Third of the series. This is an amazingly beautiful building and has got a very interesting history behind it…
Bella Vista, Hyderabad is a royal palace of the Nizam built in the year 1910. Bella Vista is the Indo-European building standing on a 10-acre (40,000 m2) verdant campus. The building’s French architect christened it as Bella Vista, meaning beautiful sight, since it overlooks the Hussain sagar lake.
From a luxurious palace known for a philandering prince’s daily dose of revelries and his infamous “nocturnal courts”, to the country’s premier management training college where practising managers hone their managerial skills, is quite an eye-brow raising transformation.
That’s Bella Vista for you, the Indo-European building standing on a ten-acre verdant campus, housing the prestigious Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI), our own “Hussain Sagar Lake front Henley” (ASCI is modelled after a similar college, Henley-on-Thames in England). The palace was christened “Bella Vista” by the French architect, as its location, close to Khairatabad junction on Raj Bhavan Road, afforded a “beautiful view” of the lake, now of course obstructed by a large slum and the Khairtabad flyover.
It was in this palace that the heir apparent to the masnad (throne) of Hyderabad, Prince of Berar, Nawab Mir Himayat Ali Khan, Azam Jah Bahadur, the elder son of the Seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, stayed. The palace played host to all the dramatic events that typified the royalty of yore – luxuries with “women swarming all around”, intrigues, failed coups, shattered dreams and a disgusted princess leaving the palace in a huff with her children in tow.
Built in 1910, a lot of modifications and additions were made to the original building that belonged to a judge. The first addition was when Sir Ali Imam, the Prime Minister was allotted the bungalow. When it was turned over to the Prince, it was refurbished and expanded, adding two tennis courts, a regular swimming pool for the Princess and “a baby pool” for the Prince who had a phobia for water. While the pool and tennis courts remain intact, the “baby pool” has made way for the library while a few more hostel buildings have come up, a little away from the main building.
The two-storeyed listed building is characterised by its sweeping semi-circular arches and perfect proportions. No permanent changes were made to its interiors and a concerted effort is made to retain the original character, a good enough reason for it to get the HUDA-INTACH award. The building still has parquet flooring in its major halls, earlier used as dance floors. One of them is now used as a dining hall and another, a lecture hall. Tree-lined manicured lawns on the rear side of the building lend a soothing effect to the campus. A feature of the campus is the air-raid shelter with an underground passage from the Prince’s room to the exit gate. Some classic photographs taken by Raja Deen Dayal now decorate the walls of deep corridors.
The principal player of all the goings-on at Bella Vista, some of which left the Nizam red-faced, was Prince Azam Jah. “The Prince born to rule, became the Nizam who wasn’t and his frustration showed in all his actions,” recalls, Narendra Luther, former IAS officer and noted writer, who brought out an interesting booklet on the Prince and his stay at Bella Vista. “The Prince turned it into a pleasure house and there was no end to the revelries. Night became day and day, night. There were rooms specially made to create darkness at noon”.
Pampered to the hilt, Azam Jah born in February 1907 was groomed to become the next Nizam. He was granted the title of Prince of Berar in 1936 under an agreement with the British, though Berar ceased to be part of Hyderabad State in 1853. Obviously it was the British way of satisfying the ego of the Nizam. As a young prince, he led an impressive parade and he was made Commander-in-Chief, a post that enabled him to live in the `official residence’ Bella Vista.
The Prince married Dur-e-Shehvar, arguably one of the most beautiful women of her times, the daughter of the former Sultan of Turkey and the last Caliph, Abdul Majid Khan at Nice in France. Simultaneously, his brother, Prince Moazzam Jah, got married to Dur-e-Shevar’s cousin, the equally beautiful Niloufer, also at Nice. The Nizam could not attend the marriage but a holiday was declared in Hyderabad. Newspapers brought out special editions. When the couples returned after a tour of Europe, a grand banquet was hosted at Chow Mohalla Palace, where the British Resident, Lt. Col. T.H. Keyes proposed the toast. A few years after the marriage, both cousins, realised their incompatibility with the Princes. Dur-e-Shehvar left with her children, Mukkaram Jah and Muffakham Jah, to London where she still stays and comes to Hyderabad occasionally.
Having got the grand title, the post and the palace, Prince Azam Jah nurtured the dream of becoming the next Nizam. But somewhere down the line, his wayward and lavish lifestyle and his game plans, were frowned upon by the Nizam, who disinherited him and named Azam Jah’s elder son, Mukkaram Jah, as his successor. The Prince ended up fighting with his father and later, his son. The Nizam had to issue a farman (royal order) to make the “women of Bella Vista” leave the palace. A famous visitor to the palace during Azam Jah’s time was Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.
After the formation of Andhra Pradesh in 1956, Bella Vista became a State Guest House. “We continued to hear juicy tales of the Prince and his women,” Narender Luther, who stayed there, reminisced. A year later, it was sold to the ASCI and Bella Vista’s story took a turn for the better. But it had its share of controversy when it used to be described, in a lighter vein, as “the only college attached to a bar” and the bar was ordered shut on the eve of a visit by the former Prime Minister, Morarji Desai.