Continuing on the theme of colour, here is another photo from the Shilparamam craft village in Hyderabad. On such a bright and sunny day, the amount and variety of colour that was in abundance throughout this place was almost overwhelming.
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 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.
A view from atop the highest point of Golconda Fort – the ‘Old’ of Hyderabad. Beginning life as a mud-built structure in 1143, this citadel and capital of the Hyderabad region, was gradually enlarged and fortified over the next 5 centuries, experiencing it’s greatest period of growth under the Qutb Shahis in the 1500’s. The architecture, gardens and legends of the Golconda Fort make for a terrific day out; fabulous diamonds were mined and traded here – it was in fact the centre of the World’s diamond trade for hundreds of years; the very best finding their way into the Crown Jewels of Iran, Great Britain and France. At it’s greatest extent, the perimeter wall measured some 15km in length and the line of it can be seen running through the greenery in the middle distance of the photo.
In the far distance is the ‘New’ of Hyderabad – Hitec City. This is an area of ultra-high-technology IT businesses and office blocks, which along with Hyderabad’s booming pharmaceutical and film industries present a thoroughly modern, savvy and advanced face of the city.
Unfortunately, as evidenced by what you see in the bottom of the photo, not all aspects of a modern city infrastructure are advancing at the same rate; rubbish is everywhere – discarded without care or thought. There doesn’t appear to be sufficient government provision for the collection and waste treatment services necessary to cope with it all, nor the mindset, culture, or willingness of individuals to overcome it. I have to say that the situation is no worse, or better, than any other major city in India that I have visited, it is just that in this city, with its fabulous past and its incredibly promising future, the sight of so much rubbish jars that much more.
This is a small part of one of the palaces owned, but never lived in, by a man who, in 1937, was regarded as the richest in the World. Mir Osman Ali Khan was the Seventh Nizam of Hyderabad and his family had ruled this Indian State with absolute authority for the previous 217 years. By 1937 his personal wealth was estimated to be US$211 Billion (at today’s values) and even as recently as 2008, he was thought to have been the 5th richest person in history. Amongst Hyderabad’s many natural assets, it has had a history of being the World’s finest and, until the late 19th century, only depository of diamonds. For many years Hyderabad had been the centre of the World jewellery trade and income from this helped lay the foundations for this immense wealth. From 1937, things began to change; political, economic and moral pressure in the aftermath of the Second World War brought about the creation of the unified Indian State in 1948 and, after refusing to join unification and seeking Independence, the Nizams lost the authority to rule in Hyderabad when the territory was forcibly annexed by the Indian Army.
Over the next 20 years, until his death in 1967, Osman Ali Khan’s personal wealth roughly halved, mainly as a result of legal battles with his descendants (he himself had 7 wives, 42 concubines and at least 149 children – in all the Nizam line had some 14000+ dependants!) and the Indian Government. Upon his death, his 35-year-old eldest grandson, Barkat Ali Khan, became the titular Nizam of Hyderabad and inherited the larger part of his dwindling fortune and increasing legal wrangles. Within 5 years, Barkat Ali Khan had become so disillusioned with the whole process that he bought and moved to live on a half-million acre sheep station about 600kms north of Perth in Western Australia. Things got worse. His First Indian wife, Princess Esra refused to stay with him and he ended up marrying a further 4 wives. In 1974 the Nizams were stripped of all their titular roles. One of his subsequent wives, a secretary named Helen Simmons, died of Aids in 1989 after a relationship with another man, causing an ugly and distressing media sensation. In 1996, liquidators moved in to sell off what was left of the Nizam’s fortune – vast amounts of it having been looted in the intervening years by unsupervised employees. Shortly afterwards, Barkat Ali Khan disappeared. He now lives in a 2-bedroom apartment in Turkey, discovered there by an Australian investigative reporter.
Of the Nizam’s former wealth, a large part of it was acquired by the Indian government and, in the early part of this century some of the palaces began to undergo restoration as a result of efforts made by Barkat Ali Khan’s first wife, the afore-mentioned Princes Esra. Today’s photo is of one of these palaces – Chowmahalla – probably the principal palace of the Nizam reign and an incredible place to visit.
Charminar can be translated as ‘4 towers’ or ‘mosque of 4 minarets’ and it is the the majestic centrepiece of the city of Hyderabad. Built in 1591 by Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah, the fifth sultan of the Qutub Shahi dynasty of India, it attracts a number of legendary stories. It is said to have been built in praise of the end of a plague that had ravaged the city, or perhaps you would prefer to believe the story that it was built in honour of the Sultan’s wife – a common dancing girl with whom he had fallen in love and who the city is named after; a tunnel that runs from the Charminar to the older Golconda Fort as an escape route for the ruling classes is another popular legend surrounding the monument. Regardless of the stories, this is one of the most recognisable buildings in the whole of India.