Narendra Bhawan Bikaner is my happy place and there are many reasons for this. Before I go any further I have been invited to Narendra Bhawan as a blogger and before that to their sister concern Suryagarh as a blogger too. My association goes back to 2012 and I always go back for more!
Now that I am done with the disclaimers and associations let me go back to the hotel! I highly recommend Narendra Bhawan Bikaner and here is why.
Fabulous Property and Rooms
Narendra Bhawan Bikaner is the former residence of the last king of Bikaner Shri Narendra Singh ji. It has been turned into a fabulous property with imagination, love and care.
I have stayed in the prince room. The room size is huge yet it is cozy. The bathroom has all the right amenities! You will be comfortable in the room!
I am not a food person but Narendra Bhawan excells in presenting food experiences. It is difficult to choose one to recommend so I presenting the entire range to you.
The most unfamiliar for me was the blindfolded dinner! I had to touch everything and then eat! I initially was jittery thinking I will never get out without breaking something. But after a while I did fine! We were free to speak among us but the servers would not speak! It was quite an experience.
Then there was literary lunch where they have dishes inspired by famous books! They give you the booklet which has the relevant passages about the dish. They do an interpretation of the dish both for vegetarians and non-vegetarians. This too was quite an experience.
Then there is museum dinner at Lakshmi Niwas Palace. The room itself is incredible. It was where King Ganga Singh ji would receive his guests. The walls of the room have gold engravings to the tune of about 50 KG. The menu served is adapted from a royal menu!
Then there is the outdoor sundowner/dinner which is a beauty to behold. You sit by a lake for sundowner followed by the dinner. As the darkness engulfs tiny lanterns and millions of stars give you company.
Then there is a regular coffee shop called ‘Mad Hatter’ and the regular restaurant Pearls and Chiffon! The breakfast can cater to traditional Bikaner fare to sumptuous chrrio!
Narendra Bhawan has two signature experiences the Royal Tour and the Merchant Tour.
The Royal Tour takes you through the history of Bikaner starting at the Rao Bika ki Tekri and ending with the museum lunch!
The merchant experience takes you through the glorious havelis and bazaars of Bikaner with a traditional lunch at a haveli!
Working with the Local Artisans and Businesses
Above all I like Narendra Bhawan because they work with local businesses and artists!
The welcome drink they serve, mine was bela sharbat is made by a 60 year old local business. They collaborate with the famous miniature artist Mahavir Swami ji. They also collaborate with usta art mastero Ajmal Usta ji.
And if I love them a little more, it is because of the people of Narendra Bhawan because where else would you find the general manager of the hotel working with the serving staff and clearing plates?
PS. I was invited to Narendra Bhawan Bikaner and I like Always had a Gala Time!
We got out of our car in a narrow by-lane of Bikaner. It was getting dark too. And then we walked some distance to reach Mr Mahaveer Swami’s workshop. Mr Mahaveer Swami is a renowned painter from Bikaner, he does art in the miniature form. Almost all his paintings sell in six figures and more. Yet there he was, in his pajama kurta, simple and almost reluctant to speak! It was my privilege meeting Mahaveer Swami the famous miniature painter from Bikaner!
So what is miniature painting? “Miniature painting is a style and technique of painting, and as such, a wall sized work could be painted “in miniature”.”
Mr Swami makes his own paints, he makes his own brushes and he sometimes uses sea shells as his palette! He has a studio where he gets at the crack of the dawn to paint. When we were fiddling with some of his things he very politely told us- “मैं यहाँ अँधेरे में आता हूँ, मुझे सब पता होता है कहाँ है सो कृपया मेरी चीज़ें ना हटाएँ|” Basically he told us with infinite politeness not to disturb things on his table as he starts working in the dark, and he knows where everything is kept exactly!
I, of course, do not have any deep understanding of paintings or art. But what I saw clearly impressed me, more by the man who exhibits all over the world and yet is so rooted! In fact, before heading to his home Ram from Narendra Bhawan, said, “I call him this before we are 10 minutes away from his house, if he is in then we go visit him; if not then we go back to the hotel!” And yet he is simplicity personified, I don’t think they make too many like him anymore.
He takes six month long master classes for serious painters at his studio, he has a guest house above it. He gets students from all over the world.
He paints scenes from Indian classics but he also gives some of his paintings a contemporary touch. I quite liked his traditional businessman with a cell phone! I loved most his painting of a Sufi though but I can’t find a picture of it!
He was reluctant to talk initially, we had to literally make him talk about this work. Gradually he showed us his stuff, like paintings of the cricketers which is he is doing on commission, mandalas and other works in progress.
