19 December 2014

Washington, DC

Capital of the United States, and home to made-to-impress monuments and museums, Washington, DC is an obvious stop on any visitor's itinerary. And the city delivers.

CITY MAPPING
Washington, DC is divided into four quadrants- north-west (NW, with the bulk of sights), north-east (NE), south-west (SW, the smallest quadrant) and south-east (SE). The Capitol is the center of DC, where all the quadrants meet.

The bulk of the attractions in Downtown are located between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol, between Constitution Ave NW and Independence Ave SW.

SIGHTS
CENTRAL WASHINGTON
Lincoln Memorial and around
Just a stone's throw from the Potomac river, the Lincoln Memorial forms the western boundary of sights in Downtown DC. Just across the river is the town of Arlington, Virginia, where the Arlington National Cemetery and Pentagon are located.

This section takes you anti-clockwise leading from Lincoln Memorial around the Reflecting Pool.

The Lincoln Memorial, built in the honour of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, stands grand by the Reflecting Pool.

Lincoln Memorial
You can go inside the memorial to see a statue of Abraham Lincoln as well as inscriptions of two of his famous speeches. Up there, one has great views of the Reflecting Pool leading to the Washington Monument.

Walking east (towards the Reflecting Pool), if you turn right to walk around the Reflecting Pool, you will find the Korean War Veterans Memorial ahead.

Statues of the Korean War Veterans Memorial
The memorial consists of 19 statues, which represent a squad on patrol. While walking around the memorial, don't forget to take a look at the wall.

Continue walking east and you will stumble upon the small DC War Memorial.

DC War Memorial
The memorial commemorates DC citizens who served in the World War 1.

Walking north again, returning to the Reflecting Pool, at its opposite end with respect to the Lincoln Memorial lies the World War 2 Memorial.

The floor at the entrance to the memorial
A quote on a wall in the memorial

From here, you have a perfect view of the Washington Monument. With nothing around to compare, the monument surprises visitors with its size as they come closer.

Washington Monument
Built to commemorate George Washington, America's first president.

Going back to Lincoln Memorial from the other side of the Reflecting Pool, north-east of the memorial, you will come across the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial.

Tidal Basin and around
While walking around the DC War Memorial, you will notice another body of water, this is known as the Tidal Basin. 

Very close to the DC War Memorial, on the Tidal Basin, is Martin Luther King Jr Memorial.

Entrance to the memorial

Check out the wall in the memorial with a list of his famous quotes.

From the memorial, you have a perfect view across the Tidal Basin to Jefferson Memorial.

An impressive structure modeled after Rome's Pantheon, the memorial is a fitting commemoration to Thomas Jefferson, one of America's Founding Fathers and the main drafter of the Declaration of Independence, and America's third president.

Jefferson Memorial
From the memorial, you have an unparalleled view out to Washington Monument. 


The White House and around
For foreigners who have never been to DC, the White House is among one of the best known buildings in DC. Home to America's President, the White House is located north of the Washington Monument. 

White House South Facade
The South side can be viewed from E St NW. You can walk around it anti-clockwise to go the north side. Interesting architecture includes the buildings of the Department of the Treasury and Department of Commerce. The north side is at Lafayette Park. 

There is also some worth-seeing architecture, including the buildings of SunTrust and Bank of America at the junction of New York Ave NW and 15th St NW. 

The SunTrust Building

The National Mall and around
The stretch leading from Washington Monument to the Capitol, bounded approximately by 14 St, Constitution Ave NW, 1st St and Independence Ave SW is known as the National Mall, a vast open swathe, jogging ground, protesting ground and tourist attraction all rolled into one. Surrounded by renowned museums, many of them free, and good views of the landmarks around, the Mall is worth a stroll.

Just south of the mall on 14th St SW lies the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (free entry, from 1000 to 1730, daily), a touching memorial and museum to one of the greatest human-caused tragedies of the 20th century. Its exhibitions (where photography is not allowed), with pictures of the victims, continuous film plays, videos and other objects, make for an enriching experience.

Next to the museum is the beautiful building of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.


