Hyderabad has never really featured in our minds as a tourist or travel destination in India. But when we discovered what seemed like more than a hotel, the Taj Falaknuma Palace, we knew we just had to experience it and just like that Hyderabad skyrocketed to the top of our travel bucket list for 2014.
Falaknuma. The word literally translates to “like the sky”. When Nawab Vikar-Ul-Umra built this palace in 1884 his intention was to create a world on earth that mirrored the heavens. Clearly he succeeded when the visiting Nizaam decided never to leave, but buy the property instead. We seldom feature a hotel as a destination, but Taj Falaknuma, really is a destination in itself. Hotel, Restaurant, Monument, Historic Tours with the locals, Stunning Views and Shopping all rolled into one? When’s the next flight?
We fell in love with the Palace even before we stepped into the main building. Whisked away from the airport by an extremely polite driver who turned the air conditioning way up so we could pretend it wasn’t burning 35 degrees outside. The long drive to the Palace was delightful, as we looked out of our windows in between orienting ourselves with the maps and other literature that had been so thoughtfully placed in the car.
We drove through the winding road uphill to the second gate of the property where we alighted, and after a quick and discreet security scan were treated to something rather unimaginable. A real horse-drawn buggy, to take us through the palace grounds to the main building. We were later told that it had been recreated using the salvaged parts of the real carts that belonged to this palace. A short ride to the rhythmic sound of the horses hooves, and we pulled up with precision at the red tile that marked the alighting spot at the foot of the Palace stairs.
We were greeted with a unique welcome drink we’d already heard paeans about. Cold, green, sweet and refreshing, it went down pretty quick. We were then ushered up the stairs, when it suddenly began to rain. No, we didn’t rush to escape any water, we looked up and smiled as pink petals showered down on us from above. At the threshold, a smiling face welcomed us with a traditional sprinkle of rose water and bracelets of Jasmine. I gasped at the marble fountain in front of us. Yes, we had found our way into heaven.
The Palace Building:
The Palace itself is shaped like a scorpion (the owner’s star sign) and we were in what was the main Palace building. We made an appointment with the historian for a champagne tour of the property (which is a complimentary offering with every stay, read about our experience here) [coming soon] as we passed beautiful frescoes, Italian marble, crystal chandeliers, sweeping staircases and through a carpeted library to the gardens, along the periphery of which was our room.
The corridor along the garden was lined with doors to rooms. Midway through, was ours. Beyond the large white doors was our home for the weekend. Wooden flooring, Burma teak beams, a bed with a headboard canopy that was very reminiscent of Versailles, a wonderful writing desk, and lots of wood furniture. We walked around, inspecting the room like we always do, but nothing could have prepared us for what lay behind the bathroom door. A shower with golden fittings, a cupboard with the softest robes, and… a bathtub enclosure surrounded with mirrored tiles. It was so luxe, so glamorous, so over the top, I loved it. We were told that we could ask for a bath to be drawn up anytime by calling Palace Services, and choosing from a range of ingredients. The next morning, we enjoyed a wonderfully relaxing soak in a Milk Bath. The bath products were in keeping with the Indian royal theme, by Forest Essentials, possibly the only Ayurveda brand in India that gets it right in terms of luxury. The scrub was just divine, and I’m going to set out to find myself some. No stinky, ugly potions or scrubs here. Oh, and while it may sound really trivial, the shower cap was just perfect. For someone with really long hair, most hotel shower caps can make me feel like I have a humongous head because they never fit, these were just the right size.
Turndown service in the evenings reminded us of a term we’d used for housekeeping at Maradiva Villas and Spa, Mauritius; efficient little elves. All our personal effects like sunglasses, footwear, jewellery had been placed on appropriately sized pieces of soft cloth. A platter of dessert on the coffee table, a silver tray of rose petals and body lotion on the bed. Now you know what I did before going to bed. The mattress and pillows by the way, we completely sank into.
Wifi wasn’t free but we really didn’t feel the need for it, so I can’t tell you what the speed and connectivity was like.
The Gardens and Grounds:
The Taj Falaknuma Palace is made for walks. Romantic moonlit strolls after a satiating dinner, leisurely morning walks to explore the nooks and corners of the property, wonderful sunset walks to gaze at the city view or early mornings spent chasing the sound of the resident peacocks. The entire property is shaped like a scorpion, so there’s a garden on either side of the belly, with fountains that attract birds, and trees that make sitting in the shade an absolute delight. We even saw the staff constantly cleaning it, every fallen leaf or flower swept away within seconds, lest the place seem like an imperfect paradise for even a moment.
There were two restaurants for us to choose from at night. By day, only Celeste, the all day multi cuisine restaurant that was full of people slowly waking up at breakfast and near- empty during lunchtime. Adaa, the Indian restaurant was only open for dinner and always at full capacity (remember to book in advance). We enjoyed a tasting menu that left us wondering how the Nizaam could keep this rich cuisine up day after day. Read all about our dinner at Adaa here. [Coming Soon] Both the restaurants had a common open area, the wonderful Gol Bungalow, where we enjoyed our dinner under the stars and above the city lights while breakfast came with a clear view of the horizon beyond the sunbathed rooftops.
The Pool and Spa:
Nestled in a corner away from any possible sound was the pool, designed like a grottoesque water body complete with a bridge over it and surrounded by bushes, grass, shrubs and trees. A very natural environment, that possibly made us forget we were in a city. The Jiva spa is well lit, and airily open unlike regular city spas that require to be completely closed off from the world and its elements. We did notice that all the spa rooms were occupied, so we’d recommend booking in advance.
While this Palace houses some splendid antiques, all the stories of jewels and treasures from a time bygone, had us wishing we could carry some treasures of our own back home. We were told that the Falaknuma could arrange for us to have an appointment with the jeweller to the Nizaam, but we decided to stroll downstairs to the Taj Khazana store that had a wonderful collection of ethnic souvenirs, jewellery, decor and clothing.
If there’s one thing that really stood out at this particular hotel (apart from the fact that we were surrounded be real history, like real guests of a palace in the 1800s, walking around among antiques like they were daily objects) was the royal service. We’ve always been fans of Taj hospitality after our wonderful experience at the Taj Gateway, Nashik, but the staff at Taj Falaknuma really took it to another level, preempting our every move, ensuring everything was taken care of. We left the Taj Falaknuma Palace feeling elated at having enjoyed the royal treatment, miserable at the prospect of having to come back to earth.Taj Falaknuma Palace, Engine Bowli, Falaknuma, Hyderabad – 500053, India Telephone: +91 40 6629 8585 Fax: +91 40 6629 8586 http://www.tajhotels.com/Luxury/Grand-Palaces-And-Iconic-Hotels/Taj-Falaknuma-Palace-Hyderabad/Overview.html Doubles from Rs. 19,125/-
Oh but we weren’t done with Hyderabad yet. Read on to find out all about the Taj Krishna, which is where we went next.
This post was made possible by the wonderful people at Taj Falaknuma but the opinions as always, are our own.