Charminar and its vicinity will soon don a festive look for Ramzan, but regular visitors vouch for colour and mirth in the Old City any time of the year

How early is early depends on which part of Hyderabad you are in. The market areas of the Old City barely are stretching themselves out of slumber around 9 a.m., a time when arterial roads in other parts of the city are choked with vehicles. These areas come alive only after noon. The 9 a.m. to 12 noon window is when one can drive through the area within minutes, or walk along the arched pathways, taking in views normally hidden behind endless street-side stalls peddling all things from quilts to dresses, leather to books, old coins to pearls, Unani medicine to mehndi.

By noon, the areas from Gulzar Houz to Patherghatti and Charminar to Lad Bazaar, leading up to the Chowmohalla Palace teem with people. Navigating this part of the town on a regular day is no less intriguing than during Ramzan, when shops here sparkle even more, selling all things bright and colourful. With a few days for Ramzan, the Old City is gearing up to cater to food lovers who will make multiple visits for their fill of haleem. But as a few vendors point out, there’s no dearth of activity all year round.

Ali Bin Abdullah, who runs a hole-in-the-wall store at Patherghatti stocked with plastic containers, mehndi and other cosmetics, points out, “On a regular day, I begin my work early because I have plenty of stock. It will take me at least an hour to dust and arrange them and by the time the first few customers come in, the display has to be good.” Adjacent to this store, Iqbal is busy wiping the dust off perfume bottles and adds, “The area has become so polluted and it takes time to clean the bottles. We have brisk sales through the year.”

Jewellery boxes, gift pouches, leather articles, trinkets and kaarigars working overtime to embroider garments for special occasions are all what make the market areas of the Old City a much frequented place. Large paper kites adorn the streets near Gulzar Houz during Sankranti and clay diyas are prominent during Deepavali. As for food, there’s never a dearth. Merchants sell seviyan round the year though the stock multiplies during Ramzan; pushcarts sell pieces of ‘junnu’ for Rs. 10 and fresh produce of fruits and vegetables are laid out for eager customers.

A few kilometres ahead, the kova sellers of Shah Ali Banda are gearing up for the festive season with more stock along with the eateries offering haleem. Elsewhere, in the bylanes of Begum Bazaar, traffic threatens to clog the roads every now and then. Plastic wares, aluminium and steel utensils, clay crafts, bangles and household items, the markets in Begum Bazaar make brisk business.

V. Sandhya, a homemaker who lives in Secunderabad, frequents the Old City to pick up pouches for return gifts, costume jewellery and kaarigars who take up custom tailoring. “Ours is a large family and whenever there is a celebration — be it weddings or smaller functions — people count on me to help. These days, you can source gift pouches and bags from General Bazaar and Ameerpet as well but nothing matches the vibrancy of the Old City. The bangles one gets in Lad Bazaar and the Begum Bazaar are unbeatable. My visits to these bazaars are incomplete without a lassi or falooda. I am sure I will visit these pockets with my family during Ramzan for the great food, but nothing stops me even other times of the year,” she says.

Anjum, a homemaker who specialises in making sweets, puts things in perspective, “The Old City symbolises Deccani tehzeeb in every aspect and I consider these areas a reminder of our history.”