The Charming Entrance of Narendra Bhawan
‘Travel-weary, I seek lodging—ah, wistaria’, said a haiku written by the Japanese poet Basho, whose book I was reading while sitting in the charming lobby of Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner. Any traveller today has so much to explore, to soak in the entire city, and that does not leave much room for one to experience the place they stay in complete essence, like Basho, travel weary, simply seek lodging to rest. Yet, Narendra Bhawan is a microcosm of the entire Bikaner and quintessential to the experience of the city. Here, I found myself as blissful as he felt upon finding the beautiful flowers of wistaria.
My stay and experience at Narendra Bhawan was like walking inside a book and living the story that recounts the life of the last reigning Maharaja of Bikaner, HH Narendra Singh Ji [1948 -2003]. Having absorbed a life of royal patronage, he turned his gaze away from the lifestyle of his forefathers, put aside his majestic material heritage along with his legacies and established this novel residence in keeping with his new tastes and vision. Set in an urban landscape, this residence today is an independent design hotel [owned by the MRS Group] and possesses a oneof-a-kind legacy of both the city and its last Maharaja, a set of curated experiences that should be preserved, maintained, and allowed to flourish.
The Prince Room
The title of this aforementioned book is Meditations on the Grand Essentials of Life. It has four chapters, namely, Something to take Pleasure in, Something to Do, Something to Love and Something to Hope For, and the narrator of this book is the Vice President of MRS Hotels, Siddharth Yadav, who walks you through the narrative, explaining all the motifs, symbols, imagery and HH Narendra Singh Ji’s point of view. As we began our reading, we were first acquainted to the Prologue, which is always necessary to understand any text better, to place it in its context. The context of this book is the Bhawan itself. As its name suggests, Narendra Bhawan is not a hotel, it is a home [Bhawan means home in Hindi]. A home that reflects its former resident’s life and philosophy and one that makes you feel at home as well, elevating your being to that of a royal. The entire property is stunningly curated, with every corner picturesque, every step you take surrounded by immense beauty and also with a gin and tonic in hand, a must part of your stay here.
From the lobby walls that are covered by the symphony of silk sarees [Silk Frames made by Ekaya], the dining spaces such as P&C [Pearls and Chiffon inspired decor that captures the charm and phlegmatic finesse of the graceful lady of the house] to the electric red Baby Grand piano, the ‘Edith’, which sits at one end of the verandah and has calligraphy by artist Kriti Monga, and finally, the absolutely astounding Diwali Chowk, the central courtyard at the heart, where I found myself not just amidst beauty but also reading a lot since the property also houses the entire collection of Penguin Classics. The property also displays artworks and little knick knacks originally owned by the Maharaja, scattered aesthetically, along with miniature art by Mahaveer Swami, MF Hussain’s painting-prints with original signatures, pieces showcasing Usta work and Tribal art of Bikaner, and ceramic design pieces by Shirley Bhatnagar that are inspired by Alice in Wonderland’s tea party scene outside the eclectic and whimsical bakehouse aptly named Mad Hatter.
Our venue for the epilogue: The Museum Dinner
‘Designer Ayush Kasliwal has attempted to interpret Narendra Singh Ji’s memories from his travels into design elements, further translating into architecture, furniture, room layouts etc, influenced by the burgeoning Art Deco movement,’ explains Siddharth. After being taken in by the context itself, the first two chapters of the book take the historical experience a few notches higher. Something to take Pleasure in, the first chapter, recounts the Maharaja’s life as a Prince—the Prince Rooms reflect a youthful exuberance that is befitting for the glamorous living quarters. The young prince, on the threshold of maturity, designed his apartments to reflect his growing leanings towards a western lifestyle, which translates itself in the Prince Room through luxe velvets, English prints, glittering mirror and mosaic. The journey moves ahead with the Prince becoming a man of the army, as you move to the second chapter, Something to Do. This chapter is surmised by the stately Regimental Room that reflects a ceremonial order that appealed instinctively to the military man. Elements of army regalia are sensitively interspersed with modern conveniences, adding uniformity and symmetry. While I previewed the rooms, canapés and cocktails followed before a stately lunch with the Military Band at Gaushala, which is a tribute to Lord Krishna. Here I found myself drooling at a unique delicacy, Aloe Vera subzi, that left me pleasantly surprised with its tender flavours.
Come evening, a small respite was necessary and thus well facilitated by Clinic—the spa at Narendra Bhawan. Here I was indulged in a 90 minute relaxation spa inspired by the famous Bach Flower Therapy, that alleviated all my weariness and made me ready to experience the third chapter of the book, Something to Love. The Prince, now a seasoned public figure, returns and whole-heartedly embraces the democratic republic that is young India. He takes pride in everything quintessentially Indian, yet fashioned for the cosmopolitan traveller. Curated primarily in indigo—the symbolic colour of this country, the India Room is a cocoon where comfort and contentment are accentuated. To set the stage further for our last chapter, a small digression was taken in the narrative, as we sat for an Imperial Dinner by the Infinity pool, that offers great vantage views of the city, both the old and the new. Under the twilight sky I was served the delectable spread that showcased the Muslim food of Bikaner since the Maharaja himself had many friends from the Muslim Community.
The next day brought me to the last chapter, Something to Hope For. For the first part of this, a proud Indian, the Maharaja, is greatly inspired by Le Corbusier’s blueprint of Chandigarh as a symbol of his country disengaging from a colonial past and stepping out into a modern world. Surmised by the Republic Rooms, you experience a dramatic space inspired by an era when the great architects of India created arenas that were startlingly new. A glass of effervescent Mimosa while viewing the room was the prelude to the second part of the last chapter—a lazy Sunday afternoon, a tent, Mimosas, picnic essentials like potato salads and grilled sausages, soft music, the blue sky above and the blue Indira Gandhi canal beside, the perfect culmination of the experience. But, of course, let’s not forget the Epilogue, the Museum Dinner—a homage to the brunch held by the pioneer King of Bikaner, Ganga SinghJi, for the Britishers—a spectacular five-course menu through which the chef re-renders the king’s table with recipes derived from the annals of history.
Text Nidhi Verma