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Pic Above – Char Minar in Night
A heritage walk which starts from CharMinar and ends at Chowmahalla Palace, the two icons of Hyderabad, transports the curious soul to a lost era dripping with culture, history, and architectural marvels.
Not many cities can claim to be a perfect melange of modernity and tradition, big brands competing with local produce, ‘metal and glass’ buildings co existing with ancient edifices. Over the years, the booming IT industry has altered the soul of Hyderabad.
I always wanted to participate in the famed early morning heritage walk organized by the government in old Hyderabad.
I arrived at the streets near Char Minar with an agenda of staying there overnight. I wanted to see Charminar bathed in green/blue/red lights the previous night and explore the night mood of the place.
“Currency exchange, currency exchange?” he accosted me as soon as my rickshaw stopped.
“What currency exchange? I am from India, dammit. I am not even fair!” Amused, I said with a guffaw. (I blame my large backpack!)
I woke up early morning to see a Charminar bereft of its happy green/red/blues. Never mind, the background of soft blue clouds compensated for it. The Char Minar, always mobbed from morning to night, stood out due to an absence of much human activity. .
The department of tourism organizes many heritage walks. I chose Walk 1. Commencing from Charminar it ends at Chowmahalla Palace. Ever since it was inaugurated on 25th October 2009, this walk has found many takers.
Many people don’t explore old Hyderabad beyond Charminar. So, I grabbed at this opportunity. 400 years of rule by Mughals, Asaf Jahi and Qutb Shahi, the city today preserves myriad architectural marvels and cultural vibrancy.
The walk began at Charminar at 7:30 a.m. We were the only tourist at that time accompanied by a guide and a ‘Tourist Police’. The emptiness gave us the opportunity to admire the stucco decorations leisurely, while paying attention to many interesting stories shared by our guide.
From the balustrades and balconies, we soaked in the unique views of the still sleepy market and other heritage buildings below. Also known as the Arc de Triomphe of the East, it’s construction was completed in 1591 CE. There are many versions behind the reason why this monument was constructed. However, here is the most accepted story. Did you know that Charminar is also a mosque? Qutub Shahi dynasty’s Mohammed Quli Qutub Shahi, used to perform his daily prayers at this spot. He prayed for the eradication of the deadly plague in the city. Once the menace ended, he built the monument in gratitude and in commemoration of the event. Later, in 1889, the four famous clocks in each direction were added to the main building.
Moving on to the west of Charminar we entered the kilometer long Laad Bazaar, famous for its bangles. Most shops and carts sell bangles here. Laad means lacquer, the material used to make bangles. There are many varieties of bangles sold here, the most glamorous one being the glossy ones studded with artificial diamonds and colorful stones. Sari, jewelries, itra (perfumes),silverware, Kalamkari paintings, and even wedding items are also sold here. The street is lined with many old shops on either sides. A unique feature here is the houses built atop the shops. In those times people had homes above their shops. Most of these ancient house and shop buildings have a wooden exterior, their paints peeling off, adding to its antique aura.
It is interesting to know that the bangles made in the workshops here are so popular that they are exported to Middle East countries. That said, it is also irresistible to the international and domestic tourists, locals, and celebrities who visit here. As we walked, we came across Julukhana Kaman on our left. Now partly hidden by the unorganized shops, this colossal gate was once one of the main entrances to the Chowmahalla Palace.
On the way was Mecca Masjid, another architectural feat. It can host upto 10,000 people at a time. This makes it the largest mosque in Hyderabad as well as one of the largest mosques in India. It was built between 1614 to 1693. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb completed its construction. As the name suggests, it is christened after the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The folklore has it that the soil for bricks used for its construction was sourced from Mecca.
Mehboob Chowk is the center for mayhem and commotion, its streets buzzing with activities. Even early morning was not spared! Despite the peopled streets, the early morning visit helped in observing small details. I imagined that it must not be possible once the streets come alive with more sellers,shoppers, tourists and locals. Many stories escaped the locked doors and windows of the closed shops and houses. The locals in nearby butcher shops went about their work, indifferent to the chickens, indifferent to the massive history around them.
The Mehboob Chowk Clock Tower and century old Moti Mahal (former palace of the Nizam) are at walking distance. Built in European architectural style, Moti mahal dates back to 1880! The clock tower is 5 storied and was built in 1892 by Asman Jah, the erstwhile Prime Minister of Hyderabad. A garden surrounds the structure enhanced by decorative stuccos. Built in Turkish style, it has 4 clocks facing each direction. Architectural gems such as these and important trade activities carried out every day in this area since times immemorial makes Mehboob Chowk an important landmark in Old Hyderabad.
