There is always something charming about Old Hyderabad, despite all the hustle and bustle. I have always loved Old Towns everywhere, be it in Europe or Asia for their historic milieu, the architecture, the stories, and the culture. And in India, which is full of ancient cities and towns, quarters and districts, you stumble upon little nuggets of history in every nook and corner. Personally for me its the vibrant atmosphere with all the frenzy that beckons me. And that is why Old City Hyderabad is always fascinating. While the iconic and old Charminar will always be special to me, there are several monuments and museums that take you into the erstwhile past. My memories of Charminar dates back to my days as a media professional when I had launched an FM radio channel from here. It was an outdoor event and the station went live as we created a buzz from the Old City Hyderabad. But it has been more than just that. During the many trips to Hyderabad, I would wander around aimlessly the crowded Laad Bazaar Hyderabad and pearl market in Hyderabad and shop till I drop. Memories came flooding back as I visited Hyderabad again after a decade as a guest of Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre. And the first thing on my itinerary was a trip to the Old Town where I lost myself. If you are planning a trip to Hyderabad, then here are my recommendations for the best places to see in Hyderabad. My Hyderabad travel guide includes a list of markets and monuments that will take you down the bygone era.
The Old City Hyderabad
The walled city was built on the banks of the Masi River in the 16th century by Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah, often referred to as the founder of Hyderabad. The Qutb Shahi Dynasty ruled over Golconda and Deccan during the era. The River Masi, a tributary of the Krishna divides the old and new cities. The walls of the Old Town have crumbled many a time and they were later fortified and rebuilt by the Nizam of Hyderabad, who finished the work started by Mubariz Khan, the Mughal Governor who reigned over Gujarat and Hyderabad state in the 18th century. There were thirteen Dharwazas or getaways and another 13 smaller portals called Khirkis. However today only gates stand – the Purana (Old) Pul Darwaza and the Dabeerpura Darwaza while most of the wall has been demolished. The old palaces crowd around the Charminar in the Old City along with markets and mosques built in these old neighborhoods that remain a symbol of the erstwhile era.
The Charminar is the symbol of Hyderabad and the entire Old City was designed around it in the 16th century and was built by Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah. It gets its name from the four pillars or towers housing four ornate minarets supported by four arches. There are over 149 steps to reach the top floor where a mosque was built. There are 45 covered spaces for prayers besides a large open hall. The monument was used as a royal court by the Qutb Shahi kings.
The old Charminar is shaped like a square with four towering pillars and they represent the four Caliphs of Islam. Designed by a Persian architect, Mir Momin Astrawadi, it was built with granite and lime and mortar. It is a four-storeyed structure and the pillars are 49 metres high while the minarets with a double balcony are 56 metres high. A beautiful dome with flower petals at the base crown the minaret. The grand arches open into the city and it is believed that all the four corners of the Old City could be viewed from inside the monument.
The Charminar was essentially built to commemorate the shift of capital from Golconda to Hyderabad by Sultan Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah. It also apparently marked the beginning of the second millennium year, according to the Islamic calendar. One of the theories was also that it was built to commemorate the eradication of a disease. Some say it is cholera, others say it is the plague. And the king built the mosque out of gratitude. According to another legend, this is where the king supposedly met his future Hindu wife, Bhagmati. Despite the many stories, The Charminar remains the most iconic monument in the entire city today that it has never been destroyed during an invasion as well.
Monuments around The Charminar.
The old Charminar was built on the banks of the River Masi at the junction of the trade route between Golconda and Machilipatnam. The Laad Bazaar or the Choodi Bazaar surrounds it bustling with merchants and traders. The city sprang up around the Charminar as various monuments were built by different dynasties. While the Qutb Shahi Dynasty built the Mecca Masjid and the famous Gulzar Hous Fountain along with the four arches called Char Kaman, the Asah Jahi dynasty which came later built the Chowmahalla Palace, which was the seat of the Nizam. They also built the Mahboob Chowk Clock Tower and the Nizamia Hospital.
One of the palaces of the Nizam, called Purana Haveli which was actually home to the family is now the HRH Nizam Museum. However, the most popular and massive museum is the Salar Jung Museum, which houses the erstwhile collection of one man, the former Prime Minister of Hyderabad – Salar Jung 111.
More mosques in the neighborhood include the Toli Masjid and the Pahaday Sharif, while palaces include the grand Faluknama Palace, located a few km away from the Charminar.
