Hyderabad, Nov 7 (IANS) Imagine relaxing in the private chambers of the Nizam, sitting in the splendid Durbar Hall that hosted guests like King George V and Czar Nicholas II and having access to every luxury that was once the exclusive preserve of the erstwhile rulers of Hyderabad.
Welcome to Falaknuma Palace, one of the finest of the dozen palaces of the Nizam, which has now been converted into a luxury hotel by the Taj Group of Hotels.
‘Guests can experience enchanting moments of luxury while reliving chapters from the lives of the Nizams,’ said Ranjit Phillipose, general manager, Taj Falaknuma Palace.
Falaknuma, or ‘mirror of the sky’ in Urdu, has come alive after a century. It took 10 years of painstaking work by the Taj Group to breathe life into the scorpion-shaped, all-marble palace in the old city, five kilometres from the historic Charminar.
Once the residence of Mir Mahboob Ali Khan (1869-1911), the sixth Nizam, the palace had been lying unused since 1911. Built over 32 acres and perched atop a hill, the palace has now opened its doors to guests with all its opulent interiors and breathtaking views.
Falaknuma Palace is a majestic blend of Italian and Tudor architecture, with 60 lavish rooms and halls decorated with ornate furniture, rich handcrafted tapestries and brocade from France.
The interiors are a splendid interplay of Venetian chandeliers and intricate frescos, and have charming outdoor terraces, and a treasure of rare artefacts, including paintings, statues, furniture, manuscripts and books.
The Jade Room, deriving its name from a rare collection of jades, boasts of a Victorian painted ceiling and gilded reliefs.
The palace is also home to a 101-seat dining hall, and the Durbar Hall, embellished with intricately carved wooden ceilings, parquet flooring, regal walnut wood furniture and handcrafted mirrors.
‘The restoration work was challenging. We paid attention to every single item,’ said Mamta Singh, a Taj Group executive.
The corridors of Falaknuma are filled with elegance and intrigue, two hallmarks of royal living worldwide.
From the zanana wing for ladies to the gossip room – where the Nizam used to discuss the day’s events with his family – every nook and corner of the palace has its own history. The Nizam’s writing table, for instance, has a priceless Jacob diamond, which was once used as a paperweight.
The Nizam’s breakfast room has been converted into a conference room, an oasis of modernity in the century-old palace.
The two halls in the ‘Gole bungalow’ have been transformed into restaurants serving Italian, Indian and Mediterranean cuisine, perhaps in deference to the architectural inspirations of the building.
Though it is the fourth palace in the country which the Taj Group has converted to a luxury hotel, executives say Falaknuma stands apart in its splendour and majesty.
It was Nawab Vaqar-ul-Umra, the Nizam’s prime minister, who built the palace in 1893. Impressed by its magnificence, the Nizam bought it for himself.
The palace has many firsts to its name. ‘It had the country’s first GE refrigerator, first electrical switch board, first telephone exchange, first petrol pump, and first attached bathroom,’ Singh explained during a walkthrough.
Princess Esra Birgin, the first wife of Mukarram Jah, the scion of the Nizam family, played a key role in the restoration of the palace.
Custom-designed furnishings and carpets were shipped from Turkey, and the interiors were designed by Princess’ cousin Ruia Makan, who runs a design company in London. The exquisite crockery and food are sourced from nine countries, including Italy, France and Germany.
The palace offers a breathtaking view of the city, including from the ‘Gole’ terrace, which was restored with glass flown in from France and Poland.
Taj Group promises to treat you like a Nizam right from the moment you arrive at the clock tower, the main entrance of Falaknuma Palace, from where the guests are ferried on a ‘bagghi’ (horse carriage).
‘Everything that we offer is luxury, but it comes with a premium. The whole idea is to give a glimpse of a day in the life of Nizam,’ sums up Singh.
And finally, how much do the ‘commoners’ have to shell out to live like a Nizam?
A sum of Rs.5 lakh (over $11,000) a day, making it the most expensive palace hotel in the country. For the less fortunate, the hotel also offers suites at Rs.33,000 per day, plus taxes.
And if the waiting list of the Taj Falaknuma Palace is anything to go by, many consider it a small price to pay for an experience of a lifetime.
(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)