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The International Writers Magazine: India

Marianne de Nazareth

So here I was poring over a beautiful thick art paper tome called ‘Hyderabad 400 years (1591 – 1991)’ and there, in the first few pages I learnt how Hyderabad got its name. It was a romantic story about the fourth Qutub Shahi Kings – Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah who ruled Hyderabad from 1580 to 1612.

Popular legend states that he fell in love with a dancing girl named Bhagyamati, on whom he bestowed the name Hyder Mahal. This is how the city of Hyderabad got its name. It was only in 1699 that the Mughal king Aurangzeb was able to storm the city with the help of a traitor and broke the reign of the Qutub Shahi Kings.

What strikes a visitor to this twin city of Hyderabad and Secunderabad is its sense of history. Yes, the old city of Hyderabad around the Charminar the icon of Hyderabad and its environs has become almost a run down slum. But glimmers of a once opulent past can be seen in buildings with Persian Islamic architecture standing proudly silhouetted against the skyline. That is what I loved the most about the city. There may be glitzy malls and fancy flyovers. Immense advertisers hoardings, along with posh modern day hotels and gourmet restaurants. The teeming millions rushing around the clogged roads, in their beeping taxis and manually operated cycle rickshaws. But, the city still retains its sense of history amidst all this 21st century chaos.

A visit to the icon of Hyderabad – the Charminar is a must. Police men keep watchful vigil as there are threats from terrorists to blow up the structure. And yet, the breath taking beauty of the Charminar is unmistakable. The stucco ornamentation is like pieces of jewelery and it is indeed a pity that we are not allowed to enjoy its beauty from close quarters any more.

Visitors to Hyderabad especially from the west could wander around the old city getting a feel of its markets especially around the Charminar. Thousands of tiny little shops, running into ‘gullies,’ spiraling out from the monument are a shopper’s paradise. The Laad Bazaar is famous for its bangles and what’s interesting is, once you make your choice, the bangle seller, customarily slips the set onto the slim wrists of his customer. Spices and condiments, pickles and household needs.

One can get all this and more in these myriads of shops.There is no Tesco or Target to shop at here, instead the sights, sounds and smells of the bazaars are the intangible memories you can take home of Hyderabad.

In Abids, did I really see a name board with St. George’s Grammar School on it ? Yes! a high school of that name still exists, educating both boys and girls in the city for generations. Drive into the old church premises and one feels like stepping back into a time warp, nothing seems to have changed except the church belongs to the CSI (Church of South India) now and not the Anglican church. The vicarage still stands with its pillared verandah and a mali (gardener) sweeping the fallen leaves, with a coconut stick broom. We drive out after taking pictures of the church, to another old institution – the Taj Mahal Hotel. There the masala Dosas (crisp rice pancakes) and filter coffee are legendary and of course we must partake of them.

Keep a whole day to visit the Salar Jung Museum. The museum houses the collection of the three Salar Jung’s who served under the Nizams and were great connoisseurs of art and culture. The veiled Rebecca which is an amazing marble sculpture of a woman seen through her veil and Marguerite and Mephistopheles, a double wood carving are two pieces that enthrall visitors. Rooms full of paintings and jade, chandeliers and porcelain the collection can give the Louvre in Paris, a run for its money any day.

You cannot say you visited Hyderabad if you haven’t eaten Hyderabad Biriyani. So, take an auto-rickshaw to Paradise which has the best Biriyani in town and patiently wait your turn in the waiting room. Then, forget your fork and spoon and dig into the fragrant confection of rice and mutton with a sprinkling of fried onions and a dash of fresh lime with your fingers. The recipe is a state secret and the chefs will never divulge the intricacies of how they conjure up those flavours.
On the other side of the tank bund of the Hussain Sagar lake, is Secunderabad, which was the British cantonment when we were a colony. Today most of it belongs to the army and is thankfully the lung space of the city.

© Marianne Furtado de Nazareth March 2008
Erasmus Mundus Masters in Journalism

Alankrita with Marianne

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