The Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad, now a Taj hotel, offer a glimpse of the nizams’ opulent lifestyles
I don’t know how to leave from here," Mahbub Ali Khan, the sixth nizam of Hyderabad and one of the richest men in the world, said. That was in 1897, when he stayed as a guest at Falaknuma, the grand palace built by his prime minister and brother-in-law, Nawab Vicar-ul-Umra. The dewan, who had lived in the palace for just four years, gifted it to the nizam (who, naturally, paid him generously for it).
The nizam lived in Falaknuma (the name means “Mirror of Sky") until he died in 1911. His successor the seventh nizam, Mir Osman Ali, hardly spent any time there. He turned it into a state guesthouse. During his reign it hosted visiting royalty like King Edward VIII and the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, while he was heir to the throne. The last state guest was India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1951.
The palace was passed on to the last nizam’s heir and grandson Mukarram Jah, who struggled to maintain it and finally leased it out to Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces. THRP has painstakingly restored the palace to its former glory and converted it into a heritage hotel. Such is Falaknuma’s grandeur that even today, 113 years after the palace was built, a visitor may well feel as the sixth nizam did on his first visit.
Surrounded by themed gardens on a 32-acre hillock with a sweeping view of Hyderabad, the palace hotel has 60 guest rooms and suites, one grand presidential suite, two restaurants, an outdoor pool and a spa. While the tariff of ordinary rooms is Rs 33,000, a night in the grand presidential suite, which has a private pool and independent entry, costs Rs 5 lakh.
The palace was built by Umra over nine years at a cost of about Rs 4 lakh (the nizam paid him Rs 6.5 lakh for it). It took, however, 22 years for the nawab and then the nizam to decorate it. According to Taj Falaknuma Palace general manager Ranjit Phillipose, the THRP restoration lasted 10 years. At one point, he says, as many as 800 people were engaged in the work.
The main brief to restorers was to “preserve as much as possible". To meet this brief a great deal of research and study had to be done. Mukarram Jah’s former wife Esra Jah supervised the work. She previously oversaw the restoration of the Chowmahalla palace, another royal residence.
Some of the wood used in the restoration was brought from England, and the tapestries and brocades from France. Leather was sourced from around Europe. Other raw materials were sourced from the USA, France and Germany. For a detailed restoration of the carpets the yarn was imported from New Zealand to ensure a perfect match with the original.
Falaknuma has some noted panels of stained glass, which also had to be repaired. The stained glass for this work was procured from England, France and Poland. Fabric trims and tassels, part of the interior décor, were restored using yarn from Switzerland. Phillipose says the yarn was dyed 300 times to achieve depth of colour. The leather upholstery was seasoned over four years. “The key idea is to take the palace back to its originality," he says.
Among the firsts and standout features of the palace are the world’s longest dining table. It was built in seven pieces and can seat 101. It occupies an entire hall, which is illuminated by five Belgian crystal chandeliers. Falaknuma also had its own petrol pump, to fuel the nizam’s fleet of cars. Its old GE refrigerators are still in use, and so is the custom-designed two-tonne organ, an Orchestrian, which is one of only four still extant.
The palace library, with a ceiling of teak and rosewood coffers, holds about 5,900 old and rare books, some of which the hotel’s guests will be allowed to browse. It took the Taj 11 months to catalogue the whole collection.
xIn the Begum’s bedroom the closets are lined with silk and the shape of the bed’s headboard mimics the palace’s mock-classical façade. The attached bathroom has a single-piece bathtub and a shower with separate nozzles for spraying perfume. THRP says Falaknuma was the first palace in India to have an attached bathroom.
Now, of course, every guest room has an attached bathroom. “The whole idea is to take one back to the times of the nizam," Phillipose explains proudly.n
(With inputs from Nishat Fatima)
FALAKNUMA PALACE FACT FILE
Opened: November 1, 2010
Rooms: Total 60 including 4 Luxury Rooms, 41 Palace Rooms, 3 Historical Suites, 8 Royal Suites, 3 Grand Royal Suites, and a Grand Presidential Suite
Location: Engine Bowli, Falaknuma, Hyderabad – 500 053;
Tel: 040 6629 8585
Contact: falaknuma.hyderabad@tajhotels .com, www.tajhotels.com