In the year 1588, the burgeoning population of Golconda prompted its ruler Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah to establish the brand new city of Hyderabad. He started by commissioning a magnificent edifice that would go on to become Hyderabad’s symbol of pride - the Charminar. Today, it is probably the city’s most visited site, but there are so many more jewels in its vicinity, hidden in plain sight. Here’s an overview of some of the most interesting of them.
But first, a brief background. The glorious Qutb Shahi era came to an end in 1687, when the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb captured Golconda after a long siege. During the brief Mughal occupation that followed, the region lost a lot of its sheen. In the early 18th century, Nizam-ul-Mulk Fateh Jung, the governor of the Deccan, assumed independence from the gradually weakening Mughal empire, and set up the rule of the Nizams, or the Asaf Jahi dynasty of the princely state of Hyderabad. Asaf Jah was a title the Mughal emperor had bestowed on him. Under the Nizams, the region saw a return to glory and prosperity.
A stroll around the Charminar is like a walk into the past, as the entire neighborhood is stamped with the legacy of the Qutb Shahs and the Asaf Jahs. Take for instance, the rows of graceful arched stone buildings on either side of the road leading to the Charminar from the north. They form the Pathergatti market, built by the City Improvement Board constituted by the 7th Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan. During the week, the stores here sell ittar, jewellery, shoes, clothes, bridal wear and even utensils, but on Sunday mornings, the street transforms into a flea market where you can buy anything from plugs to antiques.
The arches of Pathergatti
To the immediate south of the Charminar is the magnificent Mecca Masjid, the biggest mosque in South India. The first child of the sixth Qutb Shahi ruler was born under an inauspicious star. The royal astrologers forbade the father and son from looking at each other’s faces for 12 long years, and advised the Sultan to construct a mosque to lift the curse. And so, the construction of the colossal mosque began. Tragically, the Sultan died before its completion, after an inadvertent encounter with his son. The mosque was completed more than 7 decades later, during Aurangzeb’s occupation.
The Mecca Masjid
The bustling road to the west of the Charminar is Hyderabad’s famous bangle bazaar, called Laad Bazaar by some, and Chudi bazaar by others. Laad means pampering, and the name is believed to come from the fact that the market is where Hyderabadi brides-to-be come to shop for all their needs.
Hyderabad’s famous stone studded bangles in Laad Bazaar
A left turn on this street takes one to the magnificent Chowmahalla Palace, less than a kilometer from the Charminar. It was the seat of the Asaf Jahi dynasty, and the official residence of the Nizams for a while. The palace is now a museum that gives visitors a peek into the opulent lives of the Nizams.
The Chowmahalla Palace
Getting back on the Laad Bazaar road, a little further down is Mahbub Chowk, set around a small park with a five storied clock tower in it. The chowk gets its name from the 6th Nizam Mahbub Ali Khan, Asaf Jah. A beautiful mosque built by him stands next to the clock tower. The chowk also has a rather European looking building called Moti Mahal, that is over a hundred years old - it was first a palace, then a homeopathic hospital, and now a function palace. The chowk has an assortment of shops selling ittar, curios, naan, meat and even birds.
Left: The Mahboob Chowk Clock Tower Right: The making of Hyderabadi naan
About a kilometer ahead of the chowk, is the beautiful dargah of Sufi saint Hazrat Syed Moosa Shah Qadri, built by his son in the late 19th century.
The dargah of Hazrat Syed Moosa Shah Qadri
These gems from Hyderabad’s past, all just a stroll away from the iconic Charminar, are just the tip of the iceberg. Almost every lane in old Hyderabad has a multitude of stories to tell, and it would take a lifetime to uncover all of them.
Madhumita Gopalan is a photographer, blogger and history enthusiast who loves photo-documenting travel, culture and architecture. She blogs at www.madhugopalan.com.