Continuing east along the Mall, you'll encounter the National Archives at the corner of Constitution Ave NW and 7st St NW. Also free to visit, photography is not allowed. Start your visit by viewing the David M Rubenstein Gallery, housing the Record of Rights. With engaging interactive displays, the gallery shows the evolution of political rights and civil liberties in the United States, with original affidavits, letters etc which pushed for these. Move on to viewing the original Constitution, Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. A fun and exciting place indeed. The souvenir shop has some nice, non-cheesy souvenirs and gifts. 

Behind the National Archives, on the opposite side of the corner of Pennsylvania Ave NW and 7th St NW is beautifully sculpted and detailed US Navy Memorial.

A section of the US Navy Memorial
On Madison Dr NW between 7th St and 4th St is the National Gallery of Art, also free to visit. 

Finally you arrive at the Capitol Reflecting Pool and right ahead looms the impressive structure of the US Capitol

The Capitol
Just south of the Capitol Reflecting Pool lies the US Botanic Garden.

Penn Quarter
North of the National Archives is the Penn Quarter, a bustling neighbourhood full of restaurants and shops. 

On 10th St NW between E St and F St is the house where Lincoln died.


Chinatown
North of Penn Quarter lies DC's Chinatown.

The beautiful Chinatown gate is located near the entrance of the Gallery Place-Chinatown metro station, at the corner of 7th St NW and H St NW. 

Mt Vernon Sq and around
The small pedestrian plaza at the corner of 10 St NW and I St NW is home to beautiful and well lit (at night) Christmas decorations during the season. 


GEORGETOWN
Home to lovely architecture, affluent homes and a lively shopping district makes Georgetown worth visiting. West of the centre, Georgetown has no metro station so reaching there requires some planning.

Who says all free worth visiting museums are located around the Mall? On 32nd St NW between R St NW and S St NW is Dumbarton Oaks, Now a property of Harvard University, the research library, museum and gardens is a historic estate. For the visitor, the points of interest are the gardens and museum. We visited in winter so the gardens were not in full bloom, however, the museum, with a large Byzantine collection, is worth visiting. The museum also has ancient objects from Mesoamerica.

A room at Dumbarton Oaks
A block west of 32nd St NW is Wisconsin Ave NW, one of the major Georgetown arteries with lots of shops and restaurants. Walk south until you reach its junction with M St NW, which forms a focal point of the neighbourhood.

If you continue walking south on Wisconsin Ave NW, you will finally reach the bank of the Potomac, and the Georgetown Waterfront Park. There are good views of the skyline of Arlington, Virginia.

Arlington, VA as seen from Georgetown Waterfront Park
The waterfront is a popular eating out place, with an ice skating rink during winters.

ACCOMMODATION
We stayed at the Embassy Suites Washington DC- Convention Centre, located at the corner of 10 St NW and K St NW, near Mt Vernon Sq. Got a great deal for a 4-people room with breakfast and evening snacks/drinks included. Overall satisfied with the experience. 

FOOD
Note that many restaurants in the Mt Vernon Sq area are closed on weekends. 

&Pizza- has several outlets across town, we went to the one at E St NW between 10th St NW and 11th St NW. Watch them make your own pizza. Choose from crust to cheese all the way to the finishing. Not very pricey too- less than $9 for a pizza. Good service, though seating is extremely limited- you may have to get a takeout. 

Thomas Sweet- on the corner of Wisconsin Ave NW and P St NW in Georgetown. Popular ice cream joint. 

Portion of the menu at Thomas Sweet
Native Foods Cafe- we went to the outlet of this vegan restaurant at Pennsylvania Ave NW near the National Archives. Found the food OK, though the drinks are interesting (example, a watermelon based juice) with free refills.

SAFETY
Standard big-city precautions apply in Washington, DC. While tourists are unlikely to stray into areas with the highest crime rates, and DC is no longer the murder capital, the area around Mt Vernon Sq becomes very quiet on nights and weekends when offices and even many restaurants and shops are closed. Although the area is not particularly dangerous, take particular care there. Watch out on the metro as you would on any public transport network- don't get engrossed in your phone/tablet etc and watch your bags and pockets. 

TRANSPORTATION
The metro will be mildly useful to travellers. Walking is the way though, along the Mall and the area around the memorials, to appreciate the architecture and setting. Signage in that area is quite helpful to locate various museums and memorials though having a map will be needed. You can pick up one from the information stands- there is one just south-east of the Lincoln Memorial.

