Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Friday, March 15, 2013

In Falaknuma's Scorpion Palace

In front of Falaknuma Palace
This evening I arrived in Hyderabad after 13 years and checked in at the Taj Falaknuma Palace which is the latest addition to the Taj Group of Hotels Resorts and Palaces having being leased by the royal family members. Falaknuma means `Light the Sky' or `Mirror of the Sky' in Urdu. This Palace, I find it hard to call it a hotel or a resort, is is a fine blend of Italian and Tudor architecture. What it holds inside is mind boggling.
Only after I got to see the Palace from close did I realize why Taj Group was so keen on this property and why it took 10 long years, involving the world’s best minds and companies, to restore it under Her Highness Princess Esra, the first wife of the last Nizam who now lives in Turkey.
The beauty of the Palace gets more intensified and fascinating after coming close to it because the main facade stays in the veil and is only visible when you approach closer to it. Another appreciable feature is that there are no reception desks like the ones in five star hotels. This gives you a sense of being a Palace guest and not checking into some star hotel. Others say this truly represents the fact that the Falaknuma Palace experience cannot be measured or categorized in `Star' terms as most hotels of the world would want to.
Another interesting fact about Falaknuma Palace is that it was built in the shape of a scorpion, the zodiac sign of architect William Mariet, with two stings spread out as wings in the north. One has to be air borne to see this marvel. The middle part of the Palace is occupied by the main building which resembles the body of the scorpion and includes the kitchen on one side and the Zenana Mahal (harem quarters) on to the south. The Gol Bangla, that forms the tail of the scorpion has a dome structure with an iron protrusion which looks like a scorpion sting. This Scorpion Palace was the apple of the Nizam's eyes.
Once home to Osman Ali Khan - the last Nizam of Hyderabad considered to be the then richest man in the world for which he was featured on the cover of TIME magazine - the property has 60 beautifully refurbished and restored rooms with amazing ambiance that was once the sole preserve of the royalty of the bygone Nizam era.
There is a line of thought that says the Nizam did not actually stay in the Palace. But Palace Historian, Prabhakar Mahindrakar's views are contrary. He told me that the Nizam had stayed on for years. I too share his belief, for it would be too much for a human being to resist any temptation not to.
The Palace is a treasure house of treasures, antiques, frescoes, paintings, sculptors, manuscripts, chandeliers, rare furniture, grand marble staircases, statues, stained-glass and countless objets d'art. The largest and priceless collection of Jade stones and crystals and perhaps the largest collection of Venetian chandeliers. The Palace Library, a replica of the one at Windsor Castle, is a collector's envy as it is home to the rarest of manuscripts, books and one of the most acclaimed collections of the Holy Quran in the country, all of which were selected and brought back by the Nizam himself. It even has Mughal, Rajasthani and Japanese gardens conceived by the Nizam and a dining table with 101 chairs – the largest in the word- with an acoustic system where one can hear a conversation at either end of the table.
Falaknuma Palace was built by Nawab Vikar-ul-Umra aka Sir Vikar-ul-Omra, the then prime minister of Hyderabad (1893-1901) and the uncle and brother-in-law of His Highness The Nizam VI, Nawab Mir Mahboob Ali Pasha / Khan Bahadur. The Palace became the residence of this Sixth Nizam after he purchased it from his prime minister (Sir Vikar-ul-Omra) who was the fifth Amir of a noble family, the Paigahs - meaning pomp and high rank - was conferred as an honourable title by the second Nizam Ali Khan. Paigahs were ranked second to the Nizams to whom they were allied by matrimony.
There is a history about how the Falaknuma Palace got into the hands of Nizam. The Sixth Nizam (Mehboob Ali Pasha) was invited as a guest by Sir Vikar. The Nizam could not decide to leave the palace and stayed on for a day, then a week and eventually a month. It was then Sir Vikar gracefully gifted the Palace to the Nizam. But it was too gracious a gift to be accepted by the Nizam, so he paid for it. This bailed out Sir Vikar-ul-Omra who had spent Rs 40 lacs in his day to build the Palace and was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Hyderabad city in the background
Perched atop 2000 feet high Kohi-Tur-Hill, some 5 kms from Charminar and spread over 32 acres, the Falaknuma Palace offers a 360 degree view of the city and its famous spots. Before penning this blog I had a late night dinner at dinner at the open area between the two restaurants and at even at around 12.30 past midnight I could still see the full blaze of the city lights. I also heard the sounds of music and drums that came from afar.
I asked the restaurant manager how come the lights were on at such a late hour of the night. He told me that in the Old City of Hyderabad, the shopkeepers near Charminar kept their shops opened till 11:30 to 12 pm. After finishing work late they engage in gana bajana (song and music) near the Charminar area. Their musical soiree goes on till the wee hours, then they call it a day.
The whole day I had meetings in Delhi and then took a flight to Hyderabad and I still have energy and the heart to write this blog because of the cool invigorating wind blowing in this hot Hyderabad weather. Hyderabad is also said to be among the windiest cities of India. Also, the mystique and marvel of the Taj Falaknuma Palace seems to have lifted my spirits.
Just a few hours later, early in the morning I plan to take a walk in the Old City Hyderabad. The Hotel has already booked a guide for me.
ess bee

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