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Hyderabad

The Old City

Or shall we say the real Hyderabad? The part of town that has all the monuments that we are all so proud of, all the wares that we are so famous for, and all the folks that make us so unique!

Hyderabad was originally sited on the south side of the Musi river and built to reflect Sultan Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah's splendor and style of governance. The city has now spread widely in all directions - north across the river, eastwards and westwards. The area south of the Musi, the original Hyderabad, is what is referred to as the Old City or shehar (city) by the populace.Its nucleus is the Charminar, a famed landmark and the symbol of the city. With its four minarets and small mosque on the roof, the Charminar is as meaningful to the locals as perhaps the Arc de Triomphe is to the citizens of Paris.

We give you one of the best guided tours to the old city.
The best time of year to visit Hyderabad is winter, i.e. from the beginning of November to the end of February.

POPULAR MONUMENTS

The city and its environs are dotted with mosques, tombs, temples, forts, treasuries, armouries and caravansaries. Some of these monuments are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India and the Government of Andhra Pradesh. Strikingly, most of them belong to the Qutb Shahi period.

No visitor to Hyderabad should miss out on Golconda fort and the tombs of the Qutb Shahi sultans, their queens and family members on the neighbouring plain. There are several other attractions. A stone's throw from the Charminar is the Mecca Masjid. This glorious mosque is probably the greatest edifice of the Qutb Shahi period. It took 78 years to build. It is the second largest mosque in India and reputedly the seventh largest in the world. Its enormous colonnades are monoliths, carved from single blocks of pink granite. Mecca Masjid can accommodate 10,000 worshippers quite comfortably. But on the days of Id-ul-Fitr and Id-ul-Zuha, very important dates of the Muslim calender, the congregation is so large that it spills on to the main road leading to the mosque, and can cause traffic disruption for several hours!

On top of a hillock four kilometers to the south of Charminar sits the Falaknuma Palace. Built by Vikar-ul-Umra, a 19th century grandee, it is one of the most beautiful homes of its time. Nothing like this has ever been built again. It cost Sir Vikar all of Rs. 40,00,000 in his day, and almost bankrupted him in the process. Eventually his brother-in-law, Mehboob Ali Pasha, the sixth Nizam, bought it off the taxed nobleman. Styled in Italianate fashion, this elegant palazzo dominates the neighbourhood and looks across the city from its unique perch. It attracts visitors from all over the world. But entry is restricted as the palace is private property.

MORE ATTRACTIONS

Only small sections of the Old City wall survive today. The Musi river flood of 1908 caused the first major damage to the wall. What remained was pulled down, along with the city gates, for the sake of traffic improvement. However, two of the historical gates still survive. One is at Dabirpura, and the other is at Purana Pul. Both are worth looking at, for old time's sake if nothing else.

The Badshahi Ashurkhana was built between 1592 and 1596 close to the river. It is to the right of the main arterial road connection the Afzalgunj Bridge and the Charminar, opposite the Madina Hotel entrance. This ashurkhana is one of the earliest buildings of Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah's Hyderabad. As a repository of ancient banners and relics displayed only during Moharrum, the Muslim month of mourning, it is among the oldest imambaras in India. The building is famous for its enamel tile mosaics, and the timber colonnade, a later addition.

There are other attractions, each a jewel from a bygone age: Khairat Khan's tomb in Moghalpura, the Armenian cemetery at Uppuguda, the Old Idgah at Madannapet, Mian Mishk's mosque near Puranapul, Kulsum Begum's mosque at Karwan and the Toli Masjid in the same vicinity. Getting further away from the Musi river, one should have a look at the Hakim's Tomb, close to Apollo Hospital on Jubilee Hills, Princess Khairathunissa's mosque and tomb on the road behind Dwarka Hotel at Lakdi-ka-pul, and the mosque built by Abdulah Qutb Shah (1627-72)in Mushirabad. Coming closer to our own time, Monsieur Raymond's cannon factory of 1795 has given a name to the locality of Gunfoundry. What remains of this once famous ordinance unit are massive brick-walls, cubicles, arches and subterranean kilns. It is approached by a narrow lane beside " Lepakshi", the handicrafts emporium run by the Government of Andhra Pradesh.

