Sunday, August 17, 2014

At Falaknuma Palace for a Special Event

The Falaknuma Palace looms over Hyderabad from its beautiful perch atop a hill. For years we passed by the palace as we went to Barkas to play league matches. Then we heard that this beautiful palace has been converted into an exclusive Taj heritage hotel.
The Falaknuma palace

So it was a wonderful opportunity to visit this fine part of Hyderabad's history and also meet our friends when Vandana invited us to be part of the celebrations on her father's 93rd birthday. The entire family was staying at the hotel and there was high tea on one day and dinner on another. Vandana is a dear friend of ours and her father, famous writer and poet and Padmashri awardee Prof Shiv K. Kumar is someone who has encouraged me on the writing journey, right from the days I read out a few pages of my first book to him many years ago.
The city of Hyderabad from the balcony

Vandana's younger brother, Manish, a successful businessman in the USA, hosted the high tea and dinner graciously. He had come with his friends and business partners, Jose and his fiancee Caroline and Joyce from the US. For dinner the next day another associate from Canada, Altaf joined them. Prof Kumar's older son Neeraj, his wife, son Neel and his fiance Monisha were present too. Of course Vandana and her husband Ramesh and son Seshu rounded off the party. Much love for Prof. Shiv Kumar who was visibly happy.

Anjali in foreground, Nizam Mahboob Ali Khan's portrait in the background
So we went to the fabulous Falaknuma palace 'The Mirror of the sky', home of the 6th Nizam of Hyderabad Mahboob Ali Khan. As a ruler Mahboob Ali Khan was much loved and cherished by his subjects and there remain many institutions and developmental works taken up by him including Mahboobia college and many others.

The palace was constructed by the Prime Minister of Hyderabad and Berar, Vicar-Ul-Umra. Construction o the palace was started in 1884 and was completed by 1893 at an estimated cost of Rs. 60 lakhs. It is built up over an area of 94,000 square meters approx. The Vicar lived here until he handed it over to the Nizam Mahboob Ali Khan in 1897. The Nizam lived here for his lifetime and was used until the 7th Nizam moved out in 1950. The last guest at the palace was the first President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad in 1951. In 2000 the palace was given to the Taj Hotels on a 30 year lease by the last Nizam, Mukharam Jah. Taj spent 10 years in restoring the palace and an estimated 150 crores. 

One of the many chandeliers
The entrance to the hotel off the main road is rather non-descript as the road turns off quietly into a mud road. The security chaps at the gates need some confirmation from the guests of the hotel else you will not be let in. The ride goes up to the main gates, past what appear to be horse stables, where you deposit the car. After the mandatory security check you are transported in a car or a golf cart to the main hotel. The hotel guests get welcome drinks and a shower of rose petals too which is unexpected and much liked by the guests. Perhaps the Nizam had these traditions.
Anjali in the ladies 'gossip' room

We went along with a bunch of regular tourists on a guided tour. The guide was extremely knowledgeable and likeable, with a genial smile and lots of patience. The tourists were the same as always - sitting in the chairs where the royalty sat, taking pictures and videos busily.
The magnificent courtyard behind the palace
The palace was designed by an English architect and looks and feels like an English palace. It is shaped like a scorpion.
The palace from the courtyard
The tea  was masala tea, Hyderabadi style.
A surprise cake from the hotel, on one of the balconies - Vandana with her parents
A picture of contentment - Mr. and Mrs. Shiv K. Kumar
The views were brilliant. You can see the Charminar and the Golconda. As you pass the main building you go into the courtyards behind and the balconies that offer you views - Shamshabad airport for one.
The famous dining table that can seat 101
A sufi quawwali group sings beautifully. The inside courtyards remind you a bit of Chowmahalla palace. The rooms are lined alongside.

The opulence strikes you. The care and design is amazing. The dining hall with its famous table that seats 101 guests and its fabled acoustic were tested. Huge chandeliers, paintings, status, wood work, furniture - it all takes your breath away. There is beauty but then there is also a sense of desolation. But one must visit the palace to get a glimpse of how the Nizams lived, the rich and famous lived. I could not help thinking that it must be a lonely life to be  up there, with the world at your feet, a bunch of sycophants who may not tell you the truth ever.

The birthday was a special event. The hotel thoughtfully organised a small cake at one of the balconies, complete with a red carpet. Prof Shiv Kumar spoke before dinner and recited a lovely poem. It was wonderful.

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