What do you sell O ye merchants?
Richly your wares are displayed.
Turbans of crimson and silver,
Tunics of purple brocade,
Mirrors with panels of amber,
Daggers with handles of jade.
These words written almost a century ago, by the nightingale of India Sarojini Naidu are as true today as it was in her times. In those early years of my stay in Hyderabad, my relatives would often visit me just to experience the novelty of coming into contact with a new culture, a new language and a new cuisine. And I would take them as promised to my favourite haunts in the old city – the Salar Jung museum and the Charminar. Though both these places are very close to each other one needs to devote an entire day to each of these places.
Visiting the Charminar, not only gives one a sense of he history of the place but its the whole package of history, life and experience of a bygone era at first hand.Even before one approaches the monument there are darwajas or doorways on all four sides to signal one's approach to this magnificent edifice.
The minute one crosses the doorway one almost steps into history as it were.All around you can see quaint buildings with a blend of Persian and Mughal architecture. There are tiny shops everywhere. There are pearl shops that have been in the trade for hundreds of years having made pearl ornaments for the king and the nobility. You can see samples of the jewelry from these times on display and you can order replicas if you so wish.
There are shops that sell colourful sarees and dress materials with gold embroidery. There is the chudi and Lad bazaar where, in shop after shop there is a display of multihued glass bangles and the multi coloured broad stone studded lac bangles that are a specialty here. The array of coloured bangles all together is a breathtaking sight.
If you are hungry any time there is nothing as rejuvenating as a cup of Iranian tea served in street cafes. As far as I know the Iranian tea is unique to Hyderabad –its an orange tinted thick tea with a cloying taste served often in chipped or cracked cups –– but who even looks at the chinaware when the contents are so heavenly!
As you walk along heavily crowded road there are street vendors every where selling fruit and flowers vying for space with the ever moving crowd - the dull grey and dun colours of the buildings all around are in stark contrast to the bright orange, of the marigolds, the pure white of the jasmines and the deep purple of the jambul fruit and the bright pink of the ghaneras. It is said that in its heyday the shopping district had about 14,000 shops.
And there is shop that is easily 25 metres long right in the middle of the road that sells china and glassware- the traffic weaves around this spot and the products are on display on either side.I have spent hours here and if one is patient one can easily walk away with the occasional treasure that is so inexpensive and yet would make an impressive gift or an impressive adornment in your living room.
Suddenly, in front of you looms the majestic Charminar with its four towers. It’s a four storied structure- an elegant and romantic edifice. The galleries in the upper storeys overlook the four major thoroughfares, which once were royal roads and provide a panoramic view of the city.
Many theories abound about why it was built but the most commonly held one is that the sultan Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah, the fifth Sultan of the Qutb Shahi Dynasty, prayed for the city to be rid of the plague and built it as a thanksgiving on the very spot that he prayed- and that the Charminar was to be the at the heart of the new city that he planned to build.
As the twilight dims and night falls like a dark blanket on the skyline I stay on despite my aching feet to watch the dull luminescence of the illuminated Charminar.– Night lends a magical touch to the atmosphere and I share with my relatives the other legend about the Chraminar – which is - that it is the very spot, where a prince was bewitched by a beauty - and as I close my eyes I can almost hear the horses hoofs and see the prince coming face to face with his future queen Bagmati later named Hyder Mahal from whom the city is named.
But I unwillingly shake off the nostalgic reverie and remember that my role as hostess means that I must treat my guests to the famed Hyderbadi biryani served with the accompaniments of mirchi ka salan and raitha available at restaurants a few kilometers away. And the shahi thukda –a sweet fit for a king is indeed a good wrap up to a glorious day.