28 Tuesday February, 2017
By Cosmo Brockway
This month Ampersand travelled to the city of Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, India for the fifth Cartier Travel with Style Concours d’Elegance, one of the world’s most prestigious vintage car events. The glamorous celebration is held every two years at locations across the subcontinent and this year saw the ‘city of pearls’ hosting the occasion at the Taj Falaknuma Palace. The setting was a nod to Cartier’s long standing relationship with Indian royalty with the estate being the historic home of the renowned rulers of Hyderabad. Patron and exhibitor, Princess Esra Jah of Hyderabad, opened the doors of her family seat, and along with her children, showed some of the family’s priceless collection of vintage motor cars.
Taj Falaknuma Palace, perched 2,000 ft over the city and built in 1894, was formerly the home of the Nizam, the richest man in the world in his time, and exudes magnificence. Lovingly restored by Princess Esra to its former glory, the palace is now run by Taj Hotels with great opulence offering visitors a unique chance to relive the glory days of this 400-year old city and its spectacular heritage. Given the accolade of the World’s Best Palace Hotel, Taj Falaknuma, spread over 32 acres, boasts breathtaking state rooms, including a dining room seating 101, durbar hall bedecked with Belgian chandeliers and suites that are the epitome of true luxury.
Since 2009 Cartier Travel with Style has ranked amongst the world’s most acclaimed motor festivals and is a one of a kind vintage car exhibition held every two years in India. In the words of host Guillame Alix, Regional Managing Director, Cartier Middle East, India and Africa: ‘The relationship between Cartier and India dates back over 100 years and this event is our special endeavour to renew this link and above all celebrate the remarkable design and craftsmanship of India’s automobile heritage which has produced some of the most distinctive and luxurious of cars’. Alix continues: ‘The centuries-old air of royal splendour found in Hyderabad perfectly complements the spirit of show’. The collection is curated by the debonair Manvendra Singh of Barwani, who has dedicated decades to the preservation of vintage automobiles in India. Singh travels extensively in search of fine examples hidden away in long locked up palace garages and takes great pleasure in the restoration of these ‘works of art, commissioned during a golden age of the country’s royalty’. The author of the excellent coffee table book Automobiles of the Maharajas, Singh’s passion for cars runs in the family with his daughter Princess Vidita Singh being a leading and gifted artist who has imaginatively documented India’s automative history through her canvas and undertakes commissions capturing much loved vehicles.
The competition during the event was held over several classes including pre-war classics, roadster and even motorcycles. Private collectors and royalty from all over India and abroad showcased their vehicles to be judged by a notable panel led by chairman HRH Prince Michael of Kent. This year a total of 112 rare vehicles were exhibited and there were some interesting new categories like the American Aerodynamique Class. A notable highlight was the presentation of the special FIVA and UNESCO Preservation trophy to a 1921 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost owned by Yuvraj Kesri Singh of Wankane, the first ever Indian car to have won this trophy. The judges included founder of Goodwood Festival of Speed, Lord March; Sandra Button and supermodel Yasmin Le Bon amongst others.
A dazzling evening followed with a gala dinner hosted by Princess Esra and family at the restored Chowmahalla Palace in the city centre. The richly decorated rooms were filled with guests from all over the world, including MD of Conde Nast publications, Nicholas Coleridge; model Amber Le Bon and photographer Derry Moore. The attendees were greeted by a mounted cavalry leading them to a drinks reception serenaded by a liveried band playing bagpipes and a firework display which illuminated the 200-year old palace with its courtyards, towers and pools creating a transporting scene back in time. Authentic Nawabi cuisine was served at dinner, with exquisite biriyanis and other dishes that Hyderabad is justly famed for, which took place inside the glorious museum with guests seated on low tables bedecked with white linen, crystal candelabras and the family royal china. A night that conjured up all that is magical about India’s heritage that still lives on in unforgettable events such as these.
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