An authentic sense of royalty
For leisure, MICE, wedding or just gastronomy Taj Falaknuma Palace is an ideal venue says
Chandragupta Amritkar after a visit to this royal palace
aving heard a lot about Taj Falaknuma Palace from many
friends including Veer Vijay Singh, COO of the Taj
Group – Vivanta by Taj Hotels I decided to visit the
palace when I go to Hyderabad. The occasion arose while staying at Vivanta by Taj – Begumpet and I gave a call to Girish Sehgal, GM, Taj Falaknuma Palace Hyderabad. He immediately
invited me to a dinner. The drive in the evening took quite some
time but was worth it. The palace is impressive and so is its GM.
Dressed perfectly to the occasion, Girish Sehgal took me across
the palace courtyard for dinner. Appreciating the publication he
invited me to the palace along with my family to experience the
Giving due respect to the invitation I went to Hyderabad again
after a fortnight and it was truly a royal experience.
Taj Falaknuma Palace (which is just an hour’s flight from
Mumbai) is the former residence of the Nizam of Hyderabad. At
the airport I was picked up in a sleek, shiny Jaguar. A comfortable
45 minutes drive later I arrived at the palace entrance an imposing stone arch. All vehicles have to be left at this gate. After going
through the security I was picked up by a horse carriage (there are
buggies also). Since I reached early in the morning I could feel
the excellent breeze and the chirping of the birds as the horse carriage proceeded to the main palace gates. Girish Sehgal himself
was there to receive me and was greeted with welcome drinks and
cold towels. I got a royal salute as a guard waited holding a gold
plate embossed with the palace coat of arms. As Girish Sehgal
and I walked up the grand marble staircases I suddenly sensed a
rose petal shower. Girish Sehgal smiled at my surprised face and
said, “This is how we great all our guests upon arrival. This is
how Nizam used to be greeted and so were his royal guests. Many
feel it as incredible and unforgettable arrival. We are only trying
to recreate the bygone aura of royalty.” I had to agree with him.
It’s truly a wonderful gesture and a beautiful reception before
We Indians have seen a lot of palace and heritage hotels right
from Rajasthan to Kerala; Uttar Pradesh to Gujarat; Madhya
Pradesh to Tamil Nadu. But this magnificent abode of the Nizams
is something different. While most are simply redone, this one
has undergone a lot of restoration. Under the guidance of Princess
Esra, The Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces have successfully
restored it to its former glory.
The word ‘Falaknuma’ means ‘mirror of the sky’ as it was built
in the clouds, 2,000 feet above Hyderabad. Set in 32 acres of land
and spread over 19400 square meters, the Palace was commissioned by Sir Nawab Vikar-Ul Umra, a Hyderabadi nobleman, the
former Prime Minister of Hyderabad. It caught the eye of the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, Mahbub Ali Pasha, Sir Vikar's brother-in-law who much appreciated it. As per the time-honoured tradition Sir Nawab Vikar-Ul Umra offered it as a gift to him.
Built in 1894, designed by British architect William Mard Marret and laid out in the shape of a scorpion, the palace took 10
years and four million rupees to complete. It took even longer, a
whole 22 years to decorate it to its final
Over the years it
was visited by European monarchs and
illustrious guests as
King George V and
Tsar Nicholas II, the
Duke of Windsor,
heads of state and distinguished governors.
It was later used as a
royal guesthouse for
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dignitaries. Abandoned in the early 1950s and lack of funds made
Falaknuma share the same fate as many of India's magnificent
forts and palaces faced. Even today maintaining such a big property is no joke. In fact, the last guest was the first President of
India, Dr Rajendra Prasad in 1951.
Since 1995, The Taj Group of Hotels has sensitively restored
the palace to its former glory. There were quite a few challenges
in the restoration process - retaining the eclectic blend of Renaissance architecture, Baroque style, French charm, art deco sensibilities and various other inspirations while retaining its true-blue
Nizam flavour. Taj flew artisans and experts in from around the
world to restore the artifacts, Belgian chandeliers and portraits.
Thanks to their efforts even today most of the furniture is original. The amazing fact is that the wood in this palace has not sullied and the restoration experts only touched them up to bring
back the old shine. The Falaknuma palace is a rare blend of Italian and Tudor architecture. Its stained glass windows throw a
spectrum of colour into the rooms. It houses a large collection of
rare treasures including paintings, statues, furniture, manuscripts
Walking into the palace hall I was fascinated by the ceiling
which is decorated with frescoes and gilded relief’s. Every painting has a three dimensional effect especially an eagle that has its
eye revolving to every corner of the room.
