If you see the splendor of the Chowmahalla palace today, you may not realize that it was once abandoned and almost lost to history.
In 1971, Indira Gandhi ended the privy purses, and in one fell swoop removed the economic support of the Indian princes.
The last Nizam of Hyderabad, the wealthiest man in the world and heir to the Ottoman Caliphate, was forced to sack his army of 14,000 servants (which had included 38 men to dust the chandeliers and grind walnuts) and fled to Perth, Australia where he became a sheep farmer.
His son, who had the strongest legal claim to Caliph of the Sunni Islamic world, found a new career as the cameraman for Indiana Jones.
Chowmahalla palace was abandoned and fell into disrepair.
That Chowmahalla exists today is largely thanks to the tireless work of one incredible woman: the Nizam’s ex-wife Princess Esra Jah.
In the late 90s, Princess Esra was shocked to learn that of the 2200 palaces that the Nizam had inherited 30 years earlier, only a handful remained… and all were in various states of ruin.
She set out to save what little was left of the Nizam’s world, and open the palaces up to the public. What followed was an extraordinary restoration effort without parallel anywhere else in India. The precious art and textile collections have largely been restored and thousands of tourists now visit the palace every day.
To learn more and visit this monument and other sites in this Hyderabad series, check out the Deccan Heritage Foundation’s guide on Hyderabad and Golconda at www.deccan-heritage-foundation.org/dhf-bookstore
The Deccan Heritage Foundation x Sam Dalrymple – A series that uncovers the history of Hyderabad through the eyes of Historian Sam Dalrymple. This article originally appeared on the Deccan Heritage Foundation Instagram page.