With restoration of six historic baolis or stepwells from the 16th and 17th century at Quli Qutb Shah Tombs Garden, the city of Hyderabad has taken another step in its bid to get the UNESCO Heritage City tag.
Telangana minister KT Rama Rao accompanied US Consul-General Jennifer Larson to inspect the completion of the restoration, a project supported by the US Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation.
The stepwells — restored with massive stone masonry and traditional materials — are just one part of the project to restore the Tombs Garden, a necropolis just north of Golconda, spread over 106 acres. Experts say it is unique and incomparable to any site anywhere else in the world.
The Aga Khan Trust is restoring over 100 monuments, including mausoleums and mosques, besides the landscape, in partnership with the state's culture department. The stepwells used to irrigate the orchards within the walled enclosures around the royal tombs.
Project director Ratish Nanda from the Foundation told NDTV, "Every decade in the 179-year Qutb Shahi rule is really represented here with a building. We have 40 dome mausoleums, four of which reach the height of Humayun's Tomb (Delhi) and other great Mughal mausoleums,"
The stepwells will now also serve a water source for the other parts of the project.
"We have been buying water in tankers at Rs 2 a litre. Using that to fix 100 monuments was financially unsustainable," said Mr Nanda.
"This helps tourism and saves land from encroachment. Earlier covered with debris, these stepwells will have enough water for requirements of the entire garden now," said Arvind Kumar, Special Chief Secretary, Telangana.
Hyderabad won the UNESCO tag for gastronomy a couple of years ago, a nod to its biryani and other famous dishes.
For the Heritage City tag, Qutb Shahi Tombs is a central feature. "At 106 acres, its is the largest heritage precinct of any metro city in India," said Mr Kumar.
Footfall is expected to rise by at least 10 times.
"At Humayun's Tomb (in Delhi), footfall increased by 20 times when it was restored. Here, once it's restored, we will have Sufi performances, special walks, a restaurant. We want local families, not just tourists, to start visiting," he added.
US Consul-General Jennifer Larson said, "We are happy to contribute in a small way. It is an outstanding site. It is my first cultural visit to Hyderabad."
Minister KT Rama Rao has been quoted as saying, "Combining the Qutb Shahi tombs and Golconda fort... we can surely aim for world heritage tag and that should put us on the map. We have Charminar and a number of heritage structures which we have revived."