While some of the old neighborhoods still remain around the Old City, the notable among them is Malakpet, where several monuments like the Makbub Mansion, the Asman Garh Palace beside the famous Hyderabad Race Course stand. Medina is one of the oldest commercial complexes and it is believed that rents from the shops here used to be sent to Medina in Saudi Arabia at one time.
The Laad Bazaar or the Chudi Bazaar is my favorite market in the Old City. There has never been a time that I have visited Hyderabad and not buy myself a pair of delicate and colorful bangles from the city. And when I got an invite from Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre, the bazaar was the first destination on my mind. The word Laad (or Lad) refers to lacquer that is used to make these bangles. The markets are a legacy from the era of Nizams and they are a part of the living heritage. The market is spread over a kilometer and you can never be tired of wandering around here.
The Grand Mosque of Hyderabad faces The Charminar and it took over 75 years to be built and employed over 8000 masons. The main hall can accommodate over 10000 devotees during prayer and is 75-foot-high and measures 220 feet by 180 feet in terms of length and width. The arches take your breath away while the pillars are carved out of single granite stone. Belgian glass chandeliers adorn the ceiling. The mosque built in the 17th-century houses some of the sacred relics as well.
A grand and historic fountain stands right in the middle of the Old City between Charminar and Medina, the oldest commercial complex in the city. There are four arches here called CharKaman and the square in between is called Jilu Khana or the Guards Square. The Gulzar Houz refers to the cistern and the water from the octagonal-shaped reservoir quenched the thirst of the Nizam’s soldiers. The markets and shops here are the best places to buy pearls as well.
The Chowmahha Palace of the Nizams is one of the grand palaces and was the seat of the Asaf Jahi Dynasty and the Nizams of Hyderabad. Even today it remains the property of the current royal descendant. It has been home to several kings and queens since the 18th century and the Khilwat or the Durbar Hall has housed several functions like coronation ceremonies, royal receptions to dignitaries besides weddings as well. The grand pillars and the beautiful chandeliers of Belgium crystal are symbols of the magnificent bygone era.
Chowmahalla mean four and the palace was once spread over 45 acres and it is now under 12 acres. There are two courtyards filled with gardens. The oldest part of the palace was built in the Neo-Classical Style around the Southern Courtyard and has four palaces called Afzal Mahal, Aftab Mahal, Mahtab Mahal, and Tahniyat Mahal and Aftab Mahal. The Northern Courtyard has a long corridor of rooms called the Bara Imam and you can see another building which is almost like a replica or is referred to as Shishe Alat or mirror image. The clock tower often referred to as Khilwat Clock works even today. The palace also has a collection of rare vintage cars used by the Nizam. A Hyderabad travel guide and itinerary must include this palace, especially if you are visiting Old City Hyderabad.
Purani Haveli and H E H The Nizam Museum
It was one of the many palaces of the Nizams and his family, but it lost its importance after Chowmahalla Palace took over as the official residence. The palace, however, was inspired by European design and was a U shaped building Purani Haveli was also called Masarrat Mahal Palace and Haveli Khadeem. Among other collections, it is famous for the massive wardrobe of Mahbub Ali Pasha, the sixth Nizam who apparently never wore the same set of clothes twice.
The palace now houses the H. E. H Nizam Museum and tourists all over the world come to see the world’s longest wardrobe that is spread over two levels and occupies almost an entire wing of the palace. You can go from one wing to another using an ancient manually operated wooden elevator that’s over 150 years old.
There are also other priceless treasures including a golden tiffin box with diamonds which was almost stolen, a golden throne, silver cups, daggers studded with diamonds and precious stones among other gifts and souvenirs. A part of the palace is also a school and a training institute. It is definitely one of the fascinating palaces, especially in Old city Hyderabad.
Salar Jung Museum
One of the largest art museums in the country with a collection of over a million artifacts from all the world, Salar Jung Museum houses paintings and sculptures, ceramics and manuscripts, textiles and furniture from all over the world. There is even an entire room dedicated to clocks, especially ancient sundials. A Hyderabad travel guide is not complete without a visit to this magnificent museum.
It was initially a private collection of the former Prime Minister of Hyderabad who served under the Nizam and he spent a fortune collecting these artifacts. There are several wings – Indian, Eastern, Western and even a special section to the Quaran with different versions of the Holy Book. Tourists and art enthusiasts flock here to see The Veiled Rebecca, a 19th century marble sculpture carved by Giovanni Maria Benzoni, an Italian Neoclassical sculptor
These are just some of the key places to see in Old city Hyderabad, especially if you are looking for a quick trip to the Old City Hyderabad. Do share your suggestions for a Hyderabad travel guide and the places that you would recommend beyond the old Charminar.