“Kasam Hyderabad Ke Charminaran Ki” is what kept resonating in my head as I was walking around Charminar the signature monument of the city of Hyderabad. This is a dialogue that was made famous by the famous comedian Mehmood. And was also my first linkage to the language of Hyderabad, a dialect of Hindustani. As I walked around, I also felt a sense of Dejavu as the place is so similar in its character to Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. The bustling markets, the heritage buildings on every nook and corner, the chaos and food all around, they all sounded so familiar.
Charminar to Chowmahalla Hyderabad City Walking Tour
Charminar simply translated means four minarets. I wonder if this was the original name of the building or it became its name by word of mouth. The four-story building with arched gates in all four directions, built with lime and mortar stands tall with four lanes emanating out of it in all four directions. Literature tells me that it was built as a memorial mosque after the city got rid of the epidemic of the plague. The mosque wall is on the second floor that is now not open to the public. But you are allowed to go to the first-floor balcony after taking about 50 steps on a narrow round staircase. From here you can see all the important landmarks of Hyderabad.
You can see the Golconda fort on the distant hillock. Qutub Shahi tombs just by its side. And you can see the Falaknuma Palace that has now been converted into a hotel again higher than the rest of the city. You can see the High court building and the Chowmahalla palace along with various other domes popping out here and there. The best view is that of the streets radiating out of the monument and the top view of the street markets. Standing here you feel to be in the center of the city with an ability to see anything from there. If you have a building like this why would you need jarring technologies like CCTV cameras?
The building has been repaired many times and at present, it looks decently preserved. It is said that a secret passage connects Charminar to Golconda fort. There is also a small temple on the side of Charminar.
On one corner of Charminar is Mecca Masjid, probably the biggest and one of the oldest mosques in South India. As you enter the mosque you see a long rectangular corridor with a series of graves both male and female. One of them covered in the green cloth indicating the grave of a saint. The graves belong to the royal family of Asaf Jahi dynasty and anyone around here would tell you which grave belongs to whom. Though there is no way you can verify what they tell you. The main structure of the mosque is supposed to have been made from bricks baked from the soil brought from Mecca. Hence the mosque gets its name. Four bulky minarets stand on the corners of the building.
Though in the olden days, people would have gone on top of the minarets. Rather that was one of the purposes of the minarets around mosques to announce the Namaz times. Today with loudspeakers, this purpose no longer exists. And because of other risks, climbing on minarets is not allowed. Though in Jama Masjid in Delhi, you are allowed to climb the minaret and get a bird’s eye view of the city. In the courtyard of the mosque, there is a huge stone cup carved out of a single stone. And along with it, there is a large bench in black granite. Legend is that if you sit on this bench you would come back to sit on it again.
There is another funny anecdote that was told to me by a kid who chose to share some Hyderabad stories with us. On the back wall of the mosque, on a particular brick, you can see a human face with no nose. The stories are that while a man was trying to steal something from the mosque he got stuck here with his nose chopped off. Sadly, women are not allowed inside the mosque but they can sneak in from the arches and the side opening.
There are huge chandeliers that are hanging from the ceiling of the mosque. But they were all covered with a thick cloth and the mosque overall looked pretty bland. I was told that the chandeliers are opened and lighted only once a year. And one of them is supposed to have a big diamond inside it. You can sit around the mosque and see the families coming there, some praying, some eating and socializing. And some just enjoying the bit of open space in the crowded surroundings.
Opposite the Mecca Masjid is an Unani hospital built in a composite architectural style in pale pink color. It is a fairly large building with large domes surrounded by smaller around them.
From here walk into the lane called Laad Bazaar or the Bangle market. Laad in the local language, means the lacquer, a key material used to make colorful bangles. The lane shines and shimmers with the colors of bangles, Jewelry, and the bright and heavily embroidered clothes that it sells. Though I visited on Sunday when all the shops were not open. I still got a good view of the colors all around. A melting point for the women who would love to shop the clothes and the matching accessories to dress themselves up for any occasion. Walk through this bustling street to see women buying these items, trying them, checking them out, matching them, choosing them and finally bargaining for them. It may be difficult to decide if clothes or women are shining more.
