A Tour Of Narendra Bhawan, The Luxury Boutique Hotel That’s Putting Bikaner On The Map
- 28 Oct '21
- 5:42 pm by Nuriyah Johar
There’s something special about Rajasthani hospitality that tends to stay with you long after you’ve returned to your bustling metropolis. A keen sense of honour in playing host, and a deep pride in the rich history of the land is evident in every interaction you will have with the locals. Our experience at Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner was a testament to this prevalent sentiment that is difficult to put into precise words, and can only ever be felt first-hand.
This boutique luxury property by the Rajasthan-based MRS Group is unlike the other palace hotels spread across Rajasthan. Set in the heart of the city, it is modest in size but monumental in appeal. Regality and opulence shine through every aspect of Narendra Bhawan; from the experiences to the interiors, but they are marked by an unpretentiousness that keeps you at ease throughout your stay. This is hardly an accident, as the hotel stands as a tangible reflection of the life of Narendra Singhji, the last reigning Maharaja of Bikaner. His penchant for travel, love for literature, and progressive, socialist views that fully embraced the idea of a democratic India form the very ethos of Narendra Bhawan. Built as his residence in 1969, the structure serves as a striking design hotel that bears witness to a one-of-a-kind legacy.
“If I had to describe Narendra Bhawan in one word, it would be ‘Nostalgic’” – Ayush Kasliwal
Our expectations of Narendra Bhawan were high from the get go. We had heard plenty about this popular new spot in Bikaner and seen pictures of its remarkable restoration by architect and founder of AKFD Studio, Ayush Kasliwal. What became clear very quickly into our visit, however, was that second-hand narratives did the place little justice. The property is a testament to indulgent living, brought forth through luxurious experiences and an immaculate attention to detail.
Narendra Bhawan was designed by Kasliwal as a ‘Landscape of Memories’. “If I had to describe Narendra Bhawan in one word, it would be ‘Nostalgic’”, he tells us. While the overarching style, material palette, and colour scheme of the interiors take inspiration from the historic Junagarh Fort in Bikaner, the narrative that runs throughout is that of the bon vivant life of Narendra Singhji. The architecture (that which was restored, and added on by Kasliwal) evinces a distinct Marwari sensibility. However, the interiors take inspiration from the pulse of Bombay during the burgeoning Art Deco Movement, the regimental order that mirrored the erstwhile ruler’s family history, and the glamour of Broadway. Rich velveteen fabrics, glittering mirrors, and pearl string curtains lie behind this red sandstone facade.
Authenticity was key for Kasliwal. Even though the present-day version of Narendra Bhawan includes the addition of a three-storeyed structure onto the pre-existing haveli, one would never be able to tell old from new. “Right from the architecture to the interiors of Narendra Bhawan, everything from the terrazzo floor, and even the front-facing façade is all made locally,” Kasliwal tells us. “Hand-crafting was an integral part of the project. The furniture for the hotel has been made by the Jangir community, who were the traditional carpenters from Rajasthan.” Spread across 1,00,000 sq ft, 82 rooms and five levels, it is almost hard to believe that this was AKFD Studio’s first large-scale hospitality project.
Flamboyant and eclectic, the common areas of Narendra Bhawan take on a life of their own. You enter the hotel through The Verandah, an indoor-outdoor lounging area that transports you to a version of the Roaring Twenties. A world of Art Deco motifs, Oriental vases, Portuguese tiles and vintage photographs tell you right from the start, that your experience here will be far from ordinary. On one end of the lounge lies our favourite design detail from the hotel – an electric red grand piano inscribed with the lyrics of Edith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.
In keeping with the promise of an immersive regal experience, Narendra Bhawan’s dining areas draw inspiration from various aspects of the erstwhile royal’s life. The Gaushala, an animal-friendly outdoor lounge, overlooks the grand facade of the hotel and is dotted with cool marbled furniture and antique curios. Easily our most memorable meal here, the Literary Lunch featured seven mouth-watering courses, each of which referenced classic novels that ranged from Ulysses by James Joyce to Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar. “The Maharaja was an avid reader,” the chef explained as he took us through this unique experience. Moving indoors, an elegant dining room captures the very essence of femininity. Named P&C, the restaurant is a tribute to pearls strings and chiffon saris, elements which find their way seamlessly into the design of the space. Private dining rooms that display a bold Art Deco sensibility add to the intrigue of the Bhawan.
The rooms at Narendra Bhawan come alive with colour and print. Every space tells a story; the Prince Rooms feature exquisite velvets, English prints, and mosaic detailing that reflected the royal’s youthful exuberance and proclivities towards a Western lifestyle. The grand Regimental Rooms are decorated with army regalia, influenced by the ceremonial order of the military. The India Rooms bring together the pastoral and the contemporary through natural materials and indigo detailing. Kasliwal’s vision for the interiors indicates meticulous consideration. Nothing feels forced or overly thematic; it is simply transportational in the most authentic way.
A commentary on Narendra Bhawan would be incomplete without a mention of the Diwali Chowk, an exquisite central courtyard at the heart of the hotel. Built from scratch on what used to be the terrace of the original haveli, the courtyard is dotted with canopies, fruit trees, and daybeds enveloped by the hotel’s structure. If you’ve seen Narendra Bhawan on social media, chances are you’ve come across this space – it has become an Instagram favourite.
Those looking to simply put their feet up and decompress can find solace at Clinic – The Spa which takes inspiration from the mystical Bach Flower Therapy. Swathed in calming pastel and neutral tones, the spa ensures the ultimate experience in relaxation. In addition to this, an azure infinity pool that overlooks the city serves as the perfect antidote to the dry weather of the desert state. From authentic Marwari dinners by the open poolside to sundowners in the wilderness, Narendra Bhawan offers a number of unforgettable experiences where reality and fantasy meet. While you would be perfectly content in spending the entire duration of your vacation indoors (as Narendra Bhawan certainly has more than enough to offer), Bikaner is an explorer’s paradise. The hotel will gladly arrange for guided tours of the city’s historic Junagadh Fort, ancient merchant havelis, and bustling marketplaces.
Ultimately, Narendra Bhawan delivers on its promises and then some. When you step foot into the hotel, you are greeted with glorious trumpet fanfare. When you depart, you are bid adieu with the warmest smiles and an invitation to visit again. And there’s no doubt we will.