Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Charminar and Thereabouts on Foot

Walking up the steps of the Charminar, I could not help marvel at the fitness of those who probably climbed these very stairs about four centuries ago, to either study at the Madrasa (school) at the first level or went on to pray at the Masjid (mosque) at the second level!  Phew ! It was a steep climb of 55 steps to the first floor.  I was out of breath and secretly glad that visitors were not allowed beyond. 
I still shudder looking at these winding steps ** 
Standard Alam
Arches on the first floor
Persian Stucco worked dome

The delicate stucco work - first level Charminar

We went on a guided walk in our city. I realised there was so much more to know and explore.  Also, there is a comfort in the familiarity of the surroundings.  It feels good to be a tourist in your own backyard.

View from the rear - Restoration completed on the left minar (tower)
The Charminar was built in 1591 with granite, lime and mortar, by the ruler Quli Qutb Shah to mark the end of a terrible plague epidemic. He is reported to have written a couplet that translates-O Lord! Fill this my city with people as Thou hast filled the river with fishes.

The minarets stand tall at 54m high, each on a lotus leaf base

One of the Charkaman (four gateways) on the left and Jama Masjid on the right
We walk down the road away from Charminar towards the Gulzar Houz, a fountain that is over 400 years old constructed by the Prime Minister, Mir Mom Astarabadi in the rule of Quli Qutb Shah. This is at the intersection of four roads where in each direction is a gateway or the Kaman.
Gulzar Houz

Kaman Sher Dil ( gateway to the West of the Gulzar Houz)

Past the Kaman Sher Dil is the Mitti ka Sher a 150 year old structure that lends its name to the area where lac bangles are made.

The Pathergathi or the stone arcade was built by the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali in 1911 for the traders. It was to rehabilitate them after the terrible floods in the city.  The entire structure of stone has a certain influence of Rajasthani architecture. The shops are on the ground floor and the residences above both for convenience and security.  Sadly, the beauty of the structure is masked by the ugly hoardings, posters and wires !  
Sunday Bazaar at Pathergathi
On the weekend while the main shops here are closed, the Sunday market comes alive.  With products ranging from bolts, tools, bicycles, clothes, appliances, electronics, antiques...old and new, no shopper seemed to go back empty handed.  I was rather fascinated by the items on sale.  
Diwan Devdi gate
We walked through one of the gates of the Diwan Devdi (mansion), which was the residence of the Salar Jung family, the family of nobles, under the Nizam.  The gates are the only surviving portion of the devdi today.
Kaman Chatta Bazaar
The Kaman Chatta Bazaar was built in the late 17th Century.  On the roof of this structure was a construction that stretched out to the Diwan Devdi.  

We then walked to the Badshahi Ashurkhana/Imambara or the 'house of mourning' built by Quli Qutb Shah.  The walls are decorated by exquisite enamel tiles that have retained their colours to date.

Badshahi Ashurkhana

The enamel tiles lining the walls in Persian Style
It was the end of our walk, thoroughly informative, that took us back into the past to the makings of the city.  The ruler had such a vision for the city he had developed.  While there is still an old world charm, the area is overpopulated and bursting at its seams.  In the more recent times there is a project to pedestrianise the area.  Some of the traffic has been regulated and it is hoped that more civic sense will prevail and we will be able to witness at least a glimpse of the glorious past.

Heritage Walks are organised by the Telangana Tourism .  Their website has information.  They are held each Sunday by trained guides.  The fee is nominal.  The climb up the Charminar is not a part of the walk. 

 **Pic of stairs  Source -  Creative Commons[CC BY-SA 3.0] 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Irani Chai and Osmania Biscuit

When in Rome, do as......

In Hyderabad, head to the nearest Irani Café and indulge in a cup of Irani chai (tea) with Osmania Biscuit.  Or biskoot if you want to be even more Hyderabadi.

Hyderabad, India and chai from's a long story that goes back to the 1890s when there was a great famine in Persia that caused millions to flee their country.  Their journey on foot lasted over eight months, across the Hindu Kush mountains, crossing two continents before they reached the shores of Mumbai or Bombay as it was then known.  To sustain a living, they served tea from a kettle and later went on to establish little cafes. Some of them moved down south and to the city of Hyderabad and made it their home.  