I am so inspired by him, I wish more people could keep their heads on their shoulders in spite of being so successful!
PS: I was invited to Bikaner by Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner
Bikaner a weekend getaway from Delhi, is a historic city in Rajasthan. Did you consider Bikaner as a weekend option from Delhi/NCR? I did not, till I actually traveled to Bikaner this year. There is a convenient night train (12457, 11.35 pm from Sarai Rohilla) which you can board from Sarai Rohilla, Delhi Cant or Gurgaon and you reach to Bikaner early the next morning. The same train starts back from Bikaner at 10.30 pm and leaves you back in Delhi first thing in the morning.
There is plenty to do in Bikaner. It has the advantage of not being so crowded at the moment. Here is why you should consider Bikaner as a weekend getaway from Delhi.
Bikaji ki Tekri
Rao Bika was the founder of Bikaner. He was the fourth son of the King Jodha of the powerful kingdom of Mewar (Johdpur). He left his father’s area in 1465 and carved out his own territory in the wild regions of Bikaner. Bikaji ki Tekri is the first humble fort he built in the city. Only the fort and a part of the wall that surrounded the city now remain. There are hardly any visitors to the monument as of now.
The Grand Havelis of Bikaner
I did not expect to see such grand havelis in Bikaner. The most stunning are the Rampuria Group of Havelis but there are other stunning clusters too. They belong to the various group of merchants who flourished in the kingdom of Bikaner. A lot of them are simply closed now with the owners living in other cities. The area too could do with more cleanliness but the overall atmosphere in old Bikaner is amazing! The Haveli tour is a must do in Bikaner.
Lalgarh Museum is in the Lalgarh complex, which also has the palaces of the royal family once they moved out of Junagarh. The museum is well kept and well illustrated. I had too little time to absorb the rich history of Bikaner that spans over a few centuries. But I recommend the place and I would say if you are a history buff, do allocate sufficient time.
Junagarh Fort was started under the rule of Raja Rai Singh in 1589 and it was completed in 1611. It was built under the workmanship of Karan Chand. It is a ground fort, as in it is not on a hill, and it was never captured. The subsequent rulers kept adding to the fort till the royal family moved to the Lalgarh premises in 1902. The fort is well maintained, it is a must visit too.
Karni Mata Temple
Karni Mata temple is truly famous as rats are considered holy here. I think it is one of its kind! It is assumed that when someone dies in the village of Deshnoke, they are reborn as rats in the village and when a rat dies, a baby is born. The temple is unique but I am as scared of rats as Doraemon I didn’t dare to visit the temple. Even just looking at the picture freaks me out, I think I did the right thing by skipping it.
Lakshminath Temple, Bikaner
Lakshminath Temple is an old temple in Bikaner, it is said that Rao Bika, the founder of Bikaner himself offered prayers here. Photography is not allowed inside the premises. I simply clicked a picture on reflex when the pigeons flew! I was yelled at for it, but as they didn’t ask me to delete the picture, I too decided to keep it and share it! You get a good view of the city from the area.
The Royal Cenotaphs, Devikund Sagar, Bikaner
Narendra Singh ji was the last king of Bikaner. He is now survived by two daughters. Starting from the first king of Bikaner, Rao Bika ji to the last king, Narendra Singh ji, all have their memorials at the Royal Cenotaphs, locally known as chattris. In a way if it was at the Bikaji ki tekri where the story started, this is where it all ends!
When I say local sweets I mean Ghewar primarily. I bought it from Lalji and it was amazingly yum. It was finished fast at home, before I clicked any pictures. I strongly recommend a visit to Lalji is you wish to buy Ghewar and other local sweets.
Usta art is said to originate in Persia and if I am not mistaken it came to India with the Mughals. It traveled to Bikaner with the King Rai Singh ji and it still lives in the streets of Bikaner.
I had the good fortune to visit the workshop of Mr. Ajmal Hussain Usta and see some of his creations. There is something about small towns, his creations start selling from 5 figures and yet he operates from a nondescript corner shop! Usta art is the art of embossing with gold along with meena. The surface could be many (wood, camel leather, walls, etc.), the artifacts varied too. Yet even the smallest mirror frame or photo frame is costly (in the range of 20,000 to 25,000 Indian rupees for small ones) and much beyond my reach. But if you are looking for buying Usta Art you could connect with Mr. Ajmal Hussain Usta on Facebook or via phone, his number is +91 9413467471. If you do not wish to buy you might simply like to drop in to see his work.
These are the major highlights of my trip to Bikaner. I am sure there is much more to explore in the city.
PS: I was invited to Bikaner as a travel blogger by Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner