Taj Falaknuma Palace hotel, Hyderabad, India (photo by Brad A. Johnson)
On the outskirts of modern, high-tech Hyderabad, on a hilltop in the heart of the Old City, one of India’s finest historic palaces recently opened as a luxury hotel.Falaknuma Palace sat empty for much of the last half century, sealed up like a time capsule as a curious reminder of what life must have been like for the royal courts before India gained its independence. It took several years to dust off the cobwebs and remove the overgrown weeds from throughout the sprawling estate, but after years of painstaking restoration overseen by the former princess herself, along with Taj Hotels as a partner, the time capsule has been opened. Falaknuma Palace has been reborn. This is a truly stunning hotel, an otherworldly experience, a retreat of a lifetime. The service, the cuisine, the history and the glamour… This is India at its finest. Just make sure to schedule two or three utterly lazy days where you don’t have to leave the estate. Here’s a look around:
Horse-drawn carriage at Falaknuma Palace (photos by Brad A. Johnson)
Guests arrive at the palace by horse-drawn carriage, just as they did back in the palace’s heyday. Cars go no farther than large gated arch midway up the hill. Horses take it from there, arriving in front of the palace beneath a shower of rose petals.
Falaknuma Palace (photos by Brad A. Johnson)
The 60-room hotel feels more like a museum than a hotel. Much of the furnishings are original to the palace, which was built in the late 1890s. “Is it really OK to be sitting in this chair with this orange-coriander mojito in my hand?” I keep asking myself as I’m slouching into an elaborately carved armchair upholstered in Damask silk.
The Hookah Lounge (photos by Brad A. Johnson)
The former saloon, now the Hookah Lounge, is no longer reserved strictly for men, and it looks pretty much the way it did when the Nizam entertained here, except that the billiards table has obviously been recovered with new green felt. The sweet smell of hookah shisha hangs lightly in the air, mingled with blooming jasmine and Old World dust. The cocktails here are incredible, especially the jasmine sour martini and the oriange-coriander mojito.
The formal dining hall (photo by Brad A. Johnson)
Adjacent to the Hookha Lounge is the formal dining hall, which is now reserved only for special occasions (weddings, birthdays), for which the original 100-seat dining table, said to be the world’s longest, is still in use.
A royal suite in the former women’s quarters (photo by Brad A. Johnson)
The former women’s quarters—where females were previously kept segregated from the males—have been turned into the hotel’s premier guest rooms, each outfitted with antique beds and dramatic marble baths. An army of butlers tends to guests’ needs and whims around the clock.
The inner courtyards (photos by Brad A. Johnson)
The grounds are lushly landscaped and rustically maintained, a tranquil oasis planted with jacarandas, palm trees, rose bushes and night jasmine.
Dining at Falaknuma Palace (photos by Brad A Johnson)
Most of the dining takes place at two new restaurants, Adaa and Celeste, located on the backside of the palace overlooking Hyderabad’s predominantly muslim Old Town. Adaa serves exquisite Indian fare plated in the style of French haute cuisine. Celeste serves Italian and Mediterranean food, which I never got around to trying because every time I was hungry, i couldn’t resist the Indian food at Adaa.
The pool (photo by Brad A. Johnson)
Taj has opened one of its signature Jiva Spas here, and as you might expect, it’s a blissful retreat within the palace grounds. The pool is a bit rustic, in a decadent, carefree sort of way, rimmed with grass (trimmed by hand) and flowering trees, which provide plenty of shade for comfortable chaise lounges.