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Royal Elegance: Chowmahalla Palace

A beautiful chowmahalla backdrop for a wedding

Its been more than a week since we are in Mumbai and strangely I am missing my home in Hyderabad. I never thought that I would miss Hyderabad over Mumbai, ever. Yet, here I am flicking though pictures of us together playing in the garden, in the tent and going through routine day-to-day tasks such as reading books at night.

I came across these pictures of recent trip to Chowmahalla palace  with my cousins and realized that I have not blogged about it. A complex of four Nizam palaces, central courtyards, surrounding corridors and gardens; it depicts the elegance of those days through carvings on the walls, rich tapestries and huge vintage chandeliers. Very similar to Falaknuma Palace in general layout ( which is more ornate), Chowmahalla is an unexpected oasis of calm amidst the bustling Old Hyderabad. Open to public (unlike Falaknuma which you can only visit if you dine or stay at the Taj property), this is on my ‘don’t miss’ list for Hyderabad.

Map of Chowmahalla Palace

Corridors flanking central courtyard at Chowmahalla

The fountains in courtyard have a couple of ducks gently wading by.  One of the mahal’s acts as museum of heritage clothes, furniture , arts and crockery. A stones throw from Charminar, it has vintage cars and buggies. Swords, daggers, arrows , shields are displayed in a very modern classical manner. Trees with century old canopies and pigeons add to the old world charm of this palace. This place has something for everyone. Kids, art lovers, architecture buffs, lovers, romantics at heart, vintage car lovers, textile designers, landscape designers, photographers…I am sure you will be inspired and will love this place just as much as I did.

Central courtyards with fountains

It easily takes a couple of hours to wander through its corridors and wings. The furniture and crockery are reminiscent of Salar Jung museum. There is also a vintage clock which chimes every hour (similar to the cuckoo clock in Salar Jung). In fact if you are strapped for time or not into museums, skip Salar Jung museum and visit this palace to get a taste of arts and lifestyle in that era.

Intricately carved window at Chowmahalla

Elegance at Chowmahalla

Royal durbar

Royal durbar with its massive chandeliers

Chandelier at Chowmahalla Palace closeup

As you exit the royal durbar palace, you will find arrangements for some function or the other. The grounds are rented for ceremonies and corporate functions. Wouldn’t it be lovely to exchange vows or get engaged against this gorgeous backdrop?

Chowmahalla Palace

The lawns beyond lead to the vintage clothes, cars , buggies and the royal living room where the royal guests used to be entertained.

Living room at chowmahalla palace

Arms collection at Chowmahalla Palace

Vintage buggies at Chowmahalla Palace

Vintage clothes at Chowmahalla Palace

Varun loved running around in the corridors and looking out through the large windows. He identified elephants, horses and tigers in the paintings and carvings. But he was most fascinated by the huge canons with carved dragons kept in the courtyard. One of us was constantly chasing him – such is travelling with a toddler.

Cannons

Turret Tower

Sunset and closing time loomed on us. Pigeons swarmed together in the fading sun light. We walked by giant clock tower which is still maintained admiring the architecture, lemon and orange trees on the grounds; with a promise to come again – this time with more time to spare.

Clock Tower at Chowmahalla Palace

Restaurants in Hampi

Basic thali at mango treeTruth be told,you don’t go to Hampi for a fine dining experience. We were expecting home style south Indian food. Idli’s , dosa’s, vada’s, simple curries, Sāmbhar and rice. And we were happy to try some simple fare. Our only requirement was that the place be clean and people don’t rush us for food.We can make do with lunch at any hole in the wall place but dinners have to be relaxed and good. Otherwise it doesn’t feel like a vacation, in my humble opinion!

Our first two days in Hampi were a disaster as far as food was concerned. On the drive there, our colleagues had warned us to pack lunch as there are really not many options other than occasional dhabas and small stalls en-route till Raichur. The drive was covered with puris and parathas that we had made that morning. In Raichur there were restaurants options available where we ate on the way back. Shubhada was reminded of her childhood Kanada meals when we ate in Raichur. Simple, delicious and cheap!

Vijayshree Heritage Restaurant

The first evening, we wanted to try the Rajasthani thali at Vijayshree Heritage village. We went to their dining hall but were put off by the fact that we had to stand behind other people who are still having dinner so that we could grab their seat once they were done.  I suppose it could have been managed better. Also, they told us they daal-Bati wasn’t on the menu that night but would be the next day. So off we went to have dinner in their adjoining restaurant.

