Hyderabad is large and chaotic, so I can’t usually get to see anything of interest to a traveller when I go there for work. This time round, before leaving I looked at the map carefully and found a place which I could go to if I had a couple of hours to myself. This was not a one of the famous sights: not the storied Charminar, not the unexpected charm of the Spanish Mosque, not the meandering Salar Jang museum, and not even the unfairly neglected zoo. It was a little hill called the Moula Ali Gutta. A description which I read before leaving was charming.
I did have a little break in the middle of the day, and I hopped into an auto with The Undefeated. It turned out that this was a great strategy: autos are faster than cars on the narrow and winding roads which we went through. Maybe this is the way to see Hyderabad in future.
I accepted the first price bid by the driver, so he was happy enough to stop whenever I wanted take a photo. The gate in this photo was a lovely gem of architecture surrounded by utilitarian dross. Perhaps it will disappear in a few years. Unfortunately there seems to be little we can do about this, except to record what we see. It was the middle of the afternoon. Shops were open and a constant stream of people went about their day’s work. In the short time I took to photograph this gate, I acquired a crowd of kibbitzers, one of whom wanted to know why I found this worth photographing. My sincere answer to such a question is that it is beautiful. This appeal to local pride usually works to stop further questions.
The hill lived up to its reputation. It was mid-afternoon, the sun was strong and the temperature was 38 degrees. When the auto stopped at the bottom of the hill, my heart quailed; climbing was not a pheasant thought. The Undefeated lived up to his name. He gave the stairs a critical look and said “We can climb part of the way up”. Once we started up the stairs, they turned out to be shallow and broad. Part of the way up we saw the granite slope of the hill bearing many smaller rocks. They seemed to be poised to roll down the slope, but they had been there long enough for people to have painted names on them. As we climbed we realized that the view would be wonderful at sunrise or sunset and at night. That’s one thing to keep in mind for another time.
Apparently, the Moula Ali who gave his name to this dargah was the son-in-law of the prophet. Strangely it is not his remains which the dargah contains, but a “miraculous” hand-print attributed to him. Whatever. The nearly 450 year old dargah was very peaceful. A family had climbed with us, the little boy running ahead, the parents and two sisters following. They went into a mosque attached to the dargah while I took photos outside. I wished the really tall ladder was not there. There were many little brown doves (Spilopelia senegalensis) in the trees around the mosque, and, ironically, none of the blue rock pigeons (Columba livia) which are so common in other cities. There were painted pots hanging from the trees outside the mosque (you can see them in the photo), whose significance was not clear to us.
We passed a massive gate on the way up. This serves as a place where the locals can sit and chat. On hot afternoons, like the one we were stuck in, it is also a place where visitors can rest for a while. There is a nice breeze, so once you are out of the sun it is cool, and quite pleasant. A Wikipedia article claims that Moula Ali is one of the eleven sites identified for protection by the city’s heritage conservation committee. When you go up there it is not hard to understand why. This recognition has brought state attention, in the form of money to repair the steps a couple of years ago, as a large plaque informed us.
We also saw another hill a little way off, with marks of what seemed like recent quarrying. I read later that this granite monolith is called the Qadam-e-Rasul, and has a mosque which supposedly holds some relics of the prophet. Apparently Moula Ali Gutta also has some temples; we did not see any, but then we did not climb all the way up.
We climbed down the hill, and our auto was waiting right at the bottom of the steps. Nearby two youngsters were deep in consultation over books which looked like exam keys. Both of them were dressed in black, even on that hot afternoon. They readily agreed to be photographed: no questions about who we were, and why we wanted the photos. If they had asked why, what would their reaction have been to the truth about the quality of light, the colour contrast between their shirts and the surrounding walls, and the paired contrast between their youth and the age of the street they stood in? The weird thing about photography is that only later does one actually look at the faces of people and wonder about their stories.