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48 Hours In: Hyderabad

This magnificent southern Indian city won't stay off the tourist map for long, writes Sarah Khan

Travel essentials

Why go now?

Hyderabad, capital of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, has the feel of an ancient city transplanted into the 21st century: crumbling vestiges of elegant estates on the one hand; ultra-modern office parks and shopping malls on the other. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is a local boy and the city is striding forwards on its hi-tech credentials.

Yet a quiet movement is under way to reclaim what's left of the past – with spectacular restorations of the Taj Falaknuma Palace (1) and Chowmahalla Palace (2).

Through it all, the city feels refreshingly untouched by tourism. Who knows how long it will be before word gets out that some of India's best cuisine and most intriguing historical sites are found in this bustling metropolis?

Touch down

The only non-stop flights are on British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) from Heathrow. Connections from various UK airports are available on Emirates (0844 800 2777; emirates.com) via Dubai, Etihad Airways (0845 608 1225; etihadairways.com) via Abu Dhabi and Qatar Airways (0844 846 8380; qatarairways.com) via Doha.

Rajiv Gandhi airport is 25km south-west of the city centre. Pushpak airport buses (hyderabad.aero) have drop-offs along four routes approximately every 30 to 60 minutes from 4am to midnight, for R200-250 (£2-£2.50).

Taxis charge R21 (21p) per km; even with a 25-per-cent night surcharge, the journey to the centre should cost no more than R800 (£8).Greaves India (020 7487 9111; greavesindia.co.uk) offers customised itineraries in Hyderabad including accommodation and transport.

Get your bearings

Hyderabad was ruled by the Islamic Qutb Shahi dynasty and later the Mughals, one of whom – Asaf Jah – created his own dynasty, the Nizams, who presided until 1947.

The city sprawls over the banks of the Musi River, with the Old City to the south and the newer reaches to the north and west. The modern city is a congested expanse of drab 1970s concrete high-rises, crowded flyovers and shiny shopping centres. Newer, better-planned neighbourhoods have sprouted in what's known as Cyberabad, where Facebook, IBM and Deloitte have gleaming offices.

The Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation office (3) is at Tourism House, Himayatnagar (00 91 40 2326 2151; aptdc.gov.in). It opens 7am to 8pm daily.

Check in

The extraordinary Taj Falaknuma Palace hotel (1) at Engine Bowli, Falaknuma (00 91 40 6629 8585; tajhotels.com) opened in 2010 after a decade-long restoration. It is one of India's most luxurious properties, where visitors are made to feel like guests of the erstwhile ruling nizam – the former inhabitant – and have free rein over the library of rare texts and the king's 101-seat dining table. Doubles from R27,069 (£271), room only.

Business travellers descend on Hyderabad by the planeful these days and there's no sleeker address for them than the Park Hyatt (4) at Road No 2 in posh Banjara Hills (00 91 40 4949 1234; hyderabad.park.hyatt.com). Doubles from R10,800 (£108), room only.

The newly opened Trident Hotel (5) in HiTech City near Cyber Towers, Madhapur (00 91 40 6623 2323; tridenthotels.com) is a less pricey option from Oberoi Hotels, with three restaurants and a spa. Doubles from R8,219 (£82), room only.

Shop and go: auto-rickshaws at Laad Bazaar

Day one

Take a hike

Start in the heart of Hyderabad's Old City at the 19th-century Chowmahalla Palace (2), which has elegant courtyards and fountains, a throne room and some of the nizams' vintage cars on display (00 91 40 24522032; chowmahalla.com; R150/£1.50; open Saturday to Thursday 10am-5pm). From here, head north up Khilwath Road and veer right into Laad Bazaar (6). Do a circuit around the city's looming Charminar monument (7), the four-towered arch and mosque. Next, stop at the 17th-century Mecca Masjid (8), one of the largest mosques in India, then take a closer look at the domes of the 1938 Government General Nizamia Hospital (9) opposite. Walk north up the Patthargati Road promenade, fringed by towering stone marketplaces.

Lunch on the run

Hyderabadi biryani has built a reputation as one of the most flavourful versions of the fragrant rice dish. Sample it at Hotel Shadab (10) at Madina Circle, High Court Road (00 91 40 2456 5949), where a heaped platter of mutton biryani costs R150 (£1.50).

