Chinmoy has worked as a freelance travel writer, chronicling his experiences of resort living in publications around the world, and in his hometown of Hong Kong. Having traveled Southeast Asia and South Asia extensively, Chinmoy looks to bring the rising East to the rest of the world.
Hyderabad was once a princely state, of kings and queens, jewels and diamonds. Much of its glory has been lost to the British Raj and Indian independence, but some of its relics live on—if not in memory, then still in the regal state in which they had once prospered. The Taj Falaknuma Palace is one such relic. Many hotels claim to be grand, or palatial, but very few can truly lay claim to being a true king’s palace, as the Falaknuma Palace once was.
Upon arrival, a horse-carriage escorted us from the front gate of the palace grounds to the main building, where we were greeted with welcome drinks and a quick introduction. The attendant gave us a moment to absorb the sweeping view from 2,000-feet above Hyderabad, as well as the palace building looming behind us. Like the Nizam, we were showered with rose petals and rose water as we were led up the main stairs. After being walked to our comfortable and slightly modern Luxury Room for the check-in, we were personally introduced to our section butler, who would satisfy our every need, and the relevant staff who would please our every request.
The palace would truly open its doors (and our eyes) during the daily Champagne Walk, held at 5:30 p.m., where the palace historian took us on a journey of intricacies as we explored the ornate decorations, the glorious furnishings and the lavish interiors, some recreated (and many restored) to painstaking detail. From the elaborate and bright grand staircase and foyer, to the darker, hushed tones of the library and the study, the historian told us tales of the Nizam’s love for recreating the splendor of European palaces, replete with Venetian chandeliers.
But nothing prepared us for a 101-seat dining table, the world’s longest. Used for banquets, the room was spectacularly designed, the true nature of which can only be appreciated when we sat down at opposite ends and realized that we need only converse at normal volume for conversation to be audible, despite sitting approximately 150-feet apart.
But Hyderabad has a new darling when it comes to food. The Palace’s two main restaurants, Celeste (Italian cuisine) and Adaa (Hyderabadi/Indian cuisine) are both award-winning. Rich, flavorful and mouthwatering signature dishes such as patthar ka gosht (lamb slow-cooked on stone), haleem (a meat and lentil stew cooked in a large wooden cauldron) and Hyderabadi biryani have made Adaa the hotspot in town, and nearly worth the trip to India alone.
The fitness center, pool and Jiva spa ensure there is plenty of relaxation to be had on the palace grounds. But the palace itself, stationed high above the city with its lush gardens and long corridors, is a haven of tranquility.
Further from the palace, the Golconda Fort, Purani Haveli, Salarjung Museum and Chowmahalla Palace are other vestiges of Nizams gone-by all worth exploring, which can be pre-arranged by the hotel concierge. But it is at the Falaknuma that you find the most peace, and the best restoration of the king’s former residences.
Like a time capsule, the Taj Falaknuma Palace takes you back in time to a more majestic age. Commissioned by the Nawab, the then Prime Minister of Hyderabad, but bought by the royal family, the Falaknuma was one of the Nizam’s many palaces. After decades of neglect and years of court conflicts, the Falaknuma Palace has been restored to its resplendent glory courtesy of the Taj Hotel Group. Nowhere is this more evident than in the very shade of the palace, repainted to match the original color several times at the request of Her Majesty Princess Esra, granddaughter-in-law of the Sixth Nizam Mahboob Ali Khan, who had bought the palace. In light, the tone of the palace façade depicts the hazy blue of the sky; in shade, it appears to reflect the darker grey of the evening. This is no accident; “Falaknuma” means “mirror of the sky.”
Now, the Falaknuma is the jewel in the crown of the Taj Hotel Group, whose staff have ensured through their courteous and ever-willing service that visitors to the palace feel as kingly as the Nizams and their guests when they resided here. While the palace itself is magnificently restored, it is in the Taj’s service standards that it continues to thrive.