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Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad

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Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad covered by Global Destinations, one of Asias leading travel publications

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Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad

  1. 1. Cover Story An authentic sense of royalty H 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 royalty. 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 Global Destinations checking in. 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 magnificence. 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 Entrance Hall royal guesthouse for 6 Nov - Dec 2013
  2. 2. Cover Story 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 and books. 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- Durbar Hall 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 support. 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 8 Nov - Dec 2013
  3. 3. Cover Story 101 Dinning Gol Bungalow 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 Nov - Dec 2013 and even if you can’t Pool see each 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. 9 Global Destinations
  4. 4. Cover Story “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 for groups. 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 etc. 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 Room. 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 Global Destinations 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, 10 Nov - Dec 2013
  5. 5. Cover Story 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 VII • 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 another • 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. Library 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 career. 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- Global Destinations Jade Room 12 Nov - Dec 2013

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