The Narendra Bhawan experience

At first glance, the red sandstone structure that is Narendra Bhawan Bikaner doesn’t stand out or give any indication to the luxury boutique hotel that it claims to be. In fact, it looks more like a haveli or mansion of a merchant rather than the one-time residence or palace of Narendra Singhji, the former king of Bikaner.

Once past the rather modest entrance gates, you will cross a small courtyard covered with paving made from the same deep red sandstone, that Narendra Bhawan is constructed from — the local building stone. You will then pass through an arched entrance and climb up a few steps clad with golden yellow Jaisalmeri stone. And that’s when the change happens !

The floor tiles change to colourful vintage tiles. Carefully curated artefacts fill your sight, and deep and luxurious furniture beckon you to sit down and take it all in… But, wait for there is more to see and explore. You pass through a door and enter the very bold and beautiful foyer where large black and white tiles create a chequered floor pattern. Glass cabinets with the most interesting curios twinkle in the light reflected from the art deco lamps on the ceiling. At one end of the long foyer is a bright red piano…

You look around in wonder and accept the welcome drink offered to you by the ever smiling and friendly staff of the hotel and let it all sink in. This is how my Narendra Bhawan Experience began.

I was part of a group of travel bloggers and writers who were hosted by Narendra Bhawan in February 2018. We were taken around Bikaner, introduced to Bikaneri art forms and artists and of course, explore all that the hotel had to offer. Since I had visited Bikaner in 2013, I was quite happy to stay put in the hotel and explore it as well as the various art forms it displayed. Not that I didn’t explore the city (the next post on the blog will be all about that), but Narendra Bhawan was just as interesting, if not more, than the city.

Come along with me as I get you to experience Narendra Bhawan as I did, albeit through photographs. Do click on the first picture and then use the right arrow keys to see the others. Once you’ve seen this set, do come back to read the rest of the post and see the next set.

 

Narendra Singhji was an animal lover and lived with more than 50 dogs and cows at his residence. He reportedly knew every animal in his household by name and would eat only after every dog and cow had been fed. He donated a large parcel of land to set up a veterinary college cum hospital. Narendra Bhawan has paid a beautiful ode to this quality of his by putting up photographs and curios of dogs all over the hotel — bookends, garden ornaments, photographs, and metal and porcelain sculptures.

Do click on the first picture and then use the right arrow keys to see the others. Once you’ve seen this set, do come back to read the rest of the post and see the next set.

 

The artefacts at Narendra Bhawan and the various design elements complement each other beautifully. Some are so subtle that one blink and you’ll miss it, while others are large and over the top statements. Either way they all belong there — whether it is art deco furniture and decor elements or 19th century porcelain ornaments or antique musical instruments and bronze icons, or vintage vases, or framed prints and silver hair brushes or enamel snuff boxes… Somehow all this shouldn’t go together and stand out as disparate elements, but they don’t. Oh, and there are books everywhere — carelessly stacked or carefully shelved there are books of all kinds and for everyone.

Do click on the first picture and then use the right arrow keys to see the others. Once you’ve seen this set, do come back to read the rest of the post and see the next set.

 

Food is a big part of the Narendra Bhawan experience and hospitality. One can even call it death by eating or rather over-eating The variety of dishes, both local and otherwise was fantastic and lip smacking, but after a point it just got ovverwhelming. For the sake of public service and memories of my stomach protesting, I’m going to share just two experiences here — the fruit platter at breakfast (which was a work of art in itself) and the brilliantly curated and conceptualised Literary Meal. I cherish both experiences deeply and will never ever forget them.

Narendra Bhawan, Luxury Hotel, Bikaner, Travel, Rajasthan
The fresh fruit platter at breakfast

 

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Last Saturday, I was on my way to #ExploreBikaner #NarendraBhawan. I'm back in Mumbai now, but if you have been following my stories & IG posts, you would have known what a great time I had there. Hands down, the most memorable experience was the special #LiteraryMeal. . 7 iconic books reinterpreted to 7 delicious courses all served up in style.What a fabulously creative concept the meal was. Each one in my group read out the book blurb and the passage in the book that inspired a particular dish. For details, please swipe to see all photos. . 1. A photo collage. . 2. The table setting before the book meals arrived. . 3. Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar". Reinterpreted to "Stock Braised Leeks, Goats Cheese, Roasted Beet, and Pomegranate Blood". 4. Herman Melville's "Moby Dick". Reinterpreted to Chowder with crushed biscuit and served with cheese balls. Don't miss the boat shaped blue bowl and the foam on the chowder. 5. "The Brotherhood of the Grape" by John Fante. Reinterpreted to gnocchi, eggplant caviar, with ewe's milk cheese. 6. The last chef" by Nicole Mones. Reinterpreted as Mushroom in a honey hoisin drizzle and white Fungus. 7. Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse". Reinterpreted as braised vegetables in wine, balsamic and olive oil, garlic, orange peel, nutmeg, cinnamon and herbs. 8. Emile Zola's " Le Venture de Paris". Reinterpreted as Baked Camembert on Melba with a grape and wine relish. 9. Ulysses by James Joyce. Reinterpreted to White chocolate mousse with lemon curd and candied rose petals. 10. One of the courses of the Literary Meal getting plated.

A post shared by Sudha G. (@sudhageee) on

It was on the last day of my stay at Narendra Bhawan that the aesthetics and design elements of of this lovely hotel fell into place. I had gone for a walk in the morning and as I entered the gate and passed through the various sections everything clicked and fell into place. Before I explain, let me quote this line from the hotel’s website:

A grand residence, Narendra Bhawan Bikaner is composed of Narendra Singhji’s memories from his travels to destinations near and far.

In other words, Narendra Bhawan is a tribute to the many experiences of Narendra Singhji and the influence of various places on him at various times of his life. And yet it remains deeply rooted to the local, which is Bikaner and Rajasthan, the state where the city is located. The transition from the local (red standstone) to the regional (yellow Jaisalmer stone) to the international (vintage Portuguese tiles and South east Asian ceramics and Art Deco, etc.). Narendra Bhawan is a tribute to the man, the king, who retained his local roots in spite of the many influences and experiences he had.

I leave you with this video I shot on my second morning at Narendra Bhawan as I waited for breakfast. Indian bird song and some soulful international jazz — can there be a better combination?

PS: Please look out for the next post on the blog where the Narendra Bhawan experience continues as I explore the havelis, markets and more of Bikaner.


Disclaimer: I was invited by Narendra Bhawan to visit and experience their hospitality and this rather belated post is an outcome of stay there. Needless to stay, the views and words are all mine.


More Posts from Bikaner: Forts of Rajasthan – 1: The Junagarh Fort of Bikaner |There’s something about camels ! | The Jain Temples of Rajasthan: Bhandasar, Jaisalmer, Lodhrava & Ranakpur | Bikaner revisited: Something old, something new |


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