An hour flight from Mumbai is Hyderabad. It’s a 400-year-old city that’s quickly emerging as India’s Silicon Valley; all the big tech companies have offices there. Just 30 minutes from the airport, you will find one of the most incredible palace hotels in the world – Taj Falaknuma Palace. It was built by Nawab Vikar-ul-Umra, the former Prime Minister of Hyderabad and then bought by the Nizams. For two centuries (until Indian independence in 1947), seven Nizams ruled Hyderabad and H.H. the 6th Nizam had 17 palaces but he chose this one so you know it’s special. Here are 10 reasons why you would think so too:
Guests get picked up at the airport in a sleek, shiny, new Jaguar. Once you arrive at the palace gates, porters take your bags and guests are transported in a horse-drawn carriage for one of the grandest hotel arrivals on earth. When you reach the hotel entrance, you’ll be greeted with welcome drinks and cold towels before being escorted up the grand marble staircases where you’re showered with rose petals! It’s an incredible and unforgettable arrival. A beautiful receptionist gives you a traditional flowered lei and greeting before checking you in.
2. The property
If your jaw didn’t drop on the arrival, then it will once you tour the main building. They even have a resident historian to give interested guests a free educational tour. Before arriving, I saw pictures so I sort of knew what to expect but the photos didn’t do it justice and mine certainly don’t either. Highlights of the palace interior include 18 types of marble, 16 types of wood and 10 types of chandeliers. The Gol bungalow was modeled after the White House on one side and Buckingham Palace on the other. There’s a palace library with 5,970 books and guests can actually read 150 of them.
3. Billiards and dining Room
Having a drink in the upstairs bar and playing pool in the billiards room alone would make for a memorable night. But if you have lots of cash, then host a dinner in the dining room since it’s the world’s most luxurious and has the longest dining table you’ve ever seen, seating 101 people. There are Victorian culinary scenes painted all along the ceiling so the Nizam could just point to what kind of food he wanted for dinner. The acoustics in the dining room are amazing. Natalie and I sat on opposites ends of the table (108 feet apart) and even though we could barely see each other, we were able speak in our normal voices and carry on a regular conversation.
There are 60 luxurious guestrooms and suites all of which Her Highness Princess Ezra added personal touches to during the restoration project a few years ago. The palace might be historical but the rooms are modern with down duvets and pillows, flat screen TVs with satellite and a DVD player, Wi-Fi (costs $13 day), a marble bathroom with a deep soaking tub, separate shower and Ploh bathrobes. Note: They don’t have any feather pillows but they do have a pillow menu. Guests can use their signature Jiva all-natural bath products in the room.
The palace sits 2,000 feet above Hyderabad (though it didn’t feel like we were that high) and the sunrises and sunsets were unbelievable. Unfortunately, it must be from the city’s pollution because you rarely see a sun that red.
There are two main restaurants: Adaa which serves traditional Hyderbadi cuisine with high tables and low chairs (here’s a dish-by-dish post of one of my dinners) and Celeste that offers classical Italian and Mediterranean fare. Even though I was told the chef at Celeste was trained by the chefs at the Cipriani Hotel in Venice, I was still skeptical. After all, I’m half Italian so that right there gives me the right to be an Italian food snob. How could an Indian chef in India make authentic pasta? I’m glad I didn’t bet because I would’ve lost my shirt. If I didn’t know where I was, my palate would’ve sworn I was in Italy. Seriously. I also tried a dish called Corn Two Ways, which is salt and pepper golden corn kernels and a separate dish of baby corn with honey chili and it was out of this world.
For breakfast they use the tables inside Celeste but if you get there early before it gets too hot, you can eat on the Jade Verandah, which has sweeping views of the city. The breakfast buffet has tons of local food like Upma and Poha and international options like banana pancakes and pastries that will tempt you to break your diet.
I’m not a boozer so I didn’t appreciate their extensive list of alcohol but I do know their welcome drink alone is worth coming for. And don’t forget to try all the fresh juices and unique concoctions like orange with cilantro.
8. Local musicians
Once a week the hotel has a group of local musicians who are roughly between the ages of 16 and 23 who are so talented I’m shocked they don’t have their own CD. The hotel should fund it and sell it in the gift shop – I would have bought one.
There are 240 staff for just 120 guests. They are all friendly and considerate. For example, Natalie and I got up early to watch the sunrise. One of the gardeners saw us walking down a path with a sprinkler on and he ran ahead to re-direct it so we wouldn’t get wet.
10. Jiva Spa
Upon arrival at the spa, they serve Vishuddhi chai (lemon juice, jaggary and holy basil), which I had to ask for seconds of. Then they escorted me to the locker rooms where they have hot and cold shower experiences, steam and sauna. Everyone needs to wear disposable underwear while getting a treatment and my masseuse was a little fireball from Northeast India. After she washed my feet in warm water filled with rose petals, she then asked if she could wash her own hands. The massage was so good, all I remember is that she was so small that she got up on the table to massage my lower back, glutes and inner thighs.
Good to Know
– Rack rates at Taj Falaknuma Palace begin at 38,500INR ($745) but you can find much cheaper deals through tour operators.
-The 8th Nizam is still alive and lives in Turkey. His daughter Princess Ezra lives in Santa Barbara, CA and helped with the restorations.
–Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII (the seventh Nizam) was the richest man in the world in 1940 and was on the cover of Time Magazine.
-The Palace took 22 years to design and 10 years to build.
-The word ‘Taj’ means monument of love.
-‘Falaknuma’ means ‘mirror of the sky’ which is why the princess insisted the exterior color be painted more than 100 times until it perfectly matched the color of the sky at dusk.
-The hotel can arrange for a local tour guide to take you to the nearby Chowmahalla Palace (built in 1720) and some other museums. The highlight of our tour was finishing at the Laad Bazaar where you can buy stone set bangles, which come from here.
-An unskilled worker in India makes just 10INR ($0.19) an hour.
-In Hyderabad, 60% of the population of Muslim and the other 40% is Hindu.
-Gas costs 73INR a liter ($1.41). Diesel costs 45INR ($0.87).