Friday, December 16, 2011

Spice Girl Caravan To Charminar Mosque

Hyderabad, capital of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, has a rich Islamic history. Charminar Mosque, which I recently visited, is a beautiful example of its Muslim architecture. Charminar means four towers and refers to the mosque's four minarets. The monument was built in 1591 by Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah to mark the end of a plague epidemic. It's a heritage site located in the heart of the old city. In the past, one could walk up to the top for a view of the entire area, but sadly this is no longer allowed.

I was fortunate to ascend the mosque's pinnacle a few years ago, before it was restricted. This vantage point gives you a 360° view of the old city, especially the colorful market that Charminar is situated in. You can also see the High Court and other classic buildings from the top.

The mosque doesn't look as glorious as it used to. Perhaps, traffic, dust and pollution have diminished the beauty. While most of Hyderabad is delightfully historic and worth seeing, Charminar, one of the oldest and most-prominent landmarks, was a bit disappointing this time. Little has been done to preserve it. The mosque is used as just another gate, which the daily multitudes step into, through and out of ceaselessly. There's a nominal charge to enter the structure. However, this is not enough to keep the artistic wonder maintained.

There are two main options for getting to Charminar: you can take a bus or an auto. If you're hiring a car, there's space designated for parking, a rarity in this otherwise-congested area. Fair warning for those who like to travel alone: the old city has some reputation for kidnapping. Women can expect to be stared at or even teased, unless covered from head to toe.

Fortunately, I had my cousins with me, who speak the local language. I remained relatively quiet, since I don't speak it at all. According to my cousins, tourists and those speaking foreign languages are charged much higher prices in the market around the mosque. Unfortunately, this is not something rare for Indian markets, where shopkeepers sometimes gouge tourists. As soon as we reached the market area, we were assaulted by swarms of flies and pushy tuk-tuk drivers (or ricksha wallahs as they are called here) seeking our blood and treasure without taking "no" for an answer.

In the market, there are many good places to have Hyderabadi Biryani (a spicy dish of basmati rice and goat meat) or mouth-watering snacks. We treated ourselves to some delicious cardamom sweets. Ducked inside the shops next to Charminar looking for authentic souvenirs. There were colorful bangles from chudi bazar, attar perfume (sandalwood and lavender are renown), footwear and fabrics with motifs. Pearls are also popular here. These areas have tourists year-round, so make sure you have a local with you and bargain before making purchases, especially in the bangles market. However short your Hyderabad visit, I recommend this neighborhood for a rich experience. 

If Picasso was right that two colors can sing, then the spectrum of shops and stalls in the Lad Bazar can be called nothing less than a chorus. The hustle and buzz, the smell of many different fragrances, plus the probing of the market people can create an enigma of confusion about what to buy or not. Everything you see shimmers and looks wonderful, but don't be taken in. All that glitters isn't gold. Search till you find genuine quality. Also, seek out originality, because most items have a clone sold at half price. Looks can be deceiving. A little care will ensure that the bargains you find really are.

Evelyn Hills is a spicy Indian girl who loves to sing or dance and play guitar or piano. Unlike the famous British Spice Girls, she's not a ho and speaks comprehendible English. She's the author of the book Ivana and the Secret Lake Adventures: Magic vs. Love.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard of the place once before... a shame they're not keeping the building in as good shape as possible.