Last visit- Dec 2014
No of visits- 1

18 December 2014

New York

Yes, the skyscrapers exist. And so do the yellow cabs, as well as the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge. New York is all that. However, New York is all that and more. You can come here for all the above, but also to visit a truly multicultural and diverse city, a city of neighbourhoods and pretty parks. Enjoy your visit, for the city is like no other.

This post will focus only on Manhattan, as I simply did not have the time to visit the other boroughs! However, that certainly does not mean that they have nothing to offer.

CITY MAPPING
New York is a city of five boroughs, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. Two of the airports serving the area, JFK and LaGuardia (LGA), are located in Queens, the largest borough while the third, Newark Liberty airport (EWR) is located in New Jersey.

The island of Manhattan is long and thin, and can be broadly divided into Downtown (the southern part with the main financial district), Midtown and Uptown. These definitions are not precise, and are used here simply for the purpose of this post.

SIGHTS
Downtown
New York's downtown is home to some of the city's globally famous icons, such as the Statue of Liberty.

Statue of Liberty and Battery Park
"Liberty ... is one of the greatest blessings that Heaven has bestowed upon mankind"
                                                                                                 - Miguel de Cervantes

A supreme symbol of friendship, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France to the United States, the Statue of Liberty is the first sign many new immigrants saw of America- a symbol of freedom. A large proportion of newcomers arrived in these very waters, and were processed for entry at Ellis Island, where the immigration center now houses a museum.

Statue of Liberty
There is only one licensed operator which takes you by ferry to Liberty Island, where the statue is located. Tickets come in various classes, the tickets to the crown sell off months in advance, and even tickets to the pedestal level face a demand-supply mismatch. You can directly buy tickets over the web and turn up at the ferry terminal at South Ferry in Battery Park, or you can buy them on the spot (you can expect queues) at the nearby Castle Clinton.

Security is tight, and there will be a check just as you enter the island, and another one to go inside the statue (provided you have applicable tickets). Lockers ($2 per hour) are available at the second security check, where all food items and big backpacks must be stored, as only small personal bags and cameras are allowed in the statue. 

There is an interesting museum in the statue, which details the entire history and story of the statue, with models of the statue's foot and ear, as well as newspaper clippings showing the reactions of the statue. The pedestal level (where I went till) offers good views of the city. 

View of the city from the Statue of Liberty

The tours go until Ellis Island, however I didn't go there. 

Battery Park offers nice views of Statue of Liberty, as well as Downtown's skyline. It is home to Castle Clinton, America's first immigration station, now a national monument.

Battery Park to Wall St
If you walk north on Broadway as soon as you leave Battery Park, you will come across the beautiful facade of the National Museum of the American Indian. Continue walking straight and you will come across the Charging Bull, also known as the Bull of Wall Street. The bull is a symbol of financial optimism and this sculpture was installed following the 1987 stock market crash. Tourists are constantly huddled around the bull for photos.

The Charging Bull
At the junction of Broadway and Wall St is Trinity Church.

Interior of Trinity Church
Built in the Gothic Revival style, the Trinity Church has a small chapel with certain relics, such as the foundation stone of the church.

Wall Street
Center of global finance, with some of the most important financial institutions in the world, Wall Street has a large impact on the entire world. Some great architecture here includes the buildings of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Federal Hall.

New York Stock Exchange
City Hall and around
The area around City Hall Park is home to some grand buildings which house major municipal institutions, such as the City Hall and Civic Centre.


Very nearby begins the Brooklyn Bridge, connecting the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Completed in 1883, the bridge was an engineering marvel of the time as it was the first steel-wire suspension bridge. Pedestrians and cyclists have a nice path offering good views over both the boroughs.

Brooklyn Bridge, looking towards Brooklyn
City Hall to Little Italy
New York is truly a multicultural city. You can experience this first-hand if you walk into, say, Mulberry St and enter Chinatown. There are a great number of Chinese and Vietnamese shops.

Chinatown
Along the way, Chinatown blends into Little Italy.