This being a notch above the normal five star hotels don’t be
surprised if you find there’s no reception desk, concierge, or even
a check in counter. “The whole idea is to make you feel that you
are a guest in the Nizam’s own home,” said Girish Sehgal.
I was led to my room by my very own butler. On the way I was
informed that I will be staying in the Begum Suite (one of the the
Grand Royal Suites) a room in which Princess Esra stayed while
her very own palace was getting done and a faviourite choice of
some of the bollywood stars. He also informed me that the palace
has 60 rooms - Luxury Rooms, Palace Rooms, Historical Suites,
Royal Suites, Grand Royal Suites and Grand Presidential Suites.
As I entered the room the décor and its beauty caught my attention. The palace might be historical but the rooms are modern
with flat screen TVs and a DVD player, Wi-Fi (unfortunately its
not complimentary), a marble bathroom, separate shower and
nice bathrobes. The bathroom was spacious with a colossal mar-
ing room not only had a set of sofa sets but a nice dinning table
(there was already a banquet of refreshments laid out for me)
incase I wanted to invite friends. The view from the room was
amazing as it overlooked the forest and every morning I made it
a point to get the fresh air.
In the afternoon Girish Sehgal arranged for a tour with the
palace historian Prabhakar Mahindrakar, who has been at the
palace for decades. He recalled those days when there were cobwebs, dripping of water through the ceiling on rainy nights and
tons of dust.
He started off from the entrance moving into the palace hall.
On your right of the hall is the Nizam Study room, where even
today the personalized stationery used by the Last Nizam is there
including a telephone directory that kept direct numbers for President and other dignitaries. He said that the palace was one of the
first to have telephone and electrical system and one of the largest
at that time. On the left is waiting room and behind this room is
the Children room/Kings bed room that has the portraits of Azam
jah and Moazzam jah.
In the main foyer is a two-ton manually operated music organ
said to be the only one of its kind in the world. It is made by Reed
and Company (U K) and could play 36 different sounds when it
was working. This organ contains 36 cylinders which were used
individually to produce different kinds of music.
But what catches ones eye instantly is the engineering marvel a suspended marble staircase with four ornamental pillar supports
on the ground. There are a total of 8 statues. All along the Marble
Staircase there are 36 photographs of British viceroys who
worked as the Governor General of India and also Viceroys.
Above the central hall we have beautiful wooden ceiling (height
is 57ft/18 meter) which doesn’t have any vertical and horizontal
From here we proceeded to the Library which has a walnut
carved roof that’s a replica of the one at Windsor Castle. It is one
of the grandest rooms in the Palace with a ceiling of ornate teak
and rosewood coffers. It also has one of the finest collections of
the holy Quran in India. The total number of books are nearly
5900 with many a rare collection of books like the first edition of
the Titanic, Encyclopedia from the early 1900 etc.
On the right of the library is a Ladies sitting room/Gossip room
utilized for afternoon tea and to socialize. One can see begum’s
bed room along with washroom having a bath tub (made out of
single piece of marble) which had pipes flowing hot and cold
Grand Royal Begum Suite
ble bath tub with gold taps (they were kind enough to make the
bath tub ready for a floral bath with rose petal and fragrance each
afternoon) with excellent amenities and a touch of gold. The livGlobal Destinations
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water. There are also pores through which water jutted out gives
a Jacuzzi effect.
We then went upstairs climbing the suspended staircase on to
the Jade room that has a timber paneled false ceiling with gilded
molding in timber and lime stucco. The design of the Jade room
is a treat for all those who love symmetry. Right from the floor
design to the ceiling and the parapet design to the wardrobe structure in the room, everything follows a definite pattern. Venetian
Chandeliers adorn the ceiling of different rooms. All these chandeliers are of Belgian make and custom-made by Osler. Each of
these chandeliers weighed almost 500-600 kilograms. Afternoon
tea can be had from 3pm to 5 pm.
The Billiards Room has a Snooker on a custom-made table,
built specially for the Nizam by Burroughs and Watts from London. Embossed leather paneling marries well with the gold and
the red of the drapes which cloak the area in its opulence.
The Palace’s Smoking Room, an area off-limits to women even
today has patterned leather walls, timbered ceiling and is finished
in rich mahogany wood. If cigars aren’t your thing, walnut wood
screens give you semi-private access to a range of beautifully
crafted ‘hukkas’ transporting you to an era where smoking was as
much an art as it was a way to pass the time.
Durbar Hall is an imperial space used primarily for large gatherings and the room is also referred to as the ‘Ballroom in Paradise’. Durbar Hall is the place where some parts of coronation
ceremony of Prince Mukarram Jah Bahadur took place after he
was coroneted as the VIII Nizam of Hyderabad in 1967. This is
one of the most beautiful rooms in the palace and is said to look
like the Mythological Indra Bhavan.
