For most Indians and even a lot of people from other countries, the Charminar needs no further introduction once an image of it is displayed. It has long been considered among the most distinctive structures of India, not to mention the image many people immediately associate with the horizon of the city of Hyderabad. This magnificent construction is the Indian response to the French Arc de Triomphe, a glorious monument whose origins were actually in disaster: a plague.
The popular story has it that the Sultan Muhammad Quli of the Qutb Shahi ruling line had the building constructed following a disastrous outbreak that devastated the locale’s population. The Sultan is said to have sworn to have a mosque erected would the plague only cease and would his people be spared, after which the epidemic vanished and work on the historic monument began.
The name, while it may strike the foreign ear as exotic, is actually derived from a fairly obvious characteristic of the edifice: the four spires rising majestically from each of its corners. “Charminar” is actually the combination of two words in Urdu that, when taken together, mean “four towers” (or minarets, to be precise.
Charminar is distinct, even from a distance. Its square, imposing design is almost exactly the same from all sides, lending it a wonderful sort of symmetry that tends to also render it the epicentre of the area in which it is located. One of its sides, the one to West, actually holds a mosque. The whole of the structure is heavily reminiscent of the classical Indian architectural and stylistic influences at the time that it was made, from the bulbous and softly tapered crowns of the spires to the lattice-like screen design against the windows to the accommodating gallery intended for prayers inside.
Viewed under the clear light of day, the edifice is beautiful if also slightly staid, certainly far more reserved in appearance than the blatantly romantic Taj Mahal. But viewed at night and with the illumination of hundreds of soft yellow lights, the structure is marvellous: a fancifully constructed palace-cum-fort whose bulk ramifies suddenly towards four graceful points at each of its corners and whose four archways are not so much imposing as inviting. Indeed, a lot of people argue that the best way to see the structure is to do it at night, given how much magic the lights add to the picture.
There are certainly many reasons to visit Charminar, including the presence of the famed Laad Bazaar nearby, for those who are looking to buy some of the locally-made and exquisite bangles. The area is a bustling one, which is probably part of the reason there have been a few concerns recently about official measurements recording a rise in pollution levels in the district. That aside, the place really is among the best ones to visit when you are in Hyderabad, and quite possibly even the first place to go to if you really want to start your Hyderabad trip off on the right foot.