Irani chai is a sweet concoction of boiled milk and strong brew of tea, both made separately and then mixed just before serving.  Strange, since in Iran, they do not I read, add milk to their cuppa!

The Osmania biscuit has conflicting stories of how it got its name.  Some say, the then erstwhile ruler of Hyderabad, the Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan wanted his biscuits sweet and yet salty and the resultant creation was named after him.  Another story is that the dietitian (dietitians that long ago?) of the Osmania Hospital created the biscuit.  However, that is only of academic interest.

In any case, we were at the Charminar monument on a Sunday morning and stepped into the Irani café a little across the road for a cup of tea.  At 7am, all neighbouring shops still had their shutters down, but the Nimrah Café was abuzz with activity. It was packed, no table was free. No waiting either.  You walked in, order was taken, steaming hot Irani chai and Osmania biscuits appeared in moments.

As you stood and sipped on the sugary sweet tea one wondered why the beverage was served with yet another sweet-salty item.  But again, the thought was momentary.  The tea was nevertheless delicious and the biscuits melted in the mouth.  I was not complaining.  Any thoughts of why I had crept out  of my comfortable bed to go on a guided walk in my own city were dispelled.  I was set to go!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Tiger Trail - Tadoba National Park

This was a holiday of a different sort.  Reconnecting with classmates after four decades, continuous conversation, good food, wildlife safaris and nature walks.  Who could ask for more?

This was my first safari experience. It had a sense of adventure and anticipation and of course, the reward of seeing the animals in the wild.  The rides were bumpy, the morning temperatures were freezing, the dust immense.  It was all worth it.

It was cold as we waited at the Kutwanda Gate, the sun had not risen as yet

The spotted deer were plenty and they seemed to be on alert all the time, looking nervously side to side, cocking their ears at the slightest sound.

Spotted Deer

The Indian Bison (Gaur)

The langurs are aplenty.  Their calls are an indication that a predator is around.
We were lucky that on our first safari itself we spotted the tigress Maya and the cubs.  She lapped the water leisurely and then looked up and took in the scene around her unperturbed.  The cubs arrived a little later.

We lost count of time as we watched her.  The crowd fell silent and the only sound was the clicking of cameras. Our mobile cameras were woefully inadequate and I envy all those who got better pictures of these beauties. Maya left after quenching her thirst and marking her territory and the cubs followed soon after.

The gypsys then rushed to another spot for Maya to reappear, however she had other plans and did not show up.

The Sambar Deer
We saw more wildlife that included the Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, Barking Deer, Wild Boar, Mugger crocodile, Wild Dog.  The birds were plenty too, the Indian Roller, Hoopoe, Lesser Whistling Teal, Woodpecker, Drango and the Grey headed fish eagle, peacocks, Jungle Fowl to name a few.
The Fish Eagle at the Tadoba Lake

Ghost Tree
In the dry deciduous forest of Tadoba, there are an abundance of teak trees.  The Saaj or the crocodile bark tree, the Arjun or the Kahua tree, the Palash, Tendu and more, but the most striking is the Indian Ghost Tree.  In the dark it's pale colour stands out like that of a ghost, and hence the name.  The bark changes colour from pale to copper and light green in a year.  The best description of the tree was in Pradeep Krishen's book where he describes the leafless tree and branches akin to a dancer's pose with the pale arms held high.  So true !

One disappointing day, the only semblance of stripes in the forest were these signposts

An attempt at humour at the Park, but it did ring true on a day we returned without sighting the tiger
Sunsets in Tadoba buffer area were beautiful
Later on we went on a nature walk around our place of stay at Ghosri Village.  While we did not see wildlife there were plenty of indication that they were around.  A broken antler, a pug mark, fresh poop of a sloth bear, that had us a little worried.  We saw interesting ant hills and tree root formations.

As we walked on there were these little tiger figures that were erected as memorials by families who had lost a member to tiger attacks.  Sadly there is a constant human-wildlife conflict in these areas.

