The story goes that in 1905, Mehboob Ali Pasha, the sixth Nizam of Hyderabad, organised a banquet dinner at his Falaknuma Palace. Interestingly along with the invitation, he also sent across a table plan which indicated where at the 101 seater meticulously carved dining table – the longest dining table in the world at 108 feet – each guest would sit. The Nizam’s intention was not to guard against any confusion. He was more interested in ensuring that the good-looking Spanish wife of the Maharaja of Kapurthala sat opposite him so that he could gaze at her throughout the dinner. In fact, historians say that he brashly threw a huge diamond brooch wrapped in a cloth at her seated at the other end of the table, in front of everyone.
The dining room has such fine acoustics that even without a speaker, the faintest of murmurs can be heard. And the Nizam could hear if the guest at the farthest end of the table spoke to him. The royalty that has dined here include Britain King Edward VIII and the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II.
The Nizami ambience at the Falaknuma palace, now a hotel, will be on offer for the first time for a New Year’s eve this 31 December. And the palace which was used more as a guest house by the sixth and the seventh Nizam to entertain guests will return to that bygone era as the calender turns to a new year.
With 200 guests – 120 of them foreigners – booking themselves for a royal dinner, the front portico with the magnificent palace as the backdrop will be the venue for the evening. Each of them has shelled out Rs 10,000 for the dinner and will get to savour cuisine, that will be prepared by chefs inspired by the guarded recipes of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Four different kinds of biryani, patthar ka gosht, jheenga mirch masala are among the 75 items that are on the menu.
It is not quite the occasion but guests savouring the delicacies would find it interesting to know how food has played its part in the palace’s sinister history. Falaknuma palace was built in 1894 by a Paigah noble, Viqar-ul-Umra, who later became the Prime Minister of Hyderabad. He sold it to the sixth Nizam (who was also his wife’s brother) for Rs 68 lakh, who raised the money from bankers by pledging his mother’s property. Subsequently, uncomfortable with Viqar-ul-Umra’s close relations with the British, the Nizam got him killed by serving him samosas mixed with poison while he was out hunting near modern-day Warangal.
The palace which is in the shape of a scorpion, is spread over 32 acres. It originally had 28 rooms and the Taj group added 32 more. A two-day stay inclusive of food at the palace hotel costs between 65,000 and a lakh, depending on the choice of room.
Falaknuma, one of the finest heritage properties in India, has played host to many celebrities since it was opened to public in 2010. On New Year’s eve, it will feature the Sufi qawaali and jazz to create the right atmosphere for what is being billed as the `Royal Feast of the Nizam’. The guests will be brought in in horse carriages and dressed in royal costumes such as sherwanis and sherraras, with the ladies gifted a bracelet on arrival, just like it would have been done in the Nizam’s time.
Sixty four years after Police action ended the Nizam’s status as an independent ruler in September 1948 and forced Hyderabad to join the Indian Union, the last day of 2012 will get into rewind mode to experience how the Nizam – once the wealthiest man in the world – would have rung in the New year.