Jai Jai is what you hear as soon as you step in the stylish veranda of Narendra Bhawan. Hotel staff dressed in comfortable but regal Indian wear will greet you with folded hands every time they meet you. Jai Jai is the local greeting and by the second day, I was saying Jai Jai.
Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner, Rajasthan
When I got an invite to come and experience Narendra Bhawan that is inspired by the life of last reigning king of Bikaner. I wondered how different it would be from staying in palace turned heritage hotels of Rajasthan. The first thing that I learned after reaching there was that it was the house of Narendra Singh ji. Yes, I know a king lives in a palace and not a house. So, it is a house and that is why it is called a Bhawan and not a Mahal or palace. He does have a Palace not too far from this house called Laxmi Niwas Palace.
The hotel as it stands today has actually been built around the original house which was a double story structure built to live. To convert it into an 80+ room hotel, they have added a couple of stories above the house and a story in the basement. How they enhanced a heritage property was an element of curiosity for me. I took a walk around the old house, including the basement story that has been added to it to understand it. It is an incredible effort to enhance the house of Narendra Singh ji and make it even grander by celebrating his life & times.
Narendra Singh ji
What is interesting about Narendra Singh ji is that he was born in 1948 i.e. in free India, and lived in the early days of Independent India. So despite inheriting a rich royal lifestyle, he chose a rather modern life in the new identity of the country. The management of Narendra Bhawan has re-created the times of Narendra Singh which belongs to an interesting cusp of the time when India was looking towards a future. There is a subtle influence of Bombay Art Deco Movement – that was in vogue in Bombay in early 20th CE and then in the 1960s. This was the time when Narendra Singh ji would have been in his youth. To know more about Bombay Art Deco read this article by The National & this one by Urban Design Collective.
The facade of the Narendra Bhawan is quintessentially Rajasthani – in pale pink sandstone – full of Jharokhas interspersed with colorfully stained glasses. As soon as I entered in the Verandah, I felt at home for I found the very familiar Portuguese tiles hobnobbing with the yellow Jaisalmer stone. The bright red Piano was seeking attention from one end of this long Verandah while the penguin classics in the glass cabinets tempted the bibliophile in me.
Where to Eat at Narendra Bhawan?
For small eats and snacks head to their bakery called Madhatter. You can not miss the quirky displays against a hand blown glass backdrop.
The ladies of the generation inspire the restaurant P & C – that stands for Pearls & Chiffons. Now think of Hindi films of that era and you would recall the leading ladies in pearls & chiffons. The elegance, grace & delicacy of both these elements can be seen in the frost interiors and timeless furniture.
For dinner, sit next to rooftop pool with a view of the Bikaner skyline that gives you a Turkish feel. They even have a night room where they serve museum dinner. I would always remember the glittering layout of the table.
The ladies room reminded me of the similar rooms I have seen in European palaces. They always make me wonder why would women sit with their back to each other.
The central courtyard called Diwali Chowk looks like a meeting place for residents of the house. When you stand in this square courtyard, you see stone jharokhas all around. It is used to serve Marwari Bara Khana – or the rich heavy food of Business community of Rajasthan. Standing there, looking at the stone all around, I wondered how it would look on Diwali day, all lit up with diyas and decorated with flowers.
On a personal note, my father shares the name with Narendra Singh ji, so the places sounded even more home-like to me.
Rooms @ Narendra Bhawan
There are 4 different types of rooms at Narendra Bhawan. I stayed at the Prince room that is a longish room with lots of mirrors around. I loved the pearl holders for water bottles and even for toiletries in the bathroom. There was a touch of velvet.
What I missed in the room was a tea/coffee maker. You can always order your Chai from the room service, though.
Experiences at Narendra Bhawan
I had earlier experienced the Narendra Bhawan’s team’s hospitality at Suryagarh in Jaisalmer. This time I was prepared for some exotic desert experiences. I must admit they surpassed my expectations with two unique experiences that they created for us.
Sundowner – an experience at Oasis of Ratadi Talai
How can you miss an oasis in the desert – this is what makes a desert livable. At Ratadi Talai, an oasis near Bikaner Narendra Bhawan team organized a beautiful setup in the middle of sand dunes. It was a sheer pleasure to watch the sun go down as the lonely tree reflected in the waters of the small pond.
Manmohan Joshi – a bansuri or flute player played the folk songs of Rajasthan, songs that welcome you to the land of sand, that talk about the jungles around and the songs of love & longing.
Music of the flute added to the candle lit ambiance as the sun said goodbye for the day. The kitchen team had their own setup nearby complete with a tempting grill. Food and drinks kept flowing as we sat on the funky version of traditional Charpai. The white fabric fluttered as the wind played with the sand.
Laxmi Niwas Palace View Dinner at the lawns
If an oasis is perfect for sunset, lawns of Laxmi Niwas Palace are perfect for a dinner on a moonlit night. The majestic palace stood in front of us. Two lovely lotus ponds surrounded the table lit with an array of candle lit lamps on a bed of rose petals. The lotus buds were soaking in the moonlight that they would reflect back in the morning when they open with the first rays of sun next morning.
Earlier we had taken a round of the Palace and that set the very royal tone for the evening. Food had very local ingredients like Ker Sangri. What I remember most from that evening is wedges of sweet lime dipped in finely ground cinnamon powder. Heavenly!
The beauty of these experiences is that you feel very special and of course, royal.
Walk through the Merchant Trail
Now, this is an experience that deserves a post of its own. So, wait while I pull my memory cells together and write that for you.
Thank you Team Narendra Bhawan for making my wish to see Bikaner come true in such a lovely manner. Hope to visit again for all the other experiences, till then – Jai Jai!
Recommend you read following travel blog on Rajasthan tourist attractions.