By Akshay Chavan
I started my journey on a quest, to find the loveliest wedding venue in India. A place with high end bespoke wedding possibilities, but something ‘that had not been done before’. In the ‘been there, done that’ Indian wedding scene, what could I find beyond the palace hotels of Rajasthan or the beach resorts of Goa? I was on a wild goose chase, but thankfully a suggestion from a friend helped. You might ask, did I find what I was looking for? Well! We shall see.
Now, as my quest takes me to the Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad, I want you to imagine and take this journey with me.
After a short flight, you and your guests arrive in Hyderabad for the wedding and are received by an entourage of hotel cars. Your car navigates through the narrow streets and bazaars of old Hyderabad, passing century old shops still selling spices and pearls, like a medieval souk transposed into modernity. You finally reach the Engine Bowly area, and your car takes a turn in a narrow lane. At first, you are a little underwhelmed. Is this where Falaknuma Palace is?
This is just a start to your Falaknuma experience and what a start it is! Perhaps no other hotel in India has an entry route as dramatic as the Taj Falaknuma Palace. At the end of the lane, are two magnificently crested gates which swing open, and as your car enters, you feel as if you are travelling back in time. Your car slowly starts climbing up the hill, along a tree lined road, turning at a dozen hairpin bends, passing lawns and gardens. Your heart beats faster in anticipation.
The car arrives at the opulent main gate of the palace and the palace retainer opens the door and does an elegant ‘adaab’. You leave the car and board an elegant horse chariot or a buggy for a drive up the hill again till you arrive at the grand portico of the palace, to be welcomed by the palace team. Escorted by the royal guard holding the ‘coat of arms’ and shower of rose petals, you get an authentic experience of how the H.E.H Nizam of Hyderabad was welcomed when he arrived at his palace. The warm smiles and greetings of the hotel staff make you and your guests feel so welcome. As if you have just stepped into a grand family home!
You enter the grand portico and past the Carrara marble entrance foyer, and then you gasp looking at the grand staircase. From vaulted cloud-dappled ceilings to gilt chandeliers, the grand staircase has an air of European luxury and Cinderella magic. It looks straight out of an old Hollywood movie and you almost expect Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth Taylor or Audrey Hepburn to descend grandly in their flowing evening gowns, holding a long cigarette holder, to greet you all with ‘Hellllo Daahling… how lovely to see you… Muah… Muah …’
The extremely attentive palace staff now escorts you and your guests to your rooms and suites. You are now struck by the high level of service and attention to detail. They all seem so eager to help! There is almost nothing out of place in this 100 year old palace. Not a crease to the curtain, immaculate upholstery; even the brass door knobs gleam. It is all spit and polish to perfection. The immaculately designed rooms and suites, the stream of extras, the sheer smothering attention by staff, makes you feel in need of air.
When the guests enter their rooms a surprise awaits them. There is a special bespoke hamper which you personally designed in consultation with the hotel. The hamper is so well thought out and so personalized, your guests just coo in delight! The day moves on and your guests make their plans. Some have sunk into their plush beds while others are exploring the extensive palace grounds. The younger members are off to dip in the pool while group of uncles exchange bawdy jokes at the palace bar. The bride and the ladies check into the Jiva spa to pamper themselves with a range of traditional Indian wellness treatments and experience a lovely soothing ambience.
On your request, the hotel has arranged for the visit of a traditional ittar maker, who will be making a bespoke ittar for the wedding. You select a combination of fragrances and give it a romantic name. It is a special wedding souvenir for all the guests. Later, Mr Prabhakar the palace historian takes everyone on a champagne tour of the palace, his tales replete with stories of the Nizam, the Begums and old Hyderabad, told with a dramatic flair and elan. The Jade room echoes with laughter as the champagne flutes are handed over through the palace walk.
