In India: Two Sides of Taj

Rathambore India
Rathambore India // Photo by schita/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

The Taj Falaknuma Palace’s grounds greet guests with smells of jasmine perfume and incense, evoking a throwback to a regal era.

The Taj Falaknuma Palace’s grounds greet guests with smells of jasmine perfume and incense, evoking a throwback to a regal era.

 

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We’re back from a whirlwind tour of many of Taj Hotels Resorts & Palaces’ southern India hotels and palaces; here are the two that we are still talking about.

Taj Falaknuma Palace is the newest palace hotel from Taj in Hyderabad, and our head is still spinning from our very indulgent stay. There’s luxury, and then there’s Falaknuma.

A stay at the palace is a bonafide trip back to the 19th century. The completely European oasis, perched 2,000 feet up on a cliff overlooking one of India’s most bustling cities, was once the residence of the Nizam of Hyderabad. (That’s serious Indian royalty.) Falaknuma Palace underwent a 10-year restoration and was turned into a luxury resort in 2010 for only the truly elite (we hear “Brangelina” and their brood called the palace home for a spell).

The grand royal begum suite at the Taj Falaknuma Palace is the residence of the Princess when she visits the palace.Pictured: The grand royal begum suite at the Taj Falaknuma Palace is the residence of the Princess when she visits the palace.

Upon arrival, VIP guests are escorted up from the main gate by horse and buggy, driven by a driver in period garb. We walked up the regal front steps and pink flower petals rained around us. There we met our personal butler, Varun, who checked us into the Begum Suite (which we hear is where the Princess stays when she visits the palace). Good to know: This is the best suite in the house to catch the sunset over Hyderabad.

For special care bookings, reach out to Sales Manager Anmol Pancholy ([email protected]; 011-91-801-900-3320).

The entire grounds are perfumed with jasmine and incense. Peacocks roam on the beautifully manicured lawns. Occasionally, a flute player can be found tucked into discreet corners playing soft music. Talk about a throwback to a regal era of travel in India.

The Vivanta by Taj Madikeri has 62 villas scattered around the hills, providing some scenic views of the surrounding countryside.Pictured: The Vivanta by Taj Madikeri has 62 villas scattered around the hills, providing some scenic views of the surrounding countryside.

A must for your stay is the palace’s unique dining experience. The restaurant can arrange for a private dinner in two outdoor courtyards overlooking the city. Be bold and ask the chef to tailor a truly Hyderabadi feast for you. We dined on lamb, chicken, fish, vegetables and traditional Indian breads by candlelight, surrounded by incense and hanging garlands of jasmine flowers from the frangipani trees. Soft jazz music from the 1930s played in the background. It was otherworldly, to say the least.

Falaknuma can also arrange for a private meeting with the jeweler of the Nizam family. For 300 years, this family of jewelers has custom-designed elaborate pieces for the royal family. Only available to the palace’s most VIP guests, the jeweler will come to the palace for a private showing and will design any piece for clients. For these exclusive experiences, reach out to Vishal Nagar ([email protected]; 011-91-801-900-3291).

Guests must also arrange for high tea with a Hyderabad local, Nawab Faiz Khan, whose great grandfather was the builder of the palace. Sit at the Jade Terrace for traditional tea and discuss what makes the palace so incredibly special.

And, of course, there is the Jiva Spa, where we spent a glorious afternoon feeling like a Nizam ourselves. We were doused in aromatic oils, indulged in steam baths and experiential showers, and then massaged. Sit and sip tea in the relaxation area overlooking the green lawns and trees of the palace. Spa treatments can be booked with Madhavi Degala ([email protected]; 011-91-406-629-8585).

The royal suites at the Taj Falaknuma Palace are located in the resort’s Zenana Wing and have furniture made of 120-year-old Burma teak.Pictured: The royal suites at the Taj Falaknuma Palace are located in the resort’s Zenana Wing and have furniture made of 120-year-old Burma teak.

