Taj Falaknuma Palace is the city’s pride and joy. And now, as it launches its weekend getaway specials, there is little excuse not to soak in heritage that few other urban centres can lay claim to. Andrew Josef walks the Nizam’s corridors and comes away mesmerised
It sits perched atop a hillock. Two thousand feet below it the Twin Cites lie sprawled in a humdrum of urban dreams and nightmares. But the Taj Falaknuma Palace towers above the din, and from its throne it is the master of all surveys. And why shouldn’t it. The Palace itself is testament to aspiration on such a grand scale it dwarfs more ethereal quests. Embedded in its stone and mortar lattice are the memories of generations that have long since faded from the psyche of the citizen. Generations for whom wealth was taken so much for granted that its ebb and flow was scarcely noticed.
Built by the Nawab Viqar-Ul-Umra, the palace eventually became the seat of the Nizams’ power. As you spiral your way up to the entrance it’s hard not to feel that you are ascending to a far more cheerful version of Asgard. There is no Frigg moping through these halls, rather the sound of birds and the gentle caress of the wind through the foliage invites you into the womb of royalty. It’s easy to see why the Falaknuma took 10 years to build; shaped like a scorpion its pincers rise upward and outwards, its body snakes behind it leading to a lashing tail, and the most extravagant sting you’ll ever have the pleasure to see. The palace also took 22 years to decorate; I’m surprised it didn’t take a century.
The interiors are a labour of love, with every nook thought out and every strip of wood (natural or stucco) and slab of marble has a reason for its existence. There is nothing noveau-riche abut Falaknuma. There’s nary a hint of the rabid opulence of Middle Eastern palaces where black granite and garish gold snap at you for attention. It does not desire your appreciation as much as it courts it. A Russian oligarch would hate it, and that’s what makes it so beautiful.
Each room comes with its own slice of history and tales so wondrous, they border on apocryphal. But if you’re guided by the palace’s in-house historian Prabhakar Mahindrakar, then a bygone world will emerge, trapping you with its tales. Only a place like Falaknuma can unleash as much passion as it does in Prabhakar. His eyes twinkle as he narrates its story; his mind sliding back forth across the bridge that spans the ages. He may walk beside you, but truly, he walks beside kings.
From the ladies’ room with its deliciously scandalous gossip chair, and the dining room with its table that seats 101, every space reverberates with the footfalls of history, to the ballroom where one can almost hear the strains of a Viennese Waltz playing to a crowd of dignitaries as they sashay across the floor, all diamonds and dreams, Falaknuma delights.
But don’t for one second think that the palace is only for history buffs or those with a voyeuristic penchant for seeing how the other half live. With 60 rooms, the Falaknuma Palace is also a hotel with its place firmly entrenched in the hospitality stratosphere. The rooms — from the grandeur of the Grand Presidential Suite to the Royal Suites — are built to conjure memories of life at the court of the Nizam. Have they been upgraded? Definitely. Do they still retain the olde world charm? Certainly.
The two restaurants, Adaa (Indian) and Celeste (world cuisine), serve up feasts that fit the setting. Whether it’s traditional Hyderabadi cuisine or something catering to a lightly more Westernised palate, it’s all available. High Tea at the Gol Bungalow overlooking the city is not to be missed. And once you’re done stacking up on sandwiches, scones and petit fours, sit back order a cocktail and watch the sun set over the city to the sound of qawalis.
There are few things more enchanting in life than being a part of history, or at least spending time in its sphere. The Taj Falaknuma Palace offers you that opportunity. Whether it’s for a meal, weekend break, or a longer stay, Hyderabad may not have anything better to offer. Don’t take our word for it. But one thing’s for sure, as that sun sinks to its nadir and a few stars begin to dot the darkening sky, it’s hard not to remember the words of the historian Prabhakar: “There are few stars in the sky these days, but from Falaknuma, when you look out over the city lights, you realise that they’re all at your feet.”
The credit for much of what Falaknuma is today should go to Princess Esra who supervised the resurrection of this icon. And as she walks through the grounds in the shadow of its magnificence one wonders if there are not a few others who walk at her side; those for whom the palace was home, and those who will be eternally grateful that its legacy has been reborn with such elegance. And if they do, they must be smiling. That’s what Falaknuma does.
The weekend package
Offer available till August 31, 2012.
Luxury Rooms on double occupancy: Rs.19,750
Palace Rooms on double occupancy: Rs.21,000
(Exclusive of taxes on per room, per night basis)
- Two-way transfers in a Jaguar
- Royal arrival experience in a horse chariot and a refreshing welcome drink
- Breakfast in Celeste, the all-day dining room
- Champagne heritage walk of the Palace with the Palace historian
In-room bath setup
- 15% off on food and soft beverage
- 10% off on treatments at the Jiva Spa Sufi Qawali evening at Gol Bungalow
- To book call +91 40-6629 8585 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org