Washington Square and around
Around W 4th St in Greenwich Village is Washington Square Park, one of the city's most well-known parks. 

Washington Square Park
The surrounding neighbourhood is home to New York University.

Union Square to Madison Square
In the Flatiron district, Union Square is located at the junction of Broadway and W 14th St. It has a very popular Christmas market in December.

Walk north on Broadway until you reach Madison Square, another city park. The junction of 23rd St and Broadway is home to the Flatiron Building with its unique triangular shape, built in 1902, and one of New York's icons.

Flatiron Building
Midtown
Midtown is home to a vast array of sights, from beautiful churches and busy street corners to famous skyscrapers. 

Herald Square and around
Herald Square, the corner of W 35th St, 6th Av and Broadway, home to Macy's flagship store. A block east, at the junction of W 34th St and 5th Av is the jaw-dropping Empire State Building, one of the world's most famous skyscrapers. 

Empire State Building
When completed in 1931, it was the world's tallest building, a title it held for around 40 years. 

A few blocks west, at W 33rd St and 8 Av is Madison Square Garden, a major indoor arena. At the same corner is the beautiful building of the United States Post Office. 

Walk further a couple of blocks west to 10 Av to reach the entrance of the High Line.

High Line
A glance at Manhattan's map would show you how precious any available space is. The High Line therefore is an ingenious plan- some greenery and jogging space above ground on disused rail tracks. It goes south till the Meatpacking District, at the corner of Gansevoort St and Washington St. There are great views of streets to be had from there. Definitely worth a stroll!
High Line
View of a Chelsea street from the High Line

Times Sq and around
Not a square in the usual sense of the word, the 'Crossroads of the World' is an X-shaped junction of Broadway and 7 Av in the heart of Midtown. Famous for its brilliant lighting day and night, Times Sq is effectively in the Theater District. 

Start your Times Sq adventure by taking in the views of the square from the staircase of the TKTS ticket booth at the junction of Broadway, 7 Av and W 46th St. 

View from the TKTS ticket booth
Walk to the heart of Times Sq at 42nd St and turn left. At the corner of E 42nd St and 6 Av, you will find Bryant Park, a piece of serenity in the buzz of Midtown. During Christmas, there is a beautiful Christmas tree and skating rink. There is also a nice view till the Empire State Building.

View from Bryant Park
Right next to Bryant Park is the New York Public Library.

New York Public Library
Walk down E 41st St from the library to have a look at some literary quotes.

At the corner of E 42nd St and Park Av South is the Grand Central Terminal. Now only serving trains to Upstate New York and Connecticut, this station used to serve the Amtrak too, until Amtrak train services were shifted to Penn station in 1991.

Grand Central Terminal
Visitors can enter the station to marvel at the interior.

Interior of the Grand Central Terminal
Only a block away, and easily visible from outside the Grand Central Terminal, is the Chrysler Building, an Art Deco skyscraper which was the tallest in the world when built in 1930, only to be surpassed 11 months later by the Empire State Building.

Rockefeller Plaza and around
This section considers the area between 6 Av, 51st St, Park Av and 49th St.

At Park Av between 50th and 51st St is St Bartholomew's Church, with a lovely neo-Byzantine interior.

St Bartholomew's Church
Interior of the church
At the corner of E 50 St and 5 Av is one of New York's most touristy and popular churches, St Patrick's Cathedral. Built in Gothic style, the cathedral is renowned for its stained glass. 

St Patrick's Cathedral
Interior of the cathedral
Rockefeller Plaza, bounded by 6 Av, 50th St, 5 Av and 49th St is a particularly festive place during the Christmas season, with a skating rink and an impressive Christmas tree. Home to the commercial buildings of Rockefeller Center, visitors can go up to the Top of the Rock observatory for amazing views over New York. 

View from the Top of the Rock
Columbus Circle and around
The south-western junction of Central Park, Columbus Circle is a large traffic circle, home to a Christmas market during the season. Also located around is the Maine Monument, to commemorate the 260 sailors who died when their battleship exploded in Havana in 1898.

Maine Monument

Uptown
Home to the city's largest park, Central Park, Uptown too has a large range of sights to keep visitors interested.

Upper East Side
This area covers Uptown east of Central Park.

