A heritage walk from Charminar to Chawmahalla Palace, the two icons of Hyderabad, transports the curious soul to a bygone era, rich with history, culture and architectural wonders.
Hyderabad is a perfect melange of tradition and modernity, big brands and local goods, ‘metal and glass’ buildings competing with heritage buildings. The IT industry has altered the soul of the city over the years. There is perfect harmony between the modern and old aspects of the city.
I embarked upon old Hyderabad for an early morning heritage walk. I stayed in this area to see the Charminar bathed in green/blue/red lights during the previous night. The absence of colours in the morning was compensated with the backdrop of soft blue clouds. The Charminar, often crowded at peak hours, stood out in the early morning glow.
The heritage walk, conducted by the Department of Tourism, started from Charminar and ended at Chowmahalla Palace. It was a great way to explore old Hyderabad beyond Charminar. Hyderabad was ruled by Qutb Shahi, Mughals and Asaf Jahi rulers. The past 400 years have etched the city with many architectural marvels and cultural vibrancy, much of which still exist to this date
The Historic Fact
The walk commenced at Charminar at 7.30 am. The participants admired the stucco decorations leisurely, meanwhile absorbing the details shared by the guide. The balustrades and balconies offered unique views of the still sleepy market and other heritage buildings below. Often called the Arc de Triomphe of the East, it was completed in 1591 CE. Though there are many versions, the most accepted story behind its construction is an interesting one. Not many know that Charminar is also a mosque. Mohammed Quli Qutub Shahi from the Qutub Shahi dynasty, used to pray at this spot for the eradication of deadly plague that had gripped the city. He built the monument in commemoration of the end of the menace. The four famous clocks in each direction were added in 1889.
To the west of Charminar is the kilometer-long Laad Bazaar. During peak hours, you will see many carts and shops selling bangles in Laad bazaar and beyond. Literal meaning of laad is lacquer, the material used to make bangles. Artificial diamonds and colourful stones are often studded on it to give a glossy look. The shops here also sell sarees, itra (perfumes), jewellery, Kalamkari paintings, silverware and even wedding items. The many old houses atop the shops are a tell tale sign that this market has existed since ancient times. Some of the old buildings have a wooden exterior, with paints peeling off, adding to its antique aura. The bangles made in the many workshops here are also exported to a number of Middle East countries and is also a hit with locals, foreigners and celebrities who visit here. Somewhere on the left is Julukhana Kaman. Now camouflaged by the unorganised shops, this massive gate once served as one of the main entrances to the Chowmahalla Palace.
The Wonder zone
The Mecca Masjid nearby is an architectural wonder. With a capacity to host 10,000 pilgrims at a time, it is not only the largest mosque in Hyderabad but also counts itself as one of the largest mosques in India. Built between 1614 to 1693, the construction was completed by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Named after the Grand Mosque in Mecca, it is said that the soil for bricks used in its construction were actually sourced from Mecca.
Mehboob Chowk is always buzzing with activities. Even early morning, its streets are full of people. The closed shops and houses speak volumes. The early morning visit helped in observing minute details which is not possible once the streets come alive with shoppers, sellers, tourists and locals going about their daily routine.
Mehboob Chowk Clock Tower is nearby and so is the century-old Moti Mahal, once the palace of the Nizam. Moti Mahal, displaying European architectural style was built in 1880. A garden surrounds the five-storied clock tower, which was built in 1892 by Asman Jah, the erstwhile Prime Minister of Hyderabad. Built in Turkish style, it has 4 clocks facing each direction. The many decorative stuccos add to its beauty. Such architectural wonders and important trade activities in this area makes Mehboob Chowk one of the most important landmarks in Old Hyderabad.
The Glorious Past
The next stop was Khursheed Jah Baradari. It was built during 1880-1890. It was the residence of Nawab Khursheed Jah Paigah, the maternal grandson of third Nizam of Hyderabad. In its open ground, once stood ponds and gardens. Huge windows make their presence felt on either sides of the eight columns built in the middle.
Now in a dilapidated state, the Baradari, in its heyday was once decorated with the finest chandeliers, furnishings, paintings, the works! After that, the group entered a ramshackle building called Iqbal-ud-daula Devdi. A ‘devdi’ means haveli (a large palatial house). An exquisite Palladian façade welcomes the visitors. This particular devdi is so huge, its walls line almost an entire street. No wonder, it houses a school, a Tae-kwondo training class, offices and many locals who call it home. Oriental and European architectural style dominate the building. A Hindu style shell and wheel (Shankha- Chakra) structure took us by surprise.
The grand Chowmahalla Palace is the pride of Hyderabad. Modelled after the Shah’s palace in Teheran (Iran), it is surrounded by manicured gardens and ponds where ducks enjoy a bath under the fountains. Opposite the pond is a long corridor of rooms called Bara Imam. It once housed the administrative wing. Literal meaning of Chowmahalla is ‘four palace’ viz Afzal Mahal, Mahtab Mahal, Tahniyat Mahal and Aftab Mahal. Started in 1750 by Nizam Salabhat Jung, its construction was completed in 1869 by Nizam Afzar-ud-Dawla Bahadur.
Khilwat Mubarak is the heart of the palace. Darbars of Nizams used to be held here. It was the seat of Asaf Jahi Dynasty. The massive chandeliers and ornate pillars vie for your attention. Expanded over the years, it reflects European, Persian, Indo Saracenic and even Rajasthani architectural styles. The interiors of palace doubles up as a museum. The façade of the Durbar hall is flanked by two ornate windows embellished with beautiful stucco. There is also a clock called Khilwat Clock at the main gate, that’s been functioning since the Nizams ruled here.
The 3 km, 2 hour walk ended with an all inclusive breakfast of tea, idli and vada in the campus of Chowmahalla Palace. As I left the old city, the shops and streets now buzzed with activity, while the soft sky gave way to a sunny day.