We were promptly seated but it took forever to get water, appetizers and even plain rice for the kids. We got curries but they didn’t get the rotis. So we had to wait for them while the curries cooled off. When they did get rotis they only got the partial order. Again, we were left waiting. Finally about two hours later my friend had enough of this. She barged into their kitchen so we got some rice to eat with the now cold dal. Almost everyone in the restaurant were complaining about the poor service.

After a long drive from Hyderabad all we wanted was a hot and quick meal and get into bed but it was an ordeal.The worst part was the lack of management so it was utter chaos.

Breakfast at Vijayshree Resort

If previous nights dinner was any indication, the breakfast in the resort was even worse. Its included in lodging so most folks just go to the breakfast buffet. They ran out of stuff – idlis, sambhar, puris. There was no jam for the cold toasted bread. Or spoons to stir sugar in the sugar less tea. Not enough tables and chairs as families waited for others to finish.We are fairly certain they cannot manage the place in peak season when lot of folks descend on Hampi. Breakfast was fairly better and hot when on last morning there was a fifth of the crowd on the first day.

The best part of breakfast was their location – in a open terrace overlooking their gardens and animals farm where they rear the horses, camels and cows. Varun loved looking at the chirping birds as they came by where we ate and we were grateful for being able to sit in one place during our meal once we managed to get seated.

Lunch at Karnataka Tourists Department Restaurant

I don’t know the name of this restaurant but its the only place that is open for lunch in the Karnataka Tourist Departments Hotel. We went there as this is the only restaurant that’s close to the Royal center where we could sit down and eat, per our guide. Usually I am not a fan of the state departments restaurants and hotels. Based on experience in Maharashtra, Rajasthan when I was younger and recent experience in Srisailam I didn’t have any hopes. Kids were hungry and we chose an option that was closest to us. Also, we figured things couldn’t get any worse than what we saw at dinner and at breakfast.

Later we realized how wrong we were. There was a long queue for payment. Even though it was a buffet, you are given only one plate. They don’t give a plate till you pay first. They don’t allow you to pay if they don’t have sufficient plates on hand. Most of the food pans were empty except for curd rice which surprisingly was good given that it was untouched.

Vipul and Shantanu managed to get two plated full of curries and a plate of rotis for the table. When we tried to go for seconds another bus load of tourists had descended and hungry tourists were screaming for food and jostling around the buffet table trying to get whatever they could.

I have never felt more like an animal while trying to have lunch in my life. Only pictures of animals in Serengeti trying to find way to the water hole in peak summer comes to my mind. Avoid this place if you can.

Vijayshree Restaurant Rajasthani Thali

After a long day visiting Vithala Temple, Royal center , other temples in Hampi and watching the sunset we came back to the resort after a long day. Kids didn’t want to sit in the car again. they just wanted to run around. So we didn’t have a choice but to eat at Vijayshree. With the lure of daal – bati we went have the thali earlier than previous night hoping for lesser crowd.

Excuse the poor photos – they are all with my Iphone and the lights were dim.

Dining hall

Folks sitting down for thali

Server at Rajasthani restaurant

We stood in a line behind other folks having dinner and once they were done, we sat down. It was fun sitting down and eating food. As a typical thali place, once most folks are seated, a person comes setting plates and cutlery on the table. Another server comes first with condiments (chutneys, papad and salt), followed by curries, rotis and rice. They keep coming back to replenish. Later they also served us dessert and buttermilk.

The meal was simple and delicious. The only bad part was people standing behind us goading us to eat faster and make room for them.

Mango Tree Restaurant

Path to Mangotree

IMG_0929

After our poor dining experience in Hampi so far, we were determined to have good food today. Not just good food but good service and ambiance  Mango Tree comes recommended as #1 in Hampi and doesn’t fail. The walk through banana plantation and set under a huge Mango tree, this was a beautiful location overlooking the Tungabhadra river. Our hearts sank when we saw the shoes removed and kept in a shelf outside the restaurant ( you have to remove shoes to eat here). There were at least couple of hundred shoe pairs there. But the manager was really good, telling us when we can expect to be seated, asking us to form a line and maintain decorum while folks waited outside. He was so polite and cooperative -made us feel welcome and attended to even though it was super crowded.

Shoes outside Mango tree

When we were seated about 20 – 25 mins later, we were seated on the most unique seating. Little stone terraces overlooking the river. Low stone tables and slanted backrest so you could just stretch your legs, lean back and relax. Even though the place was thronged, they didn’t make us get up and leave when we were done.

