The dry, hot air rings with the shrill beeps of yellow tuk-tuks as they weave recklessly around their obstacles. Gangs of knock-kneed goats feast on piles of reeking rubbish. Locals crowd into the booths of fan-cooled cafés and converse over piping hot cups of chai, served with salty sweet Osmania biscuits. Elderly ladies shrouded in dark fabric knock expectantly on taxi windows, while the passengers inside keep their eyes to the front.
Meanwhile, the Taj Falaknuma Palace hotel sits atop the city, high above the chaos. Guests are ferried by horse-drawn carriages to the heavenly white edifice, where they are showered with magenta rose petals as they ascend the staircase of the former home of the Nizam, once the richest man in the world. From all the way up here, Hyderabad’s blurred buildings seem to bow to the palace. Just after the sun has set, the city glitters beneath a lilac sky, and the poignant Islamic call to prayer echoes faintly. And the chorus of beeping tuk-tuks is still audible; like a rebellious cry – a reminder of the life that lies below.
Locked in by land, almost bang in the middle of India, Hyderabad is the capital of the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Its history as a trading point for diamonds and pearls – fuelled by the Nizam’s penchant for the jewels of the sea – has earned it the accolade of ‘City of Pearls’. While precious gems remain an important part of Hyderabad’s economy, since the 1990s, it’s Hyderabad’s technology industry that has truly propelled it forwards onto the world stage.
Drive for thirty minutes from the Old City, and you’ll reach the Hyderabad Information Technology and Engineering Consultancy City (HITECH City) also known as ‘Cyderabad’.
“It’s a classic example of what people call modern India,” says Jayanti Rajagopalan (aka Jonty) Hyderabad resident, and founder of Detours India (detoursindia.com). “You won’t hear the honking of the cars and if you stand there and close your eyes, you could be anywhere in the world.” The brown cylindrical Cyber Towers buildings have housed tech companies since their inauguration in 1999 – in fact, Microsoft was one of the first to move in. The structure has come to represent Hyderabad’s firm ambitions to cultivate an international tech hub.
Twenty years later, the tech giants keep on coming. Microsoft chose HITECH City as the site of its second global research centre, and its campus here has grown to cover 19 hectares. Facebook opened its Indian headquarters here back in 2012. Last year, Apple announced it will be opening a development centre in HITECH City that will focus on its Maps app, creating 4,000 jobs. Amazon recently revealed it will build its largest campus outside of the US in Hyderabad by 2019, which will house a technology development centre. Similarly, Google’s largestoffice outside of the states is also here, and itplans to double its headcount in Hyderabad to 13,000 over the next few years.
HITECH City now occupies 80 hectares of land, and it continues to grow. The satellite city is gaining yet another landmark building to house tech companies; shaped like a giant white arch, Cyber Gateway will offer more than 80,000 sqm of office space when it is complete.
The city’s booming tech scene and infrastructure naturally makes it a magnet for start-ups. The Telangana government’s ’T-Hub’ start-up accelerator was created as a support system for Hyderabad’s talented techies, and T-Hub’s Catalyst building is now the largest start-up incubator in India. “They have a very exciting set-up,” says Jonty. “If you go there, there are people who will guide you, you can meet investors who are interested in your business, people who can mentor you, and you can use co-working space. They have created this set-up where entrepreneurs in the tech arena can come in and consider working with start-ups in Hyderabad.”
Catalyst’s industrial chic design – think exposed brick walls and concrete floors furnished with bright modern furniture – is conducive to collaboration, with open working spaces, games areas with snooker tables and transparent walled office space. Emblazoned on the wall are slogans such as “If your dreams don’t scare you, you’re not dreaming big enough.” And it seems to be paying off – in 2015, Hyderabad’s start-ups successfully received more than £25 million of funding.