Take a view

Turn your attention back to the Charminar (7), Hyderabad's answer to the Arc de Triomphe, built by Muhammed Quli Qutb Shah in 1591 when he transplanted his capital from the diamond hub of Golconda. Climb the 149 steps in a winding stairwell to the viewing deck, where you can gaze out over the Old City. Tickets cost R100 (£1) (daily 9am to 5pm).

Window shopping Hyderabad is known as the City of Pearls for good reason – the arteries surrounding Charminar (7) are packed to the rafters with hundreds of jewellery shops. Haggle for some gems to take back. You could walk away with an elegant strand of pearls for under £100.

For less pricey souvenirs, head to the Laad Bazaar (6). Bangles cost around R500 (£5) for an armful. Shops generally open 11am until late, daily.

An aperitif

Taj Falaknuma Palace (1) may be in the thick of the Old City, but it feels hundreds of miles away, thanks to its perch high up on a hill. Trade in your taxi at the gate for a horse and carriage, then retreat at sunset for high tea on the Jade Terrace (R1,500/£15), to take in the views, along with the melodic call to prayer.

Dining with the locals

Candle-lit tables spill out across lovely gardens at Our Place (11) at Charan Pahadi 8-2-602/E, Road No 10, Banjara Hills (00 91 4023353422 ; ourplace.nowfloats.com), where the paneer tikka (R250/£2.50) and "Chicken 65" (R270/£2.70) will have you licking your fingers. Musicians serenade diners with ghazal songs.

If you're hoping to spot a star from the Telugu-language film industry, head to N Grill (12) at 788 Road No 36, Jubilee Hills (00 91 99 4999 9160; ngrill.com). The Zen-inspired resraurant is owned by Tollywood legend Nagarjuna. Expect to spend about R1,200 (£12) each for salt-and-pepper prawns, Thai green curry or New Orleans-style blackened chicken.

Location map: click to enlarge

Day two

Sunday morning: go to mosque

The Qutb Shahi tombs (13), Fort Road (00 91 1800 4254 5454), are a haunting complex of 16th-century mausoleums that form the final resting place of seven of that dynasty's rulers and their families. The beautiful structures are notable for their onion-shaped domes. The Great Mosque stands out for its intricately carved spires. Open daily 9.30am to 5pm, entry R100 (£1).

Take a ride

Hyderabad is hard at work building an underground railway. For now, your best bet for getting around is the black-and-yellow three-wheeled auto-rickshaw. Fares are R16 (16p) for the first kilometre and R9 (9p) for each subsequent km. Many drivers resist using the meter, so be prepared to negotiate a price at the outset.

Out to brunch

Hip Hyderabadis have been flocking to Olive Bistro (14) at Road No 46, G Ram Reddy Marg (00 91 40 6999 9127; olivebarandkitchen.com) since it opened last year. A stone pathway leads to a casual oasis: wrought-iron chairs, pastel-green shutters, mismatched cushions and sweeping water views are more Santorini than south India. Sunday brunch with fritto misto, eggs florentine and wood-fired pizzas costs R2,150 (£21)pp.

A walk in the park

Necklace Road forms a garland of sorts alongside the Hussain Sagar Lake. It is home to Lumbini Park (15) (Tuesday to Sunday 9am-9pm), where you can hire a boat for R50 (50p) and float out to the Buddha statue in the middle of the lake.

Cultural afternoon

Tucked away off Road No 1, Banjara Hills, Lamakaan (16) (00 91 96 4273 1329; lamakaan.com) is a non-profit space in a converted house hosting plays, lectures and literary festivals. Hyderabad's creative set descend at all hours to work on their latest magnum opus over steaming chai and samosas (10am-10.30pm, daily except Monday).

Icing on the cake

The beautiful stone complex of the 1935 Mozamjahi Market in Jambagh Road, Kattel Mandi, is the backdrop for a cluster of popular ice-cream shops. The most revered is Famous (17), a family-run institution known for its hand-churned mango, sapodilla and custard-apple flavours. Double scoops cost R25 (25p).