The recent move to pedestrianise Charminar opens up an exciting world of possibilities for Hyderabad. Some 500 years ago, Hyderabad was just a small mudfort called Mankal. It was also referred to as Golla Konda. As an outpost of the Kakatiya dynasty that once ruled from Warangal, no one could have dreamt that one day this same space would host one of India’s most fascinating cities and one that drew travellers from around the world to do trade or just experience it.
It’s a story about people. About values and dreams, visions and endeavours. Hyderabad, through time, has demonstrated over and over again, and continues to do so even today, that how a city evolves is a reflection of the mindset of its people evolving. Whether it was the great Qutb Shahi rulers whose vision saw an invitation going out to some of India’s most rich, diverse, and successful communities in their respective fields to help build Hyderabad, or bringing in the latest in technology of the time from countries as far as Persia, to the Asaf Jahs who continued the tradition of laying the foundation of what today is, the new Hyderabad with the help of British influence in many a field, it’s fair to say that Hyderabad was and is a city built by its people.
So Hyderabad is us. It reflects who we are. How we think, how we respond to life, our values, our dreams, and vision. It’s a reflection manifesting of our vision or deepest intent.
The mood around Charminar has palpably changed post pedestrianisation. There is a buzz. A sense of promise as hawkers have moved in to do brisk business, with tourists flocking the many markets. I love going into the old city with my family; we often do late night drives, exploring the many gallis and savouring the inescapable charm of a place that has seen so much. The richness of a city that has lived and found expression through a myriad lives that made it their home, using the landscape of the city as an artist would use his canvas to leave a mark in so many ways and in such rich intensity that today, despite so much else happening in Hyderabad the Old City remains an exquisite experience. Something that can floor any traveller from anywhere in the world. It doesn’t matter who you are and what your background is. Old Hyderabad, is about human lives and rich expressions. There’s something magical at work when something survives centuries. Take the many bazaars there, the monuments, the workshops catering to a mindboggling range of needs and the food that had evolved in Hyderabad. It’s very difficult to say what this whole experience is about. The old city tugs at your soul. And it’s not just because I am a Hyderabadi and I love this city. I find the same reaction in so many of my friends from the US or UK who just cannot have enough of this charmer called Hyderabad.
In all this, we have forgotten that life is about experiences. Tourism is about experiences. And with tourism contributing a tenth of the global GDP with a promise of growth it only makes sense that Hyderabad, and India in fact, should wake up to the potential of translating our rich and diverse cultural legacy into an economic engine of growth and welfare.
If I am to sit down over a nice cup of hot tea and reflect on what my life has been so far invariably I am overwhelmed by the rich kaleidoscope of experiences ones fortunate life has been. I dig experiences. And when I travel I see the same thing. World over people love to experience. So when I spend time walking about in Charminar or Hussaini Alam or the many monuments and bazaars of Hyderabad, I see immense potential in how the richness before my eyes can be translated into palatable experiences. Yes, palatable is the key word. And we seem to bungle up royally when it comes to understanding that some hardwork has to go into making experiences accessible, comfortable, and optimised, ensuring the elements that have crept in over time that detract from a positive experience are deliberately managed to ensure customer satisfaction.
Its business. Even when you want the world to taste your culture. Please don’t ask the world traveller to work hard to experience your city. Make it easy and comfortable. Today when a traveller visits the old city, you don’t have a decent place to unwind in peace. Perhaps read up on history over a delectable snack and coffee in a lovely peaceful setting only to explore Pathergatti, Shah Ali Banda, or the many monuments around in pockets. Retreating into a haven of comfort and peace every so often. This way you enable the traveller to savour your culture at his or her pace. Not rushed. Not overwhelmingly. And to think about you have just the place at stone’s throw from Charminar. Sardar Mahal is a gorgeous old palace being wasted as a government department. Sardar Mahal should be that haven in Old City. With beautiful manicured lawns and cafes and book and handicraft shops showcasing your best, with budget heritage room stay options, it’s the ideal location from which to explore the old city.
So you are standing infront of the Charminar and have been up the amazing monument savouring its architectural finesse. You come down and are overwhelmed with crowds and hawkers. All fine for a while but only so much. Is that all we want Charminar to say to the world? Is that all Charminar represents of Hyderabad? Surely not. As we saw earlier Hyderabad is a city built by its people. Different people with rich and diverse traditions. These communities who built Hyderabad have their distinct art and handicraft, cuisine and performing arts. Visualise a Charminar that comes alive early evening with street performances showcasing talent as rich and diverse as qawwalis, the Banjara folk dances, the electric mesmerising intensity of village drums, or the graceful motions of the dandiya or Kathak. Of sone music and dance, of the best of food and handicrafts representing the many who make Hyderabad what it is.
You have to plan this out. It won’t happen by accident. You have to deliver the experience. Orchestrate it if you will. And why not. This city is ours. This culture is us. If we don’t decide how best to present it who will.
Walk down Laad Bazaar to the Etebar chowk and face the horror of how a mindblowing potential of a piazza is squandered. Once of unimaginable beauty today the chowk is a sorry sight. We don’t need to run abbattoirs in heritage markets. Build a modern hygenic abbattoir for the many families whose livelihood depends on it in a different location and shift them to a better life while transforming the chowk into an amazing Parisian style café and art and handicraft market. Walk down the lane from the Chowk and treat world travellers to fine dining in the stunningly beautiful Khurshid Jah baradari which languishes in neglect. Host a traditional meena bazaar in its sprawling yard with lovely lawns and fountains creating a space for world travellers to savour yet another fascinating aspect of the old city.
Create carefully curated heritage walks showcasing a myriad experiences. From monuments, to loaclities, to bazaars to workshops the list of what we can do in experiences is actually astounding. The Sufi traditions of Hyderabad is an entirely fascinating world in itself with so many dargahs and the potential for festivals showcasing these rich traditions.
The Iqbal-ud-Dowla Deodi, although private, holds promise as a world class library and historical research centre. After all Hyderabad has one of the largest collection of Mughal manuscripts in the world. Put the Deodi to any other use but don’t let it languish and disintegrate as it is heading toward.
Homestays in Hussaini Alam would be such a quaint experience. Work with families in old city to show them how its done. I had relatives with a house in Hussaini Alam and I recall spending a weekend in their home and waking up in old Hyderabad was just so quaint and lovely. With pigeon groups flying around in midair clashes to the distinct vendors who would come calling selling their wares.
When we develop Old City as a tourist destination. Optimise experience elements around every cultural marker, making it easy to access and comfortable to experience, protect, maintain, conserve and present our rich heritage the way it should I have no doubt we will unleash a major economic revival of the Old City. One we all can be proud of as a true refleciton of who we are. The intent will deliver a new ground reality. I have no doubt about it.
When the first Subedar of the Deccan stood atop the old mudfort of Mankal looking out over the river Musi and saw a vision of a great city it was after all an intent. To build something spectacular. He and his people delivered on that vision. They have gifted us our Hyderabad. Let us all come together to pick up this Kohinoor called old Hyderabad lying in dust, clean it, polish it, and present it the way it should be to once again dazzle the entire world with its magical lure. - Deepak Kant Gir