India’s palace hotels are living links to the era of the maharajahs, the 200 years prior to independence when semi-autonomous princes ruled much of the country. The newly restored Taj Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad is now perhaps the most opulent palace hotel of all. Not only was Hyderabad the largest of the princely states, it was also the wealthiest. When he was deposed in 1948, the last Nizam was adjudged the richest man in the world. Set on a 32-acre estate, the palace was designed in 1894 by a British architect, William Ward Marret, who employed an idiosyncratic combination of styles to create an immense structure that was intended to rival the palaces of European royalty.
Escorted to our room by an elegant receptionist, we passed through a library lined with teak and rosewood bookshelves and furnished with a table inlaid with marquetry of breathtaking intricacy and skill. The whole room, our guide informed us, was a replica of one at Windsor Castle in England. The palace has been converted to contain 60 rooms and suites on an ascending scale of splendor. Our Historical Suite was spacious and comfortable. The prolonged restoration has resulted in quiet and effective air-conditioning, and the bath provided a powerful walk-in shower, a soaking tub, black marble surfaces and art deco ornamental mirrors.
The Falaknuma Palace has two principal restaurants: Celeste, serving European dishes; and Adaa for Indian cuisine, in particular Hyderabadi specialties prepared in the so-called dum, or slow-cooked, style. Throughout our stay, the food was delicious and was served by polished and attentive staff. At lunchtime, we tended to opt for a simple salad in the Rotunda next to the swimming pool. There is also a spa offering a variety of traditional Indian therapies. The Taj Falaknuma is a self-contained world, and for a day or so, it is hard to find any incentive to leave.
Palace Room, $415; Historical Suite, $770; Royal Suite, $1,255. Engine Bowli, Falaknuma, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. Tel. (91) 40-6629-8585 or (866) 969-1825.