Some things in Bhopal are difficult to miss; like Upper Lake, the largest manmade lake in India, which dominates the landscape here, or Taj-ul Masjid, the immense mosque - one of Asia's largest - which tops any list of city sights. But until recently I, like pretty much everyone else who's ever been Bhopal, had no idea that this fascinating city was also home to the world's smallest mosque.
I'd been here twice before without so much as hearing about its existence but this time, having read a brief mention about it on a blog during my pre-trip research, I was determined to seek it out.
Details were sketchy. All I knew was that it was across the road from Taj-ul Masjid. But Taj-ul Masjid covers an area of more than 23,000 sq m, and overlooks a number of roads, so that didn't narrow things down too much. Still, how hard can it be to find the world's smallest mosque?
The towering Taj-ul Masjid, one of Asia's largest mosques. Image by Daniel McCrohan / Lonely Planet.
I started at the Taj-ul Masjid, asking first the gatekeeper - no idea - then a couple of young Muslim students - blank looks. Then, as I was leaving a group of men sitting on a wall near the entrance to the huge mosque beckoned me over for a chat and some chai. After the usual 'I'm from England... 35... married... two children... Yes, I know, it's weird that I'm travelling on my own...' I asked: 'Do you know about a small mosque near here?' A few names of nearby mosques were thrown at me; Jama Masjid? Moti Masjid? Both beautiful mosques but I knew neither was the elusive world's smallest, so I said again; 'a reeeeally small mosque', this time illustrating my point with a mime which, thinking back, made it look like I was inspecting an ant that I was holding between finger and thumb. Seemed to do the trick, though. The man said to me; 'ah; the mosque in the Hamidia.'
Hamidia, I knew, was the name of the hospital opposite; an unlikely place for a mosque, I thought, but I went and asked. Blank looks from everyone, so I just kept walking around the grounds, and after a few minutes of skirting the edge of the hospital enclosure I found exactly what I was looking for. And it turned out to be even more intriguing than I'd imagined.
The mosque was perched on top of an overgrown stone turret, which formed a corner of an old ruined fortress wall. The hospital, it turns out, was built inside the grounds of the 18th century Fatehgarh Fort, so that soldiers deployed as guards could perform their daily prayers. And, according to an old city tourism sign standing outside the locked gates, this was the first mosque built in Bhopal, a city that now boasts more than 400.
Perched on an old fort turret: the world's smallest mosque. Image by Daniel McCrohan / Lonely Planet.
The sign was part-translated into English, but no name was given, only an explanation that it was named after the two and a half steps leading up to the main prayer hall. So I asked the gatekeeper, pointing at what seemed to be the name in Hindi. 'Dhai Seedi Ki Masjid,' he said.
'And is it the world's smallest mosque?' I asked. He either didn't know or didn't understand my question.
First glimpse: entering Dhai Seedi Ki Masjid. Image by Daniel McCrohan / Lonely Planet.
In fact, I'm still in the dark. Nowhere on the sign was there any reference to the mosque's specific size. I didn't have a tape measure with me (funnily enough), so I decided to pace out the main prayer hall. Four big steps by four big steps, so about 16 sq m.
4x4: The main prayer hall of Dhai Seedi Ki Masjid. Image by Daniel McCrohan / Lonely Planet.
Internet searches have since proved inconclusive, but I have yet to find any mosque recorded as being smaller than 16 sq m so until someone proves me wrong, I'm sticking by my story; that I went to Bhopal, and found the smallest mosque in the world.