This one is not a usual walk that you would take in the old city, but then if you are looking for real surprises, you need to walk the lanes without knowing where they would lead you. In this walk, I got to see an Ashur khana and a Doodh khana and this is something I had never seen. I got to see some old but very interesting buildings including the famous purani haveli and the Sardar Mahal. I got to see smaller structures like Hathi gate, an old post office and some typical asal Hyderabadi structures. Some buildings had an old interior with a shining new exterior, sometimes complimenting it and sometimes hiding it. This being a Ramzan month, the ‘Raunaq’ at the old city market was at its peak. The streets around Charminar were literally lined with new shining and shimmering clothes, with hawkers making every effort to sell it. Women in Burqas were in their true element while shopping. There were many shops selling the famous Haleem, including the vegetarian variety. Unfortunately, Veg Haleem was only available after evening, so I could not taste it. I hope I would be able to make another trip to the Old city before the Id.
We started walking from Salarjung museum towards the Aza Khana-e-Zehra and then to the lane at the back of Salarjung museum in an area called Darush-Shifa. At the corner of the road you can see a white building with many green domes and latticed yellow windows. The building has been recently renovated so it stands out in its surroundings. As you enter the building through its main door, you would suddenly see a huge hall, almost 400 X 200 ft, in sheer green color, standing only on the pillars on the periphery. Ground floor is for the use of men and the upper storey, which has a latticed wooden veil, is meant for women. The Chandeliers on the roof stand out for the shine that the colored cut glass emits. The caretaker of the place told us that these chandeliers had costed about Rs 6 crores when they were installed. Now what is an Ashurkhana – It is a place where the Shia Muslims go and mourn during the month of Muharram. It is also used for the other congregations during the rest of the year. Flagstaffs or battle standards called Alams are a part of Ashurkhana but they are displayed only during Muharram. Standards here are said to be studded with gold and diamonds. The story of this structure is simple, 7th Nizam of Hyderabad Mir Osman Ali Khan built this Azar khana-e-Zehra in memory of his mother Amtul Zehra Begum. It has been recently restored by the funds provided by his grand daughter.
Opposite Aza Khana-e-Zehra is Niaz Khane Mubaraq, which is a crumbling structure and was locked. Move ahead on this road and on the left you would see an old corridored building in white. A little ahead of it is 150-year-old post office of Darush-shifa. The post office has a very interesting window in the form of an arch. Walk a little ahead and on the right you see the Jama Masjid of Darush-Shifa. Now the interesting part about this Masjid is that it is an old mosque and you can make that out from the two minarets coming out at the back that resemble the style of Charminar. In the front a huge hall with a cylindrical dome has been built about 17-18 years back, funded by an Arab based family. To see the old minarets properly you have to walk around the new structure and reach the back of it, and you would wonder why the new structure should hide the beautiful minarets.
Besides the Jama Masjid is a green colored Dava Khana. Entrance gate has a typical Islamic arch and the lining on the arch is similar to that on Charminar indicating that it probably hails from the same period. It was a place built as a medical facility for people to come and stay while they recuperate. You can see the line of rooms all around a central courtyard. At the entrance there are rooms for the gatekeepers. There were a lot of families inside the dava khana though the place is no longer operational. Little further on the right is another pista colored building with a small board telling that it is the Urban Health Post of the area. We entered the buildings and saw nurses administering vaccination doses to the children and the central oval shaped room being used by the doctor, who told us that the building was a part of the Purani Haveli complex. It was donated to be a place for free distribution of milk and other eatables funded by WHO, and hence came to be known as Doodhkhana. We went on top of this single storey structure and discovered an unusual shape of the building, a central oval hall with a corridor around it and three square rooms protruding out of three sides of it. There is a beautiful old Pipal tree in its backyard with a small tree temple at its base. It somehow created the whole character for this building, which can definitely be better preserved. Even if all the torned down posters on the façade can be removed the building would wear a beautiful look.
Little ahead on the left is a big Yellow colored gate called Hathi gate as this was used for the entrance of the elephants into the Purani Haveli. Further down on the left a lane leads to the school in the premises of Purani Haveli, which was the residence of Nizam family, primarily used by the VIth Nizam – Mir Mehboob Ali, though it was built almost 200 years back for the IIIrd Nizam by his father. As it lied empty for a considerable time, it was called Haveli Kadeem or the Purani Haveli. The Haveli is built on three sides of a huge courtyard in a classic European style in white color. The two long sides have provisions for the stay of visiting guests and their accompanying animals. The upper storey of the left wing now houses the Nizam’s museum that showcases the personal collection of the Nizams. The most interesting part of the museum is world’s largest wardrobe that is on two floors and there is a manual lift to take the user up and down. You would be amazed at seeing this huge longitudinal room with doors on each side. The clothes kept here are primarily cotton clothes with Lakhnavi style embroidery. Other noticeable things in the museum are a painting on the Nizam with portraits of both his son in his eyeballs and that of his 5 forefathers in on his headgear. You would need a magnifying glass to see them. There are huge silver models of various structures in the city that were presented to the Nizam. It seem it was a custom to present the silver model. Then of course there are his magnificent chairs and other collected items. There are lion figures, drums and a fish style fountain in the courtyard that you can see. The Third side is the actual palace where the Nizam family lived and is built in a typical European style with high ceilings and decorated doorways. Now the whole place is managed by Mukarram Jah trust that runs a school and a nursing institute in the premises. A portion of the Haveli houses the Nursing institute including a hostel for the girls to stay. It looks this structure might have been a later addition, though the architecture is not very different. This part of the Haveli is pretty well maintained with lot of plants, flowers and cleanliness. This premises is more or less out of bound for the general public and you would need special permission to enter.
From here I walked to the Kotla Alijah Street also known as Telephone exchange road, which houses the Sardar Mahal. This was a palace built by the VIth Nizam for his wife Sardar Begum, who apparently did not like it and hence this was never inhabited. Now this palace acts as the building for GHMC. Built in yellow walls and blue doors and windows, this is a typical British era building. If you have lived in cantonments, you would feel at home in this building. Today, it is a typical govt office, crowded and filthy. Newspaper reports tell me that a museum is being planned in the premises. There is a huge arched gateway diagonally opposite the Sardar Mahal and this was the Rath Mahal or the place to park the chariots. As you walk towards Charminar from here, you would see lot of dental clinics that offer you all kinds of solutions for your dental problems. From here if you want you can walk to Charminar and enjoy the eternal festivity that the place carries.
This was a long 2 Km walk. Post this I walked the bazaars of Charminar and got a feel of Raunak-e-Ramzan minus the much-awaited Haleem though. This walk does not have many star attractions apart from Purani Haveli but then the real character of a space lies as much in its ordinariness as it lies in its grandeur.
Thanks Madhu for taking me on this walk.