All great cities grow along ocean coasts. And the greater ones along rivers. London has the Thames. New York has the Hudson. Cairo has the Nile. And Hyderabad has the Moosi. Moosi is not as well known as its other famous cousins. But the love affair between the city and the river is deep and dates back to four centuries.

This affair started with another love affair - just like in the fairy tales - when a Muslim prince fell for a Hindu commoner. Around 1580, Ibrahim Quli ruled the Deccan plateau from the fort of Golconda. His son, Mohammed Quli, was in love with a girl who lived across the river. One day, the young prince braved the storm in Moosi and crossed it on a horseback. The king was so worried about the prince's passion that he built a bridge across the river. To this date, the bridge still stands where it was built, witness to 400 years of change, and is now called the Purana Pul, literally 'old bridge'. When Mohammed Quli became the king, he married the girl he loved and called her Hyder Mahal. He laid the foundation of a new city across the river and named it Hyderabad after his beloved wife. And so began the story of a new city, a river and the bridges across it.

The Charminar was built in 1591 and Mecca Masjid in 1617. Ironically, or rather logically, the new city of Hyderabad that Mohammed Quli built is now called the 'old city'. And what was the then old city are newer urban areas now. Time - it changes it all.

The river Moosi flows in Hyderabad from west to east and roughly divides it into two equal parts. The equality, however, ends there. While the southern side of the city was built 400 years ago, the northern side has been inhabited in the last 100 years. The southern side echoes heritage, history and decay. The northern side is display of wealth, power and youth. It wouldn't be entirely wrong to say that Moosi is also the imaginary line that slices the city by religious demography. So distinct is the culture and environment of the two areas that I wouldn't be surprised if someone who migrated to northern Hyderabad in the last couple of decades hasn't crossed a bridge to the southern side of city. Such is the gap between the two 'cities within a city'. The two cities on either side of Moosi are not separated merely by 200 yards, but in my opinion by 200 years.

Perhaps the only connections between the two areas, quite literally, are the bridges that span Moosi. The bridges themselves are no major feats of engineering. But they are intimately woven in city's landscape and history.

Purana Pul

This has to be the most romantic of all bridges. A romance of time, space and history. It was built more than 400 years ago because of the mad love of a prince. And this is the bridge that lead to the foundation of a city we today know as Hyderabad.

The original bridge - no longer used for vehicles - is for pedestrians only. Several years of neglect have left this beautiful and historical monument reduced to a mere hawker space for flower sellers and vegetable vendors. A new structure was built later which caters to vehicular traffic; but owing to poor management and lack of urban planning, it is a traffic nightmare.

The road on the south side of the bridge leads, through the back alleys of old city, to Charminar. The road on the norther side leads, through Karvaan, to Golconda fort. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Karvaan used to be the high street with mansions, mosques, diamond trading centers and oriental bazaars on either side of the road. The Koh-i-noor (now in England), Darya-e-Nur (now in Iran) and many other diamonds were found in Golconda mines.

Muslim Jung Pul

The Muslim Jung Pul connects the Begum Bazaar and Jummeraat Bazaar on the north side of the river to brick-red imperial building of City College on the south side. Drifting further south towards Hussaini Alam (The flag of Hussain) and Moosa Bowli (The well of Moses) lies the once-upon-a-time red light district of Hyderabad - Mehendi Gali. Small delicate woodwork balconies have now been shoved to make space for concrete cubes and chaotic cabins, built with Saudi money that came trickling down in the 80s and 90s as almost every family in the old muslim quarters of Hyderabad sent one son to the land of oil and Islam.

Naya Pul

The Naya Pul, literally the 'new bridge', is the most visionary bridge of all. It speaks of the seventh Nizam's taste for building the city into a beautiful scape. On the south east corner of the bridge is the palatial High Court building. On the south west corner sits the Salarjung Museum. On the far north west corner is the City Public Library. On the north east corner, almost opposite High Court, is the very beautiful Osmania Hospital. With its towers, spires and tombs, this hostipal could easily have been a palace. Such was the vision of the seventh Nizam - Nawab Mir Osman Ali Khan - who built this building and the others around it.

The southern end of the bridge leads you to Charminar through Pathergatti and Charkaman. Pathergatti was built by the Nizams as a high street in their era. It features beautiful stone facades and buildings for shops. Even today the area is bustling with activity and trade and is the center for all wedding shopping. Charkaman was built by the Qutub Shahi rulers as a garden. I wish the authorities restored these structures to their former glory and made the Naya Pul - Pathergatti - Charkaman - Charminar axis a pedestrian only zone to promote travel and tourism.

Salar Jung Pul

If nothing else, Salar Jung Pul can boast of royal neighbours; the Salar Jung Museum, arguably India's best individual collection and Azakhana Zehra, the royal religious congregation hall of the Nizams' - both buildings sit on the south side of this brigde. A statue of Shivaji has been installed in the middle of the bridge in the last decade. What is a Maratha king of questionable repute doing in the land of Qutub Shahis and Nizams is beyond my comprehension. I haven't seen a single statue of Akbar or Shah Jahan all over India! We should seriously get over our desperate urge to create fake heroes in history.

Chaderghat Pul

Chader means bedsheet and ghat is riverbank. Chaderghat is the area where a lot of laundries existed (and I think still do) and washermen wash the city's dirt. Chaderghat Pul exists in two parts. While the older bridge looks decent with wrought iron railings, the new addition is nothing but a shabby strip of concrete. When there is substantial flow in the river, the water level rises over the strip. And when there is no water, the muck below the bridge stinks. It lacks the romance of Purana Pul or the vision of Naya Pul. It is dirty, cheap and low - very much like the state of government that was in power when the new addition was made.

The bridges on Moosi river not just span the width of the river, but stretch beyond into the geographic expanse, and slowly grow into the history and character of Hyderabad. If you listen intently, these bridges come to life and start speaking for the patrons who loved the city and loved building it.

Written: Aug 2007

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  1. I did read this site of yours searching to know more about the river moosi... I did like it, I would like to appreciate you for this. You are a good writer. - Reatesh Sanghi