Author: Aditi Das Patnaik
Andhra Pradesh tourism organizes a series of heritage walks around the old city of Hyderabad and I happened to catch the second in the series, which covers the monuments from Charminar (literally meaning four minar or turrets) up to the Badshahi Ashurkhana.
We arrive at Charminar a little ahead of time in a bid to catch the early morning tea at Nimrah café. At half past six in the morning, the area around Charminar is just about waking up. There are barely any people or vehicles
on the road, which is otherwise bustling with activity through the day. But Nimrah café is another story altogether, it is chock-full of people and we have to wait for our turn to order tea and tie biscuits. The tea turns out to be sugary and the biscuit is delightful, shaped in the form of a bow tie. It is much like the places around this area – welcoming and quite a delightful find each time.
Finally, we head back and find other members present for the walk. The organisers appear shortly even before the round of introductions are done, unassuming and humble. They guide us into the enclosure of the Charminar, where Raeesa, our guide, begins to speak. Her voice is soft and rising just enough to reach us. There is a humility she exudes as if in quiet reverence to the monument in whose shade we stand.
The Charminar is a magnificent monument & mosque and is perhaps the icon of Hyderabad. It plays a rich prelude to the rest of the walk consisting mostly of 15th century buildings depicting an era long gone, but glimpses of its splendor still visible through the architecture. Raeesa breathes life into the monuments with her description of a time when Qutb Shah built it to commemorate the eradication of plague, which had ravaged the city.
The monument is a four storeysquare structure with four grand arches and four exquisitely carved minarets. A mosque is located at the western side of the top floor. Folklore has it that this was built without any scaffoldings and a ramp was built to support the opulent arches. There is also a legend around the existence of a secret tunnel linking the Charminar to the Golkunda Fort for an escape in case of a siege. There is more that Raeesa reveals about the Nawabs, their wealth and opulent lifestyles. The last Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan is the fifth richest man ever, with an estimated worth of US$210.8 billion. (Source: Forbes).
We then move along the path, north of Charminar and pass by the Jama Masjid, and walk under a number of arches known as ‘kaman’. The four kamans face the four cardinal directions – Machli Kaman faces the north from where most of the visitors enter the Charminar area. The eastern arch is the Kali Kaman, the western is the Sehr-e-batilki Kaman and finally the southern arch is the Charkaman and is now a flourishing fruit market, also known as Mewewalonki Kaman. These are fine pieces of architecture of the QutbShahi era.
The Charminar area has over time developed as a huge trading outpost and the Patherghatti houses a market that sells jewelry, clothes, perfumes and footwear to name a few. It has elegant archways and in the present day, has a number of jewellery shops primarily selling the famous Hyderabad pearls.
Finally, the walk culminates at the Badshahi Ashurkhana, which was the ‘house of mourning’ and one of oldest Imambaras (religious place of Muslims associated with Muharram) in the country. Following the Shia (a sect in the Islam religion) tradition, the Ashurkhana was built for mourning during the Muharram celebrations. It has walls decorated with colorful enamel-tiled mosaic in a Persian style. Its exquisite beauty inspires much awe and joy and doesn’t quite seem a place of mourning. However, as Raeesa points out the ‘serai’ built for the mourners, the two-storied place for the dholakis (drum players) and many such markers of history, the aura of mourning sets in.
It is here that we gather for a South Indian breakfast and beneath the lovely motifs of flowers, leaves & vines and brilliant calligraphy, we try to imagine, what had been here four hundred years ago.
Images – Aditi Das Patnaik
Heritage walk in Hyderabad
Time & Day: 0730 hrs – 0930 hrs.
Every Sunday of the month
Cost: INR 50 (including breakfast)