In case you are still undecided about where to spend your Christmas and New Year vacations, here is a suggestion. Try Narendra Bhawan, a boutique hotel in Bikaner Rajasthan that was once the private residence of HH Narendra Singhji, the erstwhile ruler of this princely state.
So what makes this beautiful property the perfect getaway during times of COVID-19? A place that is luxurious, safe, not too crowded and hassle-free to reach.
Bikaner is a fairly unexplored travel destination even in normal times, unlike the other popular tourist destinations in Rajasthan like Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur etc. Which means that in the “new normal” there are even fewer people visiting the city.
There is a daily non-stop hour-and-a-half-long Air Alliance flight from Delhi to Bikaner, which makes it a very convenient destination to reach. If you wish to go by road, the drive from Delhi takes around 7-8-hours.
Rajasthan is also one of the few states in India that does not require a COVID-19 test for out of state travellers. So one more headache less while planning the trip.
Trying to find some normalcy in these isolating times, I decided to spend a weekend here last month. While booking online, some of my fears regarding safety and hygiene issues were assuaged after reading the Covid-19 update on the hotel website. All guidelines and precautions seemed to be in place. What was most reassuring was the fact that out of the 82 rooms at Narendra Bhawan, only 50 were open for booking, indicating that the hotel seemed concerned about the safety of its guests and wished to avoid overcrowding.
And so I headed to Bikaner with a friend choosing to fly, simply because we wished to save time. Went to the airport armed with all the prerequisites like the passenger health undertaking form (stating that we were not suffering from fever or cough and were not residing in any containment zone) a pre-printed boarding card, Aarogya Sethu app on our phones and the mandatory face mask and shield in place.
Honestly, I did not find flying as daunting as it is made out to be. On the contrary, it was a rather stress-free experience, right from the time we checked into Delhi airport, till the time we reached Narendra Bhawan well in time for lunch.
My first impression as I stepped onto the art-deco verandah adjoining the porch was that of entering someone’s home rather than a hotel. The place evoked a warm and comfortable feeling of stillness and privacy. There was an opulence that somehow felt homely. I sensed an immediate connection with the building’s history, which was the actual residence of the Late Maharaja Narendra Singhji of Bikaner, till his death in 2003.
We completed the check-in formalities while sipping the welcome drink of jasmine and lemon, seated in a drawing-room reminiscent of a Cigar Room of an upper-class English men’s club, complete with leather sofas and dark wood interiors and a billiards room adjacent to this luxurious masculine domain.
Looking around we noticed that the staff wore masks and gloves and maintained a safe distance at all times while interacting with the guests. Masks were also mandatory for the guests when using the common areas of the hotel. There seemed to be no dearth of hand sanitizers and there was one kept in the lift too. The cleaning and disinfecting protocols were all in place which reassured us.
The next two days spent at Narendra Bhawan was like opening a door into an elegant past. It is a fascinating property where modernity blends with an old-world charm giving the place a distinct character. The theme of a well-travelled person runs through the entire hotel. Every inch of every corner is filled with memorabilia from the life of the late Maharaja, giving an intimate glimpse into a royal living.
There is painstaking attention to detail, from the brilliant lighting to the gorgeous floor tiles, bespoke commissioned rugs in soft shades, exquisite furniture reflecting a contemporary take on traditional design, vintage framed photos of the erstwhile royalty, the eclectic collection of museum quality antiques, contemporary art, curios, bric-a-brac, all woven together by Jaipur based creative designer Ayush Kasliwal, who has designed the interiors so tastefully, without making it kitschy.
The dining room in soft and sophisticated hues is aptly named “Pearls and Chiffon”, two words that bind the women of Rajputana royalty and signify the elegance of a regal lifestyle. Here we were treated to the finest of wines and some delicious local Bikaneri cuisine.
The in-house Spa at Narendra Bhawan modelled on sanatoriums of Europe, shuns away from traditional Ayurvedic therapies and instead focuses on state-of-the-art Bemer vascular therapy to improve blood flow using their specially developed flower essences. All sanitization measures were strictly in place here too, like elsewhere at the hotel.
Narendra Bhawan also offers some add-on curated experiences in addition to the facilities at the property. The sundowners arranged for us by Siddharth Yadav, Vice President Operations MRS Group, at a man-made water body a short drive from the hotel and a Marwari lunch organized at their sister property Laxmi Niwas Palace, were both incredible experiences.
The stand-out for me during our entire stay was the unparalleled hospitality of the staff who were attentive without being intrusive. The excellent services went hand-in-hand with great facilities.
It was a magical three days and the perfect break I needed to rejuvenate my mind and body. Certain images will remain etched in the memory forever like the beautiful red sandstone façade of the hotel, the infinity pool on the terrace, the gorgeous corridors that looked out on to the central courtyard, the stylishly designed common areas and the sound of jazz wafting through the air.
I really couldn’t have chosen a better or safer place than Narendra Bhawan Bikaner for my first getaway in eight months.
By: Lavina Kharkwal
All photographs of the property clicked by the author.