Can you beat India for choice when it comes to buying items of fabric in rich and attractive colours? Here at the Silparamam Arts and Crafts Village, it is hard to argue that you can’t!
Falaknuma Palace has been owned by the Nizams of Hyderabad and their descendants since around 1897. Supposedly, the first ‘Palace Guests’ were King George V and Queen Mary and the last official guest was India’s first President, Rajendra Prasad. In the interim years, this Palace hosted many distinguished guests and witnessed many lavish balls and dinners. After 1951 and the decline of the Nizam’s power, authority and wealth, the Palace was closed. At the turn of this century, however, the Palace was leased by the Nizam’s family to the Taj Hotel Group and a 10-year restoration was undertaken. The Taj Falaknuma Palace Hotel opened to paying guests in 2010. Just before Christmas this year, we booked in for dinner and were given a tour of the more public parts of the Palace/Hotel. Sitting on a hill 2000 feet above the city of Hyderabad, the Palace is absolutely stunning in both its setting and its opulence. Whilst in its heyday, diners would sit at at the world’s largest, 101-seat dinning table, with each guest attended by their own individual butler and with 450 chefs on hand to prepare their meals. The ‘menu’ was a series of paintings on the 24-carat gold-inlaid ceiling, at which the Nizam would point when he wanted a particular course. Our dinner was a slightly more casual and down-at-heel affair, but still featured some of those dishes favoured by the Nizams….and what a fabulous evening it was. There was a real sense of experiencing part of a gloriously extravagant, over-priveledged class of society and a fascinating period of history.
This photo was taken in one of the smaller, open air, dinning areas of the Palace and, as a result of the long exposure time, presents a ghostly image of butlers and guests. As such, I think it conveys a sense and feel of this Palace’s glorious past.
Ma Saheba means ‘Revered Mother’ and was the affectionate name given to Hayat Bakshi Begum. The most influential woman in the entire Qutb Shahi Dynasty, which ruled the Hyderabad area from 1518 – 1687, she was the daughter of Muhammed Quli Qutub Shah, the fifth sultan, and his wife Bhagmati, after whom the city of Hyderabad was supposedly named. She then became the wife of Sultan Muhammed Qutub Shah, the sixth sultan and ultimately the mother of Abdullah Qutub Shah, the seventh, and penultimate, sultan. After her death in 1667, her son accorded her the accolade of having a splendid tomb built and placed amid the tombs of all the other (male) rulers of the dynasty. Today this entire area is at the start of a 15 year project of renovation. It is a splendid place to visit even now and should be absolutely spectacular if the renovation is done gracefully and professionally.
This is one of the main Gateways to the inner sanctum of Golconda Fort in Hyderabad. Originally a mud fort built on a granite hilltop, the citadel was expanded by the Qutb Shahi dynasty from the early 1500’s until it comprised an outer wall, some 7-10kms in length (depending on which account you read), surrounding two further defensive rings. Many of the gateways through these walls were built in the manner of the one in the photograph; the approaches to the gateways were convoluted and backed by high walls so that any potential invader could not get a good run up to batter the gates. Furthermore, the gates were studded with giant, sharp spikes to protect against the ‘tanks’ of their day – the elephants! Finally, the ramparts above the gateway approaches were designed to allow arrows, rocks and hot oil to be poured down upon any attacker who had even got thus far. With an independant water supply and huge grain storage buildings, it is no surprise that the fort held out for 9 months against a siege by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1687. Eventually, one legend has it that Sarandaz Khan, a military official in the Qutb Shahi army treacherously opened a gate during a night attack, allowing Aurangzeb’s army to enter and capture the citadel. Today, the gates are possibly rather easier to enter – all you need to do is pay a few rupees and then run through the siege and blockade run by the army of local tourist guides offering their services along the path between the ticket booth and the gate in the photo – Hmmm…perhaps Aurangzeb had it easy in comparison!
Many myths, stories and legends surround Golconda – perhaps not surprising when you learn that for many years this was the World’s only known source of diamonds and that many of history’s largest and most valuable jems were either found or traded here. Regardless of the truth or otherwise of many of the stories attached to the place, it is a fascinating place to visit – even without a guide.
On our first day in Hyderabad, we visited the old part of the city. After walking around the Charminar and the Laad bazaar, we ended up at the Chowmahalla Palace. Over the space of these few hours, we were the only Western faces visible and, in a turning of the tables in regard to the norm of tourists photo’ing locals, we were inundated with requests from people asking to have their photos taken with us. It was a slightly bewildering, but not unpleasant experience. What did take us by surprise was the experience with this extended family. Firstly let me say that they were all delightful, happy, polite and well spoken – the children especially. The man in the pink shirt was the obvious head of the family group and, after a few minutes discussion, it transpired that we were almost exactly the same age. When he found out that I ‘only’ had daughters, he openly asked whether I was disappointed not to have male offspring and whether this was a big issue in my country. When I replied that it was just not an issue as far as I was concerned, he went on to explain that, in India, male children were far more important than female. This was all being openly discussed in front of his elder children – the girls – who were all future high achievers themselves (the eldest girl was studying civil engineering at university). In return, the girls all seemed to take this apparent insult to their progeny in their stride and not worthy of a riposte; on their behalf, however, I felt quite awkward at this turn in the conversation. Nevertheless, after the obligatory group photos, we all eventually parted on very friendly terms and, coincidentally, were to meet up again at another Hyderabad attraction over the next few days, when the kids all came dashing up to re-introduce themselves again. All in all a pleasant, albeit slightly incredulous cultural education for my family and I.
This is a composite view of the Durbar Hall inside the Khilwat Mubarak at the Chowmahalla Palace in Hyderabad. This spectacularly adorned area was at the very heart of the Nizam dynasty’s power base for 200 years and was used for accession, religious and hosting functions. The royal seat was mounted on a pure marble base (seen lower-centre in the photo, beneath one of the 19 Belgian crystal chandeliers) and from here the ruling Nizam could regally preside over proceedings. After falling into near-ruin following the formation of the Indian State and the collapse of the Nizam dynasty, a partial reconciliation of family feuds has allowed Princess Esra, the first wife of the last heir of the Nizam dynasty, to instigate a restoration project of the buildings and the palace has been open to the public since 2005.
The Charminar in Hyderabad was built in 1591 under the direction of Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty. The structure was built to commemorate the city’s deliverance from a plague and was sited at the centre of his recently moved capital with approaches to it from the four cardinal directions. This view is from one of the upper levels of the Charminar and is looking south. To the right of the road is the Makkah Masjid, also built by the 5th Qutb Shahi Sultan. The whole area is a buzz of bazaars, jewellery shops and street food stalls – aided and abeted by the equally loud buzz from the hundreds of tuk-tuks patrolling the area, as you can also see in the photo