A day at Chowmahalla Palace and Qutub Shahi tombs, Hyderabad.

Grumpy duck, Chowmahalla Palace.

Grumpy duck seeking cover under a fountain, Chowmahalla Palace.

No matter how much I love the city or how hard I try to capture its flavours in one single post, Hyderabad is flat-out refusing to be captured by my words. So, here it is, another itty-bitty snippet on the home of the Nizams.

One of the inner palaces at the Chowmahalla Palace. This one had all the weaponry.

One of the inner palaces at the Chowmahalla Palace. This one had all the weaponry.

Chowmahalla Palace – middle name, Grandeur
An unexpected delight and an architectural jewel of the history of Hyderabad, Chowmahalla Palace is tucked away in the most unassuming corner of the back roads leading away (or to, depending on how you see it) from Charminar. Despite having spent every summer of my growing-up years holidaying in Hyderabad, I heard of Chowmahalla Palace for the first time a couple of months ago. And of course, because I hadn’t heard of it before, I was itching to go.

The ceiling of the main durbar area.

The elaborate ceiling of the main Durbar area.

The place didn’t disappoint. Chowmahalla Palace is like the Inception of palaces – four palaces within a palace. Each more beautifully crafted than the other, with intricate ceilings heavy with spectacular chandeliers stretching towards the ground. And like that isn’t breathtaking enough, every palace is a museum bursting with relics of the Nizam’s reign – photographs that have been framed with great care, an opulent grandfather clock from a neighbouring king, cutlery and chinaware, furniture, clothes, weapons and the most well-maintained vintage cars I have seen in a while.

The Durbar - made of solid marble and flanked on the sides and from the ceiling by crystal chandeliers.

The Durbar – made of solid marble and flanked on the sides and from the ceiling by crystal chandeliers.

The best part about visiting the Chowmahalla is that even on the busiest days, it isn’t bustling with hordes of people. It’s like a well-kept secret among locals, a slice of the past that the tourists haven’t been able to get their hands on, making the pleasure of experiencing the palace more than a tick mark on a checklist of must-see places in a city.

Most of the Chinaware housed in Chowmahalla consists of elaborate pieces that were gifts from neighbouring countries whose kings visited the Nizam. This one was especially pretty because it had an ornate butterfly in the place of a handle.

Most of the Chinaware housed in Chowmahalla consists of elaborate pieces that were gifts from neighbouring countries whose kings visited the Nizam. This one was especially pretty because it had an ornate butterfly in the place of a handle.

Another place, of course, is the Qutub Shahi tombs. Less popular with the tourists and a better-known retreat for the locals, it hasn’t changed one bit since my teenage years spent exploring the tombs and climbing stairways that were blocked by lush bramble.

One of the many tombs at Qutub Shahi Park. One can still see hints of the enamel work in the facade near the dome. When I was a kid, I used to collect the chunks of fallen Enamel pieces, almost as if it were a part of history that I could call mine.

One of the many tombs at Qutub Shahi Park. One can still see hints of the colourful Enamel work on the facade. When I was a kid, I used to collect the chunks of fallen Enamel pieces, almost as if it were a part of history that I could call mine.

Qutub Shahi tombs – where there’s beauty in death
The only thing that doesn’t make the approach to the Qutub Shahi tombs nondescript is the tourist shuttles standing outside the gates of the tomb park. Once you walk through the gates, though, it’s an entirely different story. Tombs of varying shapes and sizes dominate the area, reflecting the Persian, Pashtun and Hindu forms of architecture that they are based on. The kings of the Qutub Shah dynasty – including next-of-kin and important commanders – are buried here. The tomb of Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah offers a pretty decent view of the Golconda Fort, located about a kilometre or so away from the tombs.

Mughal architecture is incomplete without symmetrical archways. So is my set of photographs! There's something almost poetic in framing a picture with arches and having someone walk through it.

Mughal architecture is incomplete without symmetrical archways, and so is my set of photographs! There’s something almost poetic in framing a picture with arches and capturing someone walk through it.

Every tomb has a story behind it, not just about the person/people buried under it, but also the architecture itself. The bigger the king, the grander the structure and the inscriptions on the walls. Excavation of the Badi Bowli – the Big Well – was underway when I went there. From what I could see behind the sealed-off area, it resembled the step wells of Gujarat. It should be open to visitors soon enough.

The grave on ground-level is just an indicative structure built on top of the actual sarcophagus. Although not considered holy, there are still those who pay the graves a visit and seek blessings.

The grave on ground-level is just an indicative structure built on top of the actual sarcophagus. Although not considered holy, there are still those who pay the graves a visit and seek blessings.

As with all places of death, Qutub Shahi tombs is quiet, serene and somehow, more beautiful. There are the occasional light and sound shows that are held on premise, but otherwise the place shuts down after dusk – and for good reason too. Imagine moving around the place in darkness, with at least two dozen dead bodies that are at least four centuries old for company!

A smaller tomb on the Qutub Shahi Park premises, and also one constructed away from the main tombs. It could mean that the person buried here was of lesser stature than the king and his kins. Still, the craftsmanship is fairly elaborate.

A smaller tomb on the Qutub Shahi Park premises, and also one constructed away from the main tombs. It could mean that the person buried here was of lesser stature than the king and his kins. Still, the craftsmanship is fairly elaborate.

Since the better part of the day was spent roaming the Chowmahalla Palace, I couldn’t spend as much time at the tombs as I wanted to. I did leave with an imprint of a gorgeous sunset on my mind – and my camera – though.

