Hyderabad, City of Diamonds

If this account (written subsequently) is a little light on historical detail and a little heavy on trivia, then we must blame the fact that my challenging itinerary finally caught up with me and I succumbed to a miserable couple of days of illness. These things happen. I suppose I can console myself with the thought that Hyderabad is one city I will almost certainly return to and enjoy the memories of what I did see without worrying too much about those that I missed.

From the time of antiquity to the 18th century discovery of the gem mines of Brazil, India was the world’s only source of diamonds and pretty well all of them came from a few mines situated in this Princely State. All the fabulous diamonds of the royal houses of Europe, Russia, Persia and the Ottoman Empires combined were “Golconda” diamonds, and thence the fabled riches of the Indies and so much of the later history of colonisation and conquest.

By the time the last Nizam was deposed in 1948 he was the richest man in the world although it doesn’t seem to have helped him very much when the newly Independent State of India decided he would not be allowed to hold onto his territories and sent in the troops. They also compulsorily purchased what is arguably one of the greatest jewellery collections ever assembled for a fraction of its value. Not so dreadful an outcome, perhaps,  for a man who allegedly kept one of the largest diamonds as a paper weight on his untidy desk but it turned out to be far worse for the people of India because these gems are now kept in the vaults of the central bank and seldom displayed.

I did my best with the regular sightseeing destinations: the distinctive four-towered Charminar monument was surrounded by frenetic traffic and covered in scaffolding but the Makkah Masjid was tranquil and welcoming and had very clean toilets. Actually a couple of other details about the latter do stick in my mind, it is called the Mecca Mosque because it contains a piece of stone brought from that holiest of cities and when I made my offering at the peaceful colonnade of green shrouded tombs an attendant marked my forehead with a little dab of ash. Now that hasn’t happened to me since I attended a Roman Catholic Ash Wednesday Mass as a child.

So if there were not many diamonds on show in the Salar Jung Museum what were the trappings of such fabulous wealth that the former rulers had left to the city? This huge complex contains galleries dedicated to exotic porcelain, textiles, woodwork, metalwork, carpets and just about every other type of luxury item you can collect if you have too much money and an army of agents all happy to indulge you. I am grateful to whoever arranged the collections by subject, enabling me to miss out whole sections dedicated to such items as walking sticks or Japanese vases.

I did my best, I really did but whenever I found something interesting I had to flatten myself to the walls periodically to avoid being trampled by hoards of “selfie kids” and search hard for some relevant information. I came across a magnificent, gold embroidered suit of clothing made for a man who must have been over seven foot tall but nothing about who he was and how he had been regarded at a time when the majority of people were no more than five foot. I found a European porcelain Durga Goddess, her usual attire of flashing swords and skull necklace replaced by something more appropriate to a Meissen shepherdess. And the rugs were a disgrace. Hasn’t somebody told that curators that a thick coating of dirt is not an essential ingredient when it comes to the preservation of oriental carpets?

When I discovered that the separate Nizzam’s Museum had been built to house all the gifts, honours and awards that had been bestowed upon him by foreign dignitaries I couldn’t help but be reminded of my visit to North Korea and gave it a miss. I decided that if there were no official diamonds on show then I could at least see some unofficial ones. After all, just about every shop here that isn’t selling them is a vendor of pearls instead and just a casual glance reveals the Blue Diamond Chinese Restaurant or the Golden Pearl Burka Tailors. Even my hotel was situated in Necklace Road.

So I just had to ask a rickshaw driver to take me to one of the best and pretend to be a wealthy woman in disguise. I needn’t have bothered. Yes, there were lots of diamonds, modern precision cutting methods and a world glut of poorer quality stones has seen to that and yes, there was lots of gold. Where in India is there not? But the pearls were not worth a second look and the quality of the coloured stones was absolutely dreadful. Some of the so called emeralds and rubies used to set off all this bling were complete rubbish and as for a Navratna (a set of nine sacred stones) with the wrong varieties of gemstones? Well, I was insulted to be offered it and I’m not even a Hindu.

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