We spent the morning packing -- it is very humid here, and even with the air conditioning on everything feels damp. It's very bizarre, but that's what it is. We ended up having to buy another suitcase, a large one, and it is filled with saris we were given and the other clothing items we bought. All our suitcases when we weighed them are just at the weight limit for the plane -- yikes!
We got everything into the suitcases that we needed to, and then came the big "weigh in" downstairs to see how we did. The final score: TBD! Wait till the blog tomorrow to learn "did they go over!"
Aditya and Kalpana, Devika's parents, came to say goodbye to us at the hotel. It won't be the same to not see them until October! We are looking forward to the 2nd wedding (and reception) in Pasadena.
The Taj Falaknuma Palace hotel did NOT disappoint. You have to have reservations in advance to go to High Tea -- you cannot just show up. If you have a cab take you, you have to call in advance with the license plate of the cab. They look under the hood and in the trunk, and look all around the car (underneath, too). Security is tight everywhere (see my observations below). We were driven to a place where the driver could leave the car and, actually, stay with the car! We were then taken in a golf cart that had plastic coverings on the sides -- it is raining heavily in Hyderabad today. Normally I understand they take the guests up to the main entrance in a horse drawn carriage -- it was too wet for that today. Too bad! At any rate, here was our "carriage" for today!
We were taken to a side entrance as the rain was falling heavily. We were escorted through a beautiful covered portico to where we would be having high tea. The room was amazing, as were the grounds. This palace was designed in a European style -- although we could not take pictures during our tour of the palace after we had High Tea, we took pictures during the tea. It was a beautiful location, and the food was delicious! I thought that I'd chance raw vegetables and other things I wouldn't normally eat in India -- if you can't eat them there, where can you eat them? Time will obviously tell. Here's a picture of Max and Devika at our table.
When we were seated there was a group from some foreign country there for a company meeting. There was also an Anglo couple sitting at one window. There was an Indian couple seated at another window. Then a group of 4 women and their 5 children came and sat down. During the time we were there, the Anglo man got down on one knee and opened a box -- the woman said yes, and all those in the room, hearing the gasp of the woman and seeing the man and woman embrace, burst into applause! His name is Duncan, her name is Kelly. They are from Manchester, England. He is here on business and brought her along. Here they are waiting for the High Tea food.
The High Tea food was "amazing" as Max would say. Cucumber sandwich, smoked salmon, ham sandwich (tasted like serrano ham from Spain), chicken salad sandwich, smoked chicken, fruit tart, lemon tart, tiramisu and two other sweets -- and then the scones, cookies, homemade fig preserves, pineapple preserves, lemon curd and whipped cream. Unbelievable! We started with a limeade that was the tastiest drink I've ever had. The service was wonderful, and the tea delicious. Who could ask for more?
On the tour of the palace, the guide was the current Nizam's body guard when the Nizam is in Hyderabad. You could understand why in seeing him. He was kind -- but I can imagine that he can be formidable. "You will please be joining me" was his invitation to us to follow him where he wanted us to go.
Among the most important rooms we were in was the dining room -- which can seat 101 people at one VERY long table. The acoustics were such that some of us went to one end of this VERY long room, and the others stayed on the other side. When we spoke in normal voice, we could hear each other clearly totally across the room -- unbelievable!
At the Taj Banjara is a picture of a state dinner at the Falaknuma palace. The walls are not looking quite the same -- they are painted. The Taj group has a 30 year lease and has turned the palace into a very high end hotel. They spent 5 years studying the property, then 10 years restoring it. To say it is breathtakingly beautiful is an understatement. You can look out over the city -- see Char Minar, hear the call to prayer at the Mosque. Yet, you are so far away from everything, yet so very close. On our way out we saw peacocks -- the theme for this wedding, and we felt truly blessed. Here is a picture of the peacocks.
We got a snack at the hotel -- delicious kebabs from downstairs -- and the chef came and talked with us, even though we were in the coffee shop area, not the Kebab restaurant downstairs. This chef is a master -- if you are ever in Hyderabad, please come and eat his food -- you will NOT be disappointed! Here is a picture of him with Max -- you may have seen one a few days ago from our dinner downstairs -- here's one upstairs at the Taj Banjara. Please make sure you look to the end for other pictures of the Palace -- the few we were able to take.
