Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Fairytale called Falaknuma

This is my labor of love, it's terribly long (a 4 page feature) and I'm enormously vain!

Agar firdaus bar roo-e-zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o, hameen ast

If there is a paradise on Earth,
It is this, it is this, it is this.

This famous farsi couplet by Amir Khusro which was used by Emperor Jahangir to describe the beauty of Kashmir might have well been used in another generation and time to describe the magnificence of Falaknuma Palace, the crown jewel amongst the 32 palaces in the city.

Rows of Ashoka trees herald you as you gently trudge up the 200 ft hillock, as you make your way through the crest embossed iron gates. What you see is impressive- an elegant structure not imposing but welcoming, done in monochromes and on a cloudy day the visage of the building merges with the sky above. Falaknuma is no ordinary residence/palace, a symbol of royal splendor and Nizamian grandeur, a byword for the imperial legacy of our city, a personification of the lifestyle of some of the richest people in the world and most importantly the grande dame of the lap of luxury.

As the palace makes the journey from being a royal residence to a heritage hotel it is clear that almost 120 years after it was first used, the glory of the place remains undiminished and intriguingly unparalleled. Yes, the changes are many and varied for example the erstwhile bedroom of the Nizam is the concierge now and the luxurious breakfast room is a conference hall with latest AV equipment and inbuilt wi-fi technology. The change to modernity not withstanding, the palace remains true to the premise it was laid on, that of being the epitome of opulence away from the often crackled cacophony of the city.

The most enchanting fact however, is that the significant splendor does not diminish the visitor, in fact the visitor is blended into the regality and becomes a part of it all, be it while taking a stroll in the 32 acre gardens where tiger cubs were once kept as pets, visiting the gracious grounds where every important visiting dignitary including the Queen of England and the last Tsar of Russia held court or sitting in the magnificent mahogany walled Imperial library modeled on the lines of the Windsor library with a ceiling of ornate teak and which has 5900 books preserved in neem leaves including the first edition of encyclopedia.

Every part of the latticed windows, carpeted floors or the gazebo which overlooks the city and has a ‘window to the sky’ made of stained glass transports you into a sepia tinted era of splendor of the Palace whose fortune was so legendary that the world famous Jacob Diamond was used as a paper weight and where the three dimensional eagle painting in the lobby still intrigues experts. Falaknuma is work of art and a labor of love which still stands tall as a symbol of grace, regality and charm of a bygone era.

The Past:

Falaknuma, literally means a reflection of the sky or the heavenly abode whereas the English preferred to call it a mirror of the sky. Interesting, this stately palace built by Vikar- ul- Umra- Bahadur in 1882 was painted in whites and light blue so that it merges with the sky. Built at a then staggering cost of 40 lakhs, it was originally a hunting lodge. The antecedents of the property are various but the reliable version states that the sixth Nizam, Mahboob Ali Khan was so overwhelmed by the tales of hospitality and munificence that he got himself invited and did not want to leave even after extending his visit by initially a week and later on a fortnight. Keeping with the governing tradition of the time which simply stated that the Nizam gets gifted anything he liked, Vikar- ul- Umra gifted the palace to him. Contrary to sources which say that the Nizam bought the palace, the Nizam merely gave a certain sum of money to Vikar- ul-Umra because the latter had exhausted his resources by building some of the grandest palaces in Hyderabad.

Falaknuma was the penultimate fairyland where 400 odd servants worked choc a bloc and dinner was served on gold plates. The Jade Room with hand painted ceilings, Belgian chandeliers and breath taking views was where an invitation to afternoon tea was as sought after as an audience to the Nizam himself. The state reception room and the staircase are unique to the palace with the former having a ceiling carved with frescoes.

What Falaknuma did in that time was to introduce a lifestyle of luxury unheard of and simply put, the best in the world. Built on the lines of some of Europe’s best palaces and in the shape of a scorpion this heaven on earth had crockery from Dalton, eleven kinds of wood, rarest of rare paintings from France and master craftsmanship from Italy where even the doors of wardrobes were made of pure crystal. Another interesting fact was that Falaknuma was a place of firsts- having the first generators from England, the first petrol bunk, first refrigerators from GE or the first telephone line in town. The opulence was such that even Queen Victoria’s celebrations of being the longest serving monarch of England were celebrated here.

The Present:

Transformed into a heritage property by the Taj after almost 10 years of exhausting restoration efforts at an approximate cost of 100 crores where at one point 800 workers were involved, the new Falaknuma remains a symbol of the pride of Hyderabad. As the city makes the transformation from the being the Nizam’s state to a burgeoning IT hub, it is only seeming that this symbol of stature is again the crown jewel. Consisting of 60 rooms including 15 suites and priced from 33k-5 lakhs, each room recalls the way of life of yore- replete with a personal wing man or butlers and service which allures you with a tinge of the royal ways of past.

The guests are welcomed with a shower of rose petals, and the world famous staircase is lined with photographs of Governor Generals of British India, most of who were guests at the palace. The changes are made painstakingly with the minutiae of details being given grave attention like the new quarters do not use cement but lime and mortar like the rest of the Palace, the bath robes are made of ikkat and the lining of wardrobes with our very own Pochampally silks. The original study of the Nizam remains intact and most of the furniture are period pieces, be it the Chinese tree of life closet in the Kids bedroom which has an inlaid mother of pearl or the erstwhile gossip room which has antique chairs in new upholstery. The gracious grounds, charming courtyards, the intricate tapestry of the zenana quarters all of them succeed in lacing a visitors stay with a regal touch.

The Nizam suite at 5 lakhs per night is one of the costliest in India and comes with a duplex bungalow within the palace and has a private garden, swimming pool, spa and kitchen.

The two restaurants Adaa and Celeste signify the two pillars of the palace, Indian and foreign. While the former serves authentic Hyderabadi food, the latter serves Italian and Mediterranean cuisines. Celeste, a 30 seater restaurant is done in pastels and the menu, music and food change according to the time of the day. The crockery is imported from nine countries and promises to serve a heavenly eating experience. Adaa, with traditional chowkees as chairs has recipes handed down from the oldest families of Hyderabad. A meal for two at either of the restaurants would cost you around 4500 rupees.

The elegance of Falaknuma is timeless and its seamless splendor such that generations have been entranced by it, no wonder that a century on it manages to remain as spellbinding as it was intended to be. What Falaknuma Palace was, is and will remain is a pearl drop forever etched on the cheek of time.

I hit a century of posts..yay!


sayrem said...

I had a hunch you might turn out to be real Romantic. ;)

obssesor said...

And I am just mightily glad that you are back!

Pesto Sauce said...

Have heard so much about this place, must be really something

Rats said...

A worthy one

me said...

Drum Roll!