The Rashtrapati Nilayam in Secunderabad is abuzz with visitors, after being opened to the general public for 15 days as part of an annual tradition.
The official residence of the President during his annual southern sojourn, Rashtrapati Nilayam can be accessed for free from 10 am to 4 pm till January 15, 2018.
Every year, the President stays in south India for 10 to 15 days. The intention of having a residence at Hyderabad was for the President to assess and understand the problems of the locals.
Located at Bolarum, the Rashtrapati Nilayam building was taken over from the last Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan (Asaf Jahi VII), after India attained independence and handed over to the President’s Secretariat.
However, the history of the building itself goes back much further in time. The main building was constructed in 1860 over 2,500 sqm, though it oversees a total land area of 97.62 acres.
It was constructed by Nizam Nazir-ud-Dowla, the fourth ruler of the Asaf Jahi dynasty. He governed Hyderabad state from 1829 to 1857, during which time the ‘Nizam’s indispensable Prime Minister’, Sir Salar Jung, also held office.
Originally known as Residency House, it was said to be used as the residence of the Chief Military Officer of the Nizam government in the cantonment area.
The main building consists of three wings – President’s Wing, Family Wing and ADC Wing – which accommodate 20 rooms including a Cinema Hall, State Dining Hall, Morning Room, Durbar Hall and ADC Dining room. The roof is at a height of around 20 to 25 feet.
Though access into the building is forbidden, there are many nooks and crannies that can be explored, including one underground tunnel that connects the State Kitchen with the State Dining Hall.
Presidents including Dr Rajendra Prasad, Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, VV Giri, Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, Giani Zail Singh, R Venkatraman, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, KR Narayanan, APJ Abdul Kalam, Pratibha Patil and Pranab Mukherjee have stayed at the Nilayam.
President Ram Nath Kovind also visited it last month, as part of a four-day southern sojourn.
An eco-friendly estate
Another interesting feature of the Nilayam is the amount of green cover. Out of the 97.62 acres, around 80% of the total area is filled with greenery.
While the campus had a lot of wild grass and bushes earlier, it was under Pratibha Patil that vacant land with wild vegetation was cleared and trees were planted in a planned and phased manner since 2007. Several eco-friendly measures were also taken during her tenure, as steps were implemented to conserve water and electricity to make judicious use of natural resources.
The estate has become the first ‘Urban Habitat’ with an ISO 14001 certificate for its standards related to environmental management.
At present, fruit gardens occupy 35 acres of the land, where 4,500 plants of different varieties like Mango, Sapota, Amla, Guava, Sitaphal and Coconut are grown.
The water requirement of these fruit orchards is met with the help of old wells and tube wells, which were restored, besides a drip irrigation system.
Around 6 acres of land, especially those on each side of the roads inside the campus, are decked with ornamental and flowering plants.
A fountain was also constructed in the main lawn area by using an abandoned water tank, while an unused dug well was used to create a brand new Herbal Garden.
In 2015, Pranab Mukherjee opened a ‘Nakshatra Vatika’, a garden with 27 varieties of plants to signify the 27 nakshatras or ‘stars’ of Hindu mythology.