The Dining Hall has the world’s largest dining table - seats 101
guests. I personally believe if you have the money and want to
treat your guests, clients, relatives lavishly (and certainly impress
them) then host them for a dinner on one of the world’s most luxurious dining table. The acoustics in the dining room are amazing
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and even if
other across the ends of the table you still can have a normal conversation. It has five big Belgian Chandeliers adorning the ceiling
and it has he biggest chandelier which consists of 42 branches.
Explaining the shape of the palace he said, “If one looks at the
rear wall of main palace, it resembles the Buckingham Palace and
the wall of Gol bungalow resembles the White house. The Gol
Bungalow that forms the tail has a dome structure with an iron
protrusion which seems like the sting of the scorpion.”
The Royal Jiva Spa is an experience. Spa offers wide range of
treatments comprising of massages, body scrubs and wraps, beauty treatments, yoga & meditation. The most popular is the
Falaknuma’s signature treatment – Nawab-e-khaas. I experienced
the Abhyanga. Upon arrival at the spa, they serve Vishuddhi chai
(lemon juice, jaggary and holy basil). The Spa wellness menu
employs the finest principles of Ayurvedic cooking, in a cuisine
devoid of additives, proprietary sauces and preservatives.
Gastronomy can be a pleasure. There are two restaurants - Adaa
which serves traditional Hyderbadi cuisine and Celeste that offers
classical Italian and Mediterranean fare and in the morning
becomes a breakfast venue. You must try the croissants and pick
something yummy from the pastry tray. I enjoyed the idllis at
breakfast. Some good dishes that I relished were – Dhai ke kebab,
Subz ki Gilawat, Shikanji Sorbet, Nizami Handi, Dhakhni Saag,
Subz Gulezar Biryani, and Beetroot Halwa.
Today Taj Falaknuma Palace, spread across 32 acres, is an ideal
place to go on a vacation and spend quality time with your family. The greenery around brings in a fresh breath of air and with
nature in abundance (The palace is home to many reptiles, over
80 species of birds including peacock and 40 species of butterflies). As the palace sits 2,000 feet above Hyderabad it makes
sure the guests enjoy the sunrises and sunsets.
“Taj Falaknuma Palace has become a destination in itself”
At just 37, Girish Sehgal has been the General Manager of
two of the most beautiful properties in Taj group - Taj Exotica Resort & Spa Maldives and now at the Taj Falaknuma
Palace. Born in India with Indian values and traditions,
Girish Sehgal has traversed across the globe gaining experience and spreading knowledge. Having worked in four
countries - United States, Canada, the Bahamas and the Maldives, he joined the Taj so that he could return to India and
his two children would grow up in an Indian environment,
understanding the culture and language. Already a popular
figure in the Hospitality Industry Chandragupta Amritkar
had an opportunity to interact with this humble GM of one
of the most luxurious palace hotels in the world. Excerpts
How did the Taj group think of restoring this palace?
It has to be attributed to the vision of our top management. Taj
group already manages some of the best palace hotels in India
and so it was but natural for us to take the Falaknuma for restoration. Her Highness Princess Ezra added personal touches during
the restoration project and was involved in each step. It took its
time but I am pleased to say the end product is a real beauty,
located on a hill top overlooking the city, you rarely see such richness.
the palace and know more about its history.
Can you throw more light on the palace tour?
Today we have lost touch with our past. The palace tour provides an opportunity for people to connect with our rich history
and revive our pride. For foreigners it’s a wonderful experience.
We have a historian Prabhakar Mahindrakar who takes the
guests around the palace. At 5.30 every evening theres an exclusive tour for resident guests. We have also three tours for non-resident guests linked to afternoon tea and guests coming for dinner
– in two seatings. On a daily basis we get 100-125 people for the
tours. In addition to these 4 tours we also organize special tours
What do think are its USPs?
The list would be pretty long. The whole arrival experience is
unique in the world as you have experienced it. From every location of the palace you have gorgeous view. We are one of those
few palaces where there’s such a large collection of unique artifacts right from chandeliers to paintings. Some of the lesser
known facts are that this is the first residence to have electricity
across the country, the first to have gas stations, the best stables
and some of the best horses as well as a fleet of latest imported
cars. We have tried to keep the rooms of the royal family as it is
so that guests are able to walk and experience the luxury and
lifestyle of the Nizams. Unlike in museums or most palaces
where you are not allowed to touch the artifacts, here you can sit
on the Nizam's chair, sofa reading a book or even write a letter at
his desk, use the begum's room as your family room for chatting
To experience the palace and Hyderabad what is the minimum stay that you would recommend?
