Someone once said that the best way to classify Hyderabad is into people who have seen the Salar Jung Museum and people whose lives are a thousand pities.
The undisputed cock of the walk of not just Hyderabad's but the entire continent's galleries, Salar Jung Museum is dwarfed only the reams of copy that have been written about it. For locals, tourists and all the birds of passage, this one is the long and short of history, and the capital of the local map.
Yes, Salar Jung Museum is huge. Spread over 10 acres and 4 floors, and with close to 40,000 exhibits, the museum is a collection of various artifacts gathered by Nawab Turab Ali Khan, popularly known as Salar Jung I, the diwan of the Hyderabad State, and his descendants, with the collection of Salar Jung III alias Mir Yousuf Ali Khan forming the major chunk of the art pieces on display.
There are a total of some 36 galleries spread over two floors, the ground and the first. You can start with the Founders' Gallery and move on to the Western Furniture gallery. The Ivory Section is ethereal with a whole chair set made of ivory, which was presented to Tipu Sultan by Louis XV. A lot of statues and figurines set in ivory encircle the centre display of the chair set.
One of the star attractions in the museum is the Musical clock, which has been set up in an open auditorium. At the end of every hour a soldier comes out and rings in the hour. The popularity of this exhibit is so high that chairs have been set up throughout the hall - the end of an hour sees the place overflowing with people - and on either side of the clock you have TV sets for a better view.
Venture over to the Western Block and revel in the pristine beauty of the varied artworks in the painting gallery. The paintings have been divided into various groups depending upon the subject. Therefore, you have paintings depicting animals, domestic scenes, romantic overtures and the serenity of nature, to name a few.
This gallery also houses another crowd puller, the double statue. Carved in wood, the statue has, on one side, a soldier, Mephistopheles, and on the other, a young woman, Margarita. The other side is reflected through the mirror in the wall behind the statue.
In the vicinity of this artwork gallery, you have the glass gallery. This features works in the various styles of the English, the French, the Venetians and the Bohemian, among many others. Somewhere in between these two galleries is the clock gallery.
Among the various galleries dedicated to Indian art you have the Kashmiri room, the Mughal room, the textiles room and the Bidriware. There is also the Indian minipainting room and the manuscript room. The manuscript gallery is a great place to see people discourse on about the origin and meaning of the various manuscripts on display. It houses ancient manuscripts and relics in Arabic, Urdu and Persian.
Going in the opposite direction subject-wise, you have the Arms room. This room hosts the various combat devices of the Moghul emperors.
Another highlight of this place is the fabled veiled statue of Rebecca. Created by G B Benzoni in 1876, this Italian sculpture is an example of one of the most empyreal uses of marble. The fine carving of the stone actually gives the impression of a veil over the statue. You have to see it to come to terms with it.
The museum authorities have created quite a few amenities for the general public - for example, there are a luggage room and a cloakroom. No cameras are allowed, though.
The museum is open on all days except Fridays and public holidays. The booking time for tickets is from 10am to 4:15pm.