490km (304 miles) N of Bengaluru

Named after Hyder Mahal, wife of Muhammad Quli, a 16th-century ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, Hyderabad was one of the largest and wealthiest of India's former princely states. The city built its fortune on the trade of pearls, gold, steel, fabric, and, above all, diamonds, which some believe remain hidden beneath the foundations of Golconda Fort, precursor to the city some 10km (6 1/4 miles) away. Once the most famous diamond mining area in the world, Golconda was where the 108-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond (not to mention the Orloff, Regent, and Hope diamonds) was excavated. It was in fact Golconda's legendary wealth that attracted the attention of the voracious Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, and with the aid of an inside agent he captured the fortress in 1687. Aurangzeb's invasion marked the temporary decline of the city, but when the Mughal empire began to fade, the enterprising local viceroy, Asaf Jah I, promptly proclaimed himself Nizam, and established independent rule over the Deccan state. Under the notoriously opulent Nizams of the Asaf Jahi dynasty, their power cemented by an alliance forged in 1798 with the British East India Company, Hyderabad again became a major influence, and even contributed to the British military campaigns against the recalcitrant Tipu Sultan of Mysore.

Hyderabad is more than 400 years old, but today the state capital of Andhra Pradesh is as famous for its burgeoning information technology and biotech research industries as it is for its minarets, and it is precisely this stark contrast that makes it such an appealing destination. Like Bengaluru, this is one of India's fastest-growing cities, with a projected population of 7.5 million by 2015, and a substantial part of the city is the almost overnight growth of the vast suburb of Cyberabad, where Microsoft and Oracle are but two major players in the development also known as Hi-Tech City, responsible for the city's economic upswing. Yet, despite its newfound attractiveness as a business destination, the city remains steeped in history, and you're just as likely to share the road with camels and bullock carts, and haggle alongside Muslim women covered from head to toe in black burkhas, as you are to converse with cellphone-wielding yuppies. There may not be much by way of specific sights to see in Hyderabad, but it has a vibrant culture, excellent-value luxury hotels, and a heavenly cuisine -- perhaps the most enduring legacy of the decadent tastes and patronage of the cultured Nizams who first put the city on the map.


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