Hyderabad: It is past midnight but the traffic is moving at snail's pace. Scores of people are in their cars, parked on both sides of the road and relishing the haleem, a Ramadan delicacy.
Dozens of young waiters of Pista House and Shah Ghouse, the two popular haleem makers, are on their feet, vying with each other to serve customers on the busy Toli Chowki-Mehdipatnam stretch.
Shoppers, the faithful returning from mosques, techies heading home from IT hubs, and families throng the dozens of food joints serving piping hot haleem. Heavy traffic, illuminated shops, and crowded hotels and eateries give one a feeling that it is day time.
And this is not the old city. So, the situation in the famous markets around the historic Charminar can well be imagined.
With only days to go for Eid-ul-Fitr, Ramadan shopping in this historic city with a rich Islamic heritage has reached a feverish pitch. While the city witnesses unprecedented commercial activity during the entire holy month, it hardly sleeps in the last 10 days.
The devout converge at mosques for 'namaz-e-taraveeh' around 8.30 p.m. and the night vigil ends with special prayers 'tahajjud' around 3.30 a.m. They make most of the last days to offer prayers and seek forgiveness from the Almighty -- the goal of the holy month.
For most families, it's also the time for Eid shopping.
From new clothes and footwear to bangles, mehndi, 'attar' (natural perfumes), crockery, household items and vermicelli and dry fruits, they buy everything.
Shops in the centuries-old markets in the old city and the gleaming malls in the central and new Hyderabad are packed with men, women and children.
As people feel tired due to fasting during the day and hardly find any time to spare in the evenings, the shopping is mostly done after 8 p.m. -- and it continues till 'sehr' or the pre-dawn meals.
Dates and all varieties of fruits flood the market during the entire month as Muslims prefer it for 'iftar' or breaking the fast.
Thousands of vendors set up businesses on the footpaths in areas surrounding Charminar in the old city. In recent years, Nampally, Mallepally, Masab Tank, Asif Nagar, Mehdipatnam, Masab Tank, Toli Chowi, Golconda and other Muslim majority areas outside the old city have been witnessing hectic commercial activity during Ramadan.
Hyderabad is the hot favourite among Eid shoppers, including many who come from other parts of Telangana and neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
With well-to-do families paying 'zakat' (Islamic wealth tax of 2.5 percent on their cash and other valuables) and almost every family paying 'fitra' (fixed this year at Rs.100 per member), the poor also join the festivities by buying clothes, 'sweyian', dry fruits and other items for 'sheer khorma' -- a sweet dish prepared on Eid.
With Muslims accounting for about 30 percent of the city's estimated nine million population, every commodity associated with the festivities opens up huge business opportunities during the month.
The volume of business, which is mostly in the unorganised sector, is beyond anybody's guess. According to some estimates, the business covering eatables, garments and footwear alone exceeds Rs.2,000 crore.
Such is the economic spin-off of Ramadan that thousands of people get additional income by setting up makeshift shops on footpaths to sell various items. The authorities also show leniency.
The city has no parallels in India when it comes to Ramadan. It's no wonder that many Hyderabadis who live abroad make it a point to visit home on Eid.
"You don't get to see this atmosphere in any other part of the world," said Mohammed Jaffer, an Indian American who has come home with his family to be part of the grand festivities.
"When it's Ramadan, we make sure that we spend it here," Zaki Ahmed, who lives in Abu Dhabi with his family, told IANS. It is also an occasion for the techie to be with his parents to celebrate Eid.
Many NRIs visit mosques like Azizia Masjid in Mehdipatnam for the night prayers and to hear the sermons from eminent religious scholars.
They point out that it is the mix of both the religious activities and the unique Hyderabadi culture which make Ramadan so special here.
(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at m.Shafeeq@ians.in)