Hindustani spoken in the Deccan region that sounds like a mix of Urdu, Telugu, Marathi, and Kannada — was one of the best ways to spend a cloudy Saturday morning in Hyderabad.
A 400-Year Old Tree That Once Hid Thieves, and a Lesser-Known Heritage Site
The following weekend, I visited the outer remains of the Golconda Fort with my parents. Located beside the Hyderabad Golf Club, monsoons are a particularly good time to walk on the outer boundary walls and bastions to catch glimpses of the green cover, cityscape, and a bed of wild water hyacinths right outside the boundary wall. A great starting point for this exploration, as tipped off by Yunus, is the 400-year-old Hatiyan Jhad Baobab Tree. It is located close to Naya Qila, approximately 2 km away from the inner Golconda Fort, and is believed to have been home to 40 thieves!
Legend has it that its trunk — 25 m in circumference — is hollow enough to fit 40 people inside it and was used as a hiding spot by thieves who would hide insight in the day and venture out to steal at night. Baobab trees are native to Madagascar and are believed to have mystical powers in African folklore. It’s unclear who brought the Hatiyan Jhad Baobab Tree (which translates to ‘elephant-sized tree’) to India. Some say it was planted by wandering fakirs while others believe it was planted by Arabian merchants treading the African coastline.
Not far from the mighty Baobab tree is Naya Qila, an extended portion of the Golconda fort built by Abdullah Qutb Shah in 1656. This too has been recently restored and is a beautiful complex to explore and enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the city.
Badshahi Ashurkhana: The Royal House of Mourning
One of my favourite places in Hyderabad is Badshahi Ashurkhana, the ‘Royal House of Mourning.’ It was built in 1594 by Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah in memory of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. It is now a heritage site and is used during the mourning period of Muharram. The inner walls of the Ashurkhana feature blue, green, yellow, and black Persian enamel tiles with vegetal patterns and geometric shapes. It is said that Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah lit 10,000 lamps every day and on the tenth day of Muharram, known as Ashura, one lakh lamps would be lit and placed in the niches of the walls.
A chance visit to Chowmahalla Palace and a quick Biryani stop at Shadab Hotel in the old city led me to this beautiful and peaceful imambara that remains etched in my mind.
There are many more places in Hyderabad that I haven’t covered in this post (or haven’t explored yet), including the Paigah Tombs, Raymond’s Cathedral, and other underrated areas of the city that promise stunning architecture and rich history.
I’ve realized that once you start walking, you discover endless paths to be walked on, places to be seen, and moments to be treasured. My biggest takeaway from these exploratory walks has been to chalk out time to get to know a place on foot wherever I go. It’s perhaps the best form of slow travel, allowing us to discover (and re-discover) a place — one step at a time.