TAJ FALAKNUMA PALACE

HYDERABAD

USP: A taste of royal splendour

I tend to get a little silly when it comes to palaces. All that history and romance, gilt and glamour. It's the ideal setting to pretend I'm royalty, with all accompanying affectations and theatrics. So I'm delighted when our prosaic car is replaced with a carriage pulled by neighing, stamping black horses at the gates of Taj Falaknuma palace.

As we gallop up the hill, it looms above us in an appropriately intimidating fashion. Falaknuma, or “mirror of the sky” is built in the shape of a scorpion, at the crest of a 32-acre property. The palace blends dramatically into the evening sky. And, all it took was ten years of restoration, and 30 coats of paint.

Though, this story really begins in 1884. Nawab Vikar-ul-Umra, then Prime Minister of Hyderabad, was determined to create a palace of dreams. With foreign architects, luxury products shipped from all over the world and challenging design, Falaknuma ended up taking 10 years to build, and 22 years to decorate. Then, when the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad dropped by for a visit and expressed admiration, Nawab Vikar-ul-Umra gave it to him as a gift and moved out the next day, taking nothing.

We enter amidst a shower of red rose petals. In princess mode, I glide through the foyer, featuring images of nubile angels cavorting all over the high ceiling. To the left is the Gossip Room, where Queen Ujala Begum and her girls caught up. Under a lustrous chandelier, the furniture sparkles with nifty mirrors flaked by shelves for cosmetics. I grab some champagne, and teeter across to the study, where the last Nizam famously used the hefty Jacob's diamond as a paperweight.

Wandering around, it becomes easier to understand why restoration by The Taj overseen by Princess Esra (who was married to the last Nizam's son) has taken a decade. Unabashedly ostentatious, the palace is lush with luxury. Even light comes from myriad sources: vivid glass lanterns from Bohemia, Belgian chandeliers dripping stars and sunshine pouring through glass-stained windows. Restoration's been so meticulous we hear Princess Esra got a single carpet dyed 300 times before she was satisfied with the colour.

The bathroom's humongous, featuring marble bowls brimming with delicious scrubs and creams. At night, a tray bearing silky cardamom infused moisturiser is placed on my bed, along with an array of decadently dark chocolates.

If I need anything else, there's a button I can press for ‘palace services'. I briefly consider trying to order a royal elephant to take me to Charminar, 15 minutes away.

As the morning sunshine filters in through billowing Turkish curtains, I'm finally drawn out by the sound of a flute. It leads me down the garden, and then mysteriously disappears. So, I head to the imposing Jade Room's graceful balcony for warm sweet pineapple Danishes served with powerfully aromatic coffee.

Downstairs, the begum's bedroom's open so guests can admire her specially-designed Doulton bathtub, equipped with pipes for hot water, cold water and perfume. I'd be jealous if not for the languid spa treatment lined up at Jiva, featuring frankincense and sandalwood-infused sesame oil.

Finally, like the princess in the fairy tale, I climb into my carriage — drawn by white horses this time — and gallop away.

SHONALI MUTHALALY

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