Built over 400 years ago, Charminar is the longstanding symbol of the Qutb Shahi Dynasty that ruled the city of Hyderabad. Intended to be a mosque, the structure became a landmark that marked the centre of the city. Four well-planned streets emanated from it and created the commercial landscape of the place. In that sense, nothing much has changed. If you stand on the first floor of the monument, you can see Laad Bazaar, Pathergatti, Kotla Alijah Road and Charminar Road bursting with shops. Look out to the north and spot the Mecca Masjid. One of the oldest mosques in Hyderabad, this too was built by Quli Qutb Shah with bricks said to be made from the soil of Mecca.
Now that you’ve oriented yourself, it’s time to go exploring!
The air around the Machli Kaman area before Pathergatti hangs heavy with the smell of natural perfume oils called ittar. Shiny glass bottles with yellow and brown liquid line the shops, often coupled with a silver case of surma. As you walk down the street, the piles in the shops change from bottles to strings of pearls. This is where Hyderabad pearls first became popular: Mangatrai and Kedarnathji Motiwale ̶ both over a century old ̶ are the most credible destinations for some pearl shopping. Northeast of Charminar, Laad Bazaar is decidedly for the ladies. Shops packed with lacquer bangles studded with stones, and other trinkets, have the women making a beeline for this wonderland. Here, you can also get any imaginable item needed for a Muslim wedding. Clusters of excited abaya-clad women, hunched over the goodies, break the bright mural of colours. Forget malls ̶ bright, crowded and bustling, this is how you were meant to shop!
TAKE A BREAK: If you’ve worked up an appetite after all the shopping, head straight to Pista House. Walk past the bakery section to the dingy family area, where busy waiters flit past you, balancing mountains of delicious biryani. You can never go wrong with the staple chicken biryani here. And if you happen to be arriving at the beginning of Ramadan, you will see big brown pots ready to brew haleem, the mouthwatering meaty concoction.
With a penchant for travelling ‘ungoogled’, Supriya has willingly got lost a number of times in the most obscure places of India for the last 8 years. She lives on a healthy diet of anecdotes and tea with auto drivers, co-passengers and locals! Supriya currently runs a Bangalore based travel-photography outfit called Photography Onthemove and writes regular features for India and International travel publications. More on www.supriyasehgal.com