Revisit the splendour of the desert and elegance of a younger generation of royals through the Narendra Bhavan in Bikaner
Words by: Maya Lalchandani Images: Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner
When one starts to tell a story, the first thing that appears are the memories that refuse to fade, the pictures forming a collage in one’s mind’s eye. The colors, the textures, the feelings, the food, all match with a need to revisit. Rajasthan is that state, which puts one in a repetitive mode. All the cities resound with a haunting pullback – Jaipur, Udaipur, Pushkar, Jaisalmer and now Bikaner. The story of Narendra Bhawan has brought it back into the tourism pages by Manvendra Singh Shekhawat. Stepping onto the sands of Rajasthan, one travels first to Jaipur and then onward to Bikaner. The countryside feels like a desert and transports you into an era of old world charm and regalia. Bikaner is undoubtedly one of the most historic and stunning cities in Rajasthan and with its 500 year old history, its famous snacks and sweetmeats, the ever-so-beautiful havelis, forts and temples, bring people back year after year. The Narendra Bhawan- a new avatar that retells the story of the last reigning King – His Highness, Narendra Singhji (1948-2003).
Vision of Luxury
No, this is not going to be a history lesson, but it’s’ important to know what happened in a space so opulent that when your head touches the pillow, your consciousness is curiously aroused. The King actually turned his head away from the lifestyle of his forefathers, but filled his home with new tastes and vision, peppered with the legacy that he inherited. One can see the global vivant in the new structure, the story revealing a stylishly designed hotel, set in an urban landscape, curated to share lives and times and the modernity of man. As if as a reminder of the days gone by, the entrance houses a Gaushala as a tribute to Lord Krishna, where one’s evenings are party to the Rasa Leela in play, with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails that are served to beguile the nimble mind. The Verandah, an outdoor lounging area much unlike the usual lobby, is filled with modern Indian furniture, Portuguese tiles and tribal artworks. Just as you begin to ponder over the relaxed easy charm, you encounter a library filled with Penguin classics. A nod to the left brings you to a glimpse of the Mad Hatter- the Bake House. Whimsical and familiar, two words that bring you bang down to earth as you are introduced to a man of the moment – Mr. Karan Singh, the President of MRS Hospitality. A smile playing on his lips, you realise that the entrance is grand and so is he.The Mad Hatter plays the prelude to the Pearls & Chiffon (P&C), an elegant space, where most of the dining is undertaken. With a curated wine list, the hospitality and offerings of the local cuisine excels itself. One walks away, satiated but discovering more in the form of all its nooks and crannies, opening out into gold and crystal rooms that offer smoking areas for gentlemen, and places that offer after dinner drinks and conversations.
Encounter Royal Elegance
As is the culture of Rajasthan, courtyards are a big part of living. So also in Narendra Bhawan, is the Diwali Chowk, (the Central Courtyard) that is dotted with canopies, where the pigeons come to greet you and the winds softly caress you as you spend time reading or just day dreaming. The open sky changes hues as the clouds sweep in and out. On the top floor the infinity pool shares the view with the party space, offering grills and party music. As designer Ayush Kasliwal of Jaipur has used research as inspiration, and in so doing, this eclectic hotel residence allows sightings of velveteen fabrics, chiffons, art deco walls, remnants of travel memorabilia and broadway shows. Narendra Bhawan was originally built in 1969, but acquired by Shekhawat in 2005, who has managed to salvage an era of history, truly a slice of the King’s past. A kings accommodation can be seen in the 82 rooms that spread out over four floors, being divided into Residence rooms, Prince rooms, Regimental rooms, India rooms and Republic suites.
After all, this royalty with a hint of sanctuary is the overall promise. Comfortable at 330 sq ft, the Residence rooms are light and fresh with elaborate ceilings, while the Prince rooms at 530 sq ft fall into the category of youthful exuberance, with a sort of western influence. The Regimental rooms at 634 sq ft have objets d’art that add to the hues of uniformity and symmetry. The India rooms (like their name) are for the cosmopolitan traveller, a lot of Indigo reigns, for comfort. The Republic suites are chic to the core and can easily be termed the architects’ rooms. The rooms are but a hint of the different stages of the King’s life. Everything about Bikaner and Narendra Bhawan borders on the holistic and cultural. Their Clinic Spa is based on flower essences and those who have heard of the famous therapist Dr. Bach, will enjoy the harmony and balance that the Spa offers. Also on offer are Physical Vascular Therapy, that improves microcirculation enabling the body to work in different ways.
Frequent travellers these days are so done with just being offered great décor and elaborate surroundings; they are more ready for the experiences that a hotel can offer. Taking all that into consideration, the Narendra Bhawan team offers some unique experiences to complete their hospitality. They have ably tapped into the experiences and the originality from the past and presented them with such charm and mystique. The days are saved for the little city of Bikaner, as everybody shares the history of the bountiful trade the nobles and the merchants continued in the bylanes where they built more palaces, havelis and temples. One is transported by tanga, since the lanes are narrow and the cows roam freely. The havelis take one’s breath away with their intricate designs and haloed walls, their magnificent art and their ancient architecture. Part of the Merchant Exploration is that the hotel organises an authentic meal cooked in desi style and serves it right there in the Haveli. Authenticity at its best. After the meal, a Royal Exploration is not far from the mind. Bikaner’s 500 years old story unfolds with the Bhikajee Tekaree, Laxminath temple, Sadul Museum, Lalgarh Palace, and the Royal Cenotaphs at Devi Kund Sagar. The Karni Mata temple is by far the strangest site to visit as it’s famous for the legion of rats that are fêted and worshipped. Not to be forgotten is the Junagarh Fort (1593), and the Durbar Hall that actually preserves a 1,100 year old Sandalwood throne. A tourist delight, now made possible and wonderful with the Narendra Bhawan, a sanctuary for the royal traveller.
In the evening, one is taken for a sundowner, deep into the heart of Bikaner, amongst the sand dunes and the shrubs, a place away from the hustle and the bustle. The bar is set and amongst the chatter of guests while uniformed staff top off glasses with gin and tonic and serve Mughlai food consisting of succulent meats. Under the beautiful dark sky, a flautist leads the way with his haunting melodies. Gaddas are strewn on the ground, white sheets are spread, canopies risen, everything is spic and span, lamps are lit and the sky lends its stars for more. The night is young, as one is driven back to more royalty. A nine course dinner at the Laxmi Niwas Palace is a must as the hotel sets up a dining experience right there on the sprawling lawns, in front of the picturesque Palace, resplendent in its power to impress – after all, the Maharaja had used the same ground to host dignitaries. Amongst the starry skies, the candles lit and, the flowers strewn, and the single malts flowing, the scene was set for a script.
Digital Version: https://goo.gl/Bs9vlq