Following on from the success of T-Hub for the tech sector, the government announced last year that it will be introducing T-Hub accelerators for other industries, including defence, digital agriculture and aerospace. The latter will complement some other new developments in Hyderabad: Airbus announced earlier this year that it will be setting up a Centre of Excellence in the city, focussing on aircraft manufacturing, maintenance, repair and other aviation processes. Meanwhile, Boeing also has plans to establish a manufacturing facility here in partnership with aviation IT systems producer, TASL. Having a pool of curious minds working on new ideas for their industry right on their doorstep, will certainly be advantageous for both companies.
Despite Hyderabad’s astounding growth – and its popularity with outside investors – political happenings over the past few years have seen some big changes in the city. In 2014, the state of Andhra Pradesh (of which Hyderabad is the capital) was split into two, and the 29th state of India, Telangana, was formed. Hyderabad become the capital of both states, and will remain so for the next decade, during which time Andhra Pradesh will create a new one. But the turmoil of the separation – including protests and shutdowns of roads and transport – had some initial repercussions.
“We had several days of closure, business took a hit, investors were not very comfortable with looking at Hyderabad because of the uncertainty,” says Jonty. “The political party that campaigned to create a separate state then came to power, and had to almost rebuild from before.” (Sound familiar?)
In a move to stimulate foreign investment in Hyderabad (and Telangana), the government proactively met with international industry leaders, promising the physical safety of their employees and a pro-business attitude. It also rolled out a series of attractive policies for investors and multinational companies, that helped to leapfrog the bureaucracy and many of the obstacles encountered across other Indian cities. The results are clear, and two years after the state’s formation, the world’s top technology companies had reaffirmed their intentions to set up base in Hyderabad.
Talent from across India continues to flock to Hyderabad, thanks to not only its gleaming prospects, but its lifestyle. “As a city, it’s culturally quite comfortable to be in,” says Jonty. “It gets a little chaotic, but the cost of living is substantially lower than many of the other cities in India.
“For the expat community, moving to Hyderabad is an attractive option. Culturally it’s a city where the north meets the south – people from both ends of the country are comfortable going to Hyderabad, and they are ok about setting up a home here because they have a sense of familiarity with the language, which is a big problem in other Indian cities.”
Hyderabad has worked hard to get to where it is today – it’s a city that never stops reaching and finding ways to change. And, as HITECH City continues to grow, so do its prospects. Still, away from air conditioned coffee shops with bright young things huddled together over laptops, the grandiose Old City architecture stands proudly over bustling bazaars, and the day starts and ends with the same mesmeric melody that has emanated from Hyderabad’s mosques for centuries.
WHERE TO EAT
SAHIB SINDH SULTAN
Inspired by India’s railway heritage, this fine dining restaurant seems misplaced at the top of the rather nondescript City Centre Mall. A Pullmanstyle carriage occupies one side of the restaurant, where it’s possible to dine inside. The food draws upon recipes from several Indian states – I can vouch for the delicious palak paneer (spinach and gravy based curry with paneer cheese).
With intricate white columns and a modern twist to its decor, this popular restaurant to the north of the city is an ideal place to try Hyderabad’s biriani (a spicy rice based dish with meat and/or vegetables).
Necklace Road: tel +91 986 669 3539
Serving excellent western and Indian brunch dishes, as well as delectable pasta and risotto dishes for lunch, Taj Falaknuma Palace’s all day dining restaurant feels relaxed, despite the refi ned décor and oil paintings. At cooler times during the day, take a seat on the terrace for a view fi t for a Nizam.
TOP PLACES FOR A MEETING/EVENT
Once the place where the Nizams entertained their special guests, this complex of palaces offers a spectacular setting for gala dinners and drinks receptions.
TAJ FALAKNUMA PALACE
The 101 Dining Hall at this palace-turned-five-star hotel has the longest dining table in the world, served by a team of tightly choreographed, orange-turbaned waiters. An evening here is an unforgettable experience.
THE PARK HYDERABAD
Contemporary and functional, this 270-room hotel set along Hussain Sagar Lake has a 500 capacity ballroom and a plush Residence for intimate meetings or product launches.