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City Insights – Hyderabad

Emerging from one of the great arches of Hyderabad’s historic landmark, the Charminar (the hour-minarets) and extending westwards is the legendary Lad Bazaar or the street of love.

Lad Bazaar for Hyderabadis is not just a bazaar, but is a tradition which they have well preserved. It is as old as the history of the city itself. Its features are mutli-faceted; and its colour and charm are as fascinating as its antiquity. Also known as Hyderabad’s bridal bazaar, Lad Bazaar ahs much to offer a visitor – right from its dazzling exterior to the pitiable constraints its inhabitants have to face.

Hyderabad, is a city of contrasts, where the mystic orient and the elite occident; pre-modern and modern; all co-exist in a strange, whimsical fashion.

The Old city (purana shaher) has its reigned over own cultural identity which is reminiscent of the days of the Qutub Shahis and Asfijhas, who it for nearly six centuries. It bustling bazaars, beautiful chowks (boulevards), kamans (archways) and the other structures of Indo-saracenic architecture still retain their quaint oriental milieu, inspite of the worst traffic congestion and urban decay brought in by the city’s burgeoning population. The hundreds of bicycles, tricycles, carts and horsedriven carts, dodging in and out among the other fast moving vehicles, pedestrians, and more often than not, cattle jamming the labyrinth of lanes and bylanes around the Charminar, especially the Lad Bazaar, never seem to bother the Hyderabadi who almost takes it for granted and puts up with it. For him traditions are more treasure and must be preserved as such, at whatever cost.

Lad Bazaar is a place of endless movement and of different flavours. Double-storeyed structures standing on either side of a narrow stretch of road framed between Charminar and the Mehboob Chowk are full of colour and buzzing with commercial activity – throughout the year. The street has a number of names such as Chudi Bazaar, Joda Bazaar, Judwa Bazaar, Meena Bazaar, Murga Bazaar and so on; and each owes its allegiance to a section of it, depending on the items it sells.

Lad Bazaar is said to have been founded by Ladi Begum, the wife of Mir Mehboob Khan, the wife of Mir Mehboob Khan, the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad. In those days, it used to be a street where the concubines of the Nizam lived. The tiny upper storey apartments, still seem to hide the romance of their past grandeur, behind their typical little wooden shutters. These apartments are at present being used as karkhanas (workshops).

There is yet another story which takes its origin from the days of Qutub Shahis. According to this version, it was called Lord’s Bazaar or the bazaar meant for the nobility – Lad Bazaar being a latter day corruption. But there is little today to suggest its noble origins.

Come Ramzan (month of fasting) or the wedding season, Lad Bazaar is heavily crowded with the burkha-clad (veiled) Muslim women, fashion conscious ladies, chic college girls and the blushing Lambadinis (a clan of gypsies) bejeweled in their traditional finery. The street echoes with the calls of pavement vendors selling bangles, trousers and hair-pins etc. it is interesting to watch the shy Muslim women looking the other way while the push-cart bangle sellers slip bangles onto their delicate wrists.

In the alleys behind, and upstairs, tailors squat with their sewing machines. There are women and young girls sitting in alcoves or in their karkhanas behind, embroidering beautiful bridals suits. A little further, black metal and woodcraft workers carry on their old trade marking objects of art and décor.

Lad Bazaar is indeed a treasure trove of articles of beauty and utility. For Hyderabadi women, irrespective of whether they are Hindu or Muslim, a forthcoming marriage usually calls for a visit to the Lad Bazaar. A bridal suit, or khopdia joda comprising a kurta (shirt), pyjama (trouser), choli (jacket) and a ghunghat (veil) is a certain item on their list, and is available nowhere except in Lad Bazaar. Among the other important wedding items mehendi (henna), haldi (turmeric) and bridal bangles are found here.

A walk through the bazaar and the labyrinth of bylanes behind is an experience in itself. On is sure to get exhilarated by the rich riot of colourful hangings that deck the exteriors of almost each shop – right from the Charminar to the Seft-e-khas estate. As a tradition the various articles made in Lad Bazaar have greater accent on colour, glitter and temporary sheen. They are not only attractive but durable and cheap; their ephemeral quality doesn’t stop customers from buying them, for they are bought more as a tradition than anything else.

The Mehboob Chowk, a torpid looking quadrangle almost half the size of a volley ball court with an imposing tower in the middle, marks the end of Lad Bazaar. The green and white Chowk Mosque, standing nearby, on a high platform imposes a Mughal flavour and around it commerce proceeds with vigour. In fact, most of the things such as the black metalware and woodcrafted articles which are sold in the Lad Bazaar are designed and made at this Chowk. On the right is the Hotel Mohmadi from where the smell of hot spiced kababs and tea mingles with that of the bird market behind. The recesses around the platform below the Chowk Mosque are filled with various workshops and vendors. There are metal workers, machine repairmen, old and rare book sellers, and so on.

Why so many crows at the bird market behind the Chowk? I was surprised to see more crows in cages than the other birds. But quite interestingly, I was told later that the crows were meant for patients who buy and set them free, and by doing so, they believe that they would be cured of their diseases.

A browse through the other parts of the bazaar reveals beautiful collections of former Nawabas. With all this and much more, Lad Bazaar or “the bridal bazaar” of Hyderabad is at its mystical best at night, especially during the Ramzan season when the entire street between the Charminar and the Mehboob Chowk is brightly illuminated. The bazaar’s nocturnal activity goes on uninterrupted till late hours especially during the last three days of the Id, when people in large numbers go out to do their last minute shopping.

In nature’s cycle of eternal changes, nothing remains static; does the antiquity of the legendary Lad Bazaar. The next decade may witness a new history in making – on the rubbles of the old. But what would become of its oriental charm is a question that will haunt people here for some time to come.

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