Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Charminar: Hyderabad's Crown Jewel

Like Vientiane’s Patuxai, the Charminar has four grand arches supporting the ornate minarets that reach into the heavens. Built in 1592, the Charminar is a monument (this much is obvious) and a mosque (this I didn’t know), the first royal structure built in Hyderabad (founded a year earlier) when the 5th ruler of the Golconda Sultanate, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, decided to shift his capital 8 kilometers from Golconda, near the southwest bank of the Musi River.

During those cantankerous times, the plague had decimated hundreds of people sparing no one, not even royalty. Qutb Shah prayed hard that the mysterious illness would just go away. In that specific place, which had taken on religious significance, he vowed to build a mosque: “Fill this, my city, with people as thou hast filled the Ocean with fish, O Lord,” Qutb Shah prayed. Upon completion, most of the planned layout of the city was based around this structure, underlining the stark relevance of the structure to the city’s history. Indeed, the entire city was designed around the Charminar. 

Structurally, the Charminar has a square structure with four arches that open into four streets. It’s a four-story structure with 149 winding steps to reach the top; the uppermost level is where the mosque is. Its signature style is Islamic, made of granite, mortar, limestone and pulverized marble. Legend has it that an underground tunnel has been constructed between Golconda Fort and the Charminar; an escape route for the former royalties, but this hasn't been proven – just yet. 


My foray to the Charminar wasn't as pleasant as the view it provided. From my hotel, I shook hands with an autorickshaw driver who, upon arrival at the monument, demanded 200 rupees more than the agreed 150 rupees. (Yes, 350 rupees for a ride from my hotel to the Charminar. Do you know how much a taxi ride is from my hotel to Golconda Fort which was outside city limits? 400 rupees!) I was of course, indignant, but at some point, this towering burly man became menacing so I acquiesced and eventually made peace with myself later in the day. India has some of the warmest souls on Earth, but like everywhere else, it has scabrous elements as well. As a traveler, you have to be aware that you’re not there to change the world. When in a foreign land, you have to be pragmatic enough to choose your battles. From frustration, I had to calm myself before roaming the area around the massive edifice. 


The surrounding area wasn't pretty, to be honest. There were makeshift stalls all around the premises, and manual traffic was heavy, with a coterie of ambulant vendors dripping over. Nearby was the Mecca Masjid which was likewise commissioned by Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah. He ordered bricks to be made from the soil brought from Mecca, using them in the construction of the central arch of the mosque, thus its name. 

I didn't try going inside because the gate looked uninviting. I didn't want a repeat of my experience in Delhi where I was embarrassingly escorted out from the Jama Masjid. To add insult to injury, I was asked to pay 250 rupees. It wasn't like I was inside the prayer hall desecrating a holy place; I was at the vast court yard with hundreds of souls gallivanting around. Oh well.

The periphery of the masjid and the Charminar had shops selling lacquer bangles, pearls, beads, braces, necklaces and other ornaments. This was the old city, and the bustle of centuries old was still alive. Imagine how people from 1592 strolled around these old streets. Were there as much peddlers? Or greedy drivers?

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Clocks adorn each side. These clocks were added in the year 1889.

The minarets stand 56 meters ( 184 feet) high. 

This building stands in front of rows of shops along Charminar Road.

Mecca Masjid

Black robed ladies. Though I'm aware of the color's religious implication, I am nevertheless anxious whenever I see this sight. There's something sinister about the black color and the "hiding" demeanor that unnerve me. 

From Mumbai to Hyderabad

Golconda Fort Part 1

With inverted color, the grandiose architecture of the Charminar becomes more apparent.


Freedom said...

Your experience is shared amongst a lot of travellers, though I sadly admit that the female is less affected by scam if she is street smart, that’s either because a grown man wouldn't dare to attack a foreign female in public or because they are just being nice because it is a female. Those moments can only ruin the moment but never the trip if one stays positive, which you seem to be more than capable of.

Oh how I miss traveling! Thank you once again for your delightful posts.

eye in the sky said...

Thanks for the heads up, Nat. There are actually realizations regarding travels and gender that deserves discourse. I used to think that women were disadvantaged during travels, but of course, I am just looking through assumptions.

You know by experience that indeed, being female has advantages. There are probably places that would allow you just because you're female (though I am sure this isn't the case in mosques).

Regardless, we are probably creatures of "crossing-the-bridge-when-we-get-there". We play it by ear, as I do. I just wish that the world was a more honest place, but fact is, it isn't always like that. :)

Krishna said...

nice hyderabad journey


eye in the sky said...

Thanks, Krishna. :)

Mom with a Dot said...

Charminar wouldn't look as regal even in person! Your photographs elevate its current state. The lac merchandise you mention is handcrafted and is a specialty of the place. Good Luck for the rest of your Journey :)

Mom with a Dot said...

Thought you might be interested in the link above.

Mom with a Dot said...

Sorry for so many PS's - Hope you are doing okay? Heard of the bomb blasts.......its crazy!

NRIGirl said...

Wow! To build such marvelous wonders without the modern tools and technology is truly amazing!

Sorry about the cheating drivers and vendors. Hyderabad is known for it. Every one will fall prey unless you are a local.

Did you eat any Hyderabadi biriyani? Supposedly the best.

eye in the sky said...

@ Mom with a Dot:

I love the sheer colorfulness of the lac merchandise, I had to get a few for my niece. :)

And ohmy, those napier cars... but then their grandeur belong to the palace in Chowmahalla. What I like about the palace is how they allow visitors to photograph the place, except at specific areas where "flash photography" is not allowed. But my favorite would be Golconda...

As for the bombing, I really just can't understand why people would resort to hurting others just to move a particular cause. What cause is worth the lives of others, I don't know. It's maddening and I am sad for those who perished (14 people)and got hurt (close to a hundred). :(

eye in the sky said...

@ NRIGirl:

Charminar is such a feast to the eyes. It just looks so imposing right in the middle of a busy street(s). I liked just standing somewhere by the roadside and just observe people. I just wish there were benches nearby so people could relax in the hustle and bustle of this magnificent structure.

Re: Cheats. It's no worries. The feeling of being taken advantaged is a fleeting sensation really, and theses things always seem to happen even in countries like London. It's nothing new to me. :)

Re: Biryani, yes I have. I actually like biryani more than what my Kashmiri friend would usually have (roti, dahl). It's closer to my diet.