36 hours in hyderabad old city

My auto rickshaw driver chats away animatedly in impeccable Urdu as he navigates through the narrow by-lanes. We are on our way to the heart and soul of Hyderabad—Charminar and its immediate vicinity. It is 8 am and the old, still drowsy, historical, cultural, and commercial hub lined with shuttered shops is just about yawning itself awake.

Me: Dukaane kitne bajje khulte hai? [When do the shops open?]

Maqsood [the auto rickshaw driver]: Hyderabad nawaabo ka shahar hai. Nawaabi se uthte hai, phursat se kaam pe aate hai. 11 aur 12 ke baad le ke chalo. [Hyderabad is the city of nawaabs (Muslim ruling princes). They wake up at leisure and come to work at leisure. Say post 11 or 12 noon.]

And nope, there was no pun intended.

Despite the decades following its relinquishment of princely status in 1948, the city of Hyderabad, once capital of Hyderabad State and prior to that the Golconda Sultanate, still wears a veil of gentility. Of refined conversations and artistic sensibilities. The people are a little kinder. With all its love for bling and gold, the local lifestyles are a little simpler.

The unusual mix of an imported Islamic culture from Persia and Turkey into a distinctly Deccan geography and indigenous Telegu populace is responsible for Hyderabad’s rather unique identity. Continue reading

the forgotten qutb shahi royal tombs of hyderabad

The first thing I noticed about Hyderabad, a 400-year-old city on the banks of the River Musi in the Deccan, was the colour of its grass. It is a deep shamrock green awash with light. I had not seen such a green elsewhere in my travels.

I wonder if Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty [also known as the Golconda Sultanate], felt the same way when he founded the city of Hyderabad way back in 1591. Did the green charm him as much as it did me?

Avid builders and equally avid poets, the Qutb Shahi dynasty was founded by Sultan Quli Qutb ul Mulk, Governor of Telangana under the Bahamani court. As was the norm back then of setting up sovereign states, once the last Bahamani ruler died followed with the disintegration of his empire, Quli Qutb ul Mulk declared Golconda an independent kingdom and himself its Sultan.

Builders of the gigantic Golconda Fort perched atop a hill, the iconic Charminar in the heart of Hyderabad’s Old City, and the nearby Mecca Masjid said to be built with bricks made of clay all the way from Mecca, the Qutb Shahis were Turkmen from Central Asia. Continue reading

the walking sticks collection at salar jung museum, hyderabad

Have you ever been to a museum gallery dedicated to just walking sticks? Yup, you read me right—walking sticks. In all shapes and sizes, in cane, Malacca cane, wood, sandalwood, ivory, fish-bone, jade, glass, metal, and leather. Walking sticks with snuff boxes, and umbrellas and gupti [blades] inside. Where some handle heads are decorated with semi-precious stones, some lined with silver and gold, and others yet shaped as horse hooves, shoes, classical figurines, and the various inmates of an animal farm.

Bet you have not! 😀 Continue reading

national museum, new delhi – 90 minutes at the museum

The National Museum, New Delhi makes the herculean task of experiencing India’s monumental heritage spanning 5,000 years—doable. You could always spend 3 minutes looking at each object in its 210,000 piece collection. But that would take 14.5 months with no sleep or meals inbetween. Or you could do an audio tour and spend a day exploring its glorious galleries through 64 masterpieces. And if you have just one and a half hours, then why not feast your eyes on its very best.

Earlier housed in the Rashtrapati Bhawan [President’s residence], the collection has its roots in 1947 when the Royal Academy, together with the governments of India and Britain, decided to hold an “Exhibition of Indian Art” in London. Selected artefacts from museums across India were collected for the showing.

Before returning the exhibits to their respective museums, it was decided to display the exhibition in Delhi as well. What a huge success it turned out to be! The overwhelming response led to the idea of a permanent National Museum being set up in the capital with its very own building by India Gate which it moved into in 1960.

The National Museum has it all. From the iconic Harappan Dancing Girl to elegant Gandharan Buddhas, from exquisite miniature Mughal paintings to luscious Tanjore compositions, from Chola bronzes to 20th Century decorative arts, from medieval sculptures of voluptuous Hindu deities to diamond and emerald regalia of its once-upon-a-time royalty. The Museum has all these, and much much more.

Here are my 15 favourite pieces collated after rambling through its collections and meditating over its audio tour. Doable in 90 minutes. 🙂 Continue reading

champaner—the muslim part of the champaner-pavagadh unesco world heritage site

Fairy tales often start like this, don’t they: Once upon a time there was a fearless, virtuous king who had dreams of conquering an invincible fortress perched on a hill. His father and grandfather had time and again attempted to defeat it too, but to no avail.

The tale I am writing about continues like this: The brave king was Sultan Abu’l Fath Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah I, ruler of the Gujarat Sultanate and great-grandson of Ahmed Shah I, founder of Ahmedabad, Gujarat in 1411. The invincible fortress belonged to the Kichchi Chauhan Rajputs on Pavagadh.

Calling himself “Sultan al-Barr, Sultan al-Bahr” meaning “Sultan of the Land, Sultan of the Sea,” history knows him as Mahmud Begada. The name “Begada” was derived from his winning two gadhs in his lifetime, namely Pavagadh and Junagadh. Continue reading

pavagadh—the hindu part of the champaner-pavagadh unesco world heritage site

I have a book titled Speaking Stones World Cultural Heritage Sites in India which I must confess is my most prized possession. Coming to terms these past few months with some harsh realities on death and the transience of life, I reached out to the hard bound volume on my bookshelf to see what I could add to a wish-list to make come true.

The pages opened, almost as if urged by some mysterious calling, on Champaner-Pavagadh. Truth be told, I had never heard of the place before. But it was nearby and seemed doable over a few days. A friend pointed out the weather was all wrong for the rendezvous: “No one travels for pleasure to Gujarat in May when temperatures are soaring at 43 degrees.” The little voice in me said, “Who cares about the heat. Remember life truths!” 🙂

And, thus, one fine early morning, I found myself boarding a train to Vadodara, my base for my explorations. What I learnt and saw and experienced in the ensuing days far outweighed my expectations. But I run ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning. Continue reading