Research and total immersion. That's my approach to travel.
When I started researching for my trip to India I stumbled upon a guest blog interview with the head of Park Hotels. On her list of top five tips for visiting Hyderabad was to read the historical novel, White Moguls by William Dalrymple. I promptly ordered the book. It arrived the day of my departure and by the end of the first plane leg I was merely 20 pages in and doubtful I would ever finish it. White Moguls is an historical novel. Written in the style of the era it was set, the late 1700's, and as stiff as the English upper lip of those days. Amongst the complexity lies a love story that truly captured my imagination.
Parallel to finding my Hyderabad historical novel was my discovery of LoveTravelGuides and the immensely india-wise Fiona Caulfield. Fiona is the author of multiple 'love travel India' guides and her passion for, and advice on, all places India, is seductive. The kind of insights I was after are not the kind you can discover on the World Wide Web so I signed up for Fiona's 'Concierge Service' - a one-on-one conversation about how to find the India that would really rock MY boat.
After sharing my own India research with Fiona she set me straight on a few things and suggested a few additions. One of which was a visit to the 'British Residency' in Hyderabad. "oh yes, I know the one' I said 'it features in the book I'm reading 'White Moguls'. I made a mental note to try harder to read said book! Armed with my 'bespoke' Hyderabad 'must see' list and my 'super on-to-it guide', Jonty (both courtesy of Fiona) I set out for my first tour day. Stop one - the British Residency'
"I'm not sure how far we'll get" said Jonty on the way there. "It's in the middle of restoration and a bit political. But I know the guard so I'll do my best. "
Once we made it passed the friendly guard andthrough the front gate there was no one else to be seen. The vast grounds surrounding the building were sunburnt and straggly. It was late morning and 40+ degrees. The air conditioned car was a very comfortable place to be. But as we pulled up in front of this glorious – and so obviously ancient – building, I suddenly had an ability to ignore the climate. The grand pillared front doors were locked so we wandered around the back of the building, up an external staircase and in through the builders entrance. All at once I was in heaven. My eyes didn't know what to photograph first. The rusted steel against the emerald-tinged multi-panel windows. The orange blooms of the laden flame tree hanging so close to the building they felt like they were part of the interior. Each step through a doorway bought more glory. This magnificent home was far from looking its best. But former beauty could easily be seen beneath the neglect and un love.
I wanted to take it all home with me. Or better still, pull up a chair and an ice tea and pretend I was part of the pioneering days that created it.
We entered a wing where the signs of this building being a university were omnipresent. Heaped piles of old books carpeted the floor. Signposts to the geography hall and principals office were clearly marked. This place was nothing I had experienced before. It was a true time warp. Like I was standing with a foot in multiple centuries. The heat was dragging us down and without climbing through windows we had gone as far as we could. I bid farewell to this glorious time capsule of 18th century Hyderabad. Pressing my palm against the wall as if I was giving her a peck on the check and a hug. 'Hang in their old girl, they'll have you back up and running in no time' and I made a promise to make it back when she is.
From that moment I was compelled to finish the book, White Moguls. As I inhaled each page my connection to this foreign city and its history, got stronger.
The 214-year old former British Residency was built in 1803 by James Archilles Kirkpatrick - an employee of the East India Company. It's an opulent manor of Palladian style, similar in design to its near-contemporary in the United States, the White House.The structure is massive with an opulent pillared facade, and matching lion statues guard the 60-foot space of 21 marble stairs.
The story of its visionary, James Kirkpatrick, is as sad as the current state of the building. James was posted in Hyderabad between 1798-1805, during an era when some of the British posted there became very fond of India and her ways. He was respected by the Nizam and employed for his ability to balance the needs of native Hyderbadis with those of his mother country. He fell in love with the daughter of a Muslim political family. Risking his career, he married his love, fathered two children and built them this family mansion. Their happiness however was short lived...
When India achieved independence in 1947, the residency was converted into Osmania Women’s College and the site continued to function as an institution of higher learning into the present day. By the end of the twentieth century, heavy traffic, poor maintenance, and faulty repair work left the college in a poor state. Thankfully it is now starting to be restored.
If you are a history nut, a true romantic or fascinated by all things India then put Hyderabad on your visit list and White Moguls on your read list.