The area is home to some of the greatest museums in the city. Most are located on Museum Mile, the stretch of 5 Av between E 80th and E 92nd St.

Occupying a portion of Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art straddles 5 Av between 80th and 84th St. With an eclectic range, from ancient Egyptian to Byzantine to Renaissance, one can spend hours in the museum.

The suggested donation is $25 per adult but you are free to pay below that amount.

The highlight of the Egyptian section is the Temple of Dendur, moved from its Nile-side location to the museum.

Temple of Dendur
Other interesting sections include the Byzantine and medieval European art.

The Italian Renaissance section includes the studiolo walls from the Ducal palace at Gubbio. 

The studiolo walls

ACCOMMODATION
We stayed at The Lucerne Hotel, located in Upper West Side.

Rooms- 7/10 Good rooms, though small (yes, it is Manhattan). No minibar or kettle in the room was very surprising though.
Staff- 8/10 Helpful staff, no special comment here.
Location- 8/10 Great location- just a block from the subway, two blocks from Museum of Natural History and Central Park. Many dining options in the vicinity.
Overall- 23/30 Recommended.

FOOD
With its stunning diversity, New York offers a large variety of cuisines.

UNION SQ
Maoz Vegetarian- Get your sandwich and add any toppings from the salad bar for free. Very nice apple cider too.

Max Brenner- Very popular place for all things chocolate. A bit overpriced and overrated in my opinion, though.

TIMES SQ and around
Abitino's Pizzeria- At Broadway between 40th and 41st St. Tasty, if a bit too oily, pizzas by the slice.

UPPER WEST SIDE
Zabar's- A New York landmark, Zabar's is both a supermarket and a restaurant next to each other at the corner of W 80th St and Broadway. Good sandwiches, and the supermarket has interesting items too.

Cafe 71- At Broadway and W 71st St. Wide variety of sandwiches.

TRANSPORT
Within Manhattan, subway is generally a good way to get around. A single ride costs $2.75. If using the machines to buy, note that machines will not dispense more than $8 in change, and tickets can only be bought individually so if buying single-ride tickets, have coins (pennies are not accepted).

Walking is also a great way to get around the island.

If taking taxis, note that Midtown is especially prone to terrible rush-hour traffic.

SAFETY
The tourist areas of Manhattan are generally safe during the daytime and shouldn't cause problems while walking. As in any big city, trust your instincts.

The subway has become much safer and cleaner over the decades, but as always, watch your pockets and bags when the car is crowded.

Last visit- Dec 2014
No of visits- 2
First visit- May/Jun 2002















05 October 2014

Hyderabad

Hyderabad is truly one of India's great cities for history, reflected in its beautiful palaces and museums. Located in the southern Indian state of Telangana, Hyderabad is on the banks of the Musi river.

While many South Indian destinations like Hampi, Mysore and Goa are very popular, Hyderabad is relatively overlooked. I recommend this city to all history and architecture buffs, as well as those looking for Islamic influence in South India.

CITY MAPPING
Many sights are located in the Old City, south of the Musi river. Go around 7 km north and you will reach the artificial Hussain Sagar Lake, in the centre of which stands a 17 meter tall Buddha statue. Around 5 km west of the lake is the area of Banjara Hills, a relatively upscale central neighbourhood comprising many hotels, malls and restaurants.

Hyderabad's Rajiv Gandhi International Airport around 30 km south of Banjara Hills.

SIGHTS
Home to several dynasties across the centuries, and being the richest princely state prior to India's independence, Hyderabad is a treasure-trove of attractions.

Old City
A bustling warren of tiny streets packed to the hilt, with shops selling everything from pearls to footwear, the Old City exudes images of chaos and exoticism at the same time. The area is home to Hyderabad's most famous remainders of its past grandeur. The following is a non-exhaustive list of them, beginning from the north to the south.

Visit the H.E.H The Nizam's Museum to see many items owned by the Nizams (rulers, of the Asaf Jah dynasty, which ruled from 1724 until independence). Like many other museums in India, many items are of significant importance, and are very interesting, but the infrastructure isn't the top- when we went, the power was out and torches were being used! Nonetheless, to appreciate and get a sense of the history, make a visit here. All the items are in gold and/or silver.

