All through my earlier posts on Rajasthan, especially Bikaner, I expressed a desire to relive that era. Mostly for its luxurious residences, its rich lifestyle and the little quirks that the royalty used to indulge in. Little did I know that my wish was going to be granted – without me going back in time for it. A stay at Narendra Bhawan gave me a glimpse of the illustrious life of the Maharaja. I would not deem this as any luxury hotel stay. I would term this as being a guest in the home of the Maharaja – a little traditional and a little contemporary in its approach.
History of Narendra Bhawan
Over my last visit to Bikaner, I had explored the history of the city with a visit to the Junagarh Fort. The royal family moved out of the stunning fort for a slightly more contemporary residence at Lallgarh Palace. Over time, with India attaining independence and the royal rule giving way to democracy, the last Maharaja of Bikaner – Narendra Singhji, moved out to a slightly more urban home which today, has become the stunning Hotel – Narendra Bhawan.
A stay at this palatial bungalow gave me a good insight into how royalty adapted to new times. A stay here is not just a stay but an immersive experience – one that showcases the art and passion that the Maharaja of Bikaner enjoyed. And if you are a heritage buff like me, living it even for a day, is something you would not want to miss!
Contemporary touch with Rajasthani Roots
The original home of the Maharaja was not as huge as what the current structure is. It has been tastefully designed to keep some of the original forms while adding those present-day sensibilities to it. The exterior with its Rajasthani styled jharokha windows are well mixed with the colored stained glass panels, their beauty enhanced by the fresh bougainvillea blossoming out of it. While the ceilings and walls may have some Indian touch, the floors delight you with its Portuguese tiles and designs.
A step into the hotel mansion does not take you to a hotel lobby but a lovely corridor that might have been to welcome guests. Comfortable seating greets you as you partake the welcome drinks – whether indoors or outdoors – the choice is quite yours. Over the three days that I stayed here, I tried both these options and absolutely loved the breakfast outdoors with friendly animals greeting you. It felt amazing to grab that fresh glass of juice under the pavilion with sparrows as your company and Jazz music lightening your mood.
Every floor is built in a manner that reminds you of its Rajasthani roots. The jhali balconies on each floor overlook the old courtyard of the Maharaja’s home called the Diwali chowk. This has been tastefully converted to an open-air cafe with small water fountains along the sides.
Narendra Bhawan at Night
I think this for me was the best part of the entire decor. Every visit to a palace in Rajasthan always gave me that feeling of how the nights would be magical with all those candles lit along its niches. Narendra Bhawan put life into that imagination of mine for when the night falls, it lights up like a jewel in the dark. The difference is that it is no longer the traditional lamps lit but well thought out modern lights.
The Diwali chowk sparkles with those orange lights and one can well imagine the many Indian festivals that were celebrated here. At the same time, the corridors with its warm lighting give you a distinct European feel with its decor. A few settings like the Charpoys one here, showcase how the Rajasthan Royalty moved with time. The three nights that I was here, made me feel like a Princess in 1001 Nights.
Stylish home of a Well-Traveled Host
As a traveler, most of us bring back some curios as a memory for our homes. This is why we all have a very mixed decor for our homes. There might be something from China sitting alongside something from Netherlands or India. I always treated this one of my quirks. Interestingly, it is not an unusual quirk for Narendra Bhawan pretty much follows the same theme.
At one end you have these lovely Oriental vases and curios while in some other corner, you will find collections from Europe. A Red piano by its lift is an excellent example of that little British feel that I got here while on its next floor, the Indian decor reminded me of heritage. The entire effect is very tastefully done and thus, you do not find this medley of cultures a misfit. It feels as if they belong together and I for one, was quite impressed with it.
Luxurious Rooms of Narendra Bhawan
The rooms of Narendra Bhawan, as explained to me, belong to 5 different categories. The designs of these have been done based on the life theme of the Maharaja itself. They represent the tastes that the Maharaja might have acquired at each of his lifestage – as a prince, as an army personal, as a young ruler or as a Republican. While all of them are amazing, I will just showcase the Prince Rooms that I stayed in.
