Sunday, March 9, 2014

Seat of Nizams: Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad

I was in Hyderabad, fondly called as the ”City of Nizams” due to its legacy, as part of an annual conference we hold for our channel partners every year. These conferences are not entirely a business affair because we always visit some popular landmarks which are deeply entrenched with identity of the city where they are held, a very good way of making people intermingle who would have otherwise adhered to the formal boundaries defined by business relationships. The schedule on the first day included a dinner at Chowmahalla Palace which used to be the seat of Asaf Zahi Nizams. The choice to spend a delightful evening within the courtyards of a charming palace which the tasteful Nizams have left behind in Hyderabad was fitting.


Due to the no entry rules which applied for heavy vehicles, during the day in Hyderabad, we took a long detour to reach the palace situated in the heart of the old Hyderabad city. It was a glaring contrast to the suave and urbane exteriors of the Hitec City where we were staying, the modern face of Hyderabad. When we got off from our bus we found ourselves in the narrow and congested Moti Gali. In mid of all the hullabaloo there was a modest looking gate which lead to the entry of the Chowmahalla Palace, now restored to its past grandeur. It is still a private property of Nizams and is only open for special parties and corporate tours. A little further from the main entrance the beautiful façade of the Khilwat or the Durbar Hall presented itself. A huge courtyard, with a lovely garden running through its axis and long passageways of outer quarters on either side, stood in between as I kept gazing at the splendor of the Durbar Hall. The elegant edifice glowed as bright halogens lit it up accentuating its details. After reaching closer you can notice the ornamental stucco work, which is an integral part of this palace. A stage had been set up for a musical night for our group with one of the most beautiful backdrop you can ever imagine. However before the party really started it was time to venture into the palace and get acquainted with Nizams’ way of life.

The durbar hall was spectacular with huge chandeliers which hung throughout the ceiling, epitomizing the abundance of wealth which the Nizams had accumulated. This hall is where the Nizams held their public meetings. A thing in common with the distant Marwar palaces I just visited were the shielded corridors through which the women of the house could witness the proceedings, purdah was a prevalent practice here too. The penchant for Stucco is evident as you walk through the long corridors of this two story building, the ceilings decorated with ornate work throughout. The rooms in the Khilwat have now been converted into galleries which showcase the rich tastes and lifestyle of the royal family .One of the rooms was dedicated to displaying the beautiful chogas, sherwanis and women’s footwear with heavy as well as intricate metallic embroidery. The Nizams’ love for food was well described by the beautiful cutlery which filled up an entire room. A signboard in the room talked about their philosophy on food “Khana Muhabbay aur Fursat Se Banana Chahiye”.The cupboards had the choicest pieces of Britain’s Doulton, Minton, German Porcelain, Gong Fu tea sets .The Saliah Khana displayed the arsenal of Nizams. Just like Mughals the weapons used by the Nizams had a significant element of art in theirs; you only need to notice the hilts of different kind of swords and daggers.
The Khilwat was a public place and you need to go through another gate to enter what probably was the private space of the royal family and housed four palaces (Char Mahal or “Chowmohalla”). The first one I walked across was Tahniat Mahal where another party was going on. I asked the guards about it but nobody could tell me. Some sources on the internet say that it was the erstwhile office of the Nizams. One of the guards did however tell me about the Aftab Mahal which was the entertainment house where dance and songs would go on late into the night. Right opposite was the Mehtab Mahal which probably was the library. At the center stage was the Afzal Mahal with the lovely rectangular garden, which also had a long pool with fountains, facing its entrance. If you were to be inside this palace you would get a beautiful panoramic view of the garden surrounded by the other three palaces. You would not need any guide to tell you that this particular palace was the residence of the Nizams. In the backyard of the Afzal Mahal the vintage cars and carriages, which were used to chauffer around the royal family, were on display. It also included the Throne car, Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. It was used so sparingly that it has notched up only 356 miles till date.

After having spent a good part of an hour in trying to comprehend this Nizams’ heritage I returned to the party. The usual business discussions had started with people huddled in groups while a local artist rendered some beautiful Sufi music.




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