Many of the items on display were gifts from dignitaries from various parts of the world. One of the most famous item is the Nizam's huge wardrobe- the Nizam never wore a piece of clothing more than once.

The Nizam's wardrobe
The museum is open every day except for Friday. Timings from 10 am to 5 pm.
Fees: adult/child Rs 80/Rs 15; still camera/video camera Rs 150/Rs 500
Best time to visit: as early as possible

One of the principal monuments of the Old City is the Charminar (which means "four minarets"), a mosque built in 1591. You can climb to the top, expect lots of crowds and queues, particularly on holidays. Closed Fridays. 

The Charminar
Very near, south-west of the Charminar, is the Mecca Masjid, one of the oldest mosques in the city, and among the largest in India. It is named so, as the central arch was made by soil brought from Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The mosque is home to the tombs of the Nizams and of some of their family members. 

Mecca Masjid
Women must cover themselves with a shawl while visiting. 

A little bit to the south is the opulent Chowmahallah Palace, the official residence of the Nizams during their reign. 

The first interior you will see is that of the Khilwat Mubarak, the heart of the palace, and it is very beautiful. 

Khilwat Mubarak

Ceiling of the Khilwat Mubarak
Upstairs are various halls, such as the Hall of the Heritage Crafts (home to beautiful portraits, for example). In the other halls,have a look at the furniture and furnishings too, in particular the ornate screen.

Outside are the other palaces which make up the compound. You can also see some vintage cars, from jeeps to convertibles. 

Also located outside is the famous Khilwat Clock tower, in operation for well over a hundred years. 

Khilwat Clock
The palace is open from 10 am to 5 pm, and is closed on Fridays. 
Entrance fees: adult/child/foreigner Rs 40/10/150. Still camera/mobile phone for photos/video
camera: Rs 50/50/100

About 4 km south is the Nizams' most opulent palaces of them all- the Falaknuma Palace, now a hotel operated by the Taj group. If you're not staying, you cannot just enter the hotel- you need a reservation at one of the hotel's restaurants. Once in, you can roam around the hotel or take a half-hour palace tour. Among the highlights include a snooker table built specially for the Nizam, the world's longest dining table, as well as the sheer opulence of the palace.

Unfortunately, photography isn't permitted in the interior.

A chandelier at the Falaknuma Palace
Koti
Koti is a neighbourhood located just north of the Musi river, about 3 km from the Charminar. Koti Main Rd is just as packed as the Old City, with the absence of the towering minarets. 

For a change, enter the Koti Women's College (part of the Osmania University) from Koti Main Road to check out the British Residency, a grand building virtually ignored by the masses of tourists. 

The Nizam, keen on attaining independence, had to accept a British resident who acted as an advisor. The grand building signifies the strength of the British empire. 

Visit this brilliant blog for more details on the Residency, including its historical context.

Access to the Residency may be difficult, particularly on working days. I visited on a holiday without problems, and was surprised to find a movie shooting taking place. Therefore, going inside the building was not possible.

The British Residency
Hussain Sagar Lake and around
The Hussain Sagar Lake was built during the reign of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, in the year 1562. The road around the lake is known as Necklace Rd, because when lit at night, the road looks like a necklace. 

Access to the Buddha statue in the middle of the lake is via Lumbini Park (entry Rs 10). Find your way to the jetty, where you need to buy tickets for the boat ride. You can take speedboats around the island, but the only boat which will get you to the island is the standard mechanised boat (adult/child Rs 55/35), from 9 am to 9 pm.


17 m tall, the statue is the tallest monolith of Buddha, and was built in 1992, by the state chief minister, who was inspired by the Statue of Liberty.

Close by is the Birla Temple (Birla Mandir- mandir being the Hindi word for temple), constructed with 2000 tons of pure white marble. Located on a 85 m high hillock, there are good views of the area, including of Hussain Sagar Lake. Cellphones and cameras are not allowed. 

The Birla Temple with its various shrines
Golconda Fort and around
Located 8 km west of the Old City, Golconda Fort was the capital of the Qutb Shahi dynasty. The outer wall measures around 7 km- there's a lot to see inside.

