When you think of the royal past and the palaces of India, you most likely conjure an image of Rajasthan , a north western state, with its vast desert lands specked with numerous forts and palaces flavored with the splendor of a succession of Rajputana Maharajas. It’s the most enduring image of India in the minds of the travelers. However, there is another gem slowly coming into the limelight. In the south of India, looming above the ever charming old city of Hyderabad, perched on the Kohitoor hill – a flat hillock with lush green verdure rising slowly above the crammed populace of the city – is an image of opulence second to none – The Falaknuma Palace.
An edifice of stunning architecture and beauty, it was built by the prime minister who then sold it to the Nizam as he was instantly enamoured of it on his first visit. It went on to be his residence and the property of his successor, the richest man on earth in the 1930s. The fabulously rich and tasteful Nizams bedecked the palace with finery and splendor and this palace got its very apt Urdu name meaning the ‘mirror in the sky’ or more correctly meaning ‘facade to the sky’. The fall of the Nizam state meant a period of negligence in the last century when it remained closed to the public except on a few occasions. And then came the Taj Hospitality group who in consultation with the Princess Esra, painstakingly restored by carefully piecing it together into its past glory into a luxury heritage hotel, rechristened as the Taj Falaknuma Palace. It has been captivating guests ever since. Thanks to high profile Bollywood family wedding it rose to fame in India and now hosting distinguished guests of the GES 2017, it’s all set for international renown.
The Taj hospitality group left no stone unturned in rediscovering the palace and they aim to keep the experience exclusive and unique for their in-house and restaurant guests. We had the memorable experience of a heritage walk around the palace after our dinner at Adaa.
From the noisy busting of the city life, entry through the majestic yet inconspicuous iron gate at the side of the busy road on the hill, is an abrupt change as it immediately takes you into a thick dense forest. A short meandering ride through the greenery, hearing the sound of peacocks and watching the tall trees, brings you the clock tower – the erstwhile watchtower of the sentry men.
From here on, guests are taken in battery operated cars or the even more exclusive horse carriage – the very same buggy used by the Nizam. Oh how I wish! but even then our golf cart ride was an extremely pleasant one. It was a beautiful windy day. We drove past numerous lawns and arches and even spotted a few peacocks traversing our path!
Drawing up in front of the magnificent facade, perfectly gray and just ‘like the sky’ which was pleasantly overcast with the promise of a light monsoon shower, it totally takes your breath away.
It was nearing dusk and the perfect time to stroll through immaculately manicured gardens of the main lawn overlooking the City of Pearls.
The resounding Azaan (call to prayer) for Maghreb (sunset) soon reverberated from across the city. The sonorous echo from a multitude of mosques below was hypnotic. I silently repeated after the words and took in the spectacular view in front of me.
The lack of a prayer room was my complaint at this time and it would remain my only one. After we prayed Salah in our makeshift prayer room in the office attached to the palace library, I fully took in the room I was in. The carved walnut roof over this was said to be a replica of the one at Windsor castle and there was a sprawling collection of books including many rare copies of the Quran.
We went back to the marble reception room for the palace tour. The details in everything was mesmerizing. We walked through the office of the Nizam, still with the same phone and table that held the diamond as big as a hen’s egg as a paperweight! We admired the beautiful pieces of furniture and the polished ceiling in the entrance chamber, toured the royal chambers – the beautiful room of the Ujala Begum, one of the Nizam’s wife, complete with an upholstered bed and dresser. The attached bathroom had a luxurious bath complete with a jazcuzzi and once upon a time a curtain of pure gold, we were told.
Upstairs, through the regal marble staircase lined with figurine lamps and photographs of royalty and British aristocracy, there were huge larger-than-life portraits of the Nizams in the foyer. This level had the Games room, with a famous Billiard table, an expensive twin of the one at Buckingham Palace, the Jade room with its priceless and uncountable treasures and the famous Dining Room for 101 guests with the acclaimed amazing acoustics. All the common rooms are available for use by the hotel’s staying guests!
Our dinner at Adaa was yet another memorable experience. Needless to say, we expected a royally good meal and we weren’t disappointed.
Since there is a minimum spending policy per person, we ordered a quite a few dishes. Right from the Amuse-Bouche to the main course of Nalli Gosht (a lamb shank cooked in fried onions and spices) and Pista Murgh ka Salan (Chicken cooked in a pistachio gravy) and even the biryani rice on the side – all had an authentic taste yet with a twist. The desserts were the most memorable. We had the pinapple and sago panacotta which was served with some fresh figs and a transparent rice paper crepe dusted with powdered sugar and cardamom. It was such a burst of fruity flavor, textures, sugar and spice that the result was indescribably good. We also tasted the sorbet in exotic magical flavors – jasmine and paan flavors were out of the world. The service is good and attentive. But it takes a little time. The price is sky high but worth it for a special occassion dinner.
Back at the main part of the palace we indulged some more in admiring the palace illuminated at night. We had missed a part of the tour earlier so the hotel staff were more than happy to make it up to us. They even took us upstairs even though it was almost closing time. They went out of their way to make sure that we didn’t leave disappointed in any way. The sherwani-clad staff were always so approachable and friendly. I even had an awry footwear situation while in the palace gardens (embarassing I know!) The staff nearby were quick to help fix my broken heel by getting the life saving footwear glue. From royal splendor to small touches, everything in our short visit was such an experience, I can only imagine unfaltering hospitality and a truly regal treatment for those staying at the hotel. One day, I hope!