The street would lead you to the Chowmahalla Palace, one of the must-see places in Hyderabad. Though not many people seem to have visited it. Like Charminar, this palace also gets its composite name from the four palaces that it houses within its complex. The palace complex is divided into two parts northern and southern. While the former has the four Palaces the latter has the public buildings, a durbar hall called Khilwat, a clock tower, and a council hall. Khilwat is flanked by long corridors on both sides that also house a row of small rooms along the periphery. And a huge water body with fountains in the middle of the courtyard.
The Khilwat Mahal seems to be the durbar hall where the seat of the Nizam has been kept intact even today. The high roofs of the building have many chandeliers made with Belgian glass hanging down from it. The arches, the ceiling panels, and the walls have been elaborately decorated in the Deccani style in a pleasant beige and white color. My hunch is that the original color may have been a brighter shade of yellow, as that was the color of the dynasty that ruled from here. The rooms around the main hall now hold exhibits like old maps, palkis, currency notes and coins, armor, biographies of the seven Nizams and stories of the dynasty.
Furniture & Artifacts
Rooms on the first floor exhibit the furniture and the artifacts from the Nizam’s collection. You get another view of the durbar hall from this level especially the chandeliers. An interesting anecdote talks about the meeting of first Nizam with Hazrat Nizamuddin who gave him a bunch of Kulchas but the Nizam kept only seven of them. The saint then wrapped the seven Kulchas in a yellow cloth on which was written a spiritual message. And prophesized that his rule will last for seven generations. Apparently, this came out to be true as it was during the rule of 7th Nizam that the state of Hyderabad accessed to the Union of India.
Now the confusion I have is the Hazrat Nizammudin lived centuries before the era of Nizam’s, so how did they meet? Was it a dream that the Nizam had or was it a different saint with the same name?
Aftab Mahal, Afzal Mahal, Tahniyat Mahal & Mahtab Mahal
The Northern part of Chowmahalla has four palaces called Aftab Mahal, Afzal Mahal, Tahniyat Mahal, and Mahtab Mahal. These palaces are arranged not so symmetrically on four sides of a central garden. Two of these belonged to the women of the palace. Chowmahalla has been recently restored and some Palaces are still under restoration. One palace now exhibits the textiles and costumes of the Nizam era. The exhibits have been designed and displayed very well but the light plays the spoilsport. The exhibits in showcases are completely blinded out by the bright sunlight that falls on the glass. All that visitors can see is their own shadow and clicking pictures is simply out of the question.
The same story repeats at the display of royal vintage cars (that include a restored bright yellow Rolls Royce) and bikes that have been exhibited in the backyard of the palace.
Another palace has the biggest attraction of the monument. The mechanical clock has more than 20 movements in sync with each other. Like a Khaleefa smoking a hookah and moving his head, his attendants fanning him and curtains going up and down. Every hour an attendant comes out and beats the gongs corresponding to the hour. For maximum fun, you should be in the museum at 12 Noon so that you can hear maximum beats. The clock also has an inbuilt piano, though I am not sure how that plays. The clock was manufactured in the late 18th century in England and continues to work until date. All it needs is a mechanical winding once a week. A giant first generation radio that still works is also on the display.
Everywhere in this palace, chandeliers are worth noticing. Most of them are in a white crystal or cut glass. But there are interesting ones in green with golden work on them and one with almost colors on it. I wish there was a map showing the various parts of the palace. Or there was a small booklet explaining the history and stories of the palace and the people who lived here.
Being a vegetarian I could not experience much of food in this area. But some of the sweets being sold were as colorful as the ambiance around. There were many shops selling Ittar or the perfumed oil made from various flowers. Multiple oils are mixed in various proportions to create new fragrances. Ittar somehow adds to the character of the place.
If the history of Hyderabad interests you, a visit to this area is a must.