It all came to an end too soon and it was time for us to leave.  The experience was great and I will be on the lookout for more opportunities to visit other wildlife sanctuaries .  This one was the first and surely not the last.

* A couple of pictures here are thanks to PR and JP.  Their phone cameras were better than mine :-)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Purana Qila - where fortunes took a tumble

In the heart of the city the Purana Qila ( or the Old Fort ) stands forlorn during the day, the crowd goes to the adjacent zoo and the young couples who visit the place for the privacy it affords, hardly seem to appreciate the heritage and architecture of the structures that have survived time.

Approaching the Purana Qila

The majestic structure was initiated by the Mughal emperor Humayun in 1553 in the city he called Dinpanah ( the Refuge of the Faithful ) . He is said to have completed the 20 m high walls and its elaborate gates or darwazas in just a year.

In 1540, he was overthrown by Sher Shah Suri who renamed it Shergarh (Home of the Lion)  and added more buildings within the fort complex. In 1555, Humayun regained the throne but did not live long to enjoy his victory, when well within a year, he tumbled down the stairs of his library and did not survive.

A year later, Akbar who took over from Humayun was defeated by Hem Chandra, a general under the Suri kings, who crowned himself the emperor.  His rule lasted just a month when he met his end in a battle with the Mughals.  Thus the site was associated with so much misfortune that it was never again used as a seat of administration.

The main entrance to the fort is through the Bada Darwaza or the Big Gate with its two massive curved rubble masonary bastions.  The central window was used to drop boiling water and missiles on the attacking enemy.
The arches are flanked by floral medallions and six pointed stars with lotus rosette, symbols of Mughal architecture
The two huge circular bastions surround the gate with vertical slits to shoot missiles

There are two projecting jharokas with colourful tiles

The Qila-i-kuhna is a striking mosque built by Sher Shah with red sandstone , white, black and grey marble with calligraphy.  The mihrab on the western wall is so intricately delicate.  The carvings inside are elaborate and beautiful.  The building has a second storey with jharokas where the women went to pray.  
Qila-i-Kuhna with the tank in front for Wazu or ablution
The Mihrab

Carving at the base of the pillar

The rear view of the mosque with its jharokas 
The double storeyed octagonal building , Sher Mandal, was intended to be a pleasure resort, but after Humayun reclaimed the empire he used it as a library and it was here that he fell down the steep stairs and met his end.

Sher Mandal

Between the Sher  Mandal and the mosque is a structure that would have served as the Hamam or the bath house, with terracota pipes and drains.

The Hamam or the Bath House

There is also a stepwell or baoli close to Sher Mandal

The Northern gate,  the Talaqi Dawaza is from where Sher Shah went out to battle in 1545 with the instructions that the gate should be opened only on his return.  He was killed  in the battle and the gate reportedly remained closed forever.    The Talaqi Darwaza is built on two levels, the upper one opened on to land and the lower one onto water.  There are steps all around that would have led to the lower level.

Talaqi Darwaza that was never reopened after Sher Shah was killed in battle

The Humayun gate is built in similar fashion as the Talaqi Darwaza and is now the site for the Sound and Light show.

Excavation at Purana Qila where artefacts were recovered.  Some of them are housed in a museum in the fort complex.
Much later, when the city of Delhi was being planned by Edwin Lutyens, he aligned the end of the ceremonial path, Kingsway ( now Rajpath) with Purana Qila.  The Viceroy's House ( now Rashtrapati Bhavan), also was on an elevation where the fort would be viewed.  There was inhabitation of the fort  area until quite recently. A village existed within the site which was cleared in 1914.  In WW II, there were settlements that housed Japanese civilians on the grounds.  Much later, after independence it served to give refuge to many who stayed on till they were vacated in the 60s.



The Purana Qila, not just with the standing buildings, but underground passages, steps that seem to lead to nowhere, arches and pillars are fascinating.  For those who live in the city and wondered why we chose to visit the monument, I think it is time for them to go and find out for themselves and wonder why they stayed away so long. 
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