Perched majestically atop the 2,000-foot-high Koh-i-Tur Hill in Hyderabad, Falaknuma Palace was originally built by Sir Viqar ul-Umra, then-prime minister of the Nizam. It ended up being the residence of the sixth Nizam, Mir Mahbub Ali Pasha. After his death in 1911, the regal residence has been utilised as a prestigious guesthouse for visiting royalty and European guests, until its management and operations were taken over by the Taj Group of Hotels.
As a result of ten years of sensitive restoration, Taj infused new life into this 60-room palace to offer visitors a glimpse into the imperial lifestyles of the Nizams, who governed the legendary state of Hyderabad. From replicating the chatoyant tapestries of copper yarn to refurbishing the Venetian chandeliers, each detail was carefully restored to its former glory under the personal supervision of Princess Esra. Girish Sehgal is the general manager of the Taj Falaknuma Palace, and he invited me to experience the grandeur of the palace firsthand. Walking through the arches, I was absolutely mesmerised by the beauty of the architecture and the structural magnitude of the building.
The original construction began in March 1884 and took nine years to complete. It is spread across 939,712 square metres and cost Sir Viqar all of Rs. 40 lakh (in his day) to build. The palace, a fine blend of Italian and Tudor architecture, is home to a magnificent collection of paintings, carved furniture, statues, manuscripts, books, and a highly sought-after collection of jade artefacts. Both the structure and its furnishings exemplify the wealth, splendour and power of Hyderabad state during the 19th century.
Made with Italian marble and limestone, the Falaknuma is laid out in the shape of a scorpion – which was European architect William Marret’s zodiac sign – with two wings in the north. There are four main components to the structure: Mardana Mahal is the central part and resembles the body of the scorpion; Zenana Mahal and Mess Khana (kitchen and telephone exchange) on either side are the pincers; and Gol Bungalow is the tail. The lattermost has a dome-like structure with an iron protrusion, which looks like the stinger of a scorpion.
Moving away from the main palace, I was escorted to the newly opened wing – Coronation Hall – to explore its glorious interiors. It’s the only structure on the premises to follow Mughal architectural vocabulary, and featured intricate furniture with inlay depictions from Hindu, Islamic, Chinese and Thai cultures. This wing originated as an annexe built by Mahbub Ali Pasha, not part of Sir Viqar’s original blueprint. The architecture of Coronation Hall is of a vernacular style; room sizes and heights of openings were determined by timber carvings and friezes.
Given that the palace was used for a short duration and only by Mahbub Ali Pasha, the only coronation it can refer to is that of Edward VI, which took place in 1904. Therefore, the building dates to the early 20th century and, more specifically, to its first decade; Mahbub Ali Pasha passed away in 1911. And when the ruler visited Delhi for the coronation durbar of 1904, he collected several curios which were then displayed in the new purpose-designed annexe at Falaknuma Palace.
In all likelihood, the archway and stone features in the Rajasthani-inspired garden across from Coronation Hall are part of the same collection. “Coronation Hall was shut for nearly 80 years, and only recently opened after careful restoration,” said Girish. “The inner halls are used mainly for banquets, events and gatherings, while the outdoor seating in the corridor is a restaurant where in-house guests enjoy their evening snacks and dinner.”
Coronation Hall is divided into five sections separated by arches and structures made of intricately carved wood. Several framed paintings, carved pieces of furniture, and beautiful chandeliers find residence in this open, airy space marked by high ceilings, beautifully painted walls, and carved domes and doors. The corridor of Coronation Hall overlooks the Rajasthani garden on one side and a swimming pool on the other. The former was inspired by Rajputana architecture and features three magnificently constructed jharokha overlooking the city. A flawlessly sculpted fountain further enhances the beauty of this lovely outdoor space. The ideal venue for hosting the grandest evening parties, receptions and cocktails, Coronation Hall accommodates about 100 guests.
One might wonder why the colour of the palace exteriors is a bluish-grey. The answer is simple: it showcases the hues of the sky and, if seen from distance on a cloudy day, merges into the heavens. The grandeur of this magnificent structure does a fine job of making visitors feel as though they have been transported back to the heyday of enchanting Europe.