Luxury travel in India is usually associated with the grand heritage hotels of Rajasthan – splendidly restored palaces and forts. However, there is now a “new gem on the block” – the Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad.
South-central India’s counterpart to the Mughal splendours of the northern cities of Delhi and Agra, Hyderabad is well worth including in a tour of India. One of the wealthiest of India’s former princely states, having built its fortune on the trade of pearls, gold and diamonds, it is known as the ‘City of Pearls’.
Its vibrant culture, in part a legacy of the tastes and patronage of the cultured Nizams, is vividly reflected in the Falaknuma Palace. Built in 1894 on a hill above Hyderabad, this “mirror of the sky”, was a fantasy of 19th-century European style, all the rage in aristocratic India at the time. Designed by British architect William Ward Marret, this royal abode featured billiards and smoking rooms, a library, a dining room to seat 101 guests (at the world’s largest dining table) ballrooms, pools, croquet lawns, manicured gardens and terraces with views of the city. It became the residence of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad until 1911, after which it was used as a royal guesthouse for dignitaries.
Abandoned in the early 1950s, Falaknuma shared the same fate as many of India’s magnificent forts and palaces after Independence. Starved of funds for maintenance, it slowly fell to rack and ruin. In 2000 the Taj Group of Hotels began a fourteen year, $US35 million restoration of the palace that has returned it to its former glory. Today a luxury hotel of grand marble staircases, stained-glass windows and fountains, its rooms and halls are decorated with ornate furniture, handcrafted tapestries and brocades, Venetian chandeliers, intricate frescos and rare artefacts, including paintings, statues and manuscripts.
The Taj Falaknuma Palace signifies the end of an era; the current Nizam, Mukarram Jah, turned his back on Hyderabad to become a sheep farmer in Western Australia. He now lives in Turkey. (John Zubrzycki tells his fascinating story –and that of the Nizams of Hyderabad – in ‘The Last Nizam’).
Two of our tours of India – Four Gems of the South and The Deccan Plateau – begin at Hyderabad. Adding a couple of days stay at the Falaknuma Palace affords you an opportunity to experience life as it was lived by the Nizams in all its richness and decadence and pomp and ceremony.