Friday, January 25, 2013

A restored past of the Nizams - The chowmahalla palace

After effortlessly driving through a galli  around Charminar, we reached a place which was just a stone’s throw from the celebrated  signature monument  of Hyderabad.

We found  a place  easily to park our car  in the small parking space (a luxury to find parking these days), we bought the ticket  at the enclosure close to the huge wooden door  only to enter  into the splendor of a bygone era, we were at  The Chowmahalla palace. The palace which now is a museum giving a glimpse of the  opulent nizami lifestyle with courtyards, fountains, gardens and a yard of wagons, coaches, palanquins, custom built gold ford cars, rolls Royce, Harley bikes etc., 

Chowmahalla palace or chowmahallat is Persian ( Arabic?) meaning 4 palaces. Chahar means four and Mahalat is the plural of Mahal meaning palace hence the name. This  palace was the  first official residence  of the Nizams of the Hyderabad state who were then the richest in the world  and was the seat of the Asaf Jahi dynasty.  Modelled on the Shah of Iran's palace in Tehran, chowmahalla was also celebrated by historians as "palace of  Arabian nights". 

Three out of the 4 palaces are single storied.  The double storied  Khilwat Mahal displays the arts, artefacts and artillery of the nizams. Thought the nizams lived a simple life, they entertained the visiting royal dignitaries in a lavish style which was unparalled.The palace is designed in Mughal and European style of architecture.

 Owing to bitter family squabbles ,  This palace was abandoned by the present Prince Mukkaram jah when he moved to Australia in 1973. When he returned back around 2000, the 54 acre estate shrunk into 12 acre as courtyard after courtyard,ballrooms and a mile long banqueting hall were all acquired by real estate developers who demolished the 18th century building to make modern day structures. Infact, it is an eyesore to see the small structures so close to the palace compound. Not just that, the palace was in a dilapidated state, a state of neglect for nearly 30 years with crumbling roofs, damaged walls due to dampness and leakage, dusty treasures like photos, crockery, the royal robes, art works, furniture etc.,

After a long ordeal, the first wife of the present Nizam Mukkaram Jah- The Turkish born princess Esra restored the once royal residence. She took it upon herself in 2002(?)to preserve what remained of the Nizam’s Legacy and restored much of it to some semblance of the past glory and the work is nothing short of incredible.

 As  I went around the palace thrown open to public since 2005, I only went WOW!, OMG! and awed with wonder at the amazing restoration work and its maintenance.  The palace is tightly secured,  the security guards are not intrusive to the tourists and are very polite and well mannered.

Though a stone's throw from Charminar, this is not on the list of things to see for many tourists and not known to many even in Hyderabad, but it’s worth visiting  and spending some time here, if you care and love Indian History and heritage.  Ambling  around the palace corridors and looking at the various nizami treasure is like a travel through a time machine to the days of the Nizam. Worth the 40 bucks we paid  per head( 50 for camera) for international  visitors it is 150. Why this disparity?

This is not just one of India's biggest heritage restoration and conservation project but a well maintained one too. It has received the prestigious UNESCO asia pacific merit award for cultural heritage conservation in 2010 and two times INTACH heritage award.

BTW, just in case anybody sees the name of Azmet jah on the scroll of Hollywood movies, he is the son of Princess Esra and Nizam who has worked with Steven Speilberg and Richard Attenborough and wielded the camera for Basic Instinct and Indiana jones and the last crusade. He hopes to settle in the palace now.

Now for some pics, there are not professional pics and may lack focus and clarity( click on it to feel the place)
As you enter through the main door you walk through a corridor housing a series of rooms and reach this place called Khilwat Mahal.  This  durbar hall is two tiered and  has grand pillars with a huge marble throne called Takht-e-nishan meaning the royal seat. The nizams held their durbar and other religious ceremonies. This hall is covered with bamboo blinds as you can see in the picture. The curtains open up to 19 beautiful belgium chandeliers which have been installed during the renovation project. 

The rooms behind this window displays the history of nizams through the various photographs which have been restored from the dust. Don't miss the stuccos around the window. 
The photographic lineage of the nizams and paigahs is displayed like these in nearly 3 rooms. One of the rooms has a 100 year old clock which was made in GB, it was specially designed for the nizams, It has a caliph smoking a hooka and a servant fanning him in a royal court. the whole court is intricately crafted and an interesting event takes place every 15 minutes. Photography was not allowed in that room. 

The durbal hall

Lovely Belgium chandeliers hang from the ceiling,WOW! (clicked from the trellised balcony of the first floor.) 
The pure marble throne

The chandeliers hang from such beautifull niches, all part of restoration work.
This is the stuccoed ceiling of the "Hall of heritage arts and aretefacts" which has paintings and other art works. WOW again!

The hall of heritage crockery displays a huge hall full of crockery from all over the world. Many branded crockery from Belgium, France, China and other countries displays the opulent lifestyle of the nizams. One dinner set is supposed to have had 2300 piece. OMG!   The royal kitchen cooked rich cuisine which they say was cooked with fursaat( slow cooking called Dum cooking) and with lot of mohabbat(love) . 
The hall of artillery displays two full rooms of armours,swords and guns, OMG!

The back of the khilwat mahal, the gardens lead to Afzal mahal which is the drawing room of the nizams

The view from Afzal mahal which has a lavish drawing room with lovely sofas, armchairs, valenced doorways 
                                                     The flooring in front of Afzal mahal
The clock you see in the top of the dome is called khilwat clock. It has been ticking away for over hundred years. The people of the locality time their clock/watch according to the chimes of the clock. That speaks for the accuracy of the old clock. This door opens to the lane out.

                                    The harleys, fords, rolls royce, various vintage cars, chariots OMG! This area is called Buggy khana and is housed at the back of the palace.

This is the shishe -e-alat meaning mirror image of the long corridor of rooms on the east side ( administrative wing which now has a canteen and handicraft store) . This is the west side.  The shishe -e-alat has a photo studio where tourists dress in the royal robes and get clicked as nizams and begums.
The long corridor which connects the doors of the above rooms
Those are the huge lemons in the royal gardens. Actually the gardens are not very impressive though they are well maintained. 

The palace closes by 5 for visitors but the evening is open to concerts,kavi sammelans,fashion shows,  mushairas, conferences and weddings thus turning this into a cultural house with glorius lighting in the evenings.(pic:google)


  1. Wow. Double Wow. Never knew the Chowmahalla Palace is so beautiful. Your photos are magical.

    Have visited Faluknama but not Chowmahalla. Have to visit now, after reading your post.

    1. triple wow to faluknama....really it surpasses the grandeur of chowmahalla i have heard. But, must be an expensive visit to Faluknama, No? now that it is taj property

  2. Wow! is the word! Thanks for giving us a virtual tour of this magnificent palace. Loved your narration and am sure you all must have had a great time exploring it too!

    1. Yes, shilpa had a good time and the traffic was so cool, it made it that much a pleasure to visit:)

  3. Beautifully written. The last picture is so good, wish we had stayed till the evening to get this shot.

  4. Thank you, Rama :) not all evenings are lit up like that , only the evenings when they are hired for mushairas, concerts or weddings. entry only on invites/pass or tickets for the evening.