Well it make take more than a week to explore the city, but ideally a 3-4 night stay would suffice. We have created itineraries
from one night to one week for our guests. Our location is a great
advantage as almost all the historic places as well as the shopping
lanes are within a radius of 15kms. We have some guests who
come exclusively to experience just the property and do not go to
the city as they have already seen Hyderabad.
What about the dinning locations?
Apart from our two restaurants - Adaa which serves traditional
Hyderbadi cuisine and Celeste
that offers classical Italian and
Mediterranean fare, we have 10
unique dinning locations. Right
from the picturesque Gol Bunglow or dining in the lap of
nature in the gardens or at the
poolside or just enjoying tea or
breakfast at the enchanting Jade
You have to have a booking
to enter the hotel. Your comments.
Our guests love the exclusivity. So only those who have
booked a room or booked a table
for breakfast or dinner can come
into the property. This is also for
security as we get a lot of dignitaries and bollywood stars who
do not want to be disturbed. For
the guests, even those who come
for dinning, we have a palace
tour so that they can get a feel of
Your Spa is also well known.
Yes. We are fortunate that we
get a lot of guests in the royal spa
Celeste Restaurant package which includes stay,
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Unique Features Of Taj Falaknuma Palace
• The palace had private automatic telephone exchange
nearly 100 years back
• First and one of its kind Rolls Royce silver ghost car
with built in throne custom built in 1911 which has
done only 365 miles in 100 years
• First custom built Burma shell petrol pump
• First biggest electrical switch board
• First general electrical refrigerator
• The royal library with nearly 6000 most priceless collections of manuscript and printed books
• Original buggy which Nizam VI used from 1895 until
1910 is still intact
• Palace has two original visitor’s book first introduced
in 1902 by Nizam VI and second one in 1911 by Nizam
• Feast your eyes at the optical illusions of the heavenly paintings at the foyer.
• A beautiful jade room cum drawing room where nearly over 100 million dollar worth jade articles are displayed
• The 101 Dining Hall with specially designed acoustics
that allow for conversation from one end of the table to
• Play a game of pool at the Billiards Room. There are
only two identical tables. One is in the Buckingham
Palace and the other is at the Falaknuma Palace
• Enjoy tea or breakfast at the enchanting Jade Room
or dinner at the picturesque Gol Bunglow while pointing
out to the Charminar and Mecca Masjid
• Vitamin M (money) permitting plan a dream wedding
at the magical surroundings of the palace.
treatments and specific cuisine prepared according to the spa
menu and as per the doctors.
What about MICE?
That’s a very important segment for us. Whether it is a private
business meeting of two or a conference of 50 with our state-ofthe-art technology Taj Falaknuma Palace can play host to business events providing you a range of options. We are already
arranging a lot of high end conferences. For those looking at luxury element in a conference then apart from Rajasthan palaces
they have no option but us. We get a lot International events too
where we have CEOs and directors of MNC attending events.
Some of them who come for leisure see our uniqueness and then
go ahead with their annual meets or association events at our
palace. We have had conferences right from one day to a week.
We customize our events for them providing experiences both
within the palace as well as outside – ranging from sightseeing to
shopping in the old city. Our 9000 square feet Rajasthani Gardens, created and conceived by the Nizam himself make it an
ideal wedding or reception venue.
tries, USA, Canada, Bahamas and Maldives. I joined Taj in 2008
and was also among the few chosen for the Taj General Manager
program. My first assignment was as the General Manager of Taj
Exotica Resort & Spa in early 2009. After a successful stint I was
brought back to India and here I am at Taj Falaknuma Palace. My
parents and now my wife have been my support throughout my
How do you view the Taj Falaknuma Palace and what role
can it play for the city development?
Taj Falaknuma Palace has become a destination in itself. Even
if events are held at other Hyderabad hotels, organisers seek to
include a dinner or reception at the Falaknuma. Hyderabad was
nowhere in the picture for attracting high-spending clientele. I am sure Falaknuma will go a long way towards putting Hyderabad on the map as a destination for high-end
visitors, especially luxury travellers and upmarket events
or MICE. Though I am proud of proud of all the other Taj
properties, forgive my being biased but I think this is the
grandest palace hotel in the Taj group and definitely the
most spectacular in terms of the richness of the interiors.
On a personal front how has your journey been?
Deciding to choose a career in hospitality, I joined an
Institute of Hotel Management. In 1996 I joined Leela
Kempinski for a two year Management Trainee program.
In 2000 I went to Maldives to work for Four Seasons
Resort at Kuda Huraa, Maldives as a Front Desk Manager. Since then there was no looking back. I worked for
Four Seasons for about eight years in four different coun-
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