Hyderabad: The Nampally Sarai, which was damaged the other day due to incessant rains, is not the only Sarai to suffer this fate. Several such guesthouses in the city have either fallen prey to the ravages of urbanisation or they were converted into shops.
The Aliabad Sarai is another such historical edifice, which is on the verge of being wiped out. A listed Grade I structure, this Sarai belongs to the Qutb Shahi era. It served as a resting place for weary travellers coming to Hyderabad. Until 1955, the Aliabad Darwaza was also present here, but due to growing traffic congestion, it was pulled down. Now the Sarai itself faces such a fate to enable road widening.
Lost in a row of shops, the Sarai situated beyond Charminar is now difficult to identify. About 80 shops function from this run-down building attached to Masjide Almas and Dargah Hazrath Miskeen Shah Saheb. Officials feel that road widening at this point is essential to accommodate the Metro Rail corridor II, as and when it comes.
Hyderabad and hospitality are synonymous with each other. The erstwhile rulers and their subjects are known for ‘mehman nawazi’. A guest was never considered a pest but someone special to be treated with due respect.
Perhaps following this philosophy, the past rulers thought of the comfort of those visiting Hyderabad from far off places and built Sarais for their stay. The city and its surroundings boast of several guesthouses constructed during the Qutb Shahi and Asif Jahi periods.
Some of the guesthouses were located outside the eight gates of Golconda fort. The gates used to be closed for the night at a particular time and those arriving in the city late found the Sarai convenient to stay. Even those seeking an audience with kings used to stay here until permission was granted.
The Nampally Sarai was supposed to be the gateway to the old city of Hyderabad. However, now, it doesn’t even command a second look. Vagaries of nature and official apathy have combined to render this Grade II heritage building unfit for use. With a portion of it now giving way, it presents a pathetic sight. In fact, it has been crumbling brick by brick for quite some time.
Built by the sixth Nizam, Mir Mahboob Ali Pasha, in memory of the First World War treaty, it was the first choice of visitors to the city for several decades because of its central location. Spread over 5,828 square yards, the two-storied Sarai served as a place for boarding and lodging for transit passengers. However, of late, it's lime mortar walls and roof made of Jack arch model is showing signs of wear and tear. The prolonged exposure of the iron rafters in the ceiling to weathering has taken its toll. After the balcony of the eastern portion collapsed in 1998, the civic body sat up and took notice. Experts from JNTU who studied the structural stability of the building felt it was conservable. However, the matter was shelved as it called for total reconstruction of the eastern wing and minor repairs to the western block.
Over the years many proposals were bandied about to restore the grandeur of the hoary Sarai. It was planned to develop the Sarai to provide modern amenities to tourists while utilising the existing open space for a parking lot. When the Hyderabad Metro Rail (HMR) entered the scene, it toyed with the idea of using the Sarai as an interlinking facility with the Nampally railway station. However, all plans were put on hold given the sensitivities involved and the concerns raised by heritage activists.
The Shaikpet Sarai is the oldest one, built during the Qutb Shahi regime. Now, it is a declared protected monument under the care of the Department of Archaeology and Museum. This double-storeyed guesthouse has 30 rooms with a big stable for horses and camels. It also has a mosque attached to it.
The Karwan Sarai is another notable guesthouse built during the period of Ibrahim Qutb Shah, the fourth Qutb Shahi ruler. In those days, Karwan was known for the diamond trade, and the guesthouse came handy for visiting traders. Now, there is no trace of the Sarai. The Hayatnagar Sarai is also among the oldest of guesthouses. Built by Hayat Bakshi Begum, daughter of the city founder, Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, it was used mostly by those going to Machilipatnam. It had 130 rooms with a big veranda and a mosque. This guesthouse too is a protected monument now.
Another notable guesthouse was the Mia Mishk Sarai along with a mosque of the same name at Puranapul. While the mosque is still there, the guesthouse has given way to a row of shops. The Bohra Sarai at Hussaini Alam was patronised mainly by members of the Bohra community who migrated from Surat in large number during the reign of Mir Nizam Ali Khan, Asif Jah II.
Tipu Khan Sarai is yet another old guesthouse near the Hyderabad railway station. One Tipu Khan Bahadur constructed it during the rule of the sixth Nizam, Mir Mahboob Ali Khan. This guesthouse was free for visitors for the first three days, and beyond this period, a nominal rent was charged. The Kacheguda railway station too had a guesthouse close by. Nawab Dawood Jung Bahadur built it on the silver jubilee of the seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan. There is no sign of this guesthouse now.