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.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Life -

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

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