AN AMAZINGLY COLORFUL AND DIVERSE MARKETPLACE

Despite its long and chequered history, the Old City is unpretentious. Known and absorbed, it remains in the mind not as a memory of monuments and ancient sites, but of utterly simple things: the bustle of Mir Alam's mandi, where fresh vegetables have been sold for years and years; the surma man of Gulzar Hauz, who will apply different kinds of kohl to your eyes depending on the ailment for which you have come to see him; the smoky innards of Ramaiah Gowli's little shop, where you can buy milk and curds and malai, the likes of which is probably not available elsewhere; busy men in tiny shops on the road to Falaknama, flattening small pieces of muzak for the neighbourhood; the bread shops next door selling naans and kulchas straight out of ovens and piping hot; and great flights of pigeons, turning and twisting over the gray domes and minarets of the High Court.

Today, the old city is bursting at its seams with people and traffic. The main thoroughfare is Patthargatti - a street, a locality, or both? Hard to say, but named after the stone-lined buildings on either side of the road. Pearls literally line this famed avenue. It boasts of dozens of shops offering a staggering variety of pearls - cultured, white seed, colored seed, button colored rice, rice, round, flower and colored.

But it is not only pearls that the Old City has to offer. It is a fantastic bazaar, with numerous wares. Generations of Hyderabadis, visitors and tourists have come here to look for silks and saris, brocades, itars and perfumes, silver ware, jewelry, velvet, tobacco, caps and handmade slippers. And they have been served by the descendants of families that have carried on the business generation after generation. Ancient links have been established that bind shops and customers.

Go and talk to Om Prakash Agarwal. You will find him at Fancy Silk Store by the Patthargatti mosque, a fine, cultured man, affable and understanding. He will tell you about the City and help you locate what you are looking for. Across the road is the outlet of Mangatrai Ramkumar, the pearl dealers. Stop by and chat with Radhashyam, Chagganlal or Vishnu Kumar. You will come out richer for the experience. Similarly, visit Hyderabad Zarda Works or Chagganlal perfumers if you wish to indulge yourself with itar. Go to Surajbhan to talk about silver. As for the jewelers, where else will you find the likes of Tibarumal, Bajarang Prasad and Vithaldas?

EATERIES

If you are peckish, there is plenty to choose from - vegetable samosas and kachoris from Agra Hotel, Miti-ka-Sher; some delectable mithai at the same place and at Balaji's next door. Shaadab, past Madina Building and on the road to Bangalore, serves excellent nahari (tongue and trotter curry) throughout the year, and haleem (broken wheat and lamb porridege) during Ramzan, the Muslim month of fasting. Try the biryani at Nayaab, again past the Madina and on the Bangalore road. This stretch of road also boasts of three reliable kebab outlets.

Madina Hotel will give you a good cup of tea. So will Shehran of Machli Kaman. The second cafe is also known for its lassi and faluda. Apart from these main road establishments, the narrow lanes and gallis of the city are dotted with little specialty places where the locals buy particular snacks and sweetmeats. But they are difficult to find without a knowledgeable guide.

If you are one of those who has an eye for history of all kinds, then a visit to Krishna Cinema for a Hindi blockbuster would not be out of place. This is one of the earliest theaters to have mushroomed in this city. The crowd is anything but cosmopolitan, and you have benches for seats. But it would be a different experience of watching a movie if you're not Indian. Later, you could relax with a pan at the Agra pan shop and head back northwards, across the sluggish Musi river, in the Rt. no. 7 double-decker bus (if they haven't been discarded yet).

SUGGESTED READING

City of Legends by Ian Austin (Viking 1992)
Hyderabad - Memories of a City by Narendar Luther (Orient Longman 1995)

Both these books provide a good introduction to the history of Hyderabad and its unique multi-cultural presence in southern India.