Unabashedly, unapologetically luxurious and grand, Narendra Bhawan brings back the grandeur of pre-Independence royal families and imagines how the prince would have lived.
Many years ago, a friend of mine had stated how the scale of luxury and grandeur is often directly proportional to how elaborate and intricate the flooring of a place is. It is this that echoed in my mind when I first set foot in Narendra Bhawan. I had seen and read extensively about the palatial experience that this residence-turned-luxury hotel has been offering for over a year now – a humble-but-stately residence of the last reigning king of Bikaner built into a four-floor haveli with a massive confluence of art. What was once a single-floor house is now a four-storey sandstone palace that deceives its year-and-half of existence.
After Maharajah Narendra Singh passed away in 2003, there were plans to convert the erstwhile Narendra Bhawan into a hospital. Once such plans fell through, MRS Hospitality Group took over the property. The group, headed by Manavendra Singh Rathore, specialises in luxury heritage hotels, already having Laxmi Niwas Palace in Bikaner and Suryagarh Fort in Jaisalmer under its repertoire. Narendra Bhawan is the third of the lot, and offers a completely different experience from the former two.
At Narendra Bhawan, the first thing that strikes you is that even though the palatial haveli is less than two years old, it emanates the charm of a graceful memoire from a bygone era. The entire place is imagined as how a king would reside in the present day, and how his classic tastes would translate to modern-day belongings, in terms of opulence and splendour. It is, hence, only natural that the mix of old and new makes for an eclectic concoction that you would only expect from a man of royal tastes. Designer Ayush Kasliwal deserves all the accolades for this.
As you enter, you cross Gaushala – a series of high chairs set alongside long tables underneath artfully grafted creepers, for informal parties and gatherings. This was the actual gaushala of the king, who was a profound lover of animals too. Once beyond the 1968 Morris Minor and the pair of post-WWII Willy’s Jeeps standing by the entrance, you reach the verandah – a swanky portico with influences of the Bombay Art Deco movement, collections of figurines and a solitary tanpura, and plenty of seating areas strewn around. On either end are walls adorned with exclusive silk – a mark of a flamboyant collector. Not only this, Narendra Bhawan’s verandah also has stacks of books stowed informally, serving as an easy-access modern day library instead of maintaining a bookshelf or a library altogether.
Beyond the verandah, walking ahead takes you to the office, adjacent to which is the velvet-laden, royally artistic drawing room, where guests are welcomed. Alternatively, it also functions as a seating area for a post-nap cigar, if you’d like. It is interesting how themes of art are continued in form, and yet divided by antiques like the table-side lamps and modernities like the table-trays. Adjoining this is a recreation room taken up by the billiards table (which has a brass, analogue scoreboard), and a second lounging room complete with chintz armchairs, an actual preserved leopard and two old volumes of Playboy magazine, dating way back to 1973 and 1980.
The restaurant, P&C, takes its name from the choicest favourites of the queens – pearls and chiffon. Suitably, there are pearly curtains, with the chandelier and the overall glow also creating a pearly glow all day. The wallpapers in the main dining hall, the Day Room and the Night Room (private dining halls designed specifically for certain courses) all take inspiration from chiffon patterns, including the usual shades of light peach, lilac and other calming shades. Right at its entrance, offsetting the antique glamour of the restaurant is The Mad Hatter – the bakery with its contemporary pastries and pies. You also have an adjoining buffet hall with chequered flooring, and towards the conjoint corner between the buffet hall and the main dining hall, a tall showcase bearing both new crockery and old, collected crockeries from all over the world.
On the other end of the corridor from the restaurant lies the enchanting, scarlet baby grand piano, named Edith after Edith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien. Piaf passed away in 1963 amidst popularity among discerning audiences, and it is this that signifies the king (and erstwhile prince back in the ‘60s) and his absolute tastes. Further amplifying it is the powder room attached to the washrooms – designed with a deliberate but firm feminine touch, and with a collection of sparkling vials of rare ittars, colognes and perfumes.
A Prince’s Tale
While the ground floor is built to enchant your imaginations about the king’s tastes, the rooms and their classifications are based around the various stages of his life. You begin at the heir-apparent’s room – the base category, imagined to be where the king’s childhood began. It is compact, chic and smart, and is complete with a writing desk and an armchair for the young prince to address his poetic whims or play host to his young best friend.
Then comes the Prince room, where the king is imagined in his adolescent days. He has been educated abroad, and the entire theme of decoration has a post-colonial vibe with resplendent furnishings, a sofa by the window, a full-mirror wall with deliberately-loud ‘60s velvet-adorned lights and a writing desk. Then comes the three suites – the first themed around the king’s army days and filled with army shields, accolades and collectibles of a darker state. The second suite is the India suite – an ode to India’s art and traditions, and complete with a wall decorated with indigo bandhani, a charkha and threads of varying textures. At the centre of it all is a grand bed, impeccable lighting and an adjoining balcony that overlooks the gaushala.
The final suite is the Republic Suite, where the king is in his full glory, with exquisite music taste reflected in the wall-set music-and-collectible shelf that also has the tube amp-replicated Marshall Stanmore speaker. There is an exquisite, private dining corner at the rear end of the living space, which also comes with a writing table, a corner with three crystal bottles labelled ‘gin’, ‘vodka’ and ‘scotch’, and a wonderfully Victorian sofa. Joined with the living room is the bedroom, themed in light turquoise and accompanied by a walk-in closet and coffee corner, and the washroom the size of the average Mumbai apartment.
Each suite and room comes with exquisite finishing, and there isn’t a shade of doubt on the excellent standards of luxury. What elevates this is the amount of romanticism that Narendra Bhawan generates on the king, and urges you to live the life of royalty when you’re there – through their hospitality and services, through the grand lounging areas, the antiquities of every single element, the jali corridors and the incredibly beautiful floors. Each corridor on every floor comes with a set of cosy, traditional seating areas, resplendent with photographs of the royal family, their lineage and collections, and corner seating areas and showcases that amplify the amount of thought that has gone behind designing Narendra Bhawan from scratch.
It is all of this that makes Narendra Bhawan feel so special. From entering till leaving, you are not just well tended for, but you’re looked after with genuine warmth and personal affection. Adding to all of this is Narendra Bhawan’s specially curated ‘food meditation’ sessions that you can sign up for – some focus on savouring tastes without the sense of sight, some pair mid-20th century global fare with classic literature that were contemporary back in the ‘60s, and some more take you to the nearby Laxmi Niwas Palace, where the once-smoking room is now an ornate dining hall with a staggering amount of actual gold.
It is resplendent, classy, nostalgic and unquestionably royal, and it is this that makes Narendra Bhawan an unforgettable experience.
Then, there’s Nahala – the resident Golden Retriever who truly is the queen of the palace, in every sense.
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