Recently coming into the limelight as the venue that hosted one of the most glittering and star-studded Bollywood weddings in recent times, The Taj Falaknuma Palace is a Heritage Luxury Hotel located in the city of Hyderabad, India. Superstar Salman Khan booked the entire hotel for his younger sister’s fairytale wedding, and if the afternoon I spent walking amidst the extravagance is anything to go by, I’m sure guests are transported into a bygone era while resting in the lap of luxury.
The opulence of the Nizams certainly knew no bounds. The erstwhile rulers of the princely state of Hyderabad left their legacy behind as true patrons of art and culture, but it was their love for Palaces that has truly given people a glimpse into their extravagant lives. They owned quite a few palaces in Hyderabad alone, including the elegant Chowmallah Palace, but the Falaknuma Palace is definitely the most stunning of them all.
Built in the year 1893 as the private residence of Nawab Vikar-ul-Umra, prime minister of Hyderabad and the uncle of the sixth Nizam, this beautiful palace later served as the official residence of the Nizams of Hyderabad. Literally translated from Urdu as “Mirror of the Sky”, the palace is perched on top of a 2,000 foot hill and built in the clouds to reflect the ever-changing moods of the sky. So enchanted was Mehboob Ali Pasha Nizam VI by its grandeur, that he arrived as a guest but decided never to leave and bought the property instead.
The Falaknuma Palace was the true epitome of luxury, at least till the 1950s. When the last Nizam lost power and moved out, the Palace fell into neglect; until the Taj Group of Hotels painstakingly restored the property to its past glory and original grandeur, in consultation with Princess Esra Jah, the first wife of Nizam VII. The glorious palace opened as a Heritage Luxury Hotel in the year 2010 and has been enchanting guests ever since.
Oh how I would love to stay at this most luxurious of hotels. Doubles start from INR 32,500 / USD 525 per night, so this opulence requires deep pockets; but you know, YOLO and all that! I would love to be received by a horse and carriage at the gate, and be showered with rose petals when ascending the marble steps; I would have loved to go on the Champagne & Sunset Palace Walk with the resident historian rather than just the Heritage Walk I had come for; all are aspects that only an overnight guest can enjoy.
But for now, The Heritage Walk through the classic, timeless elegance of the Taj Falaknuma Palace would have to suffice.
WHAT WE DID
After a comfortable 40-minute journey from the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, we got our first glimpse of the Falaknuma Palace when the stark white façade peeked out at us from amidst the trees and buildings. We were received at the first gate by uniformed guards, who greeted us warmly and proceeded to check our names off a list of expected guests. We progressed up a narrow and winding lane, closer and closer to this palace in the sky, and at the Clock Tower, after a polite and quick security check, transferred to a golf cart that would take us the rest of the way.
We reached our destination in no time and eagerly stepped off the golf cart. The glistening white building slowly emerged into view as we crossed over to the main palace enclosure, a vision in elegance and understated grandeur. Designed by an Italian Architect, and built entirely of Italian Marble in the shape of a scorpion (apparently the original owner’s star sign); to say that the sight of the Falaknuma Palace could knock your socks off would be putting it mildly.
We were running a bit late due to a flight delay, so quickly made our way up the stairs to join the rest of the participants for the Heritage Walk. A small group had already assembled and were admiring the Mahogany and Ebony ceiling in the entrance chamber, gleaming as if it was polished the day before, but which had actually never been touched-up since the day of its construction.
The Tour was being conducted by a member of the hotel staff and had already been into the Office and Study, still home to the original phone and table used by the Nizam in the discharge of his official duties. The same table where the Nizam, once the richest man in the world, used the 184-carat Jacob Diamond as a paperweight!!!
WHAT WE SAW
We visited the Palace Library, and ambled through its impressive six-thousand-book collection. With books in over 9 languages and a collection boasting the rarest of manuscripts, the library is modelled on the one at Windsor Castle and is a feast to the eyes.
This level also housed the royal apartments, and we were escorted through the Ladies’ sitting room into the Nizam’s Wife’s Room, complete with her original bed and wardrobe. With a glance into the bathroom and its resplendent bath with in-built Jacuzzi, we were amazed at being told that the shower curtain, when this bath was in use, was said to have been made of pure gold.
We proceeded to make our way up the sweeping marble staircase, admiring the marbled figurines of Grecian Women carrying lamps to light our way. A huge painting of the Vicar greeted us on the landing above, and after re-grouping we moved on to the Games Room, the shining attraction of which is the gleaming Billiards Table at the center that was specially made to order for the Nizam by Burroughs & Watts, London. There’s only one other Billiards Table like this one in the whole wide world, in Buckingham Palace!!!
Across the dark wooden floors and past the red-and-gold hues of the indulgent leather furniture, we paused to marvel at the mammoth Hookah perched regally on a corner table. Thought to be one of the largest in the world, it was once covered in gold wires. The Grand Ball Room (Durbar Hall) was magnificent, the Venetian chandeliers glinting in the sunlight. There are just 3 of them but no matter where in the room you stand, the mirrors on the walls reflect back hundreds. Of the Nizam’s army of staff numbering in thousands, dozens had the sole purpose of keeping the chandeliers dusted and clean.
A celebrity in its own right, the 101-seater dining table is marvelous to say the least. The dining hall is a work of art, with dark wooden paneling and state-of-the-art acoustics that enable a person on one end of the room to clearly hear another on the opposite end. A great way for the Nizam to sit at the Head of the Table at his royal banquets, and still hear every word spoken by each one of his guests!
It’s not hard to see why some claim this is the third most beautiful palace in the world (after the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, and the Palace of Versailles in France).
The visual odyssey continued with a rare collection of jade, priceless treasures collected from around the world, Victorian style hand-painted ceilings and Belgian cut-glass chandeliers in the Palace’s Jade Room. But what made this room even more magnificent was the terrace that came attached with it. What a view!
Afternoon Tea is hosted here daily, and while I didn’t get the pleasure to stay for it myself, I did get a glimpse of what was being served and everything looked lovely!
Our afternoon at the Taj Falaknuma Palace was coming to a close. After ambling through the palace lawns for a while, and after taking a few dozen photographs of course, it was time to bid adieu.
What I Have To Say
The Taj Falaknuma Palace is something special, it truly is. It felt a bit like stepping through a time capsule and I was blown away! The Afternoon Heritage Walk was a great way to get a little introduction and a teaser of sorts, but I’m going to pray really hard that one day, just maybe, I actually get to spend a night here.
Have you ever visited Hyderabad? Did you stop by at the Taj Falaknuma Palace, or better yet, stay here? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Disclaimer: My husband and I received a complimentary walk and we were guests of Taj Hotels, but all opinions, as always, are my own.
You might also want to read: The History & Heritage of Hyderabad
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