Terraces and low seating at mango tree

View from Mangpo tree

We relished their thalis and buttermilk ( don’t miss!) while the kids had fries and finished the meal with fresh fruits from the plantation and nutella crepe! Don’t miss this place. I can only how imagine this place can be on a less crowded weekend.

Banana nutella crepe

Its only drawback its vegetarian only. But we ignored that given how tasty the food was. Finally food Gods had smiled on us 🙂

Malligi restaurant

The night after our trip to Tungabhadra Dam, we went to Malligi restaurant for dinner. Great ambiance  music, clean and good food. And at last drinks! We were there on Christmas eve and celebrated! Kids also loved this place. The restaurant is similar to any city, the food and service was what made us feel at home. Things that we take for granted adds a little dose of pleasure on the trip in an unexpected manner when they are not available.

Don’t miss this place if you are in Hospet.

That was our food round up. I am sure there are better restaurants or that if we had visited any other time of the year, we could have had better experience in the ones we tried. But we won’t recommend Vijayshree Heritage to any of our friends planning a trip. And as far as the Karnataka Tourism restaurant  goes, it just confirmed my belief, state managed hotels and restaurants are not for young kids where the low levels of cleanliness and hygiene can cause stomach troubles. Stick to Tripadvisor ratings at least in small towns of India unless you have an iron stomach 😉

Flowers of Hampi

Winter in Hampi is beautiful with flowers and lush plantations adding life to the stone carvings and pillars. Birds and animals also add to the activity around the time less carvings.

Vijayshree Vilage resort has inviting gardens with broad lawns and flowering shrubs. And the garden was in bloom much to my delight. The flowers reminded me a bit of our Seattle home. My mom loves flowers so this post is for you mom!

I don’t know the names of all these flowers, if you do, do drop me a comment below.

Pink Hibiscus

Trumpet flowers

Purple lavendar flowers

Orchids of sort

Lilies of Hampi

White spider lilies

Yellow flowers

Hope you enjoyed a bit of colorful flowers this weekend!

Sunsets of Hampi

Temples Temples Everywhere

Close up details of Raghunatha Temple

Taking a break from our explorations of royal ruins, we moved on to visiting three really unique temples in HampiHazar Rama temple, an Underground Shiva temple and Malyavanta Raghunatha temple. They are not the most famous hence we encountered fewer tourists and school children here but they are on the main tourists area.

Hazar Rama Temple

Hazar Rama Temple

Scens from Ramayana

Ramayan scenes

Pillars in temples

Ganesha carved on Rama temple pillars

Exterior wall of Rama temple

Leading corridors in Rama Temple

Carvings on temple roof

The temple is exquisite with its carvings depicting scenes from Ramayana. the guide walked around showing me scenes where Sita is abducted by Ravana while Lord Rama goes chasing the golden deer that she had so desired.

The temple is maintained very well. Varun was busy throwing little stones from the raised platform onto the ground below. Vipul was running behind Varun while I got a chance to walk around taking in the carved scenes on the stone. Epic frozen in time. Poetry in stone. Words fail to describe this. A must see in Hampi. I really loved this temple!

Underground Shiva Temple

Underground temple

Water flooded prayer hall

This temple was excavated about 10 years ago from under existing farm land. How exciting for the farmer! It was the most fascinating temple to visit mainly because it was underground and you had to walk down (instead of up) to see the temple hall. The inner sanctum of this temple was flooded so we did not go in. If you are strapped for time, you can easily skip this temple.

Malyavanta Raghunatha Temple

Malyavanta Raghunatha Temple

Another tower at Malyavanta Raghunatha Temple

Close up of Temple carvings

Parrot at the temple

We only went to the Raghunatha temple as it was next to the Sunset point. With monkeys, cows and parrots this temple was most loved by the kids.  Also, the pujaris here were reading out Bhagvad Gita. The chants of the priest, the typical temple scent of oil lamps, incense and flowers added to the magic of the dusk. Soon it was time for sunset and we left to climb up the rocks behind the temple to sit down and enjoy the sunset over Hampi.

…to be continued.

Psst: Missed earlier posts on Hampi trip? Read about our drive to Hampi from Hyderabad , Vithala Temple Complex  and Exploring The Royal Ruins of Hampi as part of the Hampi trip series.

Exploring The Royal Ruins of Hampi

After visiting the Vithala Temple Complex, we spent the better part of the day checking out the grand ruins of the lost Vijayanagar Empire. We had a list of key monuments that we wanted  to visit ( Queens Bath, Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables) and there were others that the guide didn’t want us to miss ( Mahanavami dibba, Hazar Rama Temple, Sunset point, Museum). We reconciled and continued the guided tour with Queens bath.