The fort
You can hire a guide at the entrance of the fort. They will show you, for example, the cool acoustics of the fort, feats of engineering, for example the structures are so placed that any sound from a particular point is echoed by the opposite structure and can be heard as far away as the hilltop. 

You can walk to the hilltop, passing by great viewpoints which provide a nice overview of the fort and the city too. Unfortunately, the weather is not always conductive for this, so try to come as soon as the fort opens (9 am) and pray for some cloud cover! 

One of the major structures you will pass by on the way to the top includes the Amber Khana (Royal Granary). Here, an inscription in Persian mentions that the granary was built by Khairad Khan in the year 1642, during the Qutb Shah dynasty.

The inscription

People walk up in the heat, against the backdrop of Hyderabad city

You will then come across a mosque called Ibrahim Mosque, followed by a temple. And then you'll reach the final viewpoint- on one direction will be the fort, on another the city. The boundary walls can be clearly seen.

Overview of the fort
Every evening there's a sound and light show at around 7 pm, where the history of the fort is told. An executive class ticket costs Rs 130, in addition to the price to enter the fort. For Indians, the entry fee is Rs 5 and for foreigners it is Rs 100. A ticket for a video camera is Rs 25. Open from 9 am to 5.30 pm.

Not far away are the Qutb Shahi tombs. These are the seven tombs of the rulers of the Qutb Shahi dynasty. Set in expansive green parkland, these are ideal spots to admire the architecture and escape the crowds (these tombs don't seem to be very touristy). 

Qutb Shahi Tombs
Unfortunately, maintenance is not top- expect overgrown grass and fading architecture. Particularly in Golconda Fort, people have scribbled their names on the buildings- so the fault is a two-way street.

Great photography spots
- Roads leading to Charminar (get the shots of Charminar along with the chaos of the streets)
- From the compound of Mecca Masjid (get the Charminar with the pigeons)
- Khilwat Mubarak, the main hall of the Chowmahallah Palace (capture the intricate designs)

Great viewpoints
- The compound of Birla Temple, with views of Hussain Sagar Lake
- Going to the highest points of Golconda Fort

ACCOMMODATION
We stayed in the Taj Deccan, located in Banjara Hills. Good quality, as you would expect from a business hotel of this standard. Walking distance to a few places in Banjara Hills.

FOOD
Like many other Indian cities, Hyderabad is particularly renowned for some food items.

Nimrah Cafe, very close to Charminar and Mecca Masjid, is very famous for Irani tea. They also sell biscuits- another of Hyderabad's specialty.

Kebabs and Kurries, located in the ITC Kakatiya Hotel (in Begumpet, close to the western shore of Hussain Sagar Lake). Serves brilliant biriyani and kebabs.

Check out branches of Karachi Bakery and Bikanerwala, such as their branches in Banjara Hills (they are both next to each other). They serve lots of Indian sweets, snacks etc (and good macarons too).

SPEAK
The official and most widely spoken language in Hyderabad is Telugu. However, many people you will come across (such as in restaurants) will speak at least basic English. Do not expect autorickshaw (3-wheelers) drivers to understand English. Guides in tourist attractions may speak good English.

As Urdu is a relatively popular language here, and since Urdu and Hindi are very similar at a conversational level, Hindi speakers will not have a problem being understood in Hyderabad (which is often the case in smaller cities/towns in South India).

TRANSPORT
Walking, while a great way to get a feel of the city, particularly in the Old City, requires caution in Hyderabad. First, of course, is the weather. Summer sees temperatures beyond 40 degrees Celsius, and above 30 is the norm even up to October (I went in October and it went up to 36 C). Secondly, those pedestrian lights you see serve just for decoration purposes- many (such as in Banjara Hills) never turn green! Cross with caution, and like anywhere in India, do not expect any vehicle to give way.

Hyderabad lacks efficient public transport, and autorickshaws (who may not hesitate to rip off a non-local) are the often the best choice within the city. Taxis cannot be hailed off the streets. Nationwide brands of radio cabs include Meru, EasyCabs and Ola Cabs.

To hire a car + driver for a whole day, try Savaari.

Check in advance if the driver speaks English.

Hyderabad is served by the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport.

Last visit- Oct 2014
No of visits- 1