My last blog post for this trip will be after we land in Los Angeles with a blow by blow of the trip back home -- hopefully it will not be as crazy as the trip to get here! Before I sign off from India, I leave with with a few observations and at the end more pictures from what we could take at the Palace.
1. Mosquitos are a way of life here, most especially during Monsoon season, which Hyderabad is in right now. We were delayed getting down to where we needed to be the evening of the wedding because people didn't take into account that every night right before 7 pm the hotel fumigates the lower restaurant (where we ate the other day) and there is a cloud of insecticide that is unleashed which causes the hotel to lock the front door until it dissipates. There is also a "plug in" in the hotel room that looks like a glade plug in, but it is an insecticide that is slowly dispersed to keep the mosquitos away. I fell in love with the "zapper" -- it looks like a tennis racquet, and when the person wielding it touches a bug you hear "bzzzzt" -- it's zapped and dead. There weren't massive amounts of mosquitos that we encountered -- really, between 6 and 8 in the evening is "high time" for mosquitos -- while we worse repellent at that time, we were never bothered.
2. Being here during Ramadan gave a unique perspective to the reality of living in a predominately Muslim community. You can hear in certain parts of the city the call to prayer from the Mosques -- beautiful! When the fast is broken at night, people are lined up to eat a fig or two and to eat Haleem. Haleem signs are everywhere, and from what I understand this happens just at this time of year, although I'm sure you can buy it in restaurants all during the year. This is a very rich dish which is full of protein -- a traditional fast breaker, and delicious to boot! The traditional haleem is made of mutton, but there are signs for chicken and, apparently a recent addition -- fish haleem. The chai shops are also open late for the same reason. According to the locals, the best Haleem is at Sarvi's right up the street from the hotel. We walked by there one night at about the time the fast was to be broken -- and people were packed out into the street waiting! Here's a picture of the people outside of Sarvi's.
3. I love the hustle and bustle of the streets and shops, but I will not miss the exhaust smells, nor the smell of the lake in front of the hotel. While we can't smell any of these smells in our room or in the hotel (even the outside restaurant has massive amounts of incense it burns to keep the smell away from diners), on the street the smell is overwhelming in places.
4. The service at this hotel (Taj Banjara) has been superb. If you call down and ask for anything, within seconds (really) someone is at your door. They knew our names after the first day, and our likes and dislikes at the breakfast buffet.
5. Being here with Max is always a wonder for us -- I can't imagine navigating the area without him (although I did do so on my own once -- traveling just a few blocks) -- not only does he speak the language so well, he understands the culture and traditions. He was such a kind and considerate guide for us!
6. Honking horns is a way of life here. It is how drivers communicate with one another -- even if it's one of those old fashioned squeeze ball horns we used to have on bicycles that is now attached to an auto rickshaw! It is a signal to move out of the way. There is no time, day or night, when you can't hear a horn blowing, although during the day it is MUCH worse as the traffic is very congested in the city.
7. Crossing the streets here is a lesson in patience and bravery. "Mom, don't worry -- keep moving, they see you -- they won't hit you." Max was right -- you just step off, and as auto rickshaws, cars and motorcycles are aimed right at you, they do stop or move -- of course, they honk as well.
8. Beggars, especially beggars with babies would knock on our car windows as we stopped at a light, pushing the baby right up to the window and alternating pointing to the baby and signaling they wanted money. Only once when we were walking did I get pulled (literally) by someone to give them money, otherwise I was left alone.
9. Removing your shoes is a must to enter some shops.
10. Our whole time here we may have seen 3 people smoking -- apparently smoking isn't allowed in public places.
11. We didn't see many Anglos at the tourist locations.
12. Security is tight everywhere. My bag was xrayed more than it has ever been! And I've stepped through more metal detectors and frisked than I ever was before!
13. In our hotel room we noticed when we opened the desk drawer that there was a decal. We asked Max what it meant. "It's pointing to Mecca" -- wow. We checked the desk in Max and Devika's room -- it's pointing in the same direction, even though the desk in their room is on a different wall. This was unbelievable to me. How very cool! Here is a picture of the desk drawer in our room.
14. We are blessed to have the most wonderful daughter-in-law and now in laws! Please keep looking below for more pictures from the Taj Falaknuma.