Queen’s Bath

Queens Bath

As we approached the ordinary looking structure from outside, the guide asked us to imagine a teak and sandalwood palace on top of the remaining mortar square building. The wooden palace structure has been long burned and ransacked  after the fall of Vijayanagar Empire, but you get a sense of the grandeur by looking at the remains – the arched corridors, little windows to peek inside and detailed edges. The bath house is surrounded by a deep moat that had crocodiles to prevent any voyeurs. If found, the y were punished by pushing them into the moat. Talk about instant justice!

Swimming Pool

As we walked inside, we saw a central swimming pool about 8 feet deep flanked by deep corridors and staircases leading up to the dressing rooms and other areas of the now non-existent palace.

The water from the pool was brought over by stone aqua ducts from the lake about 7 – 10 kms away. The queens sure did enjoy a pampered life! As it was hot, I wished the pool was filled and we could just jump in the water and spend the afternoon in the cool water. But our guide had other plans for us.

Mahanavami Dibba

MD Front view 2

After passing through imposing stone gates and the giant stone walls, we saw a rectangular stone platform about 20 feet high. The guide hurried to explain that the platform used to form the base of a multi storied wood pavilion where the king used to oversee the Mahanavami celebrations. The platform is multi tiered , intricately carved with steep steps to the top and offer 360 views of the area.

Aerial view from Mahanavami Dibba

war and animal carvings

Carvings on Mahanavami dibba

Here we were accosted by school girls on field trip to take their pictures. And they were fascinated to see both Varun and Dhruv in strollers and used to peek down to get a view of them – as if they were an attraction. Oh, and they gave us kisses when I showed them the pictures. I quiet felt like a celebrity at that moment 😉

mahanavami dibba with kids

There were many interesting pieces around here – a rock carved dinner plate for common folks so they could have meals whenever there were celebrations in the royal family, hidden under ground chamber for secret meetings, public punishment poles so that others are deterred etc. Having a guide really helped else we would have been lost in the vast expanse or wouldn’t know what to focus on.

stone carved dinner plate

Stepped Tank

The kids were getting cranky, so we moved to the next part of this huge complex – a beautiful 4 tiered stepped tank. Again water was bought here from the lake via stone aqua ducts. The tank, was inviting in the mid day heat with its lyrical form and cool green water. I just wish we had planned the trip in low season so we could actually enjoy this peacefully. Anyways. Next we walked by Hazar Rama temple to go to the famous Lotus Mahal and Elephant stables in the Zenana Enclosure.

Stepped tank 2

Lotus Mahal

Lotus Mahal is a beautiful Indo-Islamic building which the queens used as summer rest house. With sprawling gardens on all sides, it was designed to be cool even in the peak summer with its deep corridors. Also, there is an arrangement to cool the structure using water channels through the walls. A cool breeze blew while we stood under the shade of the tree admiring the Mahal.

Lotus Mahal

carved corridors of lotus mahal

detail corridor carvings

Elephant Stables

Elephant Stables

Next we went over to the Elephant Stables – a row of 11 domed chambers to house the royal elephants. Mostly intact this is a beautiful example of Indo- Muslim and Jain architecture. The elephants were taken care of in those days – not a surprise given that it was the primary mode of transport.

Elephant Stables Close up

Over the course of the day, the kids played in mud, ran around and finally slept in their strollers. School kids were curious to see the strollers and swarmed around them. Luckily, the canopy of Varun’s stroller helped us give him some privacy as he napped.

Treasury complex and Watch Tower

The Lotus Mahal, Elephant Stables and Treasury along with some other smaller monuments temples and tanks  are guarded by a high stone wall. There are three watch towers in this complex for security.

Watch tower

This complex also houses a small museum with various stone carved figures, tools, coins etc excavated over the years. Its a small rectangular non descript building with small windows. There is a raised platform inside with arched corridors making it perfect as a storage room rather than as living space. Photos of sites before and after restorations are up for display in this museum.

By the time we finished visiting the treasury museum, the kids woke up. They had enough of ruins and temples and wanted to just run around. Our guide promised us quick tours of couple of temples before setting us free to enjoy the sunset. We bribed the kids with juice and potato chips and they in turn let us visit a couple more temples 🙂

…to be continued. 

Psst: Missed earlier posts on Hampi trip? Read about our drive to Hampi from Hyderabad and Vithala Temple Complex as part of the Hampi trip series.

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