PALACE in the SKY
Lavish décor, fantastic food, and an exotic Sufi band – the Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad is a wonder waiting to be explored. By Cai Mei Khoo.
We arrive in the quiet darkness of early morning. Hyderabad is a lot cooler than expected and I wrap my cardigan a little tighter around myself. Driving down the dusty roads, our driver explains that we are now in the ‘old city’ of Hyderabad, on the southern side of the Musi river, where historical monuments such as the Charminar are located.
A short half-hour drive later, we arrive at the tree-lined driveway that marks the entrance to Taj Falaknuma Palace, our home for the next four days. After the requisite security check, we drive through winding roads that pass the Baggi Khana, which houses the horse stables and the personal petrol pump of the Nizam. A Nizam is the regulator of the realm, native sovereigns of the Hyderabad state since 1719. At the end of the winding road are huge inner gates, another security checkpoint, and it is here that our driver announces we will be taken to the Palace by horse carriage, as no car, apart from Princess Esra’s (who married the grandson of the seventh Nizam and who still lives on palace grounds), is allowed in. A horse carriage! If that isn’t a grand welcome, I don’t know what is.
Although our phone cameras (and the bumpy carriage ride) didn’t really allow us to capture the experience, it’s one that is etched clearly in mind. There’s something magical about arriving at a palace in the quiet blanket of darkness, seated in a traditional horse carriage and looking down at the city lights twinkling before you. Located some 2,000 feet above the city of Hyderabad, the Taj Falaknuma is also poetically known as the Mirror of the Sky. A blend of Italian and Tudor architecture, the sixth Nizam lived here after purchasing it from the then-prime minister of Hyderabad, Sir Vikar-ul-Umara, who built the Palace in 1881, taking nine years to complete.
As we ascend the stairs to the main foyer of the Palace, rose petals rain down on us, a part of the welcome ceremony. In the middle of the main foyer is a marble fountain with cherubs, above which flies an eagle painted on the ceiling by French artist Jean Gaudier (whose eyes have a 3D effect so nothing escapes him). Although we are actually in India, I can’t help feeling as though we had been transported to a castle in Europe for all the Palace’s opulent European surroundings: picture incredible paintings, marble statues of muses from Greek mythology that mark the grand staircase, and Venetian chandeliers (of which it is said that the Palace has the largest collection).
Past the library decked out in teak and rosewood – the library boasts a rare collection
Aerial view of the Gol Bungalow, Taj Falaknuma Palace
The Palace's horse carriage