Our self designed walking tour in Hyderabad brought us to the Chowmahalla Palace.
In the erstwhile era, Hyderabad was ruled by the nizams. Chowmahalla Palace served as the seat of the nizam rule. ‘Chow’ means four and ‘mahal’ means palace; no wonder there are four palaces in the compound of Chowmahalla Palace. Its architecture was inspired by the palace of the Shah of Iran.
There is a very interesting story behind the rise, fall and ‘fight back’ history of the palace. I wonder how a movie has still not been made on it. Like many of the royal families in India, the Asaf Jahi dynasty’s surviving heir, or the owner of the Chowmahalla Palace, was drowned in debt. On the occasion of his son’s marriage, he met his own ex-wife Princess Esra, with whom he had separated decades ago in 1974. Princess Esra was dismayed at hearing about the state of affairs. She took a string of critical financial decisions and pulled the family out of trouble. One of the financial decisions involved turning the Chowmahalla Palace into a museum for the public and a party destination for those who can afford it.
A well maintained waterbody with fountains welcomed us. On both sides of this regal pool is a long north-to-south running building with numerous Mughal arches. The veranda of the buildings opens into the courtyard.
The building to the left of the pool is Bara Imam. It served as the office for administrative works during the reign of the nizams. The one to its opposite is a mirror image of the Bara Imam. It is called Shishe-Alat. Guests of accompanying officials were put up at Shishe-Alat.
The rooms attached to the long corridor of the building are either locked or used by the current workforce at the palace as a resting place.
The most celebrated part of the Chowmahalla Palace is the Khilwat Mubarak. The durbar of the nizam was hosted in this building. The hall has 19 chandeliers of Belgian crystals. Below the arcade, at the very centre, is the marble platform where the nizam used to sit. The royal seat is known as the Takt-e-Nishan. The entire space of the hall is not open to public to roam around. Particularly, you cannot approach the Takt.
The hall has rooms surrounding it. In those rooms paintings and sketches of the royal family are on display. Photo frames contain vintage photos of the royal family members. We saw many pictures of the beautiful Princess Esra.
We skimmed through the display of letters written to the nizam by remarkable Indian and foreign personalities. The collection of currency also impressed us.
On the three sides of the durbar hall are galleries. Women watched the proceedings at the durbar hall from these galleries. These are now used as an exhibit of the craftsmanship during the nizam era. A huge range of collectibles varying from crockery to clothing, from wooden furniture to chandeliers are put on display. It relays the fact that the nizams were connoisseurs of aesthetics.
We sat at one window ledge of the gallery. The open courtyard in front provided a pleasing view. A red carpet ran along the length of the room, connecting one door to the other. For a few minutes we happily forgot that we were no royals.
Our experience at the Khilwat Mubarak ended with a visit to the weapon exhibit. I (Tania) cringed a bit seeing such an array of destructive tools. My man-child (Sayan) asked me to get some pictures of him in front of these. The display was very impressively designed. We were wondering how many people were killed using these.
To shed the negativity of the weapon rooms, we lounged for quite a while under the peaceful shade of a tree. We noticed the exterior of the Khilwat Mubarak was beautified by ornate stucco work resembling those found in Iran.
Before visiting Chowmahalla Palace, we had read oodles about the clock tower of Chowmahalla. We wanted to hear it strike, but sadly, it was not working.
We watched the locked rooms through the multiple arches on the corridor of the Council Hall. It used to be a place where important meeting with dignitaries were held during the time of the nizams.
At the centre of the southern courtyard is a square pond with waddling ducks. Surrounding the pond are four palaces or ‘mahals’, the ones responsible for the name Chowmahalla.
This palace was shut for the public atleast on the day we visited. Handpulled rickshaws and carriages were on the open veranda adjacent to Mehtab Mahal. We saw some opportunities of creative photography here.
A flight of fancy stairs brought us to the open veranda of Afzal Mahal which overlooks the pool. The floor motif of the veranda sets Afzal Mahal apart from the rest of the palaces. It has bright coloured tiled floor. The facade of Afzal Mahal is an expression of the opulence of the nizams.
A sculpture of two naked men involved in a wrestling match rests at the main entrance door of Afzal Mahal. We were allowed to peep in and check the belongings inside through the glass door. The drawing room inside is decorated with princely furniture.
Beautiful chandeliers lit up the hall of the Aftab Mahal. Royal outfits and footwear owned and worn by the nizam family are presented in this part of the palace.
Tahniyat Mahal is located exactly to the opposite of Afzal Mahal. The palace stood in such ignorance that we almost missed noticing it. We tried to find an entry point but our attempts were futile.
Vintage Car Display
In between the Afzal and Aftab Mahal lies the favourite place in the palace for automobile lovers. Here, luxury cars of the past like the 1912 Rolls Royce Ghost, Napier, Fiat limousine and Ford Tourer stand gallantly. Neighbouring the cars are motorbikes used by the royals. Under a nearby shamiana, some carriages are installed.
Mostly, this place is crammed with excited parents who are desperate to get a photo of their children with the cars!
Practical Tips for visiting Chowmahalla Palace
Location – Chowmahalla Palace is located in the old city of Hyderabad, a mere walking distance away from Charminar.
Timings – 10AM to 5 PM (closed on Friday)
Duration of visit – 3 hours
Tickets (Indians) – INR 50 (adults), INR 10 (children below 12 years)
Tickets (Non Indians) – INR 200
Camera charges – INR 50
Video camera charges – INR 100
Washrooms and drinking water facilities are available at the entrance of the palace.
Have you been to Chowmahalla Palace? Are you interested about the city of Hyderabad? Comment below and let’s get talking!
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