What-e-‘Numa

This was my second visit to this Grand Palace cum converted luxury hotel. I felt no less like royalty this time as well. The first time I came here was for an Italian dinner at Celeste and now for their high-tea.

Since it is converted into a luxury hotel, the Celeste to me was a value addition to the hotel. This time, however, to be booked in for ‘high-tea’ in this city of Nizams, reiterated to me how ‘colonial’ a time it was when the British ruled India and how that culture seeped into the Royal way of living at that time. What was more interesting was when I was asked by the reservations desk, “if we would like the Nizami or the English high-tea”. It must have been a very multi-cultural time then, as is now.

I had read a few reviews about the food, and I wasn’t disappointed by what they served us. But then, we weren’t just coming here for the food (of course we skipped lunch so we could do justice here), but for the experience- from the feeling of how perhaps a royal Begum would have felt when she traveled on the beautiful curving drive up to her magnificent palace perched on top of a hill (at 2000 ft above sea level) overlooking her city and its beautiful people to how she dined and lived in style.

The roads leading to the palace are crowded with constant traffic and small by-lanes, but as we took the turn towards the hotel, the entire atmosphere changed. In stark contrast to the constant honking and melee of people, cars and buses, this serene private drive-way was almost eerily quiet. The tar roads gave way to un-laid kacha roads. It was like going back in time, right from the word go.

At the first check-point, as our names were checked off the list by the polite guards with a subdued ‘Adaab’, it was that instant feeling of being transformed into another time- a far cry from the present day Hyderabad, though we were just a few kilometers away from the main city. I admit I pinched myself a couple of times ;).

We went up the lovely drive way past stables and a parked buggy on one side, and the massive city on the other up to the second gate (yes, there are quite a few gates before we reach the palace itself). After parking our car and taking the opportunity to take a few of our pictures at the edifice, the security checked us in. Again, really politely without making it awkward (like in other public places). Politeness in talk and manners was an integral part of theNizamiculture and the staff at the hotel encompass this beautifully, right from the guards to the waiting staff to the many other people we met at the hotel.

After another short golf-cart ride past manicured gardens, we reached the main entrance to the palace-hotel itself. After another tehzeebi greeting, the guard ushered us to the main stairway leading up to the hotel. Built over 32 acres, the property is built over many levels. Our dining room was further down and though we were hungry by now (it was almost 4 pm), we strolled slowly admiring the intricate ceilings, the elaborate library with its rare Britannica editions and books in various languages to another huge garden with water fountains and gardeners silently tending to the lawns on this beautiful July afternoon.

The tea spread was impressive with different types of Indian and British teas to choose from and the fresh scones with cream and jam just melted in our mouths. From the lukmi to the delicately made sandwiches and small crisp pies, it was difficult to choose a favorite dish. The dessert table had the yummiest Khubani ka meetha apart from delectable pastries and tea cakes.

After our tea, we went for a guided palace tour of the main building. The palace is built in the shape of a Scorpion (as that was the sun-sign of Nawab Vikar-ul-Umra). It was interesting to see the lovely oil paintings and pictures, the Venetian chandeliers, the children’s study and bedrooms, and the living area with a large billiards table. We also went to the main private dining table (which we were told is the largest in the world and can seat 101 guests at a time) and the royal begum’s bedroom. They did live in style.

Since all this history and walking around had whet our appetite, we came back for round of freshly brewed tea and coffee and could not stop gushing about the opulence of the aristocrats and their lifestyle.

It was about 5:15 pm when we heard strains of Qawwali music in our dining area. We quickly followed the sound and came upon a private performance ofQawwali singers dressed suitably in dervish caps rendering the beautiful “Allah Hu” Sufi song. They even asked us for requests and sang them for us. The setting of this musical performance- the Gol Bunglow which was in open air with the old Hyderabad city and distant hills in the background in the early evening light- gave it an almost magical charm. The golden glow of the setting sun coupled with the lights slowly coming on in the city- it was a fairy tale setting.

As we left the palace at about 7pm, it was a clear sky brilliantly lit by stars. The slight chill in the air caught us off-guard. We realized it wasn’t just the temperature dip; it was the kick back to reality. 🙂

Falak-numa in Urdu means ‘like the sky’. I did feel like a royal bird soaring high up into the clouds. Visit here to experience the old-world royalty, to feel like a Nizam.

History of the Palace

The palace was opened in 1893 as a private residence and then converted into a heritage luxury hotel in 2010 by the Taj group. It was built and owned by Nawab Sir Vikar-ul-Umra, Prime Minister of Hyderabad (1884 to 1897) and later by The 6th Nizam of Hyderabad. Designed by an English architect, the palace has a blend of Italian and Tudor architecture.

Location

Falaknuma Palace is in Hyderabad city. The city is well connected by rail, road and air from all metros and main cities India. The drive to the palace goes through the bustling old city past the world-famous Charminar (it is about 5 kms from here) chock-a-block with traffic. We took an alternate route via the PV Narasimha Rao Expressway.

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

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