Palatial luxury, exotic souks and sumptuous Deccan cuisine surprise in southern India
Today, I’m at another royal palace: Chowmahalla. Less than a hundred years ago, this was the seat of power of India’s most powerful ruling dynasty, the Nizam. Like Falaknuma, it has been restored to its former glory. It now operates as a museum filled with artefacts, memorabilia, tapestries, art, and vintage cars, including a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost in the garage. While only 12 of the original 47-hectares remain, its grandeur lives on in the Mughal domes, scalloped arches, and extravagant marble coronation room – the Durbar Hall – replete with 19 sparkling Belgian chandeliers.
Under the Nizam, who governed Hyderabad from 1720 to 1948, until it was annexed by India, this was the greatest and richest of all the Indian Princely States held by the British Raj. Smaller Rajput cities like Rajasthan might capture the imagination of travellers today, but it was Hyderabad that outshone them all.
The wealth of the last Nizam is no less impressive. Of the seven Nizams who ruled Hyderabad, Osman Ali Khan was the richest, with a fortune today worth US$21 billion. As late as 2008, he ranked fifth on the Forbes All Time Wealthiest list. He had his own airline, railway and mint; owned a fleet of Rolls Royce cars, and a treasury worth US$1.23 million in gold and silver billion and US$492 million in jewels.
The Jade Room at Falaknuma
Taj Falaknuma Palace is a sumptuous mix of rococo, baroque and renaissance design, meticulously restored over a decade to its former opulence. There are 60-suites, including 4 heritage rooms, set amid 13-hectares of fragrant gardens, 2000-feet above the Old City.
ITC Kakatiya is centrally located and overlooks Hyderad’s largest lake, Hussain Sagar. The 188 rooms and suites pay tribute to the Kakatiya dynasty that ruled for 400 years, with earthy interiors, traditional art and ikat textiles. There are two destination restaurants, a spa, gym, and peaceful, palm-fringed pool.
The best of Hyderabad’s fine dining is to be found in the city’s five-star hotels. Fine diner Jewel of Nizam pairs rich Mughlai cuisine with panoramic views of the Osman Sagar Lake from atop a brutalist tower within the landscaped Golkonda Hotel grounds. Nuanced pan-asian cuisine is the highlight at Yi Jing, the Hi-Tech city restaurant within ITC Kohenur.For something completely different, Journey 1853 takes diners back in time to the romance of India’s first rail journey. The lavishly recreated Pullman dining carriage in Banjara Hills features liveried waiters, an extensive wine list and impeccable North Indian cuisine.