Saturday, October 30, 2010

Summer Travels 2010 - Part 16: The Gardens of the Chowmahalla Palace in Hyderabad, India

After leaving Lucknow I traveled on to the South Indian city of Hyderabad, capital of the state of Andhra Pradesh. Also known as the City of Pearls, Hyderabad was the capital of an independent princely state until 1948. Ruled by the Nizams of Asaf Jahi Dynasty, it was the largest and richest of the princely states which had retained independence from British colonial rule, at least in internal matters. The Asaf Jahis as well as several of the premier aristocratic families associated with their court came from North India during the time of the Mughal Empire and traced their origins to Iran; prior dynasties, too, had ties to the North, and Hyderabad has therefore long been a meeting place of North and South Indian cultural forms, traditions, and even languages. A wealth of diamond mines and the pearl trade also made the city rich and it developed a unique composite culture famous for its refinement and opulence. Hyderabad was also quite progressive in many ways; its Osmania University, established in 1917, was the first modern university in India to teach in a local language.

A view from the third courtyard of the Chowmahalla Palace towards the front of the complex

View across the first courtyard

The front of the Durbar Hall as seen from the first courtyard

Hyderabad's illustrious past has left it with many fascinating monuments; one of the most beautiful is the Chowmahalla Palace, one of the many former palaces of the Asaf Jahis. Begun in 1750, this complex developed over a century and actually contains a number of different buildings - the name "Chowmahalla", in fact, means "four palaces". Nevertheless, it is a harmonious composition, with various halls and long galleries arranged around two large garden courtyards and a smaller one in between, all nestled in a corner of the historic Old City. Like Hyderabadi culture in general, the architectural style of the buildings is a unique blend of different influences, and though not all of the original complex is preserved, the remaining part now open to the public as a museum is still quite stunning. The two large courtyards are centered around big rectangular tanks with delicate fountains and contain a mixture of palms, ornamental trees, flower beds, and potted plants.

 The galleries surrounding the first courtyard

One of the fountains in the first courtyard, surrounded by royal palms (Roystonea regia), hedges, and beds planted with miniature roses (Rosa sp.)

A bed of pink and purple Pentas lanceolata

Allamanda schottii and Ixora coccinea in the first courtyard

Blossoms of Plumeria obtusa in the small middle courtyard

Both of the water tanks are raised above the level of the surrounding plantings and walks but the one in the third courtyard is quite a bit higher, with a walk around its edge that is decorated with a profusion of potted plants. In general, the planting of this courtyard is a bit more varied and colorful than that of the first two courtyards. It includes plants like pink oleander (Nerium oleander), flamboyant trees (Delonix regia), and canna lilies (Canna indica). The building façades, too, are painted in a more saturated shade of yellow and so the overall effect is richer, more exuberant than that of the first two courtyards, which have a cool elegance due to the dominant contrast between the white and cream shades of the architecture and flowers such as Plumeria obtusa and white miniature roses and the lush green of the foliage.

View across the third courtyard

 Close-up of the flowers of bush allamanda (Allamanda schottii)

 Another view along one side of the third courtyard. The grey building visible in the distance is the Mecca Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India

 Some form of Jasmine (Jasminum sp.)

 View along the terrace overlooking the third courtyard - Notice the planters filled with spider lilies (Hymenocallis littoralis)

 Gazebos in th area immediately adjacent to the third courtyard

 Another view of some the plantings
Inside the various palace buildings there are a number of different exhibits. Some rooms are furnished more or less as they would have been when the Nizams still used this palace, others are set up more like a traditional museum and display textiles, historic weapons, porcelain, and other treasures from the Asaf Jahi court. There are also exhibits explaining the history of the family and of Hyderabad, as well as a gallery space used for temporary exhibits. At the time of my visit, it contained a very interesting exhibition of contemporary South African art in honor of South Africa's hosting of the Soccer World Cup this summer.

 The interior of the Durbar Hall

One of the rooms kept as it would have been in the later days of the Nizams' use of the palace

One of many opulent chandeliers

Courtly clothes and other textiles

Surprisingly, for much of my visit it almost felt as if I had the palace to myself. Granted, it was a rainy day - though I think the warm mist just made the place more charming - but I was still surprised that there were relatively few visitors. In any case, it is a beautiful place to spend an hour or two and the informative exhibits convey a good general sense of the history of Hyderabad and the Nizams. If you want to find out more, you can also visit the Chowmahalla website .

PS: I apologize for the variation in font sizes; Blogger keeps doing that to me and I have yet to figure out how to fix it.


  1. this place looks truly amazing. plumeria is one of my favorite tropical plants - gorgeous flower, incredible scent. i think my favorite photo is the one just below the allamanda. thanks for the tour...very nice!

  2. Hi,

    The official website looks very nice but doesn't offer a whole lot of layman's perspective so I was glad to have come across your blog with so many original pictures and words.

    Funny thing is that I looked up Chowmahalla after my mom, a Hyderabadi for 12 years, went to attend a concert there couple of days ago and couldn't stop talking about how nice everything was! I spent couple of years in Hyderabad myself (and call it home because my parents live there) but that was between 1997-99.

    Anyhow, just wanted to post a comment to say that I am thankful for your thoughtful blog post! I will be sure to check it out next time I visit home :)



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