A day at Taj Falaknuma Palace Hyderabad – the only seven-star hotel in India? (Part 2)
I was considering booking an overnight stay to review Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad, though I finally decided to just book the high tea experience, along with a heritage tour of the palace.
This is part two of our article on Taj Falaknuma Palace – you can check out a Palace Room (bedroom) and get some background on this historic property here, in part one.
I decided to arrive early in advance of my tour at 3pm (there are numerous tours held throughout the day) and was mesmerized by everything I saw…
Taj Falaknuma Palace heritage tour – review
Mr. Syed, the personal bodyguard of the eighth generation of Nizams, asked us to gather around and introduced himself before giving us background knowledge of the palace, and taking us on our tour.
Describing himself as a historian and “representative of the Nizam”, Mr. Syed told how the palace took ten years to be built. Taking inspiration from the designs and architecture in Europe at the time, the foundations of Falaknuma Palace were laid in 1884 and the palace was completed in 1894.
We also heard how the then Prime Minister of Hyderabad, who built this palace, went bankrupt after spending INR 4 million (USD 53,522) on the property!
After putting the palace on sale, but only receiving bids of INR 2 million (USD 26,760) for it, the PM next thought of gifting it to his brother-in-law, the Nizam, who instead insisted on purchasing the palace for INR 6.8 million (USD 90,900).
The Nizam lived at Falaknuma from 1895 till his death in the year 1911, following which the palace was turned into a royal guesthouse that hosted European royalties and heads of states from India.
Another interesting fact that Mr. Syed shared with us was that the first electricity and telephone service in Hyderabad came to Falaknuma Palace in 1895, while the common people of Hyderabad had to wait until 1929 for electricity and 1935 for telephone services.
After the 4-5 minutes long introduction, we were led into the palace and instructed that photography inside is not allowed. Let’s dive straight into the tour…
First stop on the tour was Nizam’s office, and the perfect place to start from as it brought about a nice sense of intrigue within me.
The speciality of the painting was that Nizam’s portrait follows you, regardless of which side you look at it from. I wanted more of this, already!!
Children’s study room
Next stop was the children’s study room, which had the kid’s bedroom attached – although the bed has been moved to palace storage for safekeeping.
The unmissable painting of Mrs. Claude Clerk, who was the teacher of the kids, covered a big part of the wall. This painting was enough to suggest the kind of respect and appreciation the teacher received from the family.
Ladies’ sitting room
We were then shown to the ladies’ sitting room, which featured a Chinese-whisper gossip sofa.
We were also shown the queen, Ujala Begum’s bedroom. The room featured the first bathtub in the world, and the speciality of it was that it had hot water, cold water, jacuzzi, shower and perfume.
Next up was the staircase, decorated with picture frames of royalties and dignitaries hanging all the way to the top.
What really came as a surprise was the fact that the ceiling above the staircase hadn’t been touched in 125 years, even though that polish looked as though it was done yesterday!
I could feel the eagerness to know more growing and had to just calm my nerves down.
This is the drawing room of the palace, and let me just say that I haven’t seen a room with more grandeur than this one. I am truly in loss of words here. Here’s a picture, and it doesn’t even do full justice to how beautiful this place was…
We then stepped into Durbar Hall, which used to be the dancing room, but now looks as though it is being used for banquets and other functions.
There were beautiful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, which was just as impressive.
101-seater dining hall
Next, we entered a giant dining room that housed what may be the world’s largest permanent dining table. This dining hall was used by the Nizam to host dignitaries from across the globe. The hall still gets used to host foreign dignitaries, a recent example being PM Narendra Modi hosting Ivanka Trump here in 2017.
All the chairs are made of green leather and rosewood, and are the same, except the chair that was used by the Nizam which has a higher armrest.
Sadly, I was barked at by one of the hotel staff as I tried to click a picture of the large dining table. He was really loud and rude and I definitely did not appreciate this kind of behaviour, especially when I was paying a heavy amount for the tea experience that followed the tour.
This is the bar at the property, which I covered in more detail in part one. The bar featured a billiards table in the centre, of which there were only two made, the other one is at Buckingham Palace in London.
After passing through the lobby, we made our way down to the palace library, which is where the hotel carries out the check-in procedure, unless the guest prefers to do it in the room.
The tour ended with the fairytale courtyard, which is located at the backside and offers beautiful views of the city from one side.
It is a great location to relax and click pictures. The courtyard also marked the end of our tour – next up was high tea…
High tea at Taj Falaknuma Palace
There are two high tea venues to choose from. The first option was Celeste, which is one of the restaurants at the property and this comes at a price of INR 3,500 (USD 47) plus taxes per person.
The second venue for high tea is Gol Bungalow, which is the terrace restaurant at the Palace and serves what Taj calls the ‘Royal high tea experience’. The price tag for this is INR 6,500 (USD 87) plus taxes per person.
I chose to go with the latter and made a reservation for one person here. After taking the heritage tour, I finally arrived at the restaurant at around 3.40 pm and, once I was clicking the pictures, staff enquired if I was ready for high tea at 3.50pm.
The view from here was absolutely jaw-dropping, combined with the soothing prayer calls from the city, this sort of made up for the unpleasant experience I had during the heritage tour, where I was barked at by a staff member.
Another upsetting thing that happened was that I was accompanied at the terrace by some non-resident guests who weren’t dining at Gol Bungalow and the staff took a good 10-15 minutes before informing them about the terrace not being accessible for the palace tour guests.
Bite sized sandwiches, pastries and appetisers were served, along with a refreshing lychee delight cooler. The Indian snacks followed soon after, and he also offered to bring scones, compotes and cookies, which I gladly accepted.
I was looked after by Rajpal on the day, and he was really warm and polite. I took his suggestion for tea and placed an order for Taj blend – a mixture of Assam tea (80%) and Darjeeling tea (20%). I chose to not add milk to the tea, and was really happy with Rajpal’s suggestion.
The total bill after taxes came to INR 7670 (USD 103), and had it not been for the disappointments mentioned above, I would have walked out feeling happier and more satisfied in terms of value received.
Note that, if you don’t want to splurge on tea, you can still take the heritage tour of Falaknuma Palace (for a fee).
This property is very rich in modern history and has all the things it takes to be a world-class property. Except for a couple of bumps, I really enjoyed the time I spent at Taj Falaknuma Palace and wished I had stayed longer.
I was overall happy with my experience, and had it not been for the inconsiderate staff member barking at me and poor management letting heritage trail guests wander over to exclusive spaces, I would have felt better about spending heavily on the Royal High Tea experience.
The staff were warm and nice, and once the hotel learned about the issues I faced, they addressed them immediately. An interesting thing I noticed was that the staff members were quick to offer to click a picture, which I felt was a nice touch.
The Royal High Tea experience was really good, and even though it was more expensive, I am glad I chose to have it at Gol Bungalow instead of Celeste, as this was on an open terrace with breathtaking views of the city.
My day at the palace ended on a high with the hotel providing a chariot ride to the main gate, during which I managed to briefly take charge. 😜
I look forward to returning to this place, and next time I would like to book a stay and experience the dining at its other restaurants as well.
What is your favourite thing about Taj Falaknuma Palace? How would you rate this property?