Maybe the next post I write about the elusive city of Hyderabad, I’ll be able to add more to my exploration of it and of the other places that are waiting to be rediscovered.

A glorious sunset against the tombs made the short visit totally worth the while.

A glorious sunset against the tombs made the short visit totally worth the while.

Getting there: Hyderabad is easily accessible by road, air and train. I would strongly recommend driving down because the route is picturesque and the roads, beautiful.

Go if: You love food, history, architecture, attention to detail and a little bling.

P.S: Yes, yes, I’m fully aware that Potli Baba was off the radar for a good two months (or more). We are back now, though, and hopefully will be more regular in posting here! Meanwhile, thank you to everyone who hung around, waited patiently for posts to appear and even reminded me to get back. Sending much love and gratefulness your way.

The colours of Jaipur.

Ever since I can remember, the mere mention of Rajasthan has brought a look of wide-eyed wonder to my face. The royal (and ghostly) palaces, the filigree windows, the food, desert safari, Pushkar – there wasn’t a single element that didn’t fascinate me. Having lusted after it for years, I finally managed to spend two days in Jaipur. It worked wonderfully well as an appetizer, making my wandering feet thirst for a longer, more detailed exploration of the city and its cousins in the near future.

I love Jaipur for its vibrancy, bustle (especially since we went just a few days before Diwali), food, architecture and salesmen. But what I love most are its colours – of streets, people, places, clothes, just about everything. If I could paint the world with it, I would; but I’ll restrict that to this blog for now.

The 7:30 a.m Green

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The train ride from Delhi to Jaipur is a lovely one because the landscape changes from concrete-buildings to sun-kissed fields to patches of barren land and mountains with fort walls visible in the distance.

Hues of hardwork

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The designs true to Jaipur are available in every store, and sometimes within easy grasp on the roads as well.

Thick, sweet White

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Lakshmi Mishtan Bhandar, or LMB as it is more widely known in Jaipur, is a must-visit for foodies. My desire to order everything on the menu was quelled by my limitation of possessing just one stomach. Fortunately, it was big enough to ingest the most amazing Lassi I have ever had, Dahi Bhalla, Raj Kachori, Dal Bhati Churma, Paneer Pakora, Kadi Chawal, Samosa Kachori and Khandvi. (I think I’ve forgotten some of the other things we ordered.) I did have plenty of help from three other friends, of course.

Ageing Browns and Reds

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Johari Bazaar is dotted by street vendors selling fruit and torans and decorative items of all kinds. And since we had gone pre-Diwali, there were even more people.

Ripe Red

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One of the many wares sold on the roadside.

Lilac spread

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These little meringue-like sweet treats, what we call Bataashe (Singular Bataasha), are sold by kilos to people who use it as prasad.

Palatial Pink

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The Hawa Mahal is a straight walk down from Johari Bazaar and right on the main road. That it was on the road killed the romance of the palace for me, but the facade is still quite beautiful.

Moroccan Whites and Golds

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To me, this shop seemed like a slice of the Moroccan markets I’ve seen on TV magically that magically appeared in Johari Bazaar. Cut-glass, coloured glass, mosaic, brass filigreed and patterned-glass lamps were everywhere. I went from one to the other, eyes glittering with the reflected light from within the lamps.

Daylight Orange

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Almost every building in Jaipur is true to the design elements of the region. This one caught my eye because of the concrete meshes that double up as windows.

Dusk Blue

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As we waited outside the gates of the City Museum, we saw it transform from a structure of shadows and green and blue lights into a welcoming, festive place lit with a number of diyas.

Blurry Black and Brown

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Chokhi Dhani is a massive dining property, a sort of private co-op effort where food is served the traditional way alongside performances by local artists. The food was delicious, but we couldn’t do justice to it because we had hogged our hearts out at LMB. That said, I helped myself to multiple Kesar Pista Kulfis – they were the best I have had to date.

Dangling Copper

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Wares on display en route Amber Fort, which we didn’t end up seeing because we spent the day donating all our savings to the cause of shopping at Rajasthan Small Scale Cottage Industries. It’s a clever setup – with everything under one roof, they whisk you away from the clothes section to the jewellery and shoes and art sections one by one, smooth-talking you into exploring each and every part shop. Not a penny’s regret, but we comfortably ran up a bill of over a lakh between the four of us. My advice to you? Don’t make the mistake I did. Spend your days scouring the shops of Johari and Bapu Bazaar – you get great stuff for half the price. We didn’t have enough time for it, so cottage industries was best for us.

Royal Cream

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A view of Amber Fort from outside. We never got around to exploring it because we were busy donating all our savings.

Savoury Silver

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Endless trays of fried goodness beckoned from behind grumpy store owners as we drove past them, faces stuck to the windows, salivating profusely. We didn’t stop, though, because we were broke from having donated all our savings. (See a pattern emerging yet?)

Watery Yellow

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Jal Mahal awaiting the start of Diwali celebrations, standing as still as the water it lives in, with cormorants resting on its domes as they take a break from hunting for fish.

***

And that’s how my two days in Jaipur went. I was like a horse with blinders, all my attention focused on shopping for friends, family and myself. That seems to have worked in my favour, though, because not having visited any of the architectural marvels this time gives me a good reason to go back there soon.

Getting there: Jaipur is accessible by road, train and air from Delhi. It’s accessible from most other places by air. If you’re going from Delhi, I would recommend taking a train – either overnight or early morning.

Go if: You love shopping, food, architecture, want to soak in the richness of culture and love a good sales pitch (the shopkeepers and their staff are very, very effective with their selling skills, I assure you).