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Palace with a view

K. VENKATESHWARLU

A century after it was built, the Vikhar Manzil continues to provide an amazing view, but of a vastly shrunken water spread


THE BEAUTY and vastness of the Hussain Sagar Lake, built on a tributary of the river Musi, in 1562, about 30 years before the founding of city, is best described in history by a thug on a "professional" recce of the city in the early 19th Century.

Odd it may look, but the thug, entering Hyderabad through Alwal village, reached the Tank Bund from where he saw the lake, "whose surface was curled into a thousand waves, whose crests as they broke, sparkled like diamonds and threw their spray into our faces as they dashed against the stonework of the embankment. We stood a long time gazing upon the beautiful prospect, so new to us all and wondering whether the sea.... could be anything like what was before us."

That was Ameer Ali, who, overwhelmed by the lake, narrated his story in Confessions of a Thug, by Meadows Taylor and quoted by Narendra Luther in his book on Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah.

A century after that infamous visit, it was the turn of Sir Vikhar-ul-Omra, Prime Minister to the sixth Nizam, to get charmed by the lake. Attending the "house warming ceremony" of his trusted lieutenant, Razack Ali, who had built his modest mansion on a hillock (Razack Gadh as it came to be known then, forming the extreme corner of today's Prakash Nagar, Begumpet) Sir Vikhar was simply swept away by the breathtaking view of the lake.

For him, on a moonlit night, the sheet of crystal clear water turning into waves, often unsettled by the wind blowing across looked like pearls dancing up and down. Too romantic to be true, but Sir Vikhar who used to call it a "pearly lake", liked the hilltop so much that he bought the mansion and the adjoining site and built the Vikhar Manzil, in Indo-European architectural style around 1900. After all, hilltops and palaces by Paigahs went together, the other good examples being Falaknuma and the Asman Gadh Palace.

A century after it was built, the palace continues to provide an amazing view, but of a vastly shrunken water spread, rather a cesspool, thanks to the present day "vision, development, industry and tourism-oriented" rulers. After contemptuously allowing the lake to be polluted by industrial effluents and domestic sewage for well over three decades, the talk now is of restoring it to its original glory, with Japanese aid! The surroundings are no better with housing and commercial complexes, roads and now a string of tourist projects coming up all over.

The palace may not look extensive but has its own distinct Indo-European features. The arcaded staircase leads to a deep veranda. Climbing on to the staircase, you enter a corridor and then into a high ceiling (Madras terrace) square atrium, having stucco work on the sidewalls at the top. Two halls flank this central atrium, one believed to be a billiards room, another a drawing room. On crossing this portion you come on to the living area, a fantastic courtyard with a central fountain, surrounded by pointed arches. A foyer runs behind these arches, leading to more halls and rooms.

The hall and rooms in the front have double doors, all in Burma teak, the outer one having French style louvers and the inner one covered by glass embossed with the letters VO, (Vikhar-ul- Omra). The iron railings of the corridor too have these letters overlapping one another. Some of the halls still have Morley fans with plywood blades and bathrooms have Made-in-England fittings. Battlements decorate the parapet running through the building lending it a fort like appearance, a Paigah speciality.

The structure is strong but the general condition is not very good with the inside portion looking haunted and leakages common. "It is very difficult to maintain such a huge palace. We get it cleaned every three months ", says S. Inayat-ul-Haq, husband of Asif-un-Nissa, great grand-daughter of Sir Vikhar, who lives in the palace.

Sir Vikhar himself could not reside here but his second son, Nawab Vilayat Jung Wali-ud-Daula, (from his second wife), minister and president of the executive council stayed till he performed the marriage of his son, Capt. Mohiuddin Khan with Moinuissa Begum, daughter of Maharaja Kishen Pershad, prime minister to the Nizam. The marriage was a memorable event and the procession was one of the longest ever that straddled across Secunderabad and Hyderabad. Wali-ud-Daula then shifted to his other palace, Vilayat Manzil (now Country Club) also at Begumpet.

The Vikhar Manzil listed for its architectural features, is known for a running feud between the descendants of Nawab Wali-ud-Daula and those of his eldest step-brother, Nawab Sultan-ul-Mulk, the son of Jahandar-un-Nissa, or Lady Vikhar as she was popular then and sister of the Sixth Nizam, Mir Mahbub Ali Khan. Haq says the feud should have ended with the Sixth Nizam issuing a farman restoring the palace to Nawab Wali-ud-Daula for since then his family was in continuous occupation till date, except for some years in 1980s when it was rented out to the Ranga Reddy Collectorate and then to the District Court.

"The palace had a vast open area so much so that you could see it from the Airport Road," recalls Haq. Much of this open area was sold to the Government, for a pittance, Rs. 1,20,000 for the `Garib Nagar' as Prakash Nagar (now of course a semi-posh colony) was called in the 1950s. A major part of the remaining area has been encroached with the Municipal authorities turning a blind eye. In fact the palace is known for all that has gone wrong with urban planning and heritage conservation. Unauthorised constructions continue to come up unabatedly besieging the heritage building, much against heritage regulations, four years after the issue made the MCH Commissioner appear in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh. It prompted the Commissioner to "reform" the Town Planning department suspending three and transferring 40 employees. "We are helpless. After the controversy four years ago and some dramatic action by authorities, it is back to square one," says Haq. "A better part of my life is gone in making rounds of the offices and courts, fighting encroachers."

For feedback: E-mail warlu@thehindu.co.in

This column will be resumed after a short break in view of the forthcoming elections.

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