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A charming blend of the ancient and the modern, Hyderabad , also known as the Istanbul of India, is a vital center of Islamic culture, and central India 's answer to the Mughal grandeur of the northern cities of Delhi , Agra and Fatehpur Sikri . Consisting of the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, it is the capital of the state of Andhra Pradesh . It boasts of some fine examples of Qutab Shahi architecture - the Jama Masjid, the Mecca Masjid, Toli Masjid, and of course, the impressive symbol of Hyderabad , the Charminar.

Hyderabad is the creation of the Qutab Shahi rulers. In 1589, Mohammed Quli Qutab Shah decided to shift his capital from Golconda to the banks of river Musi. Consequently, a city adorned with magnificent palaces and mosques, embodying a style of architecture that was unique to the place - the domes and minarets dressed with splendid stucco ornamentation - was born. Hyderabad retains the old-world atmosphere, unlike other cities in South India . A unique feature of the city is that it is the only city in the south, where the major language spoken is Urdu.

Hyderabad offers a glimpse into the amazing spectrum of performing arts unique to Andhra Pradesh. Kuchipudi , the classical dance form of the state presents vignettes from the great Hindu epics and mythological tales through fascinating dance-dramas. Shadow puppetry is another famous folk art. Perforated leather puppets depicting mythological characters from the epics, are handled with bamboo sticks against a brilliant lamp-lit background. This is performed to the accompaniment of percussion instruments and lyrical narration. Around 19 tribes people the Araku Valley , 115 km from Visakhapatnam . Their cultural repertoire is a profusion of dances, folk songs and religious celebrations.

Hyderabad is a center for handicrafts peculiar to the city and from around the state. There are fabulous bargains to be had at Charkaman, Mitti-ka-Sher and Laad Bazaar. They include: bidriware, hookahs, boxes, jewellery made of black gun-metal inlaid with fine silver wire in exquisite floral and geometric patterns; appliqued patchwork skirts, bags and belts with mirrors and beads, embroidered by the Banjara and Lambadi gypsy tribes; Nirmal lacquerware, brass from Pembarthi, Kondapalli carved toys, leather toys and Warangal carpets. The traders in the cluster of by-lanes surrounding the Charminar, and Laad Bazaar stock fine jewellery - antique kundan and enamel ornaments, temple sarees , old bidriware and exquisite pearls.

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At the heart of the hustle-bustle of the old walled city, amidst all the congestion, is the Charminar - the massive arch built by Mohammed Quli Qutab Shah, in 1591 to propitiate the evil forces from destroying his new city with the plague. The symbol of the city, the Charminar, looming at a height of 56 m, is an impressive square gateway with four minarets. The arch is illuminated daily in the evening, an unforgettable sight indeed.

Near the Charminar is the Mecca Masjid , one of the largest in the world, said to accommodate up to 10,000 worshippers. The foundation of the mosque was laid during the reign of Mohammed Quli Qutab Shah, in 1614, but it was completed only in 1687, when the Golconda Kingdom was annexed by Emperor Aurangzeb.

One of Hyderabad 's prime attractions is the Salar Jung Museum , the world's largest one-man collection, and the 35 rooms of which house around 35,000 exhibits. These include unusual collections of jade, marble statues, rare manuscripts, Persian miniature paintings, Chinese porcelain and other objects d'art. The credit for this invaluable collection goes to Mir Yusaf Ali Khan Salar Jung the 3rd, the Prime Minister of Nizam, a great connoisseur of art.

A short distance away from the city looms one of the most magnificent fortresses in India , the Golconda Fort . The fort dates back to the time of the Qutab Shahi kings, though its origin has been traced to earlier periods, during the reign of theYadavas, and later the Kakatiyas. The fortress is built on a granite hill 120 meters high, and is surrounded by massive crenellated ramparts, its gates studded with menacing iron spikes, intended to discourage elephants from battering them down. What is unique to this fort is its system of acoustics, whereby the sound of hands clapped at the entry gate, can be heard quite clearly at the top of the hill, at a height of 61 m.

The stately tombs of the Qutab Shahi rulers lie just outside the outer wall of the Golconda fort. They lie amidst beautifully - kept gardens, and a number of them have intricately carved stonework. Hyderabad also boasts of one of the largest zoos in India , the Nehru Zoological Park , with adjuncts like a prehistoric animal section, a toy train, and a lion safari. The Birla Mandir (Naubat Prahad), a splendid temple built entirely out of white marble, stands on a hill, which overlooks the south end of Hussain Sagar. The Birla Planetarium is, also, quite a crowd-puller.

Hyderabad is connected with the rest of the country, and with the world, through the Indian Airlines and Air India , respectively. The main railway station is at Secunderabad.

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