Well, also the elder sister property Suryagarh, considering how I have seen three generations of retrievers grow and flourish there since the first time I visited them.
Recently, after having stayed ensconced for over four months, my patience pendulum swung hard to the absolute opposite end and I decided to undertake a long drive to Bikaner to enjoy a short break with my immediate family. The invitation from the Narendra Bhawan (NB) hotel manager Sidharth Yadav, who is almost like extended family, to make a booking had been long-standing and after repeated assurances from Sid about how safe and sanitised things would be, I gave in. To feel less guilty, I decided to take the two pups along because NB is one of the few pet-friendly hotels that I know of. Well, also the elder sister property Suryagarh, considering how I have seen three generations of retrievers grow and flourish there since the first time I visited them.
NB is a veritable haveli of royal pedigree, now beefed up and turned into a hotel. But in spite of all that finery and livery all around, at its very heart, it remains a large home. To this end, from the moment you walk in till the time you leave, at no point does any interaction feel professionally straightjacketed. Instead, what you get are hosts dressed up in a simple yet stylish kurta-pyjama-jacket combo whose only purpose seems to be to ensure that guests are comfortable. From what I wanted to eat to when and where I wished it served, the team was always accommodating and understanding. Whether I craved a nimbu paani or a beer or a drink, at 7 pm or 7 am, none of my requests were met with a ‘no’.
But don’t mistake homely for frugal. Karan Singh, my friend and a hotelier (like they just don’t make ’em any more), set this place up and, frankly, he struggles at “modest”. His simplicity is like Chanel or Tiffany, subtle while still lavish. Pearls And Chiffons, a dining lieu that belongs to the Mumbai of the roaring 30s, surfaces here, a pride of an alien ship on an earthy, pastel Bikaner landscape. The hotel itself is about an eight-hour drive from Delhi and the time you lose slowing down at speed-breakers leaving Delhi is easily made up on the arrow-straight tarmac stretches of the royal state. Bikaner itself isn’t much of a tourist spot. There is a prominent Air Force base, a flourishing industry for local snacks and a curiously large veterinary hospital. There is also a magnificent palace (albeit highly underrated). And while that certainly merits a visit to the city, if you’re here for a few days, you’d be hard-pressed to find things to do. In fact, if you aren’t staying at NB, even the accommodation options are far from reassuringly comforting.
The NB team is well cognisant of this general dearth of activities, which is why they have a list of ‘meditations’ to keep you creatively occupied, from a tranquil poolside breakfast to nostalgic dinners that weave through all the dishes that made up our childhood (mac ‘n cheese, mushrooms on toast come to mind), and this is without counting in the various sorties from the hotel (that may or may not be available at the moment) they have on hand. Time manages to do a peculiar thing at NB, moving fast and slow simultaneously. The days lazily dawdle and yet the evenings spent sipping drinks at Gaushala (restaurant and bar) seem to slip by remarkably quick. I am sure it all adds up to 24 hours eventually, but I really wouldn’t know when one hour segued into the next. I came back about a week later, still Covid-free and mighty refreshed. Puppers, likewise. The lockdown has made me feel grateful for many things hitherto unappreciated and a simple getaway now tops the chart.
The writer is a sommelier