On a bright Sunday morning, during my visit to India early this year, I took an auto to the Women’s college in Koti whose complex houses one of the most beautiful neoclassical buildings of Hyderabad, the British Residency. Visiting this building had been one of my top goals during my undergraduate days in Hyderabad some 13 years ago. One of my favorite past times during those days was visiting heritage buildings and having read some articles that described how beautiful and historically significant this building was, I desperately wanted to visit it. At that time though it was in a dilapidated condition and it was not open to visitors. Things changed drastically in the intervening years during which time it was renovated and restored to its former glory. Some of the credit goes to the author William Dalrymple whose efforts to bring attention to this building are commendable. He also wrote a book (White Mughals) on one of the most famous love stories of the Deccan, that of Major James Achilles Kirkpatrick, a high ranking East India Company Officer and his beautiful Hyderabadi wife Khairunnisa. Major Kirkpatrick was the British Resident at Hyderabad and lived in the British Residency building. Just before my trip to India I had read somewhere that the residency was now open to the public and I was determined to visit it during my India trip.
The auto dropped me off inside the complex just near the long walkway which leads to the residency. It looked like there was some kind of exam on that day as the path was lined with young college students either huddled over their books or in discussion. Feeling a bit awkward I made my way over to the residency whose imposing presence towered over me as I reached its steps. This was a beautiful building indeed. I meandered a bit at its base, taking in the view. Built in the Palladian style, the building’s front has 6 Corinthian columns holding the roof. On either side of the stairs leading up, there is a lion guarding it. Palm trees surrounding the building complete the picture. At the top of the stairs, to the right is the office of the main manager who takes care of the building. This person was not yet in at the office and one of the staff asked to take a seat and wait. I took this opportunity to just wander around and take in the cool, tranquil atmosphere. Soon, Satish, the manager arrived. The keys of the building were with another person who was on their way here so we had to wait a bit more. Satish generously asked me if I wanted to have chai to which I readily agreed. So we made our way to a nearby chai tapri where, having taken our freshly prepared chai, we settled down onto some chairs nearby and chatted about the history of the place and inevitably about William Dalrymple.
When the keys were finally procured we started our tour of the building. The first stop was in the grand hall. This was a huge rectangular hall which is supported by pairs of columns all over its perimeter. It extends over to the upper floor with a balcony running around. The roof has exquisite tile work which gleamed in the light thrown by three beautiful chandeliers in the middle. My mind traveled back 200 years ago when this hall must have been the venue of balls and of important ceremonies. I couldn’t help but think of James Kirkpatrick and Khairunnisa as well. Their sad story kept revolving in my mind throughout my time in the residency.
From here we moved to different parts of the ground floor all the while Satish provided lots of information and history of the place. It was fascinating. We then moved to the balconies on the sides. The tile work on the floor here was quite lovely. From here we moved to the back of the building. From this view the building looks like the White House in Washington DC.
Moving on to the upper floor we then arrived at one of the most beautiful sights in the building; The grand staircase. Standing at the exact center, at the base of the ascending floors, it looks like the cap of the Nizam seen in pictures. Taking these beautiful stairs we reached the upper level where there is an exhibit hall with lots of informational posters. There is also a lot of insightful information about the renovation process. From here we walked to the previously mentioned balcony over the hall. Here I took some pics. The roof looked even more stunning from here.
Next we made our way our way out the building to the back where there are some remnants left of the Rang Mahal which used to be the palace of Khairunnisa and the zenana. She used to live here with her mom Sharafunnisa. There is a model of the building which according to William Dalrymple most likely was a doll house (and not, as is generally believed, a model made for Khairunnisa because she observed purdah and couldn’t see the entire building for herself). We walked around a bit more, chatting and looking around at some other buildings nearby. Satish also took me to a gate where restoration work was going on.
Overall, it was an informative trip and one that I had been wanting to do since the last 13 years. I was happy to have finally checked it off my list.