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Notes on the Geography of Peninsular India: Hyderabad: the Qutb Shahi City

Hyderabad has vastly outgrown its historic core, but that core remains surprisingly intact, both physically and socially.  Its survival is not the result of planning but rather of enduring and endured neglect. 

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Peninsular India: Hyderabad: the Qutb Shahi City picture 1

The old city is on the south or right bank of the Musi River, the River of Moses.  The water quality is terrible, but a greater hazard is probably the flooding that has repeatedly destroyed large parts of the city.

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The old city was once walled.  Some of the gates remain.

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Roads lead to the central feature of the old city, the "four towers" or Char Minar, completed in 1592.

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A close-up.

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From the Char Minar there's a good view of the four streets that diverge from it, neatly sectioning the old city into four quarters--a geometry borrowed from the char bagh layout of Persian gardens.  This is the view north, toward the river.  The freestanding arch is the southernmost one of four, the char kaman.    Each stands 750 feet apart from the one opposing it, and at the crossing is a central piazza, precisely 375 feet beyond this arch.  It's all part of Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah's plan for a grand city.  The design was by Muhammad's prime minister, Mir Momim Ashtrabad, who was from Isfahan.  The western arch led to the Qutb Shahi palaces, now gone.  So, too--lost to urban reconstruction--is the great square and its central fountain.

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The view south; the open area on the right flanks Mecca Masjid, the city's chief mosque and the work of Sultan Muhammad Qutb Shah V.

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The view of that mosque from Char Minar.

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At ground level, looking across the large courtyard in front of the mosque.  The structure on the left covers the tombs of Hyderabad's nizams, the princes who ruled the state from the breakup of Moghul power until Indian independence in 1947.

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From the mosque toward Char Minar.

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Like the great mosque at Delhi, Mecca Masjid is open on its east side.

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The west wall contains the mihrab, or prayer niche.  The color scheme?  Well, you just have to live with it.

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The mosque does retain elegance here and there, for example in this railing.

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The tombs of the nizams are near the mosque to benefit, like the tombs of the Qutb Shahi kings at Golconda, from the sound of prayer.

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Here's the view west from Char Minar.  It's early in the day, and the shops are closed.

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Down on the same street.

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This particular neighborhood is famous for bangles.

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Early-bird shoppers; they were non-resident Indians, here for a few days from Texas, where they said they managed a motel.

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Later on, the traffic gets thicker.

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Hyderabad still has a Muslim minority, and they're strongly concentrated in the vicinity of the Char Minar.  A sight like this, with women in burqas, is commonplace.  You'll have to hunt for it in Delhi or Mumbai or Calcutta or Chennai. 

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The preceding picure was taken in 1981; this one, in 2003.  Not much has changed.

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The Hindu-Muslim blending continues, this time with a small Hindu shrine at the base of Char Minar.

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Curbside tradesman.  Figure out what he does?

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The old city has hundreds of gold and silver polishers who dip jewelry in a water-cyanide mixture, then in ammonium chloride (navsagar), then in a final rinse.  In this case, however, we have an additional skill: remedial electroplating.

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Off the main streets, a baker with a built-in oven.

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The architecture now becomes a hodge-podge of new and old, maintained and ramshackle.

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Squeezing an old facade.


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