Known for our intense research and pre-prep, we decided to skip our habitual process and jump on an overnight train to Bikaner with no expectations (but a whole lotta hand sanitiser). What awaited us was something no amount of research could ready us for, and for the first time, we were glad to have come blissfully unaware of what awaits.
Whilst pulling into the driveway of Narendra Bhawan, the facade is quintessential to Rajasthan’s stunning architecture. But ten steps in and you’re spellbound by the juxtaposition of art-deco-sexy and old-school-charming; it’s a space where the old order intertwines with the new age. It’s easy to contradict to the old-age saying “Never judge a book by it’s cover”, because it’s the entrance that truly sets the tone of what’s to come ahead. High ceilings, chinese urns, traditional accents placed over old literature classics, traditional Bikaner terrazzo floors harmoniously paired with edgy Portuguese tiles – there is definite order to this design madness. Welcome to Narendra Bhawan – the grand residence of the last reigning Maharaja of Bikaner, HH Narendra Singhji (1948 – 2003). Born on the cusp of Independent India, Narendra Singhji was famous for his eccentric tastes, eclectic travels and pitaara of memories. Underlying his collation of experiences was his meditative association with food – one that is core to what Narendra Bhawan (NB) stands for.
An Ode To Memories
Atypical to Rajasthani havelis, this palace-residence is a glorious composition of the Maharaja’s travels and memories – unconventional, glamorous and indulgent. It’s a delicious mix of the mindful rajasthani hospitality and the art-deco painfully stylish vibe. We got a gin & tonic with Karan Singh, President of the heritage property group, to understand the process of bringing it to life, “As all creative processes, the design of Narendra Bhawan was an interactive yet precise process of elimination. The story line was fixed in a time frame and allowed the persona of the resident to take over. You see strong influences from the burgeoning Art Deco movement and the glamour of Broadway. The architecture, however, retains a strong influence of the local building tradition, much like the famous havelis of Bikaner.” Walking around the residence, we are intoxicated by the enticing interiors – dark inviting caverns, rich velveteen fabrics, geometric orientation, custom-made furniture, and classic application of chiffon & pearls.
Designed by Jaipur-based Ayush Kasliwal, every motif and design element screams electric and every corner seems to be derived from a distinct poem from the Maharaja’s life. Be it the legs of a chair, the blood-red piano (‘The Edith’) with calligraphy courtesy Kriti Monga, the 1960 dog-eared editions of Playboy sitting loud & proud in the smoking lounge (something that Karan has to turn upside down every morning), the canopy & fruit tree dotted Diwali Chowk, the (almost) infinity pool with a vantage view of the city – Narendra Bhawan is just the place where we hope to retire. This 82-room property offers to be a balm for the tired city-dweller and we suggest you enter this sanctuary minus any technology (minus a great camera).
Food Maketh The Man
If you manage to peel yourself apart from this moodboard of memories, we strongly recommend you venture into the city to buy a spiffy pair of jootis, many vials of the country’s best ittars, bottles of the locally famous sherbets and of course, Bikaneri Bhujia. There are a host of culinary experiences the hotel curates and our personal pick would be the Full Moon dinner by Ratadia Talai. Driving through mysterious off-track paths into the wilderness to dine under the night sky bejeweled with a full moon – expect all senses to be raucously heightened. Our weekend getaway is seamlessly woven with food experiences which Singh beautifully summarises as, “I have a firm belief that taste is primordial and long after all pleasures have departed, the memory of the palate remains. The pleasures of the table are meditative and take us on a social journey of friendship, love and intellectual stimulation. The ambition of these culinary meditations hence was not merely to satiate but to stimulate an enquiry into our relationship with food and present society.”
Celebrating The Old With New
Getting G&Ts (but obviously) with Siddharth Yadav (Vice President) and the property dogs (and reigning showstoppers), we chat about breaking the haveli-hospitality format. Being an intrinsic part of the guest-experience, he ably manages to balance the line of approachable yet non-intrusive hosting, “Our interactions are based on being loyal to our guests, to provide service with energy and to always find avenues to grow the guest experience. Hence we engage with our guests sensitively, reconciling their expectations and experience.” He talks about tweaking the service model to mirror the vibrant vibe of the property, “This is not just another haveli turned hotel. It’s a remembrance and ode to the dynamic charisma of the former owner.”
Head to Narendra Bhawan to soothe the frayed nerves. Head to Narendra Bhawan to disconnect from the world. Head to Narendra Bhawan to immerse yourself in the only form of mediation DSSC understands – food & tipple.
Oh and also, make sure you get a drink with Karan Singh – he’s the human embodiment of the space and his stories and witty observations will leave you chuckling with delight.
Book yourself a room here: https://narendrabhawan.com/
How to get there:
- By Air : The nearest airports are Jodhpur (253 km) or Jaipur (334 km). Jump into a jeep or hotel-reserved car and take a quick nap enroute the Bhawan.
- By Train : We took a (surprisingly) comfortable overnight journey from Delhi to Bikaner.
- By Road : Bikaner is linked by good and all weather state and national highways.
Weather stats: Typical of the Thar Desert area with extreme temperatures, the summer months see the temperature rise above 45° Centigrade. Any normal summer day in Bikaner is blistering hot but the evenings are blissfully pleasant. Winter in Bikaner witnesses a drastic change when temperatures comes down to 12° to 18° Centigrade.