This magnificent forgotten necropolis is a must-see in Hyderabad

Go back in time to Hyderabad’s glorious past with a visit to the Paigah Tomb complex, the last resting place of five generations of the foremost noble family of Hyderabad.

Most residents of Hyderabad haven’t even heard of the Paigah Tombs, let alone seen them, tucked away as they are in the by-lanes of Santoshnagar in the Old City. But they’re still some of the most stunning remnants of the city’s past that you can find, so you don’t want to miss them. Visit these small but beautiful tombs, and you’re transported back to a time to when Hyderabad was the center of a powerful kingdom that held its own against the British Empire.

Aside: The Paigah Tombs are very different from the much older and more popular Qutb Shahi Tombs—the tombs of the founding kings of Hyderabad. The Qutb Shahi Tombs are much bigger, but the Paigah Tombs are more intricately decorated.

Paigah Tombs - An enclosure
An enclosure with multiple graves shows rain damage, being open to the sky 

Also read: Eight great reasons why you should visit the ‘land of kings’

The Paigahs: Among the most powerful of India’s noble families

Supposedly descended from the second Caliph of Islam, the Paigahs were among the most powerful Indian noble families of the time, and often intermarried with Hyderabad’s ruling family, the Nizams. In fact, the Paigahs were said to be richer than most Mahrajas in India at the time. The Paigah dynasty was founded in the late 1700s by Abul Fateh Khan (also called ‘Shams ul Umra’); his son Fakhruddin Khan’s tomb is one of the most ornate ones you’ll see in their necropolis.

Incredible architecture and intricate decorations

When you enter the crumbling gateway, you quickly leave the bustle and crowds of the city behind. The peaceful landscaped grounds shut out the noise and the dust, and invite you to think about the past instead of the present. The short stone-paved pathway leads you through the landscaped grounds, past separate tombs and structures, to the main mausoleum, where you finally see the tombs of the most prominent members of the Paigah family.

Once you’re there, sit down on one of the intricate vintage wrought-iron benches and admire the architecture for a few minutes before doing anything else. Because it brings together so many styles – Persian, Rajasthani, Mughal, local Deccani and even Greek—you’ll probably not see something like this again, so enjoy the view. As you relax, take in the rows of scalloped arches, the branching minarets, and the little mosque with its now-defunct fountain surrounded by wrought-iron chairs.

Paigah Tombs - Entrance
The crumbling entrance gate, seen from inside
Paigah Tombs - Row of arches
An open gallery
Paigah Tombs - Walkway
The stone-paved walkway
Paigah Tombs - Walkway minarets
Branching minarets
Paigah Tombs - Mosque
The mosque, with the fountain in front
Paigah Tombs - tap
Leaky tap at the mosque’s fountain

Memorials fit for kings

When you’ve seen your fill, move on to the tombs themselves—rows of separate enclosures with one or more graves, decorated with beautiful stucco plaster work, marble inlay and lattices, and open to the sky. You’ll notice that none of them are the same, the patterns on the lattices are different, and that the graves are different from each other, too. The most impressive ones are those of Fakhruddin Khan, the son of the Paigah dynasty’s founder; and that of Hussain Unnissa, daughter of the fifth Nizam and wife of Khursheed Jah. They say that Hussain Unnissa’s grave is a replica of Empress Mumtaz Mahal’s in the famous Taj Mahal, made of the same marble and with the same inlay of semi-precious stones. As you walk along the graves, you can’t miss the incredibly carved stone and wooden screens, and the complex plaster work that decorate their enclosures.

Though each tomb is more impressive than the last, you can, of course, decide for yourself which tomb you like best. Wander along the tombs as long as you like while you make up your mind, and soak in the peace and quiet. If you feel like, you can even do what the locals do and leave flowers in remembrance.

Paigah Tombs - Receding Archways
The arched corridor that runs alongside the tombs
Paigah Tombs - Two minarets close-up
A closer view of the unique branched minarets
Paigah Tombs - Lattice door 2
Carved screen doors between enclosures
Paigah Tombs - Lattice door
Another carved screen door
Paigah Tombs - Lattice close-up.jpg
An eye-wateringly intricate lattice decorates one of the enclosures
Paigah Tombs - Open enclosure
The enclosures are open to the sky
Paigah Tombs - Tomb of Fakhruddin Khan
The canopied grave of Fakhruddin Khan
Paigah Tombs - Tomb of Hussain unnissa
A rose left on Hussain Unnissa’s grave

How to get there

Getting to the Paigah Tombs is a little difficult if you don’t know the way. Using GPS navigation might be your best bet. If you’re feeling adventurous, here are directions from Hyderabad’s iconic Charminar. This route is about four kilometers long.

  1. If you’re approaching Charminar from Gulzar Houz, turn left onto Rathkhana street; if you’re approaching from Mecca Masjid, turn right.
  2. At the T-junction, turn right onto Kotla Alijah Road
  3. At Bibi Bazar Crossing, turn left onto Talabkatta Road
  4. About two kilometers later, turn left opposite Suffah Masjid street
  5. Turn left after Rosiyana Masjid, and you’re there; if you hit what looks like a main road, you’ve gone too far.

You can visit the Paigah Tombs every day of the week, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm—though getting there early, when the light is best, is probably your best chance to see them in all their glory. Entry is free, too, and you don’t need to worry about crowds (except maybe on Fridays, when a few locals come to pray at the mosque at noon).

Paigah Tombs - Kite on minaret
A pariah kite enjoys the morning sun, perched on a minaret

A crumbling reminder of the past

In return for a tip, Rahmatullah the caretaker will give you a guided tour in his less-than-perfect English. His family has been looking after the tombs and their grounds for a few generations, and you can be sure he will have some stories to tell. You’ll notice, though, that the tombs haven’t been maintained as well as they could be, and that there’s pressure from the densely populated areas around (because there’s no entrance fee, Rahmatullah does his best with whatever funds he gets from the government). But the government tourism department has apparently decided to renovate the entire complex, so hopefully it’ll be in a better state when you visit.

And when you finally leave the Paigah Tombs, you’ll leave with memories of a piece of Hyderabad’s past, a time when the kingdom’s influence reached far past India’s borders, and when its rulers were some of the richest and most powerful families in the world.

Also read: Eight great reasons why you should visit the ‘land of kings’

Paigah Tombs - Crumbling columns.jpg
The iron core shows through the crumbling plaster of these columns

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