Bang in the heart—literal and spiritual, so to say—of Hyderabad is the ornate four-towered building known as Charminar. We visited it on our second day in Hyderabad, but even on our first day, while sightseeing elsewhere, we were constantly asked: “Have you been to the Charminar?” We did intend to go (one can’t go to Hyderabad and not see the Charminar), but that persistent question spurred us on to make this the first stop on our second day of sightseeing.
The Charminar was built by Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth ruler of the QutbShahi dynasty and the man who is credited with founding the city of Hyderabad in about 1591-92 CE. Why Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah built the Charminar is debatable; the most popular legend has it that Hyderabad had been badly hit by an epidemic of plague, and the eventual eradication of the disease was marked by building this commemorative structure.
The approach to Charminar is interesting enough in itself. On one stretch is the Mecca Masjid; on the other is what is known as Patthergatti, a stretch of road flanked by buildings of carved grey stone. Our cab driver, taking us to Charminar, told us that Patthergatti is the place to come to shop for trousseaus: all of Hyderabad’s Muslims, especially, he said, come here to shop when they’re getting married.
But, to Charminar itself. This is a ticketed monument, and since it’s also arguably Hyderabad’s most popular tourist sight, there’s invariably a queue at the ticket counter. Fortunately, the line moves very fast—and, having bought our tickets (Rs 5 per person for Indians), my husband and I were inside the rather crowded ground floor area (the belly, so to say) of the Charminar within a minute of arriving.
There’s nothing much to see here, and another queue to get into—a queue for the stairs leading up to the upper stories of the Charminar. A spiral staircase consisting of 149 steps, relieved by 12 landings, goes up to the very top of Charminar. We joined the queue, which made its slow but continuous way up the staircase: the staircase is narrow and dark, the steps somewhat steep and narrowing into just a couple of inches in width towards the inside. Anybody who suffers from vertigo or claustrophobia should not even think of attempting this.
While the sign on the ground floor mentions 149 steps, you don’t really get to traverse all of them, because visitors are allowed up only till the first level, which is where a balcony opens out, ringing the building and providing views of all the area around, of Patthergatti and the nearby Mecca Masjid included. A friendly young guard here fell into conversation with my husband here, and on being asked why one couldn’t go further up the towers, right till the top, informed us that the upper stories of the towers had been closed off a few years before, because someone had fallen from there and died.
The Charminar doesn’t take more than about 15 minutes to see: there isn’t, really, very much to see here. The decorations—stucco work and some sparse, neat painting—on the building are nice, but the best are reserved for the exterior of the Charminar. Also, the view from the top isn’t all that spectacular. If you’ve set your heart on visiting the Charminar, do so. If you are pressed for time, you’re probably better off leaving this off your list and only stopping by somewhere on the road outside to take a photo of the place.
The Charminar is open all days of the week except Fridays. Tickets cost Rs 5 per person for Indians. Photography is allowed.
To read about the other sights we visited on our tour of Hyderabad, click these links:
The Deccan’s largest necropolis: the Qutb Shahi Tombs
The fort on ‘Shepherd’s Hill’: Golconda
The mosque with a link to Mecca
Unfairly underrated: the Chowmahalla Palace
The Veiled Rebecca and More: Salarjung Museum