Beyond the palace (if you even feel you need to leave), Hyderabad is a city rich in history. Greaves Tours took us on a lovely tour of the 400-year-old city. We visited Mecca Masjid, the largest mosque in south India. Completed in 1692, it can accommodate up to 10,000 people. The huge black granite building with stucco decoration houses the tombs of the Asaf Jahi rulers and the Nizams of Hyderabad. Be sure to also make a stop at the Charminar, the “Arc de Triomphe” of the East. Built in 1591 by Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the Charminar was once the entranceway to the palace complex. Situated near the Mecca Masjid, the monument sits in the heart of a bustling marketplace, which is great for catching a glimpse of local life. The Charminar has four arches and looming minarets and is the symbol of Hyderabad.

Another magnificent site in Hyderabad is Golkonda, famous for its diamond mines (Kohinoor diamond, anyone?). The fortress was built of mud in the 12th century and was later reinforced by the Bahmanis who occupied the fort from 1363.

While in Hyderabad, make time for the Qutb Shahi Tombs, the final resting place of the Qutb Shah Kings. The tombs are built on a raised platform with minarets surrounded by gardens. The tombs, a mixture of Persian, Pathan and Hindu forms, are noted for their uniformity.

From Hyderabad, hop on a plane to Bangalore, Mangalore or Mysore and make your way to the lush mountains in Coorg, which we say is a true slice of heaven. High atop a twisting mountain road, visitors make their way to Vivanta by Taj Madikeri and are greeted with nothing but panoramas of green, rolling coffee plantations and jungles with few signs of civilization.

The resort’s design is largely, if not entirely, inspired by the surrounding environment with a twist of modern elegance (think dark, chunky woods and clay roofs combined with stark whites and clean lines). The property consists of 62 villas scattered among winding paths and tucked into the hillside. And the views are awe-inspiring. Just take note of the main lobby, which has an infinity edge over a cliff staring out into green forest and open skies. For bookings, reach out to Sales Manager Mohammad Muneer ([email protected]; 011-91-959-175-5442).

The Taj Falaknuma Palace offers a unique dining experience in one of two outdoor courtyards that overlook the bustling city of Hyderabad.Pictured: The Taj Falaknuma Palace offers a unique dining experience in one of two outdoor courtyards that overlook the bustling city of Hyderabad.

Upon arrival, we were whisked off to Jiva Spa for the signature treatment, which is not offered at any other Jiva Spa. The Gudda Bath is a traditional Coorg bath, native to the area, and is available in every traditional Coorg household. We were escorted to a wooden cabin hidden in the jungle trees where water was heating in copper pots. The experience begins with a massage using a blend of nutmeg, turmeric, kalonji and other herbs. This is followed by a hot-water bath. The therapist scrubs away the oil with a soapnut powder and then proceeds to soak guests in the hot water and rose petals. It is an ethereal experience and a must for any client who is tired of the traditional massage or aromatherapy.

The spa spans 30,000 square feet with eight treatment rooms. The spa manager is Dr. Reji Raj ([email protected]; 011-91-990-004-3501).

Other exclusive activities include pottery making, culinary courses, a sunrise hike, evening forest walks, educational sessions and a special dining experience set by 101 candles. The hotel does not have a head concierge, but VIP guests can enlist the services of duty managers, who are on hand to craft bespoke experiences. They can be reached at 011-91-827-266-5800.

Getting There: Because Coorg is so remote, it does not have its own airport. It is best for guests to fly into Bangalore, Mangalore or Mysore, from where it is a six-hour, four-hour or three-hour trip, respectively.

Luxury Travel Advisor made its way to Coorg from Bangalore, but we were sure to take a day to see the city; Greaves was on hand to arrange a tour. Present-day  Bangalore, now called Bengaluru, is one of the fastest growing metropolises in India. It is known as the Garden City because it is chock full of parks and avenues of jacaranda, gulmohar and cassia. Visitors to Bengaluru will want to visit Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace, originally built by Tipu Sultan’s father, Haider Ali, and completed in 1791. The palace is made entirely of wood, except for the support pillars inside.

Another great stop in Bengaluru is the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, as well as the Bull Temple at Basavanagudi, which is home to a massive black granite “Nandi” bull.

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