As we passed through Mehboob Chowk’s butcher shops and ancient brick and wood homes,goats peeping from the balcony terraces, the group arrived at Khursheed Jah Baradari. Built between 1880-1890, it was the residence of Nawab Khursheed Jah Paigah, the maternal grandson of third Nizam of Hyderabad. The local kids play cricket in the open ground facing the Baradari. It is said that once upon a time it was a beautiful ground dotted with ponds and gardens.
The once glamorous Baradari is now in a dilapidated state. There are eight columns built in the middle of the building, constructed in European style. Huge windows dominate on its either sides. Now in a bad shape, the Baradari, in its happier days boasted of the finest chandeliers, paintings, furnishings etc! These days, goats and local kids hang out at the once palatial building, owned by the royals. Hussaini Alam Girls College is run in its compound.
The group veered off to large complex of buildings called Iqbal-ud-daula Devdi. A ‘devdi’ stands for haveli (a large palatial house). I was gobsmacked at the sheer size of this haveli, its walls lined almost an entire street. As a Palladian façade swallowed me, I was not surprised to discover a school, a Tae-kwon-do training class and offices running in its premises. Many locals call it home too. Oriental and European architectural style is evident in the building. Not to forget a surprising Hindu style shell and wheel (Shankha-Chakra) structure.
Chowmahalla Palace, the pride of Hyderabad is modeled after the Shah’s palace in Teheran (Iran).
Manicured gardens and ponds surround the grand palace. Ducks leisurely enjoy the bath under the fountains, cocooned from the chaotic traffic outside. Bara Imam, a long corridor of rooms faces the pond. In earlier times, it housed the administrative wing.
The word Chowmahalla literally translates as ‘four palace’ viz. Afzal Mahal, Mahtab Mahal, Tahniyat Mahal and Aftab Mahal. Its construction was started in 1750 by Nizam Salabhat Jung and completed in 1869 by Nizam Afzar-ud-Dawla Bahadur.
Two ornate windows embellished with beautiful stucco flank the façade of the Durbar hall. Nearby is a clock called Khilwat Clock perched atop the main gate of the compound. The clock is running since the times of Nizams rule.
Khilwat Mubarak is the heart of the palace and also the most attractive. It was here that Darbars of Nizams took place in those times. It was the seat of Asaf Jahi Dynasty. The massive chandeliers and ornate pillars vie for your attention. The gorgeous ceiling calls for some discomfort to your neck. It the building was expanded over the years, it reflects different architectural styles such as Persian, Indo Saracenic, European and even Rajasthani. A stroll through its corridors gives a glimpse of the grandeur of that era.
The 2 hour, 3 kilometer long walk ended with an all inclusive breakfast of tea, Vada and Idli in the campus of Chowmahalla Palace. As I was bidding adieu to the historical old city, the shops which were closed in the morning were now buzzed with activities, the empty streets hosted a chaotic circus and the soft sky made way to a piercing sun. Not very far, in Hitec city, the upwardly mobile young professionals were gearing up for their IT jobs. In glass and metal buildings! In a new, resurgent, modern Hyderabad! Or did you say, Cyberabad?
Information on walk timing and bookings – http://www.telanganatourism.gov.in/
The other three routes identified by the Tourism Department for heritage walks in old Hyderabad are:
- Charminar to Badshahi Ashurkhana
- Charminar to Purani Haveli
- State Central Library to the City College.
- Carry water bottles.
- Dress conservatively
- Don’t intrude in people’s private lives. Many areas have residential quarters.
- Look out for many lip smacking dishes and beverages on sale on the streets once the walk is over.
- Carry a daypack. I like this bag from Targus. Its sleek look and light weight makes it great as a day pack. The space to carry water bottle makes it ideal for such heritage walks. There is a separate compartment for laptop. As a traveler it is great for me when I don’t want to carry big backpacks. It has many compartments and internal pockets which helps me to organize my stuff and segregate them neatly. It is a stylish minimalist bag. Just the way I prefer it. It is also good for students and office goers whose movement is mostly restricted within the city limits. Best part is it is not expensive.
There are still lots to see/do/eat in Hyderabad. Here is your top 10 pick:
- Qutub Shahi Tombs
- Salar Jung Museum
- Golconda Fort
- Taramati Baradari
- Birla Temple
- State Archeological Museum
- Hussainsagar lake
- Ramoji Film city
More detail about things to do/see/eat in Hyderabad coming up in a separate blog.
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