In the evening, as the sun goes down, the palace turns into a symphony of music and light. The fountains play, the chandeliers shimmer and sound of music pervades every corner of the palace. Everyone is now dressed for the Mehndi and Sangeet in the Rajasthani garden. (You always wanted atleast a small element of Rajasthan in the wedding, didn’t you) The beautiful traditions of Rajasthan come alive at the gardens at the palace. The gardens showcases Rajputana architecture in the three magnificently constructed Jharokhas overlooking the city enhanced by an beautiful sculptured fountain. What follows, is a night of music, cocktails and dancing followed by a lavish Hyderabadi dinner. As you savor the ambiance, enchanting aromas arouse your curiosity with your eyes gleaming to the gastronomic delights like the famed Hyderabadi biryani, shikampuri kebabs, mirchi ka salan among others. The succulent delicacies and melt-in-your-mouth meats are to die for! After that lovely dinner, you return to your room happy and exhausted, and sink into the lush comfortable bed.
The next morning, you greet your guests at a lavish breakfast spread on the Jade room verandah. Overlooking the spectacular morning panorama of the Hyderabad city, you tuck into warm freshly baked breads and jams, as the cool breeze glazes across your face. Your guests are gushing about last night and can’t wait for the celebrations today. The aunties, uncles, friends and cousins all look pleased and so are you. After breakfast, you take a lazy stroll across the vast palace gardens hoping to catch a glimpse of the over 80 species of birds and 40 species of butterflies. Later, the guests explore the historic city or go on a shopping expedition, while you stay back to prepare for your big family day today.
But strangely, there is nothing much for you to do! The hotel’s almost immaculate service and the specialists on their panel are working as per schedule, and everything is going on smoothly. You rest easy knowing the Taj high standards will be applied when preparing for your event, resulting in the finest food, décor and other highlights for the enjoyment of your guests. You couldn’t have asked for more.
The wedding is held in the front lawns of the palace against gleaming backdrop of the moonlight bathed palace. The music, the floral decorations, the baraatis, the pheras, aperitifs for guests, everything is just perfect. The beautiful lighted palace façade, light music, the fragrances, the laughter, the moonlight sky shimmering in the fountains and glimmering on the bride’s diamonds make it a scene straight out of an Arabian nights fairytale.
You always save the best for last. A special dinner for the bridal couple and your closest family and friends is held at the spectacular banqueting hall, on the world’s largest dining table (an exact replica of the banqueting table at the Buckingham palace, how appropriate for new age royalty like you!). Soft music plays in the background as the dinner created by master chefs, is served in exquisite silver service. This is the epitome of sophistication. Even the most skeptical relative is impressed. Champagne flows like water through the night. There is laughter, happiness and the enchanting night passes on as though it would never end. You call it a night and move to your room for much needed rest. As you sink into the bed tired and exhausted after all the revelry, a couplet from the movie Mughal-e-Azam comes to mind..
“Iss mehfil mey koi jee ley agar, marney ka usey gham kya hoga,
Jab raat hai aaisi matwaali, phir subaha ka alam kya hoga”
Next morning its time to thank the hotel staff and big goodbye to Hyderabad. The guests are still talking about the ‘the unforgettable wedding’ ‘immaculate service’ ‘wonderful experience’. Few days later, you see the photographs of the wedding on Facebook and all the likes, comments and ‘oohhhs’ and ‘aahhs’ it has received. However, the biggest gift for you; is that look in the eyes of your loved ones, which say a thousand words; expressing gratitude for all those unforgettable moments that will always live in their memory. It brings a smile to your face, just like the smile on my face right now, because I have discovered the answer to my quest. I can conclude that nothing beats the Taj Falaknuma Palace for sheer pageantry, glamour and ambiance, making it one of the loveliest wedding venues in the world! I hope you have enjoyed this journey as much as I have. See you at the wedding at Falaknuma Palace. Goodbye!
Akshay Chavan is a Mumbai based writer and lifestyle enthusiast who blogs about Indian Royalty and Heritage