Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chowmahalla Palace - Royal Grandeur in Hyderabad

Aflab Mahal

There are few beautifully maintained palaces in the world that allow photography inside. London's Buckingham's overflowing grandeur is, for example, merely left in the minds of her seasonal visitors. But then this is understandable because it is a lived-in palace with contemporary royals navigating its more private hallways. To my sheer delight, Chowmahalla Palace in Hyderabad is one (though flash photography is restricted in some sections of this four-palace compound).

 In 1724, the Asaf Jah dynasty ruled the land, headed by sovereigns called Nizam (short for Nizam-ul-Mulk, "Administrator of the Realm"). The kingdom was founded by Mir Qammar-ud-Din Siddiqi, an underling of the Mughal emperors of the north. When Aurangzeb perished, Siddiqi rightfully declared himself independent. Since then, he ruled over the state for two centuries. Hyderabad was under seven nizams until the independence of India in 1947. This, of course, wasn't an easy surrender, but the nizams had to eventually surrender their rule after they were attacked by the Indian military in 1948.

The Asaf Jahi rulers were great patrons of the art, architecture, culture and the jewellery trade, thus the impressive display of such wealth in the palace. The four palaces of this stately compound are, and I quote, "the Afzal Mahal, Mahtab Mahal, Tahniyat Mahal and Aftab Mahal", each one arranged around a courtyard garden with a marble cistern in the center. 

I went with a tour group composed mostly of local tourists. Unlike a tour of London's Buckingham Palace, this tour was relatively relaxed. Though you had to follow a flow of people (which wasn't much), this wasn't as stringent as the crowd in the British capital where every step seemed painfully calculated. Unfortunately for me, our local guide chose to vacillate his annotation between Hindi and the occasional English so a great part of his speech was lost in me. I totally understand this arrangement because I was the only foreigner in the lot, and like most democracy, majority rules.

One interesting thing about the palace's construction: it was modeled after the palace of the Shah of Iran. It was officially opened to public in January of 2005. It originally covered 45 acres of land, but only 14 acres remain today. My favorite is the opulent Drawing Room - punctuated by several low-lying chandeliers imported from Belgium. Imagine those frolicky parties and raucous balls held in these grandiose hallways? Probably these were more festive than those European aristocratic parties of long gone epoch.

This was exotic India. Once upon a time, there lived powerful rulers of immense wealth. They lived fairy tale lives. And they lived them in Imeldific grandeur. Such glimpses of a colorful past still exist today in the near-empty rooms of Chowmahalla.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

The place is close on Fridays so don't make the mistake of missing a visit just because you were there on a Friday.

The Clock Tower

The grand pillared Durbar Hall has 19 Belgian Chandeliers. 

Khilwat Mubarak

The Khilwat

Chowmahalla Palace (Chaumhalla) photographed by Deen Dayal as it was in the 1880s. 

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