“You must try the haleem”, my friend had urged, and after a few unsuccessful forays into local restaurants, where the waiters looked at me askance, I had finally struck gold. It was in the sumptuous surroundings of the Falaknuma Palace, that I finally got to sample the rich, wheat, barley, lentils and meat stew.
It had been a bit of a tussle getting my husband to agree to this rather expensive lunch. Unless you are resident in the hotel, the only way to gain entry is to book a meal at either of it’s two restaurants. Boy, were we glad we had! A visit to Hyderabad, India, could not be complete without visiting one of the finest palaces the state of Telengana boasted of.
Falak-numa or Mirror of the Sky in Urdu, was the grand residence of the Nizam of Hyderabad up until the 1950’s, when it was closed up, and left untouched till a lease agreement with Taj hotels, and a major restoration by them, breathed new life into this elegant old building. The original owner, the erstwhile Prime Minister of Hyderabad, had built the palace for his own use. In the process, he ran out of funds, and ended up selling the palace to the then Nizam, Mehboob Ali Pasha.
As the present Nizam dwelled in Turkey, we were getting to savour a slice of royal living. With the haleem and its accompanying victuals safely lodged in our stomachs, we waddled obligingly to the foyer, where a man built like an ox waited for us.
“Myself, bodyguard of Nizam”, he introduced himself proudly. “Today, guide.”
For those in our party who only spoke English, the rest of the tour was largely unintelligible. Our guide had an interesting way with the English language, which consisted of spouting random words together in the hope that they would translate into something meaningful. Case in point: “Building scorpion. This-tail. That stained glass.” A shame, as his Urdu tour was so much more enlightening.
Unable to take photos inside, we chose instead to take away impressions. From the beautiful mirrored ballroom, to the famed dining hall that can seat a 100 guests, to the impressive carved walnut roof of the library, the scorpion shaped palace left us feeling steeped in the history and culture of a bygone era. Our guide’s parting shot was a bit of Urdu poetry, loosely translating as: “There is the sky, and there is the palace that mirrors the sky. It is only the fortunate that get to see the latter before they are returned to the former”
Feeling like I was about to return to the former, I politely declined the offer of a second helping of biryani at another friend’s that evening.
“You ate what? Haleem is only consumed during Ramadan, when the Muslims eat before daybreak. It sustains them the entire day!”
No wonder I felt like I’d swallowed a palace!
Needless to say, Falaknuma lodged itself inside of me, in more ways than one.