Comfortable, contemporary and luxurious are the three words that came to my mind as I entered my room. The personalized greeting in the form of a note next to my framed photograph did make me feel special. The wide wardrobe space separating the restroom area from the bedroom was an interesting design element. The restroom area consisted of a modern shower cubicle attached to the toilets. The absence of the bathtub was a further testament to the modern touch to royalty in my mind.
Facilities within Narendra Bhawan
A large infinity pool overlooking the Bikaner city is something that most of us would love to use. As would the modern gym below it and a Spa. Narendra Bhawan is quite well connected with Wi-Fi for those on a working holiday like me and in some ways, it is pleasure to work here with its outdoor ambiance. Though there is a cafe and a dining hall, food in Narendra Bhawan is served anywhere on its premises. The logic as I understood from their staff, is that a guest in the Maharaja’s house should always feel at home.
Curated Experiences by Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner
The one thing that makes Narendra Bhawan different from a lot of Heritage hotels is its bouquet of Curated experiences. These follow the theme of royalty and give you a good experience of the history and culture of Imperial Bikaner. It is not just about place but the culinary delights of Rajasthan – and even though I am a non-foodie, I must say that I loved all that they treated me to. Over the three days that I stayed with them, here are the ones I experienced
The Royal tour of Bikaner
Here is where you start at the home of the first ruler of Bikaner – Rao Bika Singhji and traverse in time to Laxmi Niwas Palace, the Lallgarh palace, Sadul Museum and finally, the royal cenotaphs. An architectural and cultural delight, this actually took care of all the heritage aspect that I had missed on my last visit to Bikaner. It wasn’t just about seeing the place in our case. We were even treated to a seven-course meal – Maharaja style at the Laxmi Niwas Palace. One that still gets me rubbing my belly with just a memory.
Merchant Exploration of Bikaner
This possibly was the highlight of all my tours as I played Indiana Jones. The trail takes you to the merchant area of Bikaner that is full of those age-old havelis with stunning designs and themes. Bikaner being on the silk route, had its share of rich merchants – their wealth being reflected in their traditional homes.
A Blindfold Dinner Experience
Organized within Narendra Bhawan, the Blindfold dinner was a five-course meal which you cannot see but only feel, smell and taste. It was kind of fun to let your other senses take over and participate in the guessing game of what really went in.
Sundowner at the Ratadi Talai
This is how it must have been when the Maharajas went for hunting or a war. Candle lights lighting up a watering hole that served as the Maharaja’s hunting ground greeted us with soft musical notes of a flute maestro. The outdoor setting under the starry sky with scrumptious meals served by the Narendra Bhawan staff is one experience of a lifetime.
Warm Hospitality of Narendra Bhawan
My stay would not have been so amazing if it weren’t for the lovely staff of Narendra Bhawan. With ever smiling faces and an inherent charm, these guys will bowl you over. Whether it is the doorman or your housekeeping or even your guide on the exploratory tours, you cannot but help appreciate them for their friendly tips about Bikaner – which in fact, reflects the pride of their heritage.
Narendra Bhawan struck me as a hotel in Bikaner that is not just a place for you to rest but one where you can get to know the city, its culture, its local traditions and its history better. In fact, I would term it as a starting point for your tour to Bikaner. Wouldn’t you agree?
- Bikaner has a small airport with a single flight connectivity from Delhi. You can book yourself on the Air India flight to get here. There is one flight every day.
- Alternately, you can drive in from Jodhpur – which is the other nearest airport from Bikaner. However, this is at a distance of 250 kms from the city.
- Bikaner is well connected by road and railways to all the major cities of India.
- Click here to get Narendra Bhawan on your mobile maps. Getting to the hotel is easy as it is quite central to Bikaner. Any of the taxis and auto drivers will take you here.
- Here is the official website of Narendra Bhawan. You can get the latest rates and deals through the site.
- All the exploratory tours that I mentioned above are not included in the basic package. You will have to book the same separately.
- Bikaner is a small city. Narendra Bhawan is 5 km away from the city railway station. It is equidistant from all the main sites within the city and that makes the location fairly decent.
- The best time to visit Bikaner is from October to March. After March, it gets fairly hot.
- Evenings are cool in Bikaner. If you are headed for the Sundown experience or any outdoor experience, carry a shawl with you.
P.S: I was invited by Narendra Bhawan to experience Bikaner. However, this has no bearing on my opinions, which are truly and honestly my own!