Hyderabad has the best zoo in India. It lies in a huge 121-hectare (300-acre) expanse of undulating, semi-tropical landscape, and is the home of some 1600 animals. Famous for its Lion Safari Park and for its many birds (over 240 species), its extensive grounds vary from attractive landscaped gardens to peaceful picnic bowers, from lush jungle forests to still, serene inland lakes. A Rs25 rickshaw ride from the town center, the Nehru Zoological Park is located just outside the old city walls on the Bangalore Rd, quite near to Charminar. Open 9 am-6 pm daily (except Monday), admission Rs0.50.Visit early in the morning, when all the big cats are still fairly alert (by noon, they’re comatose), and spend all day wandering around. There’s enough here to justify it. Inside the entrance, you’ll find a useful map.
Straight ahead, there’s the small toy-train track that runs right round the inner park perimeter, and the Rsl ride is a good way of orienting yourself quickly within the large grounds. Back at the park entrance, head left on foot. This takes you via the tiger, cheetah and camel compounds, and over to the ever-popular elephants and white rhinos. You’ll note that all the animals are very well kept, and live in near-natural surroundings separated from their human visitors only by the most unobtrusive of barriers.At the top of the park, some 20 minutes’ walk from the entrance, you’ll come to the Lion Safari Park. Crowded but cosy minibuses speed off in search of lions every 15 minutes or so, from 9.30 am to 12.15 pm, from 2 to 4.30 pm, daily. For Rsl, it’s good value. When the bus finds some lions, it generally screeches to a halt for photographs, sometimes it breaks down, and the lions wander over to stare at the tourists instead.Out of the Lion Park, strike left down the outer perimeter path to find deer, bison, gnu, monkeys. Just past the waterbuck compound, head into the center of the park for sambhar, crane, nilgai, bear, water-birds and more lions. There’s a couple of snack restaurants here, and a pleasant picnic area where you can enjoy a relaxing lunch. During the hottest part of the day (1-4 pm), while the animals rest, visit the Natural History Museum and Aquarium, both by the entrance ticket-gate (open 9 am-1 pm, 2-5 pm daily). Then the Prehistoric Animals Park and nearby Ancient Life Museum, both a short walk from the entrance. Otherwise, visit the monkeys who never go to sleep.
Dance, drama and musical concerts featuring both Indian and foreign performers take place nightly at Rabindra Bharathi, a beautiful air-conditioned auditorium. Good painting and sculpture exhibitions are held at the A.P. Lalit Kala Academy, Kala Bhavan, Saifabad (tel 34794). Full details of current events are given in the Deccan Chronicle newspaper.
Not for nothing is Hyderabad known as the City of Pearls. In olden days, the Nizams would settle for nothing less than the best of Gulf pearls. Today, while connoisseurs are content with beads from China and Japan, Hyderabad remains the only centre for their trade in India.
At a reputable pearl dealer like Mangatrai, Bashir Bagh (tel 235728) or Mangatrai Ramkumar, Pathergatti (tel 521405, 524339) or the Gateway Hotel, you can pick up old pearls from the Persian Gulf (known as Basra pearls) for as little as 20% of current London prices. The cost of pearls varies depending on type and shape. Both the above dealers offer rice pearls, seed pearls, round pearls and drop pearls. A medium-sized string of pearls weighs about 30 to 35 grams. But don’t have pearls strung and set in Hyderabad. Have them done in Bombay where it is far cheaper.
If you can’t afford pearls, shop around for the famous, sparkling Hyderabadi bangles, nagans. Often embedded with semi-precious stones, they are made from pure lac, a resin secreted by beetles, and are extremely lustrous and durable. Prices range from Rs15 to Rs500 per pair, and you can find a wide selection at the Chudi Bazaar near the Charminar.
Charminar’s many bazaars are among the most varied, lively and colourful in India; an exotic pot-pourri of antique shops, bangle makers, jewellers, chemists, bidriware craftsmen, pearl dealers and silversmiths. You can find practically anything here, and the atmosphere is quite remarkable. There are whole streets covered in old books and clothes, intriguing hairdressers and lots of local people wandering around in green Viking helmets and pilot goggles. Things to buy include traditional bidri work—shiny silver inlay designs on black gun-metal, normal lacquerw are toys, picture-frames, trays and furniture, Himroo fabrics and brocades, gun-metal statuettes, and kondapalli sandalwood toys.
There are some good fabric shops on Nampali Rd, and an interesting Flea Market every Thursday morning near the Charminar which starts early. Prices on all goods are variable, and you’re best advised to get a idea on what is fair at a reliable government emporium. Good ones are Lepakshi Handicrafts Emporium at Gun Foundry (top of Abid Road, tel 235028), APCO Handloom House, Sundar Estate (also Abids, tel 222807) and Handloom House, Mukharam Jahi Road.
There are good opportunities in Hyderabad to see traditional craft processes. The ancient process of bodriware may be seen at Mumtaz Bidri Works Co-op Society, 22-1-1042 Darush Shifa (tel 845843) or Yaqoob Brothers, 995 Habeeb Nagar (tel 234273). To see nirmalware being made, visit the factory and showroom of Nirmal Industries, Raj Bhavan Road (tel 232157); left off the main road between Panjagutta and downtown Hyderabad in Khairatabad. When at the